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Richard, George (ed.) / Wisconsin alumnus
Volume 56, Number 12 (April 15, 1955)

Gard, Robert
Grassroots theatre,   pp. 14-[16]

Page 14

Grassroots Theater
                      By Robert Gard
                      Director. Wisconsin Idea Theater
T O GO BACKSTAGE of the Wisconsin Idea in action
     at the University of Wisconsin is an unusual experience
for a stranger unacquainted with Wisconsin traditions. Indeed
not many of the faculty of the University know the extent of
this great backstage which is really a vast assembly depot on
an educational battlefront where immense piles of mental
ammunition are made ready and fired at the people from
cannon of many degrees of loudness and striking power.
   Certainly, most of the students on the Madison campus
are unaware of the backstage. The students linger on Bascom
Hill, walk along Lake Mendota in the quiet of an evening,
make love on Observatory Hill, or have refreshment in the
Wisconsin Union and realize nothing at all about the feverish
arrivals and departures, the scanning of timetables, the plans
and campaigns that often keep a hundred lamps burning in
a hundred cubbyholes, nooks, warrens, and corners of the
University until late at night.
   The backstage has a relationship to life on the campus,
 but the relationship is hard for the average citizen or faculty
 member to see-perhaps because the units of the backstage
 are so scattered. The backstage exists in a converted monu-
 ment works, in a side of the football stadium, and in huts
 and basements.
   In the warrens of these places is the material of tremend-
 ous educational schemes in almost every subject. Here are
 Great Books programs, citizen's forums, leadership courses,
plans for education by television, hundreds of correspondence
courses taught by green-eyeshaded men and women who read
manuscripts and mark papers in the warrens and never see
the students they correspond with. Here is a department that
answers questions about any subject. Here, in special institutes,
is professional education for mail carriers, town clerks, factor)'
foremen, district attorneys. Here is an office to book enter-
tainment for high school assembly periods. Here are fleets
of cars, oiled, gassed, ready for the road. And here are
drivers, many with PhD's, to hurl the cars about the state,
crossing and crisscrossing holding the steering wheels like
the reins of charges, carrying out missions, leading a new
kind of crusade...
   In Madison, in many modest homes wives wait for their
men-their knights of the Wisconsin Idea-and wish guiltily
at times for quiet professorships in tiny colleges.
   Travel, speed, and sometimes death are all part of the
backstage of the Wisconsin Idea. Fog, slippery roads, deep
snow, perpetual colds, hotel rooms, and lonely beds are the
commonplace items. The knights are sober men, basically
good family men, and they have a tremendous belief that
what they are doing is important.
   Their belief, of course, is often belief without imagina-
 tion. They establish routines, set precedents, coin cliches,
 fashion absurd stereotypes, whirl about often in a kind of
 mad self-justification that is barren, really, of accomplishment.
                                   WISCONSIN ALUMNUS

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