Curtain Up, Light the Lights!
Four years before my joining the Company, the Green Ram Summer Theater leapt into existence: Wednesday, July 3rd, 1957. Full-tilt, full speed, full-throttle. Presented from my seven-summer perspective as actor, director, and Company Manager, ‘Curtain Up’ tells of the Green Ram, its actors, directors, technicians, and designers. But most of all, the book tells of Claire Ellen ‘Pinky’ Prothero Kentzler, Ram owner and producer. Thin, bespeckled, and ever in motion, boss-pixie Pinky remains among the more colorful women ever to grace south-central Wisconsin. Later, when the Theater had closed and she was named WHA Radio station director, she looked back at the Ram years and commented wryly, “I always wanted to run something.” The Green Ram endured for eleven summers, 1957-1967, two years after I had already jumped ship for the more secure waters of university teaching. Eleven seasons, nine shows per season, ninety-nine productions. This is what I remember. ‘Cowboy coffee,’ strike nights, rehearsals in the rain, Shanghai-the-cat. It was a different time. Death of a Salesman, Bus Stop, Anything Goes, Long Day’s Journey into Night. Scripts of every stripe and nature. Shakespeare, O’Neill, Williams, Miller, Simon. Musicals, comedies, dramas, American and world classics. Pinky attempted small but human goals: teaching, enlightenment, the joy of creating, and warm summer-evening entertainments. Today the Ram founders appear as giants. Larger-than-life, the tiny group of individuals who wrestled the theater into existence were somehow more daring, more courageous than now. Pinky, Gloria Link, Papa Buerki, Jim Kentzler, Arlyn Zeller, Don Burdick, Bob McElya, Joel Cook, Chuck Schmitt, Jo Anne Jaeger. What they achieved can never be duplicated. This is their story too, of course, theirs more than mine. But I can’t speak of other people’s triumphs and tragedies, only my own, what I experienced in my seven seasons in the sun ¬ and rain ¬ during the summers of 1961¬1967. While at the Ram, scores of life-changing events flashed past in a blur of theatrical confusion, happenings which I sometimes understood only marginally. With twenty-five or more artists-in-residence on ‘the Ranch,’ as it came to be called, all straining mightily to survive and succeed, life crises occurred daily, heart-breaking tragedies and farce-ridden comedies, incidents often difficult to fathom, but seldom possible to ignore. While I don’t claim to have fully understood the nuances of the all the dramas unfurling around me, I knew my own personal summers intensely ¬ the successes, the failures, the real-life tragedies. They were to be the most vibrant, all-consuming times of my life. Embrace or reject it, one could not exist at the Ram without being totally, entirely, excruciatingly alive. Every minute of every hour of every day. About the Author Wil Denson is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He holds a Ph.D. in Theatre from the University of Wisconsin and an M.A. in English from the University of Arizona. Denson taught at the university level for more than 33 years. He headed the UW-Eau Claire theatre program for five years and was Director of UW-EC Summer Theatre for 25 seasons. Included in his writing honors are a Dale Wasserman Playwriting Award, a Wisconsin Arts Board Fellowship in Literature, and a First Place Award for his screenplay, “Feral.” He has written over 25 plays – eight of which have been published and 19 produced throughout the U.S. as well as in most English-speaking countries. Denson’s work at the Green Ram included acting, directing, and Company Manager. His seven seasons at the Ram lasted from 1961 – 1967. Wil lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, with wife-and-best-friend Judy.