‘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. Largerthan- 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-inresidence on ‘the Ranch,’ as it came to be called, all straining mightily to survive and succeed, life crises occurred daily, heart-breaking tragedies and farceridden 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.
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 fi ve years and
was Director of UW-EC Summer Theatre for 25 seasons.