Summers in the Spotlight
a former UWEC professor takes a nostalgic look back at Baraboo theater
A former UW-Eau Claire professor is telling the raw and unfiltered story of life on the stage with the recently published Curtain Up, Light the Lights! A History of the Green Ram Summer Theatre.
In this candid memoir, Dr. Wil Denson takes readers on a journey through his seven summers at the Green Ram Summer Theatre in Baraboo, giving a glimpse into behind-the scenes activities of what came to be known as “The Ranch.”
Through his vivid and eye-opening recollections, Denson showcases the stark contrast between the theater world of then and now. From the opening lines, the retired professor masterfully transports readers to the stage of a different era – one that scarcely resembles that of today.
“The period the Ram existed was a different time with different values,” Denson explained. “At the Ram, actors and scenic technicians worked long hours for almost no pay. For professional artists to work for their art’s sake alone, receiving almost no money, is no longer possible in today’s world. Times and values have changed.”
Yet despite the less-than-ideal conditions, Denson believes his summers at the Ram were some of the most instrumental for his personal growth.
“I think those seven seasons taught me everything I know – or needed to know – about practical, everyday, working theater,” Denson said. “The Ram was a working model of how theater should be done, as well as what it takes to succeed. I think I gained a love and respect for theater that carried me for the rest of my career.”
Apart from unraveling the inner workings of a theater dear to his heart, Denson also turns the spotlight on its spunky and influential owner-producer, Claire Ellen “Pinky” Prothero-Kentzler. With the role as Ram’s head honcho, young Pinky proved to be an integral component to the theater’s success.
“By far the most important individual at the Ram was Pinky,” Denson said. “As the saying went at the time, ‘Pinky was the Ram, and the Ram was Pinky.’ None of it would have been possible without her. She was a woman with a vision and a plan.”
Yet far more than just an excellent boss, Pinky soon became a role model and inspiration who Denson admired for both her radiant spirit and genuine heart.
“I came to respect her personal strength and morality,” Denson explained. “Pinky was a woman of great character, and she affected everyone around her. She not only possessed clear values, she lived them.”
While Denson cherished the summers of 1961 to 1967, it eventually came time to draw the final curtain on his days at The Ranch. Going on to pursue a Ph.D. in theater from UW-Madison, this well-seasoned veteran can now boast more than 33 years of teaching under his belt. To add to his accomplishments, Denson has also written 25 plays, eight of which are published.
Looking back on the writing experience, Denson realizes that the countless hours spent drafting were opportunities to relive those unforgettable days on Pinky’s stage.
“Each morning I was taken back 50 years to my summers at the Ram, and I completely relived the Ram experience daily,” he said. “It was well worth the time and effort spent.”
You can find copies of Curtain Up at The Local Store and on Amazon.