Devoted to the dreamer

Behind the scenes is a student team

Published: Sep 24 2022, 01:01:am

Friday, August 27, 1971

BORN OF ONE MAN'S infectious dream, this week's World Shakespeare Congress is being borne to success through the efforts of many. Few, though, have worked harder than the students, a dedicated corps of nearly 40 volunteers who have been handling everything from babysitting to bar and bus service.
    Most of them are English majors and many look forward to teaching careers. Their dedication, however, is not to Shakespeare but to congress director Rudolph Habenicht.     
    "Rudie is just the most fabulous person," says Carol Gadd, reception committee chairman. "The kids would do absolutely anything for him."
    "The thing we share is that we all like Rudie," said Greg Batt, echoing her thought. "We'd all do practically anything for him."
    Recalling that Habenicht had thanked his student volunteers in his opening address to the Congress, director's assistant Vivian Elliot said: "Every student really responded to that part of his speech."
    Their response began in June when it came time for the organizers to get organized. The call for volunteers had gone out and Simon Fraser University student Ron Jesterhoudt was acting as committee coordinator.
    There was no lack of people willing to work for Habenicht. "His enthusiasm is contagious," Miss Gadd said. "He himself is so generous that there isn't anything he wouldn't do for us, and it's reciprocated."
*    *    *
    Eight major job assignments emerged. Rosie Low took charge of airport receptions, Barry Church arranged transportation and Carol Gadd handled registrations. The emphasis was on personal service.  Once delegates were "official,” Tony Stobie was in charge of ushers, guides and general movement, Brenda Jones the refreshments and Greg Batt the bar.
    In addition, there are programs for wives and children arranged by Rose Marie de Paoli, and publishers' exhibitions under David Hattenstone.
    "We had no experience in putting on a conference before this," said Stobie. "Each job was either over- or underestimated." Lots of last-minute adjustments were necessary and were made. Though the organization was loose, friendly and casual, it was hard-working. It made things work.
    The Congress was Habenicht's dream. His students' devotion to it is a powerful tribute to him as a teacher and friend.
    And there is no denying their success. Thursday [Aug. 26, 1971], while the congressional workhorses, the investigative committees, held open meetings, Shakespeare was being imaginatively argued, edited, read and rearranged in every corner of the conference complex.
*    *    *
     Attracting a lively and vocal audience was the University of Toronto's Gino Matteo and his videotape workshop. Six television monitors flecked with coloured confetti and a tangle of cables and cords greeted delegates eager to view tapes originally produced for educational television in Ontario.
        Presented in a series called Explorations in Shakespeare, the two 23-minute shows featured the Stratford Festival company in excerpts from King Lear and Richard II. The selections, Matteo admitted, were meant to be biased.
    Richard II was presented as a public affairs broadcast, complete with a personable anchorman, a set built around giant posters of modern conflicts and political leaders and a rock score.
    Lear was lyric melodrama done to electronic music and featuring a full range of flashy photographic techniques including stroboscopic superimposition, duotone backdrops and Vaselined lenses.
    To one particularly outraged delegate, Matteo explained that the shows were meant to stimulate discussion in the classroom. Ultimately, he said, students should create their own courses, not because they have to, but because they want to.
*    *    *    
     While most delegates have been talking Shakespeare, a small group has come together to read him. The puckishly-named Plebeian Shakespeare Company was founded Sunday night in the delegates' bar, said San Diego State drama student Kathleen Matthews.
    A pick-up group of actors and academics, they came together over ales and the text of Twelfth Night. Monday evening, they moved on to Troilus and Cressida and Thursday afternoon they were emoting from Coriolanus in front of Matteo's videotape camera.
    When the camera moved out into the sunlight, it found John Juliani's Vancouver-based Savage God company involving delegates in their own brand of democratic theatre. Repeating the idea, if not the exact substance of Tuesday night's show in the Art Gallery, Savage God wrestled imaginatively with the bard on the Totem Park lawn.
    One of the most innovative treatments of Shakespeare, however, may well go unnoticed by the majority of congress delegates. Forbidden Planet, MGM's 1956 science-fiction version of The Tempest, is being shown as the Fraser Theatre's Saturday matinee.
    Yes, said an Odeon Theatres representative, the booking was deliberate. Onward, Shakespeare, to the stars!

    The World Shakespeare Congress is jointly sponsored by Simon Fraser University, the University of British Columbia and the Canada Council. Sessions of the congress are being held on both campuses.

The above is a restored version of a Province feature report by Michael Walsh originally published in 1971. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: That (dare I say it?) puckish booking of Forbidden Planet was the bright idea of Ron Keillor, a cinéaste that Odeon Theatres were fortunate to have hired. Though the Canadian company was the wholly-owned subsidiary of a British movie chain, in 1971 its district offices had considerable freedom to engage with their local communities. In Vancouver, Keillor was the creative force behind the Varsity Festival of International Films, a two-week event that ran annually from 1962 to 1982. He also knew that Cyril Hume, screenwriter of the 1956 sci-fi classic, had been inspired by The Tempest.
    For me, the icing on the cake was the movie’s Canadian connections. Its Prospero character, marooned scientist Edward Morbius, is played by New Brunswick-born Walter Pidgeon. His co-star is Leslie Nielsen, an Albertan, who has the role of starship commander John J. Adams. (Commanding starships, both in films and and on TV, became a Canadian specialty.)

Congressional record:  Reeling Back’s WSC archive consists of a Preview feature followed by my Opening report, a Tuesday report, a Wednesday report, a Thursday report, a Friday report, a First Folio feature about a family with links to both Shakespeare and Vancouver, a Saturday report, a Closing report, and my Summary feature.