More Alumni Hall Memories

by Bill Monson

In previous columns on Knox College's Alumni Hall, I mentioned but failed to comment on one significant area of the building -- the lecture hall on the southwest corner of the second floor.

This was a room of considerable size with theater-style seats used for some of the larger lecture classes at Knox in the 1950s and before. There was an elevated platform at the front for lectures, but it also served for debates and even student-directed plays. There was no proscenium or wing space, but the platform could be made into a satisfactory acting space by masking off the front with tall flats and importing a few lights from the main theater next door.

It was the site in my senior year of an excellent student production of ''The Caine Mutiny Court Martial'' directed by Bill Stewart. I played Lt. Kiefer, the conniving heavy, in it and received a glassful of champagne in the face for my wickedness at the end. The play proved prophetic in one way -- 18 months later I wound up wearing an officer's uniform for real when I joined the Navy after graduation to satisfy my military obligation.

This hall was heavily used by the Education Department for its classes, and I spent many doleful hours there while earning credits for an Illinois teaching credential. I remember counting as Education Professor A.L. Pulliam used his favorite world ''inculcate'' 42 times in a 45-minute lecture!

Because the main theater in the center of Alumni Hall had limited wing space and small dressing rooms, the lecture hall was pressed into service in larger cast shows as a Green Room (or waiting room) for actors between scenes.

My first experience with this came in my very first play at Knox as a freshman in the fall of 1953. The play was Jean Giraudoux's ''The Madwoman of Chaillot'' and I was a deaf and dumb beggar who got to speak two lines in a fantasy sequence. However, I was onstage a lot using sign language and reacting to what went on. Director Delmar Solem pressed me into service as the notifier of the dozen actors who appeared in two big street scenes.

I was posted just outside the lecture hall door. When I heard the cue for the Street People to get ready, I was to creep the actors quietly down a long, narrow, rickety set of wooden stairs which ran from the lecture hall to the stage left wing. Then, we would all drift onstage by ones and twos as the scene progressed.

One night, however, our leading lady went up in her lines. Seated with her friends at an outdoor cafe, she jumped pages ahead to a point where all we Street People were supposed to be onstage. In a frosh panic, I led a cavalry charge of a dozen actors thundering down the stairs. (Director Solem said it sounded out in the audience like the Charge of the Light Brigade.) We tried to enter nonchalantly; but after the clamor, the audience was already laughing and we came on in a kind of terrorized clump. The laughter became a roar when the Flower Lady, who had dropped her basket of posies on the stairs, entered even later, tip-toeing as if that would make her invisible.

Of such moments are students' memories (and directors' ulcers) made.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online May 16, 2001

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