In the fall of 1937, my first drama students at Catholic University had the opportunity to hear Orson Welles speak on the possibility of adapting Shakespeare to various forms of staging. In Welles' talk in the theater, the sparks of his genius became as a great light to show forth the depths, width and length of the classical theater. He was to influence the entire doctrine upon which we built the drama department and to deeply inspire the young actors.
I had known Welles from our days in the Midwest, when he was just beginning to produce theater in the suburbs of Chicago. He was an enormous physical presence for such a young man, and his voice rang out like a great bell when he spoke. But his presence went beyond the mere physical. His intellectual and artistic talent shone through his physical self. Even before the world had heard of "Citizen Kane," it was evident that Welles was destined to change the world of theater.
For a drama department in its fledgling years, to have Orson Welles lecture was a gift from the gods. He was originally in Washington to present the Folger Library with the manuscript of his pro from the Mercury Theatre in New York. But in his usual manner he was eager to share his theatrical knowledge with the students. His message inspired me to see the value of classic work as the best dramatic material for developing in our actors not only diction, but also ideas and insight on human character through many situations and environments.
Welles was a major inspiration behind Catholic University's productions of the classic, original and experimental works that form the basis of its program. We have prevented the presentation of "warmed over" Broadway shows in favor of what Welles emphasized: the classics f theater.
Orson Welles set the stage, so to speak, for the development of a university program that emphasizes first the importance of the classic works of theater and also the value of going beyond those classics to develop our own "classical" productions.
It is the theory that perhaps is the spirit of Orson Welles. He chose to build a strong framework of theater and then go far beyond.