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Louis Armstrong, 1955

The Impact of an Idea
The Wisconsin Union Theater Brings the World to Campus

One man’s idea and another’s vision gave life to the Wisconsin Union Theater. University President Charles R. Van Hise and members of the Memorial Union Building Committee planned for a theater wing before Memorial Union was even built. However, the Theater wasn't funded until May 1937, in large part due to the vision and fundraising abilities of first Union Director, Porter F. Butts. Both men saw a theater as an integral part of Memorial Union, drawing the arts into daily life on campus. 

In 1939, a statewide radio broadcast informed Wisconsinites of the planned October 9th opening events, which included three days of performances of Shakespeare's "The Taming of the Shrew," with Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne.

Since the theater's opening day, audiences have seen and heard some of the most famous performers, artists, leaders, and thinkers. Ella Fitzgerald, Indian Prime Minister Nehru, Frank Lloyd Wright, Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert Frost, Itzhak Perlman, John F. Kennedy, Yo-Yo Ma, T.S. Eliot, Jesse Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Martha Graham, Dave Brubeck, and more have stood on the Wisconsin Union Theater stage.

Over the years, more than ten million people have attended events here, and the influence of this space has rippled throughout the world. The Wisconsin Union Theater has consistently won praise for its facilities and its acoustics, but mostly for its audiences (including students), who are the life force of the theater that began so many years ago.