Richard G. Scharine, PhD (Alumnus 1964)

Professor Emeritus of the University of Utah Theatre Department

Sommerhochschule (University of Vienna) 1964

It’s over half a century since I was last in Strobl, Austria, and I have only one physical souvenir of that summer:  a commemorative plate inscribed “University of Vienna Sommerhochschule--Strobl, Austria 1964.”  At least that’s what I think it says.  The color has long since worn off.  It was given to me at supper in the cafeteria on my 26th birthday.  It was the common practice, I suppose, and I hope that it still is.

The plate is not an amazing gift, whatever sentiment I attach to it.  Nor is it amazing that I still have it, unbroken, despite moves that now number in the double digits.  The amazing part is that I was there (along with my wife and eleven other University of Kansas theatre students) at all.  We referred to ourselves as “the Strobl 13,” but whatever that number signifies, we were lucky to be there—and I was the luckiest of all.

We began as part of a performance group in Lawrence, Kansas, selected and directed by one of our professors, Tom Rea.  We were a variety show, with the pre-intermission half made up of popular hits from American musicals, and the second half one-act American plays.  We were all in the musical numbers, but as anyone who has ever seen me dance will testify, I was primarily an actor.  Our historical range can be guessed at by the last number we added after we arrived at Strobl:  “Hello Dolly,” from the show of the same name.  Our initial one-acts were the now forgotten The Tiger (Murray Schisgal) and Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story.  (After 52 years the compatibility of the titles just struck me.)

Before we even left, clouds loomed on the horizon.  The night before my wife and I briefly left Lawrence (to play Schisgal’s The Typists and The Tiger in Fontana, Wisconsin), Tom Rea sat down with me to say that he couldn’t go with the group—he had to work on his dissertation at Tulane University—but that I would be in charge, with a list of cities to go to, and a list of institutions to contact when we got there. He would join us later in the tour.   It won’t greatly surprise anyone that when we got to these places, we were often totally unexpected.  It also won’t surprise that Tom never did show up.  It may surprise you how exhilarating that sometimes turned out to be, and how flexible and innovative university student groups could be in those days, finding places where we could play and student digs where we could stay.  I can still remember speeding through the streets of Utrecht on the back of a motor scooter, balancing a load of costumes on my shoulders.  I can also remember taking night trains so we wouldn’t have to pay for rooms, while on other occasions Marilyn and I rented a single room, to which eleven other students entered by the fire escape.

Still unsurprising, when the group got to Strobl, you people at the Sommerhochschule hadn’t expected us either.  You did expect Tom Rea, who was supposed to be teaching two courses.  How you reacted was more than a momentary relief to a handful of Midwestern college students, it was the making of my career.  With perfect Viennese urbanity, you assigned Tom’s courses to me (who actually taught them, I have no idea), used the money as tuition for the thirteen of us, and told us we were now the resident theatre company of the University of Vienna summer school and were expected to have a performance ready every Saturday night.  In return we were fed, lived in student housing (sharing a room in the boy’s dormitory with my wife took some adaptation), took courses in German, theatre, and music history, and were given passes to the Salzburg Festival, where we saw dress rehearsals of Goethe’s Faust I and II, Strauss’ Electra, and Reinhardt’s Jedermann.  We were also given three days off to go to Germany and perform in the University of Erlangen theatre festival.


Furthermore, in our time off between studying, rehearsing, and attending artistic performances, we could swim in one of the most beautiful lakes imaginable, climb the local picturesque mountains, and make friends with our professors—one of whom visited us some years later when I was teaching at a Quaker college in Iowa.  (I can still remember our German teacher perched on the piano during a Saturday performance while our music director sang a ballad to her.)

I’m serious about the Sommerhochschule experience being the tip factor in my life.  I’d had my army obligation, of course, but as a farm boy I was always overwhelmed by university life and let others take the lead.  Tom Rea’s judgement in putting me in charge may have been as faulty as it was in a few other things, but it—and the wonderful support you provided the Strobl 13—gave me the courage to go on to an academic career which I hope is not over yet, to lead another performance tour to England/Wales, and three to Poland (where I taught twice as a Senior Fulbright Lecturer), and to co-found the University of Utah Study Abroad Program in London, from where I write this letter.

I remember not a single name from the Sommerhochschule faculty and staff.  Tom Rea is many years gone now, as is the music director from two paragraphs above and, at the very least, two others of the Strobl 13.  (My wife, Marilyn, also a Sommerhochschule alumnus and a college professor, died in 2002.)  The others I have lost track of, but hope that if you could reach them, I might as well.  But even without names to attach to it, the Sommerhochschule experience was a life shaping event that I will never forget.

Thank you with all my heart.


Richard G. Scharine, PhD (Alumnus 1964)


Richard Scharine is a Professor Emeritus in Theatre and Ethnic Studies at the University of Utah, where at one time or another he served as Chair, Director of Graduate Studies, and head of Theatre’s B.A. Program.  Among his honors are the University of Utah Professorship, University of Utah Diversity Award, College of Fine Arts Excellence Award, a Senior Fulbright Lectureship at the University of Gdansk in Poland, and Outstanding Educator of America.  He has published two books and a score of articles on British and American political theatre and Black American theatre, as well as directing nearly 100 plays, most recently the Intermountain premiere of George Brant’s Grounded for People Productions, of which he is a co-founder and artistic director.  Dr. Scharine has acted in ten states and seven foreign countries, including the title role in Oedipus at Colonus in the Classical Theatre Festival’s 2004 tour of Greece.