Cover photo for Marion Lorene Kleinau, PH.D.'s Obituary
Marion Lorene Kleinau, PH.D. Profile Photo
1926 Marion 2024

Marion Lorene Kleinau, PH.D.

January 6, 1926 — March 27, 2024


Dr. Marion Kleinau, Professor Emeritus, passed away in the early morning hours of March 7, 2024, at the age of 98.


Dr. Kleinau was at the side of her beloved Marvin when he passed on November 22, 2021.  The Drs. Kleinau wished to be celebrated together after both had passed.  In keeping with their wishes, SIU School of Communication Studies will hold a Memorial Celebration of Dr. Marion Kleinau and Dr. Marvin Kleinau and at 2:00 pm on Saturday, June 8, 2024 at the Marion Kleinau Theatre in Carbondale. (1100 Lincoln Drive, 2nd floor, Communications Building on the campus of SIU.)  The doors will open at 1:00 pm for visitation with the service and sharing time beginning at 2:00 pm. There will be limited seating in the Theatre and friends are encouraged to come and listen to the shared memories as time and seating allows.  A reception will follow the Memorial Celebration. For those unable to attend, the Memorial Celebration will be live on Zoom.  You can access it by clicking here:   Meeting ID: 923 3501 2383

Marion Davis was born on January 6, 1926, in Independence, MO.  Before pursuing higher education, she worked as a dental technician, and while earning her A.A. from Graceland College in 1948, she worked as an account clerk for Monarch Life Insurance Co.  She then decided to continue her education, and earned her B.S.Ed. from Central Missouri State College in 1952, and her M.S. from Louisiana State University in 1954.  In her early college years, she began as a geology major because of her love for rocks and gems.  However, as she explained in a March 2000 interview with then-student Elizabeth Donoghue, “that was just a very brief sojourn; when I got into the math I decided no.”  She joined SIU’s Department of Speech Communication (now School of Communication Studies) in 1959 in an instructor position, as Ms. Marion Davis, and SIU became her homeplace.  Soon after, in 1961, she completed her dissertation on dance and theatre at the University of Wisconsin, with a focus on modern dance.  She then became Dr. Marion Kleinau. She was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 1968, and very shortly thereafter earned the title of Professor (1972). 


Her academic degrees were (and are) a remarkable accomplishment for anyone, much less for a woman, especially at that time.  While she didn’t consider herself a feminist, she did explain that as a woman, she learned that “you have to stand up for yourself, you have to be strong.  You have to be able to do your thing and look them in the eye.”  If you knew Dr. Kleinau, you know that she did just that!


While at SIU, she focused on oral interpretation of literature, creative dramatics, theatre, communication, oral traditions, and storytelling.  Throughout her time, she served on at least 33 masters and PhD committees, directed at least three masters theses, and at least 34 dissertations.  She held positions on nearly 20 committees at SIU, and nearly 20 committees with state, regional, and national professional associations, including as the President of the Illinois Speech and Theatre Association, from which she received the Outstanding Service Award and Lifetime Membership in 1976.  She received recognition through a great deal of invited workshops and consultancies, and presented countless papers and performances throughout the country.  In addition, she was on a number of grant-funded projects, totaling nearly $100,000.  Her peer-reviewed publications can be found in journals such as Speech Teacher (now Communication Education), Speech Monographs (now Communication Monographs), and Literature in Performance (now Text and Performance Quarterly). In 1980, she co-wrote Theatre for Literature: A Practical Aesthetics for Interpreters Theatre, with Janet McHughes.


In 1960, she presented her first show on SIU’s campus, “The Little Prince.”  After years of producing and directing other shows and performances in a variety of found performance spaces around campus and in the surrounding community, Dr. Kleinau grew interested in securing a permanent performance space for her and her students’ work.  Thus, in 1965, she founded the Caliper Stage on the second floor of the Communications Building, titled as such because, as Dr. Kleinau described, “like an old fashioned measuring instrument called a calipre, the performance could wrap around three sides of the audience, if we so chose.”  The Caliper was the first space devoted entirely to the production of non-dramatic literature.  She considered the Caliper to be her “labor of love.”  “I spent many, many hours back there sewing curtains and doing a lot of drudge work,” she explained.  She recalled that when they were constructing the Communications Building, they never completed the part of the building behind the department offices.  She had an (unnamed) student who liked “to build theatres, and he was a little bit of a thief.”  This student found construction materials across campus, with which they built the first set of risers.  (In other sources, Dr. Kleinau describes that she “found” some of these materials. . .  whether they were thieved or they were found is likely a matter of perspective.)  They used empty vegetable cans with lights in them, and put up fire proof curtains.  Another student of hers had some knowledge of lights, and built a light board.  “I think the greatest thing about that space was that we allowed students to go in there.  We had to have confidence in the student that they could put together a script and direct it in a way that they would have a good audience experience, because we were building a reputation with the public.”  “In White America” was the first production in the Caliper Stage.  A particularly proud moment for Dr. Kleinau and her students was mounting the first ever production of Lord of the Rings, which included all three books, performed on three consecutive nights, on two different weekends.


She was a key figure in putting the School of Communication Studies in the national spotlight for oral interpretation, and now performance studies.  This was, in part, because of the relationships she built with colleagues across the country.  For example, she worked with Tom Sloan from the University of Illinois to organize and hold poetry and interpretation festivals in area locations like Little Grassy.  In addition, Dr. Kleinau was interested in the intersections of non-dramatic literature adaptation, and approaches such as phenomenology, ethnography, and intercultural communication.


Throughout her years at SIU, she produced twenty original script adaptations for readers theatre at SIU.   "My greatest desire was always to create a theater for the oral performance of good literature. That dream was realized when the ‘Calipre Stage’ was built out of odds and ends in an empty space behind the department. In that theater many oral interp. students found a home as they progressed to their degree at all levels. I was also pleased and supported in the development of literary genre courses, script creation, and of course the staging of performance. The result of these courses was experiment with developing theory and experimenting with literary form and its performance."  


She had exceedingly high regard for the students in her life, who she often referred to as her kids.  She recalled, “I’ve had some really beautifully creative kids.”  Given the incredible mark she left not only on SIU, but on the discipline of Communication Studies, and in particular, on performance studies, the SIU Board of Trustees voted on Thursday, April 12, 1990, to rename the Caliper Stage to the Marion Kleinau Theatre.  The first show in the Marion Kleinau Theatre, and Dr. Kleinau’s last show before retirement, was “Morgana,” which centered on Morgana LeFey, the sister or half-sister of a man remembered today as King Arthur.


Dr. Kleinau’s generosity manifested in many ways, including the Marion Kleinau Suite of Literature Awards.  This suite of awards promotes and rewards excellence in the adaptation and performance of non-dramatic material with literary merit which calls forth the best in human potential.  The Suite of awards includes substantial monetary support for three different awards:  The Marion Kleinau Achievement Award for an SIU student, the Marion Kleinau Literature in Performance Award for an SIU production, and the Marion Kleinau National Scripting Award, open to qualified productions across the nation.  These awards are key in maintaining the relevance of literature in performance, supporting both new and seasoned scholars in performance studies, and promoting the valuable contributions of literature in performance as an aesthetic form.


Marion spent her last days being cared for at Manor Court in Carbondale.  Her busy room was filled with those who loved her sitting with her, talking with her, and simply being in her presence.  Dr. Kleinau is survived by her dear sister Lila, and countless friends and students/kids.  Indeed, these chosen family members remained a constant for her.  And it was a blessing that her sweet cat and her small dog (AKA “her boy”) were able to visit her.


Hail to thee, bright spirit,

Built thou hast not been

And yet though loomst before our sight

As large as a stroke of pen.


We eagerly await thy halls

Thy air-conditioned, sound-proofed walls,

And ‘specially anticipate

Thy much-expanded office space.


Out of the shack that covers us

Hot as the pit from john to fish bowl,

We thank whatever bond issue may be

For our “Communications” goal.


In the fell clutch of T-33

We’ve done our best to cry aloud.

Interpreter’s Theatre and Debate

Are battle weary, but unbowed


Beyond this cramped and draughty place

Loom magic visions. . . it is said;

In rooms of unimagined space--

Facilities un-limi-ted


So let the bids fall where they may

Take spade in hand--Hip, Hip Hooray!

We are prepared; we will survive;

And occupy in ‘65.


(author unknown, poem presumably dedicated to the Calipre Stage)

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Service Schedule

Past Services

Dr. Marion Kleinau and Dr. Marvin Kleinau

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Starts at 1:00 pm (Central time)

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