People of OU: Freddy Krueger actor Robert Englund reflects on time at OU

Freddy Kreuger is a household name, whether it be from the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” or the later “Freddy vs. Jason.” With this, Robert Englund — the actor who played the horror icon in eight of the nine iterations — became well known across the country.

What people may not know is before his standout performance, and even before his breakout role in the show “V” where he played an alien named Willie, Englund could be found on stage at Oakland University’s own Meadow Brook Theatre.

He attended an Academy of Dramatic Art (ADA) branch at OU which was part of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) located in London. At the time, the RADA was considered by many to be the best acting school in the world, but they couldn’t keep Englund’s draft deferment for the Vietnam War.

Thus, he came to OU, and while the ADA wasn’t academic, it was still under the OU umbrella in which it held a great reputation academically.

“I was still getting great books recommended to me by the students at Oakland University or my fellow actors at the Academy — and between the two, it was almost like having an extended university education,” he says. “It kind of extended that bit of my life as well as taking the pressure off for having to go out in the world and start auditioning, and they really prepared me for auditioning, too.”

Professors came over to teach acting classes and also work at the theatre as both actors and directors. At this time, actors lived in trailers next to Meadow Brook Barn, and would spend time in the Meadow Brook Hall area after shows.

Englund as Freddy Krueger. Photo courtesy of Twitter.

Being a first termer at the ADA, Englund remembers mopping the floor and getting called over by an actor to visit the “Meadow Brook Pub.”

“This was so romantic — we’d get done with a play at the Meadow Brook, and we’d go over after the play was over,” Englund said, “and at the Meadow Brook Hall — I think it was a converted tack room from the stables, and they had converted it into an English Pub.

“They actually had the Union Jack, the English flag, flying outside, and we would go over there after a show and hang out with English actors,” Englund said. “And we would drink Irish whiskey and beer, and they would tell us stories about Peter O’Toole and Laurence Olivier.”

Being a “California boy,” Englund reminisces about the weather and walking across campus, trudging through snow and navigating through buildings to get to the theatre. He recalls wearing a sports coat and cowboy boots, being severely underdressed for the brutal Michigan winters.

Even off campus, Englund found enjoyment when he eventually moved into Rochester and found a place to get a burger — a well-known joint to students called Red Knapp’s.

“Red Knapp’s was famous for their burgers, and I think they had a patty melt back then, which they made this perfect patty melt, I remember,” he said. “I think of it and I start to drool like a dog.”

The students and actors weren’t always aligned, as the ADA students already went to school, but they often found common ground in areas such as activism.

“They were doing a production at the Meadow Brook, and I think some of the student activists against the war in Vietnam literally stopped the play so they could talk to the audience about the Vietnam War,” Englund said. “It was a controversy, but it wasn’t a big deal.

“I mean, most of us supported their political point of view,” Englund said. “We thought it might not be the best thing to stop a play, but nobody got angry or anything.”

After finding jobs elsewhere, Englund would return to finish his time at the ADA as a full union actor and worked at Meadow Brook for a few years after the fact. This allowed a gentle transition into the field of work and he found success along with an audience who followed him around for different roles.

With Meadow Brook still standing and producing plays, Englund said it shows how important it is to both the local academic community and the neighboring community for art and live theatre.

“In the concept of American theatres and how long American theatres last, that’s an amazing accomplishment,” Englund said. “It’s been through recessions and everything and the changes of the culture.

“I love theater and my most pure joy as an actor was spent on the stage at Meadow Brook,” Englund said. “I had a couple of great experiences in Cleveland and Chicago, but Meadow Brook was the most consistently pure and comfortable place for me as a beginning theater actor and professional, and I cherish that memory.”