It's easy to spend time writing about exciting new developments in our local theater scene. But who got things started?
It could be argued that F. Paul Rutledge was the guy who laid the foundation. He passed away a week ago at the age of 91. Rutledge was a theater pioneer in Cincinnati, and many people who shaped what we have today were inspired by him.
A native of Louisville, Rutledge was born in 1918 and served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, rising to the rank of captain. After the war he attended the University of Wisconsin and earned a graduate degree in theater. In 1949, he came to the University of Cincinnati, where he taught in the College of Liberal Arts for 35 years.
By the time he retired in 1984, he had established a full-fledged program that offered graduate degrees. His efforts were key to establishing the remarkable programs in musical theater and drama at the College-Conservatory of Music that are today among the most respected in the nation. Rutledge founded the Maxinkuckee Summer Playhouse in Culver, Ind., in 1950 and served as its managing director for 13 years.
At UC he advised the Mummers Guild, which offered student productions. One of his early students, Otto M. Budig Jr. — today a major arts philanthropist — was a freshman at UC in 1951. He was majoring in finance and business, but Rutledge convinced him to give acting a shot. "From that point forward," Budig wrote in a tribute to Rutledge late last week, "I was privileged to act in many Mummers Guild Productions, and we became close friends because he not only taught me about acting, but through his leadership I learned about poise and self-confidence. Although other experiences have come and gone, what Paul taught me is something I use every day of my life."
One of Rutledge's most lasting contributions to Cincinnati theater was obtaining the Showboat Majestic, operated today by Cincinnati Landmark Productions. In the late 1960s, he traveled with members of the Cincinnati Recreation Commission to Jeffersonville, Ind., to check out the boat that was moored there but out of service. The City of Cincinnati decided to buy it and bring it to the riverfront if Rutledge would serve as its managing director — responsibilities he handled for 17 years, influencing generations of actors, musicians and technicians who provided entertainment on the Public Landing.
After his 1983 retirement, Rutledge traveled extensively in England and elsewhere in Europe, often lecturing on American theater at academic institutions there.
The first person who alerted me to Rutledge's death was Lynn Meyers, Ensemble Theatre's artistic director. She told me that Rick Diehl, ETC's managing director and one of Rutledge's one-time students, had been deeply moved by his mentor's death. A few days later I had an email from another CityBeat writer, Tom McElfresh, who covered Cincinnati theater during Rutledge's tenure at UC. He had received a note from Diehl about Rutledge's death. His words to me: "Cincinnati is a seriously lesser place without him."
We owe Paul Rutledge a final, grateful curtain call as he exits the stage. In lieu of flowers for the March 20 funeral service, memorials may be directed to the F. Paul Rutledge Scholarship Fund dedicated to Musical Theater Students at the University of Cincinnati. (Send them to CCM, Corbett Center, Room 3840, Cincinnati OH 45221.)