Friday, February 22, 2008

Another Good Man Goes Down

Frank Rutledge (1935 - 2008) was one of the most, if not THE most, influential teachers I ever had. He passed away from a heart attack on Tuesday night. I've been remembering him the last couple of days ... my dear friend, Dave Goss, wrote a blog about Frank that took the words right out of my mouth.

Take a second to read it.

Are you back? Cool. You know his The Frog Prince story? The same thing happened to me when I directed Hansel and Gretel. Frank liked that scene so much, that the rest of the semester and the rest of my time at Michigan State University proved tricky for me. He kept on putting me against myself and told me that I had set my own grading pattern. He was the type of man that could have you laughing one minute with one of his myriad of quotes and then have you wanting to slam a door and leave in frustration. Which you wouldn't do. Not to Frank. I can't tell you how many times I felt humiliation in one of his classes, but that feeling started making callouses on my artistic soul that have served me well as I try to navigate this business called theatre. He told me to be my own CEO and that no one would do things for me. There are a lot of people out there waiting to have the world handed to them. Here's a secret: I always think of Frank when I hear those people talking and I'm secretly giggling at you behind my brain hand because I know the real score. Frank was good at teaching that. He called it as he saw it and, several years later, I certainly can't argue with him.

The State News, MSU's newspaper, called me Wednesday afternoon to talk to me about my memories of Frank, which was completely out of the blue, because I never really knew what Frank thought of me. I always sent him our GreyZelda press releases and always invited him to our shows, but I never heard anything back from him. Well, that's not quite true. When I sent the press release for Desire Under the Elms, the original email bounced back, so I forwarded it to Melissa Kuhlmann to send to him because she had always had a close connection to Frank. He wrote this in reply:

"Becky Zellar-who woulda thunk it.
Thank her for me and say hi-also include Tom (Gordon).

I analyzed those few lines to death and wondered why he would be surprised to hear from me as he was one of my favorite teachers ... and then I started overanalyzing it and thought that maybe he thought "What the heck is Zellar doing directing?" Frank was like that ... you craved his admiration but it was really damn hard to get on a consistent basis if at all. And when you did, it meant so much.

I guess Andrea, his daughter, who I never knew, gave the State News my number, so ... he must have kept the info I sent him. It felt like a little nod from under the brim of his Indiana Jones-like hat posthumously.

Rest in Peace, Frank. And give 'em hell.

1 comment:

Scott Walters said...

The TD in our department, Rob Berls and his wife Emily, were both students of Frank's, and both were very much affected by his passing. I believe they went to Michigan for a memorial service. He sounds like a powerful teacher.