Former Chair of the Michigan State University Department of Theatre, Frank C. Rutledge used to say that his daughter and the Summer Circle Theatre (SCT) Program were born in the same year. Now, in celebration of SCT’s recent 60th anniversary of producing free professional theatre on the banks of the Red Cedar, Andrea S. Rutledge, daughter of Frank C. Rutledge and Barbara Carlisle, and her husband Richard G. Kief have created the Frank C. Rutledge Summer Circle Enhancement Fund.
Presenting a blend of old favorites, musicals, and provocative new plays, Summer Circle Theatre was co-founded by Frank C. Rutledge to provide theatre students with the experience of a summer repertory theatre company. More than 60 years later, it has become an annual Michigan State University tradition and an example of the successful relationship between the university and surrounding Mid-Michigan community.
The Frank C. Rutledge Summer Circle Enhancement Fund will exclusively support enhancements to Summer Circle Theatre, such as specialized scenery, costumes, and props or fees for guest artists not supported by the annual operating budget.
“We are deeply grateful for the generosity Andrea S. Rutledge and Richard G. Kief have shown the Summer Circle Program,” said Stephen Di Benedetto, Chairperson of the Department of Theatre. “Their gift will provide financial support needed to help our students launch their careers as professional theatre artists in a meaningful way and to give back to the Mid-Michigan community by creating a summer destination for arts, education, and entertainment.”
We are deeply grateful for the generosity Andrea S. Rutledge and Richard G. Kief have shown the Summer Circle Program. Their gift will provide financial support needed to help our students launch their careers as professional theatre artists in a meaningful way.Stephen Di Benedetto, Chairperson of the Department of Theatre
Andrea Rutledge’s earliest memories of childhood are of Summer Circle at Demonstration Hall and the Kresge Courtyard. She even performed on the SCT stage as a child in 1968 and again as an adult in the 1999 production of You Can’t Take It With You and 2001’s Educating Rita.
“My very first time in Summer Circle was in 1968 when it was still in Dem Hall. That year was a pretty ambitious rep for Summer Circle because they did three children’s shows in rep during the day and three adult shows in the evening,” Rutledge said. “I was in the company because one of the shows had kids in it. The group said ‘Cast Frank’s kid. We know she’ll be there anyway.’ It was also much later in the summer because MSU still operated in quarters at that point. Dem Hall was nice because below the floor was the ice rink. It kept the space very cool, like air conditioning.”
Rutledge’s memories of Summer Circle are deeply and inextricably linked to her father and his time at Michigan State. She and her husband had long been wanting to find a way to honor his legacy as both co-founder and someone who kept the program going for decades, no matter what obstacles were faced.
In the summer of 1973, when the entire country was experiencing a recession, Rutledge says her father truly took extraordinary measures to make sure Summer Circle still happened.
It is our hope that this enhancement fund embodies the spirit of Summer Circle never having to say no to a great idea because of financial limitations.Andrea S. Rutledge
“We lived in a tiny bungalow house on Snyder with a chopped-up floor plan. In an effort to make the front room larger, they took all the plaster down from the wall that was between the two rooms at the front of the house, but they left the studs because it was a load-bearing wall, and it made a nice visual. One day, we came home and six of the studs were missing because my father had gone into the attic, shifted everything to the other side of the room, and removed the 2×4 wood because they needed them to build the set,” Rutledge said. “It is our hope that this enhancement fund embodies the spirit of Summer Circle never having to say no to a great idea because of financial limitations.”
While a national recession couldn’t stop Summer Circle Theatre from performing, a global pandemic could. After postponing the 2020 season for one year, the Department of Theatre recently announced the decision to also cancel the 2021 SCT season. According to SCT Artistic Director Rob Roznowski, the choice was made in accordance with university policy due to safety and health concerns.
“Although recent updates to mask and distancing protocols may have allowed us to present this summer, we had to make the call in early April, at the height of a spike in Michigan’s COVID-19 cases, to release the company,” said Roznowski, adding that the financial contribution from Rutledge and Kief will be critical in helping to restore SCT in 2022.
Frank Rutledge, through force of personality and drive, helped Summer Circle grow and thrive and make a difference in people’s lives, whether they were onstage, offstage, or in the audience. We need to keep that moving forward.Richard G. Kief
For Kief, the financial gift is about the impact that the program makes on the community.
“Andrea’s family and theater are interwoven. Frank Rutledge, through force of personality and drive, helped Summer Circle grow and thrive and make a difference in people’s lives, whether they were onstage, offstage, or in the audience,” Kief said. “We need to keep that moving forward.”
Rutledge agrees saying, “When Summer Circle returns, coming together to celebrate this incredible tradition will help to strengthen and reinvigorate our sense of community. That’s what theatre does.”
As it did last year, Summer Circle Theatre will once again provide free family arts and theatre-based activities for families to enjoy at home later this summer. To learn more, visit theatre.msu.edu/sct.