Act One, Scene One: A.C.T.'s First Production at The Geary Theater

By Elspeth Sweatman

Fifty years ago this Saturday, A.C.T.’s first production at The Geary Theater opened. And under those bright lights was actor Ken Ruta. Here are his memories of that magical evening, and the early years of A.C.T.

Ken Ruta as The Player and Larry Carpenter as Guildenstern in A.C.T.'s
1972 production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Photographer unknown.
When did you start at A.C.T.?
I was in the first play of the first season. Molière’s Tartuffe. I still remember opening night. Most of us were offstage at the beginning, and one of the actors was very nervous. He couldn’t stop stuttering. One of the great ladies in the company slugged him in the back. That cured him.

Since it was Molière, it was written in Alexandrines, 12 beats to a line. Not iambs, which are ten [He demonstrates by tapping on the table.] Well I was the first person opening night to forget his lines. I had to ad lib in Alexandrines! I remember the door opening and the wonderful actress Sada Thompson looking at me, as if to say “What the-?”

What other shows were you a part of in that opening season?
I was in Endgame. I was the blind one, and the other guy, Rene Auberjonois, was rehearsing in another show and was also playing the lead in Tartuffe, so I had to rehearse the Beckett play alone with the director. But since I was blind it didn’t matter. I wasn’t going to see anybody anyway. The first time we rehearsed the show together was the dress rehearsal.
Ken Ruta and Rene Auberjonois in A.C.T.'s 1967
production of Endgame. Photo by Hank Kranzler.

Because the character was blind, I never opened my eyes through the whole performance. I remember one night someone was making noise in the audience, but I just kept talking. When the show ended, I asked the other actors “What was all that going on?” Rene, who was playing Clov, said “A guy had a heart attack in the audience and they were pulling him out of his seat and pumping him. The medics came in and took the guy out and you just kept talking. So we kept talking.” [He laughs.]

What are some of your favorite memories from those early years?

William Ball’s original A.C.T. production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in April 1969. It was heaven. It was a great treat doing that show, because the audience was filled with young people who were interested in theater coming to see the show again and again. It ran for three seasons at the Geary.

Stay tuned for upcoming events related to our 50th anniversary, including our birthday celebration on March 18th.

Be a part of A.C.T.'s history. Share your A.C.T. stories with us! 

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