Ruth Weiner isn’t only a retiring Theater Professor, she is a piece of Carleton history who is finally taking her bow and leaving theater at Carleton in our capable hands.
When Ruth came to Carleton in the early ‘60s with her husband, Carl Weiner, there was no theater department and she had no intention of ever working at the school. Her intentions were, initially, to be the best professor’s wife she could be. But it was the ‘60s and women’s liberation was at the forefront of the social and political atmosphere. As soon as she arrived in Northfield, Ruth began working on Johnson’s campaign and joining anti-war groups with like-minded women. If you know Ruth today, you know that she would never have been able to be only that perfect faculty wife.
For years, Ruth intended to go to Law school, going as far as to take the LSATs, but fate had other intentions. A Carleton English professor who taught dramatic literature courses and directed shows in his spare time invited Ruth to direct a show in Nourse Little Theater. Ruth chose an experimental piece “Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma’s Hung You in the Closet and I’m Feelin’ So Sad: A Pseudoclassical Tragifarce in a Bastard French Tradition.” (If you mention the show to her now, she will throw her head back a little, laugh, and wave it off “it was a silly show”). It was well received, and so she was invited back.
By the late 60‘s, Ruth was under contract with Carleton to direct two shows a year. At this time, the theater organization on campus was The Carleton Players, a student group who chose the plays and directors – sometimes students - and did all the work to put them up. Theater was an extracurricular.
As she kept directing, students asked for more theater opportunities, and Ruth gladly taught them. The first acting course she taught was not technically a class – it was just a bunch of students who met up with Ruth before classes (we’re talking 6:30 AM) to do acting exercises. It was this passion for her students, and the students to come, that kept Ruth teaching at Carleton and working so hard to give them the theater they so desperately wanted.
Eventually, Ruth was offered a position in the English department, because, again, there was no Theater Department. In the English department, she taught courses on dramatic literature but also one to three credit acting and directing courses. With these first courses began the birth of the Theater department.
Ruth continued teaching, directing, and being a wonderful and inspiring role model to her students. Eventually, she was tenured into the English Department, and because the acting courses had no home, a special study was created called “Studies in Theater Arts.” This study also allowed the department to bring in professionals to assist with set and costume design.
The Theater Department was officially created in 2003 after pressure built from the students, Ruth, and other theater staff. The major itself wasn’t created until 2006. Before seven years ago, every student who wanted to major in theater had to declare a special major. This past weekend, many of these students, majors and others who had worked with Ruth over the years came back to Carleton to see her final production and recognize her amazing achievement.
As a Senior Theater Major who just Assistant Directed for Ruth on Twelfth Night, I can’t begin to describe her to you--she is, in a word, amazing. She tells stories about the “group and grope” days of theater. We lovingly refer to our classes with her as “playtime with Ruth” because she gives us the freedom and support to explore ourselves and how we interact with each other. She lovingly directs you in a scene, and then will laugh and say, “that scene was total shit.” Ruth inspired me in her directing course, my directing comps show is opening in less than a week, and I plan on pursuing directing in the future.
Go out onto campus and talk to someone who has spent any time with Ruth. They will have a story to tell, with a laugh, about a class or a rehearsal, or that time she had her entire class over to her house for dinner and to present their final scenes for the course.
Ruth is the director, the professor, the Grandmother of the Theater department. Even as she retires, she is still pushing us to push the boundaries she’s been pushing all her life, and we will miss her.