Some of the most memorable scenes from Richard Rauh’s life take place in the theater.
He grew up in a theatrical household: His father was founder of the Pittsburgh Playhouse, and Rauh spent hours there in the 1950s and ’60s watching his mother, Helen Wayne Rauh, and others perform. Rauh also had an extensive career in theater and in film himself, appearing on stage at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, Little Lake Theater in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, and City Theatre and Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh. Now he teaches film courses at both Point Park University and Carnegie Mellon University.
Rauh's latest expression of love for theater is the $1 million gift he is making to support Pitt’s Studio Theatre and the University’s theater productions.
“I just felt it was the right thing to do,” said Rauh, 77, noting that some of his warmest memories are of his years as a student at Pitt, where he earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in English in 1962 and ’64, respectively.
In honor of Rauh’s gift — a bequeath from his estate that will establish an endowed fund — the Studio Theatre has been renamed the Richard E. Rauh Studio Theatre.
For the Department of Theatre Arts, it means finally shining a spotlight on the hard-to-find theater in the basement of the Cathedral of Learning. New signage will direct patrons from the elevators to the correct corridors to the theater, and the design plan for both the lobby and entry hallway includes plenty of room for posters, glass display cases and an LED screen. Of Pitt’s three theater spaces, the Studio Theatre is by far the most active, bustling with young people attending classes, rehearsals, student labs and working on productions from 9 a.m. until midnight.
“As a black-box theater, or one that can be manipulated into many performance configurations, the space is literally a student lab for testing out concepts as well as practicing theater-making,” said Gianni Downs, director of undergraduate studies in theatre arts. “Mr. Rauh’s interest in this space shows his commitment to developing student confidence in performance and elevating the practice of theater at Pitt.”
Theatre arts chair Annmarie Duggan called the gift “a blessing to the department” and credits founding chair of the department, Buck Favorini, for guiding the gift forward over the years. “The city of Pittsburgh is lucky to have Mr. Rauh,” said Duggan.
Rauh was immersed in artistic culture as a Pitt student in the early 1960s — classes; activities; going to Pitt stage productions, of course; and being on the team of students that successfully launched the Pitt student-run radio station, then called WPGH. Working his way up to station general manager, he implemented what he called “sophisticated quality programming,” such as political interviews. He and some radio station colleagues even went to Ohio to interview John Glenn after his famous spacewalk.
Rauh recalls many nights spent studying at the heavy wooden tables in the Cathedral of Learning Commons Room and trudging the 2 1/2 miles back and forth to campus from his family home in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood on those inconvenient days his mother wouldn’t loan him her car.
“Sometimes in the winter, it was difficult,” he said.
But Rauh said he found a home at Pitt and reveled in the dinners held with friends in the basement of the Litchfield Towers and countless hours at the radio station.
Later, he launched and ran the Pittsburgh Playhouse Film Festival from 1979 to 1994. For its first eight years, it featured a different movie every night of the year, closing only on Christmas night and the occasional Thanksgiving. By then, the Playhouse had partnered with Point Park University to help it maintain adequate funding.
Rauh had a small role in the film “Inspector Gadget,” which was shot in Pittsburgh, as well as in the film “Passed Away” and a host of TV commercials. On stage, he performed in “Krapp’s Last Tape,” “Proof,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “A Thousand Clowns,” “Laughing Wild,” “Of Thee I Sing” and “Send Me No Flowers,” among others.
He is still an active theater buff, traveling to New York to take in Broadway shows and enjoying the offerings in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District and at the local university theaters he has supported over the years.
“My interest in theater is boundless,” he said. As is his affinity for Pitt.
“Pitt represents to me a nostalgic trip back to the past, when I first entered school there in 1958,” he said. “So, in a way, everything has come full circle.”