D. Nicholas Rudall, Founding Artistic Director of Court Theatre, Dies at 78

D. Nicholas Rudall, Founding Artistic Director of Court Theatre, Dies at 78

Actor, director, writer, and professor D. Nicholas Rudall has passed away at age 78 to complications from colon and liver cancer.

Rudall began teaching at the University of Chicago in 1966, where he remained for the rest of his career as a professor of Classical Languages and Literatures. In 1971, he assumed the role of artistic director of the amateur outdoor summer theatre at the University of Chicago called Court Theatre, focusing on translating and adapting classic texts for contemporary audiences. By the end of the decade, Court Theatre boasted 5,000 subscribers. For the next twenty-three years, he would grow the company into the institution it is today, signing its first Equity contract in 1975, and building the $3.9 million Abelson Auditorium in 1981, still Court’s home.

Along with his numerous directing credits, Rudall performed dozens of roles at Court (and elsewhere), including the title roles in “Macbeth” and “Richard III,” Alfred P. Doolittle in “Pygmalion,” Hamm in “Endgame,” Archie Rice in “The Entertainer,” and Tobias in “A Delicate Balance.” As a writer, he was known for his adaptations and translations of 14 different classic works, mostly ancient Greek tragedies.

The son of a Welsh steelworker, Rudall earned a scholarship to the elite Llandovery boarding school, where he was introduced to the theater. He received a bachelor’s degree from Cambridge’s Clare College before coming to America to earn a Ph.D. in classical languages and literature at Cornell. His theatrical background was foreign to the storefront Chicago style. “It was a very action-oriented theater,” he told the Tribune’s Richard Christiansen. “Bob Sickinger was in his last years as director of Hull House Theatre, and Stuart Gordon was soon to arrive with the Organic Theatre. The verbal theater I had known was in abeyance, but there was still some theater of that kind — The Last Stage and the old Harper Theatre — going on in the Hyde Park area, so I thought that it might be the place to produce intelligent verbal work.”

Rudall stepped down as Artistic Director of Court in 1994 and retired from full-time teaching in 1998, retaining the title of Professor Emeritus and continuing to teach and write. His most recent produced work was a commission of “Prometheus Bound” at City Lit Theater that closed just days ago. In late May, he posted on his Facebook page that he would enter hospice care due to the developed state of his cancer, saying: “I have led an extraordinarily happy life doing the two professions I have loved most, teaching and translating classics and working in the professional theater. I thank you all for helping me enjoy this wonderful life. There are tears, of course, but I entered this last stage of my life at peace and with a kind of subdued joy. So thank you all.”

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Jason Epperson

Jason is a producer, manager, and designer with 17 years of experience in Chicago, New York, and in the touring market. In 2015, he founded Lotus Theatricals - the publisher of Performink, and an independent commercial producing company - with Abigail Trabue.