Saturday, September 14, 2019

St. Augustine honors Tom and Jean Rahner for their work in the arts. (SAR)

Lovely couple, wonderful life together in syzygy in theatre for some 60 years. Wonderful life tribute at St. Augustine City Commission on Monday, September 9, 2019. In character as Henry Morrison Flagler, Tom Rahner brought the house down in a performance at the 800-seat Flagler College Auditorium in 2011. Taking questions in character, Tom Rahner answered as Henry Flagler when I asked about the 1911 Standard Oil divestiture decree by the Supreme Court. Rahner-as-Flagler responded, "Well, [Teddy Roosevelt] was crazy. We wanted him removed as Governor of New York and made him Vice President. And then McKinley up and got himself killed!"

(Jean and Tom Rahner at St. Augustine Amphitheater, the site of the prior venue where they performed in Cross and Sword commencing in 1965). Peter Willott, St. Augustine Record.)

From St. Augustine Record:

By Sheldon Gardner
Posted Sep 13, 2019 at 6:46 PM
Updated Sep 13, 2019 at 8:11 PM

Decades ago, Jean Rahner and other actors would hop in a wagon and head to St. George Street.

“We had a wagon with a stage, and it was during the day, didn’t need lights,” Jean Rahner said. “And you just dropped the side of the wagon to make a stage, and you performed on that. And we didn’t charge, but we had a bucket for donations. ... We’d go buy a beer and lunch.”

The traveling show is one of many ways Jean and Tom Rahner have influenced St. Augustine’s performing arts scene over the past several decades.

The city recently gave them one of its top honors, the Order of La Florida award, to recognize their contributions.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that for more than 60 years, very few performances of live theater in St. Augustine have not (been) the beneficiary of a contribution by Tom and Jean Rahner,” according to the city.

The Rahners visited the St. Augustine Amphitheatre with a couple of guests on Friday to talk about their memories. Tom Rahner brought a stack of photographs and old programs from writer Paul Green’s “Cross and Sword.”

The historical drama is about the city’s founding in 1565, and the original amphitheater was created to share the story as part of 400th anniversary celebrations in 1965.

While professional actors were part of the cast, many townspeople participated in the show, Tom Rahner said.

“It brought the town to life,” Jean Rahner said. “It gave them some place to go and some place to bring their visitors.”

Jean Rahner played many roles, including Notina, the Indian princess who marries Pedro Menendez de Aviles. She was the play’s marketing director until 1996.

Tom Rahner managed the amphitheater and became director of the play in 1968. He also participated in lead roles.

The Rahners have been involved in the arts for most of their lives.

As a teen, Tom Rahner performed a one-man marionette show at various venues around town.

Jean Rahner became interested in theater at 7 or 8 years old when she watched a live performance of “Pinocchio” in upstate New York, she said.

“I will never forget that performance,” she said. “Pinocchio would turn around and his nose would grow, and Pinocchio would turn around again and it got even longer and longer. I said, ‘That’s great.’”

The theater also brought the couple together.

The two met after Tom Rahner acted alongside her brothers in a local production of “Stalag 17.”

Because Tom Rahner was in the Army, the couple married in Germany in 1959 and eventually came back to St. Augustine.

They both have a long list of accomplishments in the city, according to a news release.

Tom Rahner spent more than 30 years as a Flagler College faculty member.

In addition to teaching at the college, he designed and oversaw construction of the college’s first theater downtown. He also directed that theater’s first performance. He helped design and build the college’s auditorium in 1991 and wrote a musical about Henry Flagler that the auditorium hosted in 1996.

In addition to many other productions they were involved in, Jean Rahner played Countess Diana and her husband played her servant, Tristan, in “The Dog In The Manger” in 1973, a production directed by actor Richard Boone.

Jean Rahner launched A Classic Theatre, a local and semi-professional theater group. She also co-founded the Limelight Theatre in 1993 and helped develop the venue’s reputation.

“Which is a little jewel that St. Augustine has,” she said.

One of her main focuses now is establishing a new performing arts venue in St. Johns County, she said. That’s essential for the city, she said.

Theater is, one would hope, about more than just entertainment, Tom Rahner said.

“It’s ennobling,” he said. “It makes people think, if you’re doing decent work. ... Was it Shakespeare who said, ‘It’s a mirror held up to a man?’ We see ourselves in the theater and can grow and prosper.”

No comments: