Meet the Artist—Q&A with Actor Alan Rust
By Kimberly Shepherd, Marketing Apprentice
As one of the original cast members of A Christmas Carol, actor Alan Rust has been returning each season since 1998 to delight Hartford Stage audiences in this holiday production. Originally cast as Mr. Fezziwig, Rust has switched roles a couple of times over the years, even taking his turn as Scrooge, and is now most recognizable as the iconic Spirit of Christmas Present. Here he speaks about his experiences as an actor in A Christmas Carol, his work at The Hartt School, and how the two worlds collide.
You have performed, directed, and taught across the country and around the world, what brought you to Hartford?
I was asked to come to The Hartt School to help start an actor training program that would, along with dance, change The Hartt School of Music to The Hartt School. This was 18 years ago. The Theatre Division of The Hartt School now has approximately 140 students studying actor training and music theatre.
As Director of the Theatre Division at The Hartt School, what benefits do you see your students gaining from the relationship between the school and Hartford Stage?
The partnership we have with Hartford Stage helps make our program unique in the nation. To offer our students the opportunity to work with actors and directors of the high caliber that make up the artistic team at Hartford Stage is extraordinary. To be able to see the productions alone is a great advantage for these young artists pursuing a career in the theatre. Over the years a number of our graduates have been hired at Hartford Stage.
What is it like performing in A Christmas Carol alongside some of your students?
It is a joy and a challenge. It is exciting to be there and watch the actors from The Hartt School join the ranks of highly skilled professional actors. Although I have worked with these students in a classroom for three years it is a challenge to stay on your toes when working with them as colleagues. One is certainly aware of practicing what one has preached.
Speaking of challenges, how do you approach returning to the same show annually, as you do with A Christmas Carol, in comparison to playing a role in a production for the first time? How does A Christmas Carol remain interesting and exciting to you as an actor each year?
Well I don’t have to worry about learning the lines, but each performance, each night, each week, each year is telling the story again for the first time. If the story is great, and this one certainly is, you can never tire of sharing it, even with audiences who have heard it many times.
What is one of your most memorable moments of being a part of A Christmas Carol?
There are certainly many. I think one of many favorite moments each year is watching the excitement in Michael Wilson’s eyes, and indeed in Max Williams’ eyes, as they watch it all come together. The moment I cherish each year is when we tell the story to a group of young people from the community, who not only have never seen A Christmas Carol, but in many cases have never seen a play. Their enthusiasm for this new adventure is infectious and thrilling.
Is there a difference for you as an actor performing for these younger audiences during the many student matinees versus a regular audience?
They are early in the morning. But other than that it only varies in that the young audiences are made up of people who are more likely not to have heard the story before. That is always a thrill.
What is it about this production of A Christmas Carol that you think draws audiences back to see it each and every year?
Michael’s inventive adaptation and the superb production elements. I have been in a number of productions across the country, and this one is by far the best I have seen.
You have had a very successful career in theatre. What words of wisdom would you give to young performers still in school or just starting out their careers that you wish someone had given you at that stage?
I got great advice when I was young and wanted to pursue a career as an actor. I was brought up in The Cleveland Playhouse and saw many wonderful performances. I got to know a number of actors and directors. The best advice I was given I share with young people who ask me for advice. Since our business is storytelling, read, read, read. Go to theatre as often as possible and read about everything.