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Getting to Know Russell Harvard

Director of New Work Lisa Timmel sat down with actor Russell Harvard to talk about working on the development and production of Craig Lucas’ I Was Most Alive with You

Harvard has given notable performances in the “Fargo” series on TV, the film There Will Be Blood, and in many stage performances. This conversation was interpreted by Steven M. Nugent.

Russell Harvard in I Was Most Alive With You, pre-publicity

Lisa Timmel: Craig Lucas loves to tell the story of how he became interested in writing a part in a play for you. What’s your side of the story? 

Russell Harvard: When I was working on Tribes, one night my co-star Susan Pourfar came over to me and said, “Craig Lucas wants to meet you! You have to meet him! He is in love with you!” I was like, “Okay, who’s Craig Lucas? So I walked up with her and boom!, there he was: short, cute guy, smiling. That’s it. Shook his hand and said, “Nice to meet you.” The rest is history!

Sometimes it’s a little terrifying — I’m scripted to be naked in this play. That’s not really what scares me — it’s a part of it — but really it’s questions like, “Am I on the right path and doing the right thing?”

In theatre, you are known for your work on Tribes which was a remount of a show from London and the recent revival of Spring Awakening, but you’ve also worked on premieres. In addition to I Was Most Alive with You, you were in the world premiere production of a musical called Sleeping Beauty Wakes. How does working on a new play compare to working on a revival?

On new projects you can’t look at what prior actors have done to have a reference point of the role. Instead, it’s creative minds all coming together and delivering it new. I’m very excited to see what emerges and I’m very enthusiastic about this play. Sometimes it’s a little terrifying — I’m scripted to be naked in this play. That’s not really what scares me — it’s a part of it — but really it’s questions like, “Am I on the right path and doing the right thing?”

Well, there’s a lot of vulnerability, feeling vulnerable, in this play. Knox’s emotional journey demands a lot from an actor.

There’s a little bit of vulnerability because I see a lot of Knox in myself. It’s like, “Is Craig spying on me the whole time? Does he have some sort of secret camera?” Because I am reading it and it’s me. So that kind of scares me. And part of me wants to be Knox because Knox is a wonderful guy. And he’s also Job but so is his father.

This is the first time the Huntington has ever produced a play incorporating ASL. Many of us have never worked in a bilingual rehearsal room. It’s been exciting and challenging and I hope I get to do it again sometime. What would you suggest that we remember about working bilingually with ASL?

Having several interpreters is nice because one interpreter can’t always be working and when one goes on break, sometimes important details can get lost in translation. Because I’ve been working with you all on the play for two years I got some say in the interpreters. I think it’s very accessible and it’s very fair. In the hearing world, it’s easiest to default to the hearing people in the room. But Craig sets a great example — he defaults a lot to the Deaf members of the company. We don’t always agree. Craig may never have told you this, but I was concerned about the shadow interpreters. I worried that it would be distracting. Craig listened but said, “You have to trust me, it’s right for the show.” We talked and I decided I needed to keep my mind open. Then when I found out my friend from Spring Awakening Amelia Hensley was going to be one of the shadow interpreters, I knew it was going to work out.

I am a huge fan of your YouTube videos where you perform ASL interpretations of pop songs. How did you get started with that and how does it fit into your life as a performer?

It kind of just happened. When I noticed so many people putting out ASL videos on YouTube, I thought it was a great way to preserve my translations rather than only performing live. I don’t do it as much as I should! I get a lot of requests from fans asking, “Russell, can you do this song?” Little do they know that it takes a lot of work to translate something. Interpreting music is different because, artistically speaking, to really use ASL in its pure form to translate a song — you can do that word for word — but true, crafted ASL is selective. That’s the beauty. Some songs and singers lend themselves to it and some are impossible. Translating Tori Amos? Please! Maybe Steven M. Nugent and I should do one here in Boston! Let’s do “Let’s Have a KiKi” by the Scissor Sisters.

I will definitely tweet that out when it happens!

You can find Russell Harvard’s YouTube channel at youtube.com/user/zephyreros.


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