Hartford Stage is celebrating its Golden Anniversary and doing it in style with a slew of events, including the celebration Monday, Nov. 4, at the Hilton in downtown Hartford that was a reunion of sorts. Familiar faces who have appeared at Hartford Stage over the past 50 years including Dana Ivey, Kate Forbes, David Patrick Kelly and Bill Raymond were on the guest list for the party that included an evening of performances by the esteemed actors and a dinner. Also on the list was the award winning Richard Thomas, best known for his role as "John Boy Walton" on "The Waltons" television series. Thomas is equally passionate about and a master of Shakespearian theater and proved it in several roles at Hartford Stage including "Hamlet" and "Richard III." He recently Spilled the Beans with Java, before the Hartford Stage gala.
Q: When did the stage bug bite you?
A: I started working in theater before I was on camera. I was a child actor in theater in New York in the '50s, although I did start in television in the late '50s. Both have always been a part of my life.
Q: You have done Hamlet and Richard III at Hartford Stage. Were you always a Shakespeare fan?
A: I have always loved Shakespeare. My first performance in Richard III was as a teenager playing one of the young princes at a production at the Stratford Shakespeare Theater. Shakespeare isn't easy but I always had an affinity for him. I used to like to read his plays even when I was small. They just sat right with me. Some of them are more complicated than others but it was never a problem for me.
Q: What is your most cherished Hartford Stage memory?
A: It's hard for me to give you that answer I have so many cherished memories from Hartford Stage. I could not isolate just one. I think one would be the first night I came into Hartford and started rehearsals for "Hamlet." That was a big deal to me, to get that role. I had never been to Hartford before and Mark Lamos and I had an instant rapport. Also the production of "Peer Gynt." That was one of the greatest experiences I ever had in the theater. There was a stunning beauty in Mark's productions. And I also have to say the audiences, because it is a subscription house, you play there enough times and the people became people I knew.
Q: Is live theater dying?
A: Oh no. l don't think there is any danger. I think the challenge is to keep it accessible in terms of cost so it does not become a club for people who can afford it. Live theater is not the most popular form of entertainment and consequently, it has a different position now than it had before technology. You need to keep it open and maintain an appetite for theater for each generation which is hard to do when arts in public education is so reduced.
Q: Your Wikipedia photo is one of you as John Boy Walton from your TV show role. Do you wish someone would change it to one of the pictures from one of your stage performances?
A: I never looked myself up on Wikipedia. No it's fine. It was a role and it's what most people remember me for so of course that is Ok with me. What they remember me for is what they remember you for. I am very proud of that show. It was enormously helpful to me because I learned so much; it gave me a great deal of exposure and allowed me to pursue my life in theater.
Q: When you are not stopping by Hartford Stage for an anniversary party, what are you doing?
A: Now I am doing a TV series on FX called "The Americans." We just finished filming the second season. That takes me to the spring so I am hoping to do more Shakespeare. I would like to get back on stage.
Q: What character of Shakespeare's do you identify with most?
A: Hamlet is a special case because he does really embrace everyone. He wraps himself around you, an all encompassing role. As an actor, Richard turned out to be the part to which I had a great deal of identification because of his narcissism. Everyone has narcissistic issues. Richard is sort of like a portrait of an old actor.
Hartford Stage Celebration & Fundraiser:Tickets for premium seats and dinner are $175. Tickets for show-only preferred seats are $100 and show-only regular seats are $35. Information: http://www.hartfordstage.org or 860-527-5151.