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Hartt Student Stephen Mir ‘16 Takes on the Epic Role of Nicholas Nickleby


Posted 10/30/2015
Posted by Barbara Steinberger


Stephen Mir '16 (right) plays the title role in The Hartt School's ambitious production of "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby." At left is Hartt Theatre Division Director Alan Rust, whom Mir considers one of his mentors.

Stephen Mir '16 (right) plays the title role in The Hartt School's ambitious production of "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby." At left is Hartt Theatre Division Director Alan Rust, whom Mir considers one of his mentors.

Stephen Mir (far right) in the Ivoryton Playhouse production of "The Last Romance."

Stephen Mir (far right) in the Ivoryton Playhouse production of "The Last Romance."

Fourth-year actor training student Stephen Mir ‘16 handled some rigorous demands while doing summer theater in 2015 — rehearsing one play in the morning, another in the afternoon, and performing in yet a third show in the evening.

All the while, there was an unusually thick script sitting by his bedside that demanded even more of his attention.

Stephen learned in June that he had landed the title role in the University of Hartford’s Hartt School production of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, a two-part, nearly six-hour presentation of the classic Charles Dickens novel. Stephen is in almost every scene of the sprawling, ambitious production, performed at the University’s Millard Auditorium from Nov. 3–8. See ticket information.

Stephen, who is from Bloomfield, N.J., auditioned for several parts, including the role of Nicholas, during the spring 2015 semester. He then traveled to Cape Cod (Mass.) to hone his skills at the Monomoy Theatre during the summer. UHart manages the Monomoy and Hartt Theatre Division Director Alan Rust is the longtime artistic director there. While Stephen was performing in Damn Yankees at the Monomoy, Rust told him that he got the part of Nicholas Nickleby.

Stephen admits the role was intimidating at first. “It was hard to wrap my head around such a refined piece of theater,” Stephen says, noting that Damn Yankees and Nicholas Nickleby are “two very different worlds.” He read the script over and over throughout the summer and watched the iconic, 8½-hour Royal Shakespeare Company production starring noted Welsh actor Roger Rees.

Among the biggest challenges of the role, he says, are “to make it exciting and page-turning for the audience” and to “not get swallowed up” by the large set and the grand scale of the production.  At the same time, one of the advantages of taking on such a large role is that “you spend so much time with the audience, you really get to know them, you feel them and how they are responding to things. You develop a partnership with the audience.”

There are also the obvious challenges of memorizing a tremendous amount of dialogue, meeting the physical demands of the lengthy performance, and mastering the Victorian-era British dialect that the role requires. But Stephen feels comfortable with those demands, thanks in large part to the coaching and guidance he has received from the Hartt Theatre Division faculty. Karate, which he has been practicing since childhood, has been a significant help with body control and physical stamina.

Stephen has been on the stage from a young age. His mother is a classically trained opera singer, and Stephen and his brother performed in the Metropolitan Opera Children’s Chorus. After performing with the New Jersey Youth Theatre and in high school productions, he spent a year studying theater at Montclair State University (N.J.), but it was not a good fit for him. He took a year off to do auditions and take voice lessons and acting classes in New York City. One of his teachers suggested that he study with Alan Rust at The Hartt School.

“From the first year I was here, it’s been incredible,” Stephen says of his experience at Hartt. “I felt like there were people who knew who I was, who cared about me, and who took the work very seriously. I’ve definitely been given a great amount of opportunity to exercise my acting muscles here.” In addition to performing in Hartt productions, Stephen has spent two summers at the Monomoy Theatre and has performed at Hartford Stage and Ivoryton Playhouse in Connecticut.

Stephen is grateful for the support and influence of Hartt faculty members. He especially noted the impact of the late Kevin Gray, a veteran Broadway performer who passed away in 2013, and Rust. “Alan has always been a source of inspiration to me,” Stephen said of Rust. “When he tells me I’ve done a good job, I feel like I have.”

Stephen Mir '16 (right) plays the title role in The Hartt School's ambitious production of "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby." At left is Hartt Theatre Division Director Alan Rust, whom Mir considers one of his mentors.

Stephen Mir '16 (right) plays the title role in The Hartt School's ambitious production of "The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby." At left is Hartt Theatre Division Director Alan Rust, whom Mir considers one of his mentors.

Stephen Mir (far right) in the Ivoryton Playhouse production of "The Last Romance."

Stephen Mir (far right) in the Ivoryton Playhouse production of "The Last Romance."