How Gustavus Shaped Austin Adler ’23: From Onstage Performer to Theatre Tech Specialist Posted on April 24th, 2024 by

For Austin Adler ‘23, the question, ”Where are you from?” is always a fun one to answer. Yes, he grew up in the Minneapolis area before coming into Gustavus, and he knew he wanted to “do theater” ever since high school.

But there was a twist, in that Adler arrived on the Hill as a performer who had never touched a single shop prop or tool. So where he was “from” was onstage, under the lights, which turned out to be a far cry from where he landed.

Adler graduated last spring with a B.A in Theatre Honors from Gustavus. He received the Outstanding Student in Design Technology during his senior year, two years after receiving the Lee and Laurie Walker Scholarship his sophomore year.

Adler was very involved with Gustavus Theatre Department throughout his time here, including  as a performer in multiple shows, most notably “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” as Judge Littlefield, Caiaphas the Elder, and St. Matthew, and as a swing for three roles in “Gloria.” Despite these successes, Adler reached a point during his first year when he realized staying at Gustavus might not be an option. He’d received enough financial aid to be able to attend the College in the first place and set about focusing on his theatre passions.

But his money concerns became serious enough that Adler met with Department Chair, Henry MacCarthy, and told him that he was thinking about leaving. MacCarthy responded with the many reasons he should stay. After going home for break, spending time with his friends, and letting his thoughts sit, Adler determined that, at anyplace other than Gustavus,  he wouldn’t get the opportunity to explore the performance and technical sides of theatre at the same time, because, “Everywhere else makes you pick,” he says. Upon realizing this, Adler decided to make it work and show everyone that he’s not just a performer, nor is he  just a theater technician, he can indeed do both at the same time and make them work.

Now refocused on his academic goals, Adler learned how working in the student shop helped him gain experience in theatre technology while also opening up  many possibilities for making a career out of his major beyond simply trying to be an actor. As his technical experience expanded and improved  he realized, “I can do this whole tech thing for  a living.”

That’s when everything clicked. By spring 2023, Adler had lined up a monthslong gig for himself—as summer stock lead carpenter at the Arrow Rock Lyceum Theatre in Missouri—that began the day after he graduated. After returning to Minnesota, the same company offered Adler a role in their productions of “A Christmas Carol.” So he jumped back in his car the day after Thanksgiving and headed south again. These two experiences helped him land another job back home in Rogers/Elk River, as the local high school’s lead theater tech specialist. In this position he does everything from setting up and designing stages (including lighting, sound, carpentry, and props) to managing other companies who use the space, to teaching a few dozen theatre tech students in a given day.

It’s little wonder that Adler loves his new job, and he credits the many opportunities at Gustavus for equipping him for a career he didn’t know was possible. “Gustavus culture in many ways is more unique and specific than a public university, whether people are actively aware of the community or not,” he said, adding that the flexibility and problem-solving skills he learned in this liberal arts environment have already helped him succeed. “One of the key things about Gustavus is taking your major and what they teach you, and making it work for you,” Adler said. “I have all these tools, but what makes me stand out and different from everyone else? How can I use my training to fit me? Once you figure out how to make your major fit you, that is the key to success at Gustavus and making it work”.


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