BWW Spotlight Series: Meet Daniel Sugimoto, a Talented Entertainer Who Found Himself Stuck at Sea When COVID-19 Forced Ports to Close
With the current theatre world on hiatus, I have created a Spotlight Series on Broadway World which features interviews with some of the many talented artists who make our Los Angeles theatre community so exciting and vibrant thanks to their ongoing contribution to keeping the Arts alive in the City of the Angels. And just like all of us, I wondered how they are dealing with the abrupt end of productions in which they were involved.
This Spotlight focuses on the super-talented Daniel Sugimoto who I first met at the 2015 Hollywood Fringe "Best In Cabaret" show Thenardier's Inn by CAC Studios, I knew I would be following his progress as one of the finest musical theater progenies I had ever met. Not only is he a triple threat onstage as well as a brilliant musical director, his skill with composing musical numbers that movingly tell a story imbues each of his characters with deep-felt heart and soul through his incredible imagination and understanding of human nature. But 2020 has certainly proven to be a challenge since Daniel was entertaining at sea in mid-March when COVID-19 forced worldwide ports to close.
Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?Daniel Sugimoto (Daniel): Hearing Billy Joel for the first time helped me access my emotions as a confused hormonal teen, so I immediately taught myself piano and fell into music and theatre. I moved to Los Angeles from Chicago to study and started my professional career at South Coast Rep.
But I knew I wanted to do more than act and sing, so I focused on directing and musically directing for Sugimation Productions, a theatre company I co-managed and co-created. It was with this company I wrote my first full length musical, PROJECT MAYHEM, which was a rock musical based off of the classic novel and film, Fight Club. This premiered at the Sayers Club in Hollywood a few years ago and went on to raise money for domestic abuse awareness/care facilities.
My next step was starting my own theatre company, The Zoo Theatre Company, with the wonderful Julia Lisa who would direct most of the productions. Our most notable production to date was LETTERS TO EVE, which was a World War II musical that told an interweaving story of a Japanese American family forced into incarceration camps and the untold journey of an African American Jazz musician held captive in a German Concentration camp after Germany's invasion of France.
(SB): I have reviewed many of Daniel's incredible productions over the years. Here's the link to my Broadway World review of LETTERS TO EVE: /los-angeles/article/BWW-Review-World-Premiere-Musical-LETTERS-TO-EVE-Shares-WWII-Memories-Written-to-Loved-Ones-20161112
(Daniel): This musical touched the community and we are so grateful to every single person associated with the production and its growth.
(SB): I know you are always busy, so what production(s) were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled due to the spread of COVID-19?
(Daniel): I was in rep performing 5 different shows, doing two shows a night every night at sea, so we took the impending news day by day. Being in international waters on a ship, the news would change all the time, but we continued doing our shows for the guests. I remember being in my dressing room when my family and friends were sending me links to Trump's address cutting off European travel. This was certainly worrisome since I was working for a German company and we still had to travel back to Germany. So that is when I remember it hitting me hardest how serious this was.Once the virus started hopping vigorously from country to country, all the ports our ship was supposed to dock in started closing completely, not even letting cargo ships in. So, in a race against time, our crew had to facilitate getting 2,000 passengers off the ship in a little tiny tourist port in La Romana. Our Show Manager said, "It was like a warzone because the port security didn't want the passengers, but we had arranged flights for 2,000 people so we had to sneak them onto buses with all their luggage."
But the cast and crew had to stay on the ship, so we kept morale high by continuing to give performances to the hard-working ship's crew until we could get back across the Atlantic and find a country that would let us off the ship. Luckily, since we were in isolation at sea, we still got to perform and be social on the ship. But unfortunately, my second contract with the cruise company has been postponed due to travel restrictions.
(SB): How was the shutdown communicated with the cast and production team aboard the ship?
(Daniel): Our supervisors on board gave us daily updates. Just imagine entire departments of people hurling questions on why they can't leave the ship while worrying if we were going to run out of food, all aimed at a disheveled Show Manager who just wanted an easy contract in the Caribbean. What was most difficult was how often things would change due to the pandemic's incessant evolution.
And since we would get new information every day, this meant as an individual crew member, you had to stay positive and keep your head into something productive. Luckily, AIDA, the cruise line I'm talking about was super transparent and helpful in keeping us all safe and healthy. Thanks Christoph!
(SB): Are you going to be able to return to the ship to fulfill the terms of your contract?
(Daniel): Hopefully I will be back on a cruise within the year but if not, I plan to do live stream concerts for the many in need of live entertainment. If I can provide any semblance of joy, it would fill my soul. And since I was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean when things started to shut down stateside, I didn't have any projects lined up. So when I got back to Los Angeles, I found myself with a completely open schedule for the first time in a long time!
(SB): How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?
(Daniel): Living in Germany for two months then on a cruise ship for four more was exhilarating and led to loads of creative memories. From the cobblestone streets of Hamburg being lit by fireworks until 4 in the morning New Year's Day or the rough seas crashing against my tiny crew cabin, there was truly never a dull moment.
Now I am writing a lot of music and plan on releasing an EP later in the summer, and I'm planning multiple live stream concerts from my new in-home piano studio, the first of which took place on my birthday, May 25.
(SB): I was in the online audience that night, and Daniel has shared one of the songs he performed, "Jubilee Road" by Tom Odell, on You Tube: https://youtu.be/-jF74BXINo0
(Daniel): I'm also going to be on Patreon giving voice lessons and private concerts for any and all interested. This way I can continue to give back in any way I can. If you are interested in Voice Lessons, please contact me on my Patreon account at https://www.patreon.com/danielsugimoto.
(SB): What thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?
(Daniel): We are going into a different phase of life as performers and entertainers. While we can be hopeful and grateful of theatre's glorious return, we have a responsibility as artists to entertain and connect people regardless of the circumstances. And since music, acting, and theatre are all ways of connecting people, don't look at this pause as a negative. See how creative you can get with what it means to bring people together and how we can evolve the art form for the better.I would like people to know that there is hope. Living on a ship during the beginning stages of the pandemic with no panic or outlandish behavior taught me that leadership and your mindset can really dictate your surroundings. We are capable of banding together and facing anything that comes our way. Things may look bleak now, but they've looked far bleaker in times before and we've come out on top!
(SB): Daniel invites everyone to stay in touch with him on social media:
Instagram - @Sugimation
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/daniel.sugimoto
From This Author Shari Barrett
Shari Barrett, a Los Angeles native, has been active in the theater world since the age of six - acting, singing, and dancing her way
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