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Interview: Steven Grant Douglas of the SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL National Tour

Summer: The Donna Summer Musical

Steven Grant Douglas plays Bruce Sudano in the Summer: The Donna Summer Musical, coming to DPAC February 25 through 29. SUMMER sheds light on the life of musical sensation Donna Summer using her classic hits that audiences know and love. Douglas has previously performed at DPAC with the national tour of GHOST THE MUSICAL and is an alum of the University of Minnesota Duluth.

How did you first become interested in theatre?

I'm from a very small town in northwestern Minnesota. The fact that I do theatre professionally is kind of amazing and should not be a thing. I've always been a singer and I had the desire to perform from a very young age. Around the age of 15, I joined a summer theatre group in a bigger city near my hometown and that was life-changing for me. It was the first time that I understood that there was a community of people who loved singing and performing as much as I did and I wasn't just the lone wolf, so to speak. From that point forward, I just never turned back and immersed myself in this new community of people who loved theatre. I shortly thereafter went to college and studied it and now it's what I do.

What did you gain from your training at the University of Minnesota Duluth?

I gained the skillset and the tools that I personally needed to be a great storyteller. I also got a dance minor while I was there because I was already taking a lot of dance classes as a musical theatre major so I figured, why not take the other five additional classes and enhance my degree? I learned how the story can continually be propelled through music and movement. It's all in support of the text and what you as an actor and you all as a cast are trying to accomplish. Everybody has that one goal, which is to tell a great story and that's what we get to do every day at SUMMER.

What's it like being on a national tour?

It's amazing. I pinch myself every day because I'm doing what I dreamt about doing from a very young age. I not only get to do what I love to do, but I get to see the country at the same time. That's awesome in itself.

I was on a National Tour once before with GHOST THE MUSICAL, which came to Durham at DPAC in 2014. It's exciting to revisit all the places that I got to see that time around. It's even better to see the new places and just continue to grow as a human and as an artist and hopefully continue to tell stories for the rest of my life. It's invaluable experience to be able to travel the country and perform.

Summer: The Donna Summer MusicalWhat's it like to return to the same venue in a different show?

It's wonderful. There's a strange familiarity with the venue and the way that people can be in certain neighborhoods and certain cities. I have very fond memories of my time in Durham and I'm excited to be back there because the theatre is immaculate. It's so state-of-the-art and beautiful and the people are great and the food is awesome. I spent the summer in North Carolina last summer, so it'll be nice to be back in the state.

What are some of your favorite places that you've gotten to visit on the tour?

I'd never been to San Francisco before, so I was looking forward to being there. I wasn't able to take advantage as much as I'd hoped because the weather wasn't agreeable. But it was awesome to be there and to check that off the list. I really enjoyed being in Seattle. I was shocked that Cleveland is a hip, awesome place where theatre is very loved and supported.

We've had great stops all along the way. My parents came down and visited while we were in Arizona because I'm from Minnesota, so when you're in Arizona in the middle of the winter, that's not a terrible thing. Today I'm in Chicago and I was at the Art Institute here all day because it's this huge amazing museum that has priceless artifacts and paintings. It's great to feed the artist within me.

So let's talk about Summer: The Donna Summer Musical. Can you tell us what it's about?

It's about the incredible things that Donna Summer achieved and the adversity that she had to face to achieve those things. A lot of people know a few of her songs, like I did before I did the show. But then you listen to more of what she wrote and did and it's just unmatched.

She wrote her music from such an authentic, genuine place. She didn't try to impress you with fancy effects. She used the tools that were available to her at that time to be honest and to move people. I think that's why she continues to do so, because it came from such a place of honesty and love.

Back to the show, we set it up as Donna Summer's concert of a lifetime. So she's putting on this concert and we step back into various memories along the way of her life. We have three actresses who play Donna Summer -- Duckling, Disco, and Diva. Each of them pass the torch seamlessly through the story so you can experience those parts of her life. And so that she can as well, when she's reflecting back on everything that happened. Not only do they pass the torch along, but then they all stand side by side and blow the roof off the theatre with their incredible voices.

Tell us a bit more about your role.

I come into play as Donna's eventual husband, Bruce Sudano. Donna met Bruce while she was recording music in LA. They fell in love very quickly. They wasted no time; they got married and they had two kids and he became the father of the daughter she already had. They were together until the day she died.

Summer: The Donna Summer MusicalHow has playing Bruce been so far?

It's just great. I love going to work every day because this cast is so incredibly talented. Like I was saying earlier, this story is so genuine and rooted in such a place of honesty and truth. I have to tap into the things that make me, me and then expand on those to tell this specific story. That's what I want to do more than anything.

Did you do any research about Bruce to prepare?

Of course. I scoured the internet and listened to the albums from his band, the Brooklyn Dreams. Bruce wrote almost all of those songs that they produced. He wrote and co-wrote a bunch of Donna Summer's hits as well.

When we were in rehearsal in New York, one of the production assistants came up and asked, "Did anyone tell you that Bruce is going to be visiting us in rehearsal?" And I said, "No they didn't. When?" She goes, "He's here today." I was, of course, doing one of the scenes that he lived through. I was like, "Here goes nothing!"

I got to meet him right after that and he was very personable and so kind. You can really see the love that he has when he speaks about the life that he and Donna had and when he talks about his daughters. It was such a privilege to meet him. I got to meet him again once the show was up and running, which I was luckily prepared for that time.

Do you have a favorite number?

I have a favorite number, but I'm not in it. My favorite is "No More Tears (Enough is Enough)." It's that song that comes on that just makes you want to dance. It's the hit that Donna released with Barbra Streisand back in the 70s.

Our incredible female ensemble and our three Donnas do such an amazing job of singing and performing that song. I won't give anything away for the readers, but they use that song to convey a very specific message to help Donna strengthen and move on with her life.

Our female ensemble is one of the hardest working ensembles I've ever had the pleasure of working with. They are asked to play men and women and dancers and reporters and cops and every single person that Donna Summers interacts with other than a few pivotal men, like Bruce. It's just a privilege to share the stage with these hardworking talented women.

Summer: The Donna Summer MusicalHow does it feel to be telling the story of the amazing Donna Summer?

It's an honor. One of my favorite things is to meet somebody who's been a fan of Donna Summer for years and has been with her through her music. Some people have met her. To be a part of that and help them re-live and experience all of that again, or for some people for the first time, is why I love what I do.

Why do you think people should come and see SUMMER?

I think people should come and see SUMMER because if you know her music, you'll be so interested to hear her life story behind the music. If you don't know her music, you're going to be like "Oh wait, I actually do know her music. I just didn't know that I do know her music."

It's not everyday that you get to know someone's life through the music that they created. I think that our creative team and our cast have done a great job of doing just that. It's not just some story you've heard before set to music that you're kind of familiar with. It's also not just a chronological canon of music. It's a carefully crafted piece that takes you up and down and around and through all of her incredible journey.

Any advice for young aspiring actors?

When I was a young aspiring actor, and I still sort of consider myself one, I was so fixated on finding shows that were right for me and then trying to force my square peg into a round hole. It's so much more important to embrace what makes you, you. The opportunities won't pass you by when you do that.

I'm somebody who, like I said, I want to tell things that are about the human experience. I want to tell fully realized stories of human beings. One of the best things that I can do to do that is to be a fully realized human being. To experience things that aren't theatre. To read books and to listen to music that isn't Broadway or whatever show I think I'm supposed to be in.

The more I do that and the more I develop as a person, the more I can develop as an artist. Nobody ever tells you that. I wish that one of my college professors had said, "Hey, it's great that you guys want to be theatre professionals, but one of the best things you can do as a theatre professional do is go experience other things so that you have something to pull from when you're creating these stories."

There's moments in our show where I think, "Oh I just had a moment happen like this in my life." And I personally think that's what good theatre is. When you as an audience member or an actor can sit there and think, "Wow I've totally been there," that makes it relatable and fun and a great night at the theatre.

You can follow Steven Grant Douglas on Twitter and Instagram. Be sure to catch Summer: The Donna Summer Musical while it's at DPAC from February 25-29. You can find more information here.

Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

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