It would be an exaggeration to say that Steven Grant Douglas sauntered into UMD's Department of Theatre ready to wow audiences. Kate Ufema, UMD’s director of Musical Theatre, remembers, “Steven arrived at UMD with a nice singing voice, and little formal acting or dance training. But when the faculty saw how smart and disciplined he was we knew that, with work and focus, Steven would end up where he wanted to go.”
Cincinnati, Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, to name a few. After graduating summa cum laude from UMD with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theatre with an emphasis in Musical Theatre last spring, Douglas is breaking hearts in 39 cities as Sam Wheat in the Broadway National Tour of Ghost the Musical.
This is the first national tour of Ghost the Musical, based on the 1990 romantic film starring Whoopi Goldberg, Patrick Swayze, and Demi Moore. The stage show ran on Broadway in 2012.
So how did a guy who graduated from UMD less than a year ago fill Patrick Swayze's dancing shoes? Tenacity and training.
Let's start with the tenacity. The Ghost audition is one of 50 that Steven has done this year, and he didn't wait until he was a senior to get started. Steven has been traveling to New York City every spring break since his sophomore year, meeting the major players and making connections. "I got used to the caliber of the performances by auditioning," explains Douglas. His approach to auditioning was the same approach that a business major goes about networking. Says Ufema, "He understood how to market himself. Steven quickly realized that he had to make connections outside of the University."
Those connections paid off. Douglas met the associate casting director of Ghost, Nikki Grillos, when he was auditioning for another Broadway show, Soul Doctor. Grillos spotted Douglas' potential to star in Ghost and asked him to come back to New York to audition, but Douglas was in the middle of Avenue Q rehearsals in North Dakota. He put together a video audition with 14 minutes of singing and scenes. A week later, he got an email saying, "We'd like to see you in person." Douglas flew to New York for an audition with the casting director, the director, and music director of Ghost. One week later he auditioned again, this time for the producers. After a couple of call backs, Douglas flew back to the Midwest. One week later he got the call that every single theater major dreams of: He got the lead. “I honestly was hoping to get a supporting role. I didn’t anticipate getting the lead,” says Steven with the combination of modesty and self-assurance that Ufema says appeals to directors. “He’s extremely humble and yet has this extraordinary confidence about him. Steven’s just plain likeable.”
Douglas will be the first to credit the training he received at his alma mater for landing such a huge role so soon after launching his career. "It's a smaller program," says Douglas of UMD, "At NYU you might have 100 other kids in your class. At UMD, students get more attention and more opportunities. More time with every student is something that our program really excels at." Not to say that Douglas' time was all feel-good moments. UMD's Musical Theatre program is competitive; students are trained to be a triple threat with dancing, acting, and singing skills. Professors are especially tough on those who are serious about making it a career, like Douglas. "We knew how serious he was his senior year and we were brutal with him, relentless. And he took it, he would go away and make it better," says Ufema. "He grew so much," echoes Ann Bergeron, who directed Douglas in The Odyssey, "He was so focused, so determined, he was a delight to work with."
Bergeron, Ufema, and a whole crew from UMD's Theatre Department are already planning a trip to Minneapolis in June when Ghost takes center stage at the Orpheum Theatre. Douglas can't wait to see them. When asked about his experience at UMD, he exudes gratitude. "I think my education really shines through when I'm working with my cast mates. Sometimes people are like, 'Where did you go to school?' I embrace where I came from, I'm proud of my alma mater, and I'm proud to say that I graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth."
If You Go:
Tickets at HennepinTheatreTrust.org, by phone at 800-982-2787, or in person at the State Theater Box Office (805 Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis)
Follow Steven Grant Douglas on Facebook
Lori C. Melton, October 1, 2013