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Yes, there’s a ‘Book of Mormon’ boot camp and actor Jonathan Sangster tells us about it

San Diego-based actor Jonathan Sangster says his goal as an actor is simple: "My goal, first and foremost, is focusing on the storytelling. I think that is what makes great theater!"
(Courtesy photo )

San Diego-based actor is on pause from “The Book of Mormon” but continues to be a voice for positivity

Theater actor Jonathan Sangster has an important message he’d like to get out there about the coronavirus pandemic and the arts.

“Now is the time to show your support for this art form more than ever,” the San Diego-based actor says. “There are going to be a lot of companies that suffer from this, and I won’t be surprised if we actually see some very beloved theater companies forced to close their doors for good.

“If you have the means to do so, reach out to companies and ask what ways you can help them out or how to donate during this unprecedented time,” adds Sangster, 33. “What I love about theater is that we are a true community that strives for inclusivity. Now is the best time to band together with each other and for each other.”

Before the pandemic shut down the entire arts world, Sangster (@jonnysang on Instagram) was on the road as a member of “The Book of Mormon” national tour, as a standby for the role of Elder Cunningham. Now back home in San Diego, the Las Vegas native took some time to tell us about tour life, growing up in a theatrical household and his new dog, Artie, a 5-month-old pug.

Q: You’ve been acting for a while, especially in San Diego, and most recently on tour with “The Book of Mormon.” Please tell us more about your role on the show.

A: I was a standby for Elder Cunningham. I get the question a lot of how it works being a standby, and I always tell everyone one of the hardest parts of being a standby is explaining to people what a standby is. Essentially, I am there to go on for the role if the actor who has the role full-time cannot. If he calls out sick, has a personal day scheduled, or for any reason cannot continue the show, that’s what I am there for. It’s definitely not the easiest job, as it is up to ourselves to keep the role and show fresh and current in our minds, bodies and voices. More often than not, we’ll run the show in rehearsals and understudy run-throughs than we will for actual performances.

San Diego actor Jonathan Sangster, a standby in the national tour of "The Book of Mormon."
(Courtesy photo )

Q: Speaking of “The Book of Mormon,” describe the audition process and when you found out you’ll be joining the production. What was that whole experience like?

A: I had auditioned for “The Book of Mormon” over a course of six years! The first time I auditioned was right here in San Diego across from the Civic Center. In January 2018, I received an email from my agent that they wanted me to put material on video to send in to them.

Later that year, in November, I was contacted again by my agent for an appointment in Los Angeles. It was a difficult few days as I was currently in tech for “Looking for Christmas” at The Old Globe. For a few days straight, I would be in rehearsal/tech/previews at the Globe, would then drive up to L.A. around 11 p.m. for appointments the following morning.

I thought it was a good sign they kept asking me to come back, and couldn’t have been more grateful for the graciousness of The Globe and production team of “Looking for Christmas” for being so accommodating. I went back to be seen by the associate director, and then finally the producer.

Then in January — a year to the day that I submitted the video — my agent called to let me know that “Book of Mormon” would be flying me to NYC in February for what they call “Book of Mormon Boot Camp!” Yes, it was as intense as it sounds.

For five days, I rehearsed and learned about a third of the show, including music, choreography and staging. On the fifth day, I would present all the material to the casting directors, associate directors, music directors, music supervisors and orchestrators, producers, and of course, they taped the entire session to show the show’s creators. After that, a few weeks later, I would find out that I was joining the national tour of “The Book of Mormon” — years after the first time I ever auditioned for the show.

Q: You’ve been in numerous productions, both in San Diego and elsewhere. What has been your most memorable role so far? Is it “Book of Mormon”? And why?

A: I would definitely say “Book of Mormon” has been the most memorable. It was a culmination of years and years of hard work and determination. In fact, the most memorable moment of my entire theatrical career was when I got to go on for a show here in San Diego at the Civic Center. So many friends and family were able to make it to the performance, and I can’t even put into the words the feeling I felt that night. It was a manifestation of so much love, energy, and encouragement pulsing the air. It will be something I NEVER forget.

Q: As an actor, what is your goal first and foremost?

A: My goal, first and foremost, is focusing on the storytelling. I think that is what makes great theater!

Q: Please tell us about the first moment when you realized your career would involve the stage.

A: For me, the most formative moment of when I knew I wanted to actively pursue theater as a career was when I saw a production of “Ragtime” my senior year of high school. Of course, I already knew I would be going to college for theater and acting. But it was seeing this production when I realized the true impact that performing, and theater as a whole, can have on society and the world. It also became a dream show to be part of, and would eventually become my San Diego Musical Theatre debut!

Q: Did you grow up in a particularly theatrical or musical household?

A: My great grandmother was a performer in vaudeville back in the early 1900s! I remember her teaching me tap steps outside in her backyard on our “walks” when I was really young.

Q: Were you active in the arts / theater in school?

A: Yes! Very much so. I was in theater all four years, band in all four years, including being the drum major of my high school’s marching band for three years, and choir my senior year. I ended up being awarded a scholarship for being the Outstanding Performing Arts Student my senior year.

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of what you do?

A: For me, the most rewarding part is impacting the audience. Whether it’s laughter, smiles, and/or tears, performing is for them. And when it can spark a conversation with others on their way home, that’s even better!

Q: What’s the most challenging?

A: The business can be tough for many reasons. We performers can get told “no” a lot, and it can be disheartening. This is why I always try my best to be a positive face within our community, to lift others up, because truly we know better than anyone else in our lives what it is we go through in the industry.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

A: This is a good one, and I get to make a special mention and shout out to another amazing San Diego talent. When I was doing “First Date” at San Diego Musical Theatre, I was working part-time as an assistant supervisor for a theme park and wasn’t putting nearly enough time, energy or commitment into my theatrical endeavors. After a night of tech, the amazing Allison Spratt Pearce and I had a long conversation, and by the end of it, she looked at me and said: “You need to stop getting in your own way.” It was eye-opening. The only one stopping me from my true potential and achieving my dreams was ME. I think about that convo with Allison constantly, and I credit a lot of my recent achievements to her and our conversation.

Q: Since you were on the road a lot, perhaps this might not apply, but: What was your most recent theatrical production you’ve seen? What’d you think?

A: Actually, over Christmas we had a few weeks off from the tour and I took a trip to Paris for a week with another friend from the tour. While there, we saw a production of “Funny Girl” in Paris at the Théâtre Marigny. It was the first time that show had ever been performed in Paris. Luckily for us, it was presented in English with French subtitles. It was my first time seeing “Funny Girl,” and I was CHANGED!

Q: What is the one thing people would be most surprised to hear about you?

A: I have a fear of cows.

Q: When you’re not on tour, describe your ideal San Diego weekend.

A: Definitely going to a local coffee shop, big fan of Better Buzz and Folsom to start the day. Maybe even brunch at Swami’s or Breakfast Republic! Some sun time either at a park or beach, then off to local craft breweries. And of course, no ideal San Diego weekend would be complete without ending the night at, you guessed it, Turf Supper Club!

Q: What are you doing now that the entertainment world is on pause?

A: Well, I’m trying to remain creative in some ways. Before tour I had been working on a musical I have been writing. When all of this first started happening and shows were first canceled, I immediately dove back in. Outside of that, I became a dog dad! And let me tell you, being a first time dog dad to a puppy has my days filled!


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