From the Empire to Broadway: Stephen, Minn., native lands lead in 'Ghost the Musical'

One week, Steven Grant Douglas was performing "Avenue Q" at The Empire Arts Center in Grand Forks -- the next he was rehearsing on Broadway in New York City.

Steven Grant Douglas plays Princeton
Steven Grant douglas plays Princeton, who has moved to Avenue Q to find his ourpose in life. Photo by John Stennes/Grand Forks Herald

One week, Steven Grant Douglas was performing "Avenue Q" at The Empire Arts Center in Grand Forks -- the next he was rehearsing on Broadway in New York City.

Not too many people succeed so soon in life, but in his early 20s, this Stephen, Minn., native is living his dream, performing as Sam Wheat in the nationally touring production of "Ghost the Musical."

"I am absolutely living my dream every day," Douglas said. "And I'm conquering the challenges because this is what I want to do for the rest of my life."

Although Douglas was shocked it happened so soon, he said the fact that he landed a role on Broadway isn't entirely shocking.

"I somewhat feel like I've earned where I am," he said, somewhat hesitantly. "It's something I've been working toward for years."


And, it's true.

Douglas, who graduated from the University of Minnesota-Duluth with a bachelor's degree in musical theater in 2012, says he has seized every opportunity possible to pursue his dream.

He's performed in many small-scale productions with The Empire Theatre Company in Grand Forks, the Theatre Latte Da in Minneapolis and the Adirondack Lakes Summer Theatre Festival in New York -- as well as many roles in his high school and college productions.

Landing 'Ghost'

"Starting in February, I was extensively auditioning in New York City just because I knew this is where I wanted to be," he said. "I probably auditioned 40 or 50 times ... before I was able to land 'Ghost.'"

Though, Douglas never auditioned for "Ghost."

He was trying out for another Broadway show called, "Soul Doctor," in May when someone from Joy Dewing Casting scouted him for Ghost.

Douglas returned to North Dakota empty-handed and started rehearsals for "Avenue Q," which ran July 30 through Aug. 10 at the Empire.


He said he wanted to do the comedy because it's one of his favorite musicals, and he wanted to spend time with his family. "I had a feeling that if things were going to go well that I was going to be away for awhile," he said.

Douglas' feeling was spot on.

He received a call from the casting company, submitted a video audition with the help of his "Avenue Q" cast members and later landed the role as Sam Wheat on the nationally touring musical.

"I was pretty much in complete shock," Douglas said.

That same week, he performed the first weekend shows of "Avenue Q," and helped another actor learn his part for the second weekend of shows, while Douglas would be in New York starting rehearsals for "Ghost."

'I do my best to keep Sam alive'

He moved Aug. 4 and started rehearsals Aug. 5.

"It was an unbelievable experience to walk into a room and meet the people I was going to be spending the rest of the year with," he said.


Initially, Douglas was intimidated by his role as Sam Wheat, who was originally played by Patrick Swayze in the 1990 movie. "Those are some big shoes to fill," he said. But he said he's found that it's best to remove himself from the idea and just let his company steer him in the right direction.

"I just go to work every day and find who the character is," he said. "Sam is a young successful banker ... he's really playful, likes to joke around -- many aspects of my own personality."

Sam dies early in the story line, but he returns as a ghost to protect his fiancée, Molly.

"It's a huge shift," Douglas said. "I do my best to keep Sam alive even when he's dead."

Douglas said acting as Sam, he's learned to have more fun with the performance, which can be challenging when dealing with some of the events of the show.

"It's a tricky situation because some things are just naturally heavy to take in like being shot in a mugging and seeing your fiancée suffer because of your loss," he said.

Every night, the show takes Douglas on an emotional and physical rollercoaster, but he said after a few performances, he had "a better grasp on how to access the highs and lows."

Aside from the challenges of the role, Douglas had to work with elaborate illusions and special effects and overcome the anxiety he had about performing for much larger crowds than he was used to.


He said his biggest concern when he landed the job was the fact that he would be performing in theaters that seat 1,500 to 4,000 people.

"That's a daunting number of seats in a theater," he said. "But, it's actually been a smooth adjustment. As we go on, it gets more and more comfortable."

Adjusting to the cycle

Douglas has traveled with the cast and crew from New York to Providence, R.I., to Atlanta, to New Orleans, performing in each city for a week before moving on to the next location.

"We have one week sit-downs, which are really great," he said.

They arrive in a new city on a Monday, perform Tuesday through Sunday and spend the next Monday traveling.

"It's taking a lot of adjusting," he said. His daily schedule is the opposite of the average work schedule. Douglas and the other actors spend their mornings and afternoons working out at the gym, grabbing lunch at local favorites and simply exploring the cities.

Then, they head back, get ready and perform the two-and-a-half hour show.


Douglas said one significant change he's had to adjust to was that no one sticks around after the curtain drops.

"After the show, I go to my dressing room, and I get out of my costume," he said. "It's definitely an adjustment in that regard."

But, whether fans stick around to congratulate him on a good performance, he said all the thrill and excitement is still there. He is excited to come back to Minnesota in June and perform for all of his friends and family members.

"It will be an unbelievable achievement to perform a show of this scale in my home state, and then to be the lead guy in the production is an even bigger excitement," he said.

"Ghost" is Douglas' first large-scale production, but he said he's learning that aside from the size, it's really not all that different than performing in The Empire.

"Regardless of how big a production is, I'm finding that the most important things are being prepared, the people that you work with and just enjoying the ride," he said.

Maki covers arts and entertainment and life and style. Call her at (701) 780-1122, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1122 or send email to .


Steven Grant Douglas in 'Ghost The Musical'
Ghost the Musical ©2013 Joan Marcus

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