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Behind the Scenes with Jonathan Sangster

This is the first of a series of short interviews with theatre professionals and shine the spotlight on some of the people and positions that are vital to theatre performances. Today’s first article is the amazing Jonathan Sangster!

Jonathan Sangster has graced many San Diego some stages and but now can be found on national stages as part of THE BOOK OF MORMON tour. During this time where theatres are closed, it seemed like a perfect time to catch up with him and chat.

Jonathan is a standby for the show, which is different than an understudy, which is different than a swing position – all of which are crucial to keeping a show running. So for those who may not know, Jonathan is happy to help.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Sangster

I am a standby for Elder Cunningham. 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 not the easiest job, as it is up to us 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.

Standbys are cast mainly for principle roles, and most often only cover that one principle role. From there, an understudy is usually cast within the existing ensemble (and sometimes a swing).

Swings learn multiple tracks covering most, if not all, the ensemble roles, and maybe another featured/supporting role. It’s a lot, I know!

What were you working on or doing when this all went down and how has everything impacted you and the show?

When COVID-19 hit, we were in the middle of our run in Los Angeles performing at the Ahmanson Theater. I was very lucky and performed in three shows the week before things started changing. We were contacted by our company management and we were told the show was canceled for the remainder of the LA performances. Later that week, San Francisco extended its ban on large group functions, and our performances were canceled there as well.

I’m hoping for is that we will be there when this all passes to bring smiles and laughter to people when we will clearly need it most. Which is why we need everyone to do their best with this “Better at Home” ordinance. The longer we drag our feet, the worse the outcomes will be.

What have you been doing lately to keep yourself busy?

I’m almost finished with my Star Wars Saga marathon!! (At the time of posting this has he completed his Star War Marathon) I shamefully admit that I’ve never seen all the episodes, so this has been a fun way to pass the time.

When I’m not binging on Star Wars and Netflix, I’ve been working on a musical that I’ve been writing for years. My writing has sort of taken a back seat as I transitioned into touring and focusing a lot on performing. So, this has been a nice way to ease back into it and get some other creative juices flowing.

What is your favorite thing about the theatre community?

The resilience of my community and the entertainment business has been my favorite thing recently. There have been a lot of decisions made in the last couple of weeks that took a lot of our smiles away. Yet, through the uncertainty, we forge ahead.

From the online cabarets and concerts, the coaching and teaching sessions being offered remotely, to the union fighting for all of us and websites dedicated to helping fund those of us affected financially, I’m proud to be part of the San Diego community and beyond.

What are you looking forward to the most when you get to perform again?

I’m just looking forward to making people laugh again. To be in front of people, without screens dividing us, and make them laugh in real-time. The world is going to need it, and I am longing for that day when it happens. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about the first time we’ll hear a live audience again.

The theatres may be closed but there are a lot of ways to support the theatres and performers.

I have a lot of friends that have either been offering classes; like Bailey Sonner teaching fitness/exercise classes, Emma Noissal is teaching tap and dance classes, and Don LeMaster has been doing live cabarets and concerts all through Facebook that I encourage everyone to check out.

A lot of artists have lost their jobs, and by offering either their expertise or talents virtually in these times, I encourage you to seek them out and to please use Venmo or other cash apps to tip them or send them anything you can. Every little bit will help.

The Actors Fund is also a great resource for many professionals that are out of work right now. You can donate at

In the San Diego area, consider spreading the wealth amongst them during this time. Many had to cancel current and/or upcoming productions. Consider donating the price of your ticket to these shows instead of requesting a refund. Or make a small donation the price of a ticket for a show that you would have seen or are hopeful to see in the future.

Now is the time to show your support for the arts more than ever!

You can follow Jonathan and his adventures, on stage, on tour, or even through a galaxy far, far away on his social media

Instagram: @JonnySang


Looking for ideas of what to do during this time of quarantine? Click here for more suggestions

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