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Sue Dunstan

Sheridan grad Sue Dunstan

Faculty of Animation, Arts & Design

Degree: Music Theatre Performance

Year of graduation: 1995

Finding Balance: Susan Dunstan finds success in multiple roles on stage, and in life

Music theatre performance graduate Susan Dunstan has a pretty busy schedule: she’s a triple threat performer who also runs a successful vocal coaching business as well as a professional dog breeding program for Dobermans and Poodles. Oh, and did we also mention she’s currently performing in the smash hit Come From Away on Broadway? “You have to keep a balanced life,” says Dunstan. “If you have nothing else, it’ll be a sad day if you don’t get that audition or that show.”

Growing up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Dunstan remembers a childhood filled with musical theatre, whether attending her first musical, Cats, with her mother or watching a taped version of the Stratford Festival’s performance of Pirates of Penzance. She brought her love of performing to lead roles in musicals at church and school, and came to Sheridan already a working actor. “Sheridan’s music theatre was a fantastic program – there were no other programs of its calibre,” she says. “I really truly feel that Sheridan gave me a terrific base, and teachers such as Rod Maxwell made sure that we knew the foundations of how to perform. Everything I remember is positive.”

Upon graduation from Sheridan in 1995 with a professional resume already under her belt, Dunstan continued to hone her skills in a wide variety of performances on stages from Massey Hall to Disney cruise ships. Like many who work in musical theatre, she’s spent a lot of time not just performing as the lead, but also in swing roles covering ensemble and principle actors. “Not everyone can or wants to do that,” she says. “The stress is extremely high and you have to be able to have the skill set to cover someone’s role at a minute’s notice.”

Now, Dunstan is taking her place in the spotlight as part of the all-principal cast of Come From Away, which opened on Broadway in mid-February. The Canadian musical, the idea of Sheridan’s own Michael Rubinoff, has sold out shows across North America, including a triumphant visit to Newfoundland for a special performance. Show after show, audience members crowd the front of the theatre and the stage door to share their own recollections and be a part of the phenomenon. “I think part of the reason that Come From Away is doing so well is that people will come over and start talking to you about the memories that it inspired,” says Dunstan. “Everybody wants to make that connection – this show opens conversations and people are so invested in it.”

Although the subject matter of how a community rallies in the face of disaster – in this case, Gander, Newfoundland in the wake of 9/11, as the passengers of grounded planes were welcomed by local residents – lends itself to sharing stories about the world event, part of the show’s strength is its intimacy. “It’s not a spectacle: the show has no fancy costumes and a bare set, made up of only chairs and a few tables. It’s pure storytelling the whole time, and you really have to know what you’re doing,” says Dunstan. “There’s no stopping this show and I’m going to see it through to the end.”
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