Guest Artist Q&A: Dontalle Sylvester

LTR is thrilled to welcome UNC alum Dontalle Sylvester back to the Langworthy stage where he will play the role of Curtis in Sister Act: our final production of the summer!  His previous LTR credits include A Raisin in the Sun (Walter Lee Younger) and Aida (Amonasro). Since graduating from UNC in 2015 with a BA in Acting, Dontalle has moved to Queens, NY, and has already booked and completed the National Tour of Four Score and Seven Years Ago (Lemeul), as well as making his Regional rounds in Euphoria (Al), Their Eyes Were Watching God (Lee Coker, Ed), and Uncle Jed’s Barbershop (Man 1, Mr. Jenkins, Mr. Porter, Preacher 2).

Here are the questions and answers from our interview with Dontalle:

Going straight from UNC to New York; such an enormous leap for an actor. What are a few things that you were able to take from your schooling here that have helped in the Big Apple?

“UNC definitely prepared me in terms of work ethic and making sure that I stayed on top of my goals. They’ve always been great about making sure we knew who we were before we went out the door, and I’m really happy that I knew who I was as an actor and was able to start fleshing out who I was as a person before heading out to the big city. I feel like if I didn’t have those three things (work ethic, goal setting, and understanding of self) I would have been lost in that city.”

Working, now, with professional theaters in professional settings were you surprised by anything that you hadn’t anticipated coming out of school? Was the professional world portrayed to you in college pretty similar to what you’ve seen?

“Well thank God I did a lot of LTR productions in college, because they really do mimic the professional world: mainly in terms of how short the rehearsal process is. I don’t think many of the students in college realize how short some of these rehearsal processes are. For example, the tour I just finished earlier this year, a three month tour with this amazing theatre company called Arts Power, was this musical Four Score and Seven Years Ago in which I was the lead. We only had, I kid you not, a week and two days to put that show up. For a full three month tour. We went around to Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida, New Jersey, places in New York, Delaware, Rhode Island. We went everywhere, but we only had a week to memorize lines, get the blocking down, learn the songs, etc. I don’t think I really got my feet into the show until we were already on the road. Maybe two or three weeks into runs, then I was like ‘I know the show now’, because you just don’t get time.”

So preparation was probably key for a process like that.

“Absolutely. I took three and a half weeks before rehearsals and started to memorize my script, my music, my lines until I felt comfortable that I was not going to be that person who was behind once we got into rehearsal. And thank God my cast was the same way. It allowed us to have nearly the entire show blocked by day three. It was necessary, and it gets you jobs. Companies will want to hire you again if they know you’re dependable, you’re off book on time, you’re ready to work and you can take notes.”

Coming back to UNC, how has it been working with students again and how your perspective shifted since you left? Do you have any advice for them?

“First of all, they’re all doing an incredible job. They’re prepared, which is huge because that’s one of the biggest things we’re taught here is to be so prepared and ready. I would definitely say to them to listen to what the professors are saying. One of the first things David said the first day of rehearsal was to be as ready as you can every day because there will be times when you don’t get much time in rehearsal, and that’s true. Even before I left, doing shows like A Raisin in the Sun were great because they prepared me for the shows I’ve done since. Tom McNally, who is an incredible director, got that show up and ready in about a week and a half. So, my advice would definitely be to stay prepared. That way if things change, you can roll with it. Always be on time, and on time meaning early. Give yourself ten, fifteen, maybe even thirty minutes. I was crazy to the point when I got my first professional show in Denver I was there like an hour and a half early. I was there before the stage managers were there. I was insane about it. I would take the bus, and I kept thinking that I didn’t want the bus to screw me over, so I would leave really early and end up getting there about an hour early pretty consistently. It allowed me to warm up, drink water, drink tea, and then I had time to do things. I could stop by Starbucks, go grab food, and still be there and ready to go in plenty of time. Also, make sure you’re as self-motivated as you can be. When you get into the thick of it, it can become a lot. And if you don’t have that self motivation to keep you going it can drown you. Work to keep your self-motivation up, and make sure you’re keeping people around you who are positive, very supportive of what you’re doing, and who don’t have time to drag you down while they’re falling down. You want people who will keep you up while you’re up and who will be there for you while you’re down. Definitely have a great circle of positive energy and power around you, and be prepared. With all of that, it will work out how it’s supposed to work out.”

Last question. Not really a question. Tell us a little bit about your character in Sister Act and why people need to see this show!

“Yes! My character in Sister Act is “Curtis” and he’s your quintessential 70’s style thug. Very stylish, very on top of it, very dangerous if you get in his way. His relationship with Delores, who is Brianna’s character, and she’s incredible, is that he found her at a McDonald’s and discovered her talent. Now he keeps her as his “side chick”, because I’m still married. There relationship gets to the point of: I own my own bar, she wants to be a star a la Diana Ross or a Donna Summers; she’s trying to be this huge disco queen and she has the talent to do it, but I’ve been the one holding her back because I don’t want to let her go. I believe I don’t want to let her succeed further than me, because I believe that I’ve given her everything. My character can be very manipulative, and it’s fun playing with that because I’ve always played characters who are very honest, heartfelt and deep. Not saying Curtis isn’t those things, but he also has that slimy-ness to him that I don’t always get to play. I’m enjoying myself a lot playing this character, maybe a little too much *chuckles*. I would tell everyone to definitely check out Sister Act. The women are amazing as the nuns, the jokes are hilarious, our lead is going to be an incredible Delores. It’s a fun show, fun energy, it has heart to it but it also has a good story, and the music is incredible. The women will be singing their faces off. Come see Sister Act!”

Sister Act opens July 27th in Langworthy Theatre and runs for only one weekend through July 30th! Get your tickets today!