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INTERVIEW: Grace Chermak on Playing a Doll (in Guys and Dolls)

Grace Chermak (second from the left) stars in the Old Log Theatre’s upcoming production of Guys and Dolls. Also pictured: Eric Sargent, Charlie Clark, and Kym Chambers Otto. Photo courtesy of the Old Log Theatre.

The Old Log Theatre’s production of the classic musical Guys and Dolls opens today in Excelsior, MN. Grace Chermak plays one of the show’s “dolls”, Salvation Army officer Sarah Brown. Chermak spoke with the Arts Reader‘s Basil Considine about stepping into this iconic role.

A lot of people encounter Guys and Dolls in high school. Where and how did you first encounter this musical?

I am one of the few people in our cast who did not encounter Guys and Dolls in middle or high school. I had heard some of the songs over the years, but mainly familiarized myself with the show in preparation for the Old Log auditions. I quickly grew fond of the show and was intrigued by the character of Sarah Brown.

You were at the Old Log in the fall, ASM-ing and understudying. Are you frequently working both onstage and backstage?

This fall was the first time I did ASM work, and I enjoyed the experience; it allowed me to get to know the production staff and further understand technical elements of the theatre. I also spend time working with kids and teenagers as a director and music director locally when I can. I have a teaching license in K-12 vocal music and would eventually like to teach full time. For now, my main passion and focus is performing and growing as an actor. I’ve found that working backstage or on the directing side allows you to become more aware as a performer.

You grew up in Wayzata, went off to Iowa State for undergrad, and ended up back in the Twin Cities metro area. Was returning always in your plans? What drew you back?

I planned to come back to Minneapolis because I grew up admiring and seeing the productions of theatre companies here. I wanted to audition for and work with as many as possible. The Twin Cities is filled with theatrical opportunities, and I knew it would be a great place to start my career. I also love the state of MN and enjoy being near my family and hometown.

A dulce de leche (or two, or ten, depending on the production) figures in the plot for your character. How do you yourself feel about this drink?

Ahh yes, the dulce de leche! I recently tried the drink at the Cast and Cru bar [at the Old Log Theatre] after one of our previews and thought it was delicious. I considered it “research” for my character (haha).

In regards to Sarah having the drink in the show, I wanted to sensitively portray the character’s inexperience—it’s not a stereotypical “girl gets drunk” scene. The scene is about Sarah experiencing a new side of herself for the first time. My goal is to make her experience relatable, humorous, and genuine.

Grace Chermak as Lily in Iowa State University’s production of The Secret Garden in 2016. Photo by Nancy Thompson.

Your headshot shows bright blonde, but the PR photos show Sarah with a dark head of hair. Is that your real hair, or a wig? 

Yes, I do wear a wig.

Which do you prefer in terms of getting in and out of costume and makeup?

For most productions girls’ hair, needs to be curled, straightened, braided, you name it, and it can be pretty damaging over time, so wearing a wig can help protect your hair.

I do prefer my blonde hair to the brown, but I also enjoy the drastic color change because I think it suits the character and is a nice contrast to the other wigs in the show. With that being said, prepping my hair to go under the wig takes some time and care to put on and remove. Wig or no wig, hair prep time for a show can take a little while!

What’s your pre-show warmup process like?

I start my pre-show prep during my 25 min drive to work because it gives me plenty of time to vocally warm up. I usually get to the theatre an hour and a half before showtime because I like to get settled and catch up with the other actors without feeling rushed.

My makeup and wig prep time takes about 30-40 minutes; I then head to the stage for the fight call (a time for actors to rehearse the stage combat), review any notes I have received from the directors, check my props, stretch for about 10 minutes, and then get into costume.

Everyone has their own pre-show ritual, but mine is pretty consistent no matter the show because I like the routine.

Guys and Dolls opens tonight and plays through June 16 at the Old Log Theatre in Excelsior, MN.

Basil Considine