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Duluth celebrates as mayor declares Daniel Durant Day

The actor, a star of Academy Award Best Picture winner "CODA," returned home to an exuberant celebration and a mayoral declaration at the DECC on Monday.

View of man in black suit signing "I love you" to a crowd who are lifting their hands in ASL applause.
Actor Daniel Durant signed his appreciation to an applauding crowd at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center on Monday.
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Several dozen fans, friends and family members threw their hands in the air to applaud in American Sign Language on Monday evening as Mayor Emily Larson officially declared Daniel Durant Day. The actor, a star of Academy Award Best Picture winner "CODA," wiped away tears as he listened to tributes from a group including several of his childhood mentors.

"I'm thankful to all of Duluth," said Durant, as translated by an interpreter, after the mayoral declaration. "That's really where all this started emerging."

At the public ceremony, held at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center's "Ice Cube" lobby overlooking a foggy downtown, Larson spoke to Durant directly in ASL. "We are grateful, and we are proud of you," said Larson via an interpreter. "Your work in 'CODA' is just so beautiful and powerful. You helped us to see our common humanity."

The celebration was co-hosted by Larson and Duluth City Councilor Mike Mayou, who represents District 2, home of Durant and his mothers Lori Durant and Mary Engels. In addition to Larson's proclamation, the ceremony included remarks from five people who worked with Durant as he was discovering his acting talent during his Duluth childhood.

Pat Castellano, a retired educator who worked with Durant at the Duluth Children's Museum, earned a big laugh when, after her remarks, she asked Durant to autograph her souvenir magnet from "A Nurse, a Child, and a Bear." That 1999 play, written by teacher Raysa Carlson, starred a young Durant and was a touchpoint for Monday's speakers.

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A smiling man holds a pen to a small magnet as a woman smiles and claps her hands, looking on.
Pat Castellano looks on in delight as Durant autographs a magnet from the 1999 Duluth Playhouse production where he made his stage debut.
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune

"It was down at the Playhouse in the Depot," remembered Durant, speaking with media before the ceremony. "To have that role at 9 ... I just loved to be on stage with an audience there and be able to tell stories, and be able to act and put on different characters and work with people in that way and be so creative. It just kind of had this natural connection for me."

In the proclamation, Larson saluted Durant as a person "whose work as an actor has captivated and engaged a global community." She concluded, "before you were the world's, you were ours. Duluth is so proud of you and thrilled that millions of people around the world now know of your work."

Durant's mothers stood by beaming throughout the ceremony, and their son — who brought them as his guests to a string of Oscars afterparties — acknowledged their foundational role in his life and career. Born in Detroit to birth parents who became caught up in addiction, Daniel Durant was adopted and brought to Duluth at age 18 months by Lori Durant, who was his aunt.

"With the support from my moms and the schools and the wonderful interpreters, I had the deaf community here," he said to reporters. "I was able to take all of that and be who I am today. ... This celebration is really touching for me. I think it's really celebrating the whole Duluth community as well."

Cheryl Blue, who collaborated with the Children's Museum on behalf of the state's Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, remembered the young actor's incredible expressiveness. "I just felt like you had the world at your fingertips because you were so creative," she said, speaking via an interpreter. She also reminded the crowd that "CODA" is now playing in select movie theaters.

Rereleased in the wake of its Oscar win, "CODA" is playing with open captions (that is, captions visible to all) for accessibility. "It's in the DECC's Marcus Theatres right now," Mayou pointed out as the event wrapped up.

Larson added, "It starts in 10 minutes!"

A man wearing black suit looks toward an ASL interpreter, standing in a stylish lobby with a crowd behind him.
Actor Daniel Durant speaks with reporters during a celebration in his honor at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center on April 4, 2022.
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune

This story was updated at 10:15 a.m. on April 5 to correct a mistake in the name of the DECC's "Ice Cube" lobby. It was originally posted at 9:56 a.m. April 5. The News Tribune regrets the error.

Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in February 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. You can reach him at jgabler@duluthnews.com or 218-279-5536.
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