The early weeks of spring 2020 and Broadway’s pandemic shutdown already seemed like a distant, bygone era by summertime. Initial hopes for a two- or three-week hiatus had morphed into talk of maybe a few months and then even that seemed like wishful thinking. Near the end of April, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, at the height of a newfound popularity built on the image of righteous truth-teller, openly mocked the possibility of an imminent Broadway reopening. “I wouldn’t use what Broadway thinks as a barometer of anything…,” he sniped at a press conference. New productions that had planned fall 2020 openings re-set their sights on winter or spring 2021, at least publicly. Within the theater community, private conversations and gut feelings were even darker.
Broadway’s ‘Company’ One Year After Covid Shutdown: Cast Chronicles A 12-Month Pause In Being Alive – An Oral History
Greg Hildreth, cast as Peter in the much-anticipated Broadway revival of the beloved Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical Company, remembers it this way: “Every time the Broadway League announced an extension of the shutdown, it felt like you’d just proposed marriage to somebody and she said, ‘Yes, I’ll marry you. Just not yet.’”
Last week, in the first installment of Deadline’s oral history of Company, the 14 principal cast members recalled those early days, how it felt to have the show of your dreams and the chance of a lifetime snatched away overnight. In Part 2, Company‘s Patti LuPone, Katrina Lenk, Bobby Conte Thornton, Matt Doyle, Christopher Fitzgerald, Christopher Sieber, Jennifer Simard, Terence Archie, Etai Benson, Nikki Renée Daniels, Claybourne Elder, Greg Hildreth, Kyle Dean Massey and Rashidra Scott share what happened next, when isolation set in, bank accounts started to shrivel and losses of all sorts began to mount.
Here, they share their stories with candor, humor, insight and focus, essential tools for this unprecedented year on Broadway and off.
All interviews were conducted separately and have been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
“How could anyone feel shame doing whatever you need to do to get by? Our industry doesn’t exist anymore”
Kyle Dean Massey (plays Theo, renamed from the original Kathy) I was renting an apartment in New York, and paying extra to do a seven-month lease. So I just left the apartment the day we shut down. I had two of my dogs with me and couldn’t get on an airplane with two dogs, so I had to drive back to my house in Palm Springs. I made it in two and a half days because I was afraid to stop, afraid they were going to close state borders. “Am I going to get stuck in Nebraska?” I just wanted to get home.
I got to Palm Springs and it was sunny, beautiful and warm. And it became really sad to see New York City on social media, boarded up and shut down and so cold and everyone holed up in their small apartments. Our cast would do these Zoom calls and to be perfectly honest, I stopped turning on my camera because it was so nice and sunny where I was, and my backyard was just lovely. It felt, I don’t know, disrespectful or something, you know? I don’t know how else to say it.
Rashidra Scott (Susan) I wanted to get back into my dressing room and dump the water out of the Keurig. I’m somewhat of a germophobe, and I just knew if that water would be sitting in the Keurig for a month I would just have to throw the whole Keurig away and get a new one, and I didn’t want to do that because I’d just bought it. I still had some dressing room snacks that needed to be tossed if the mice hadn’t gotten to them. So when we were allowed back into the theater to pick up our stuff weeks after the shutdown, I went in. Costumes from quick changes were still hanging for the next show.
Etai Benson (Paul) I went back to grab a few things, and walking through the theater district was very, very chilling, seeing all of these theaters shut down, seeing these streets completely empty, it was like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie. 28 Days Later, that’s what I was thinking.
Patti LuPone (Joanne) I’d left my makeup out, my costumes were out, not in garment bags or anything, just like a regular day off. When the Shuberts allowed us back in the theater to get our personal belongings, I went in with my son. Only the ghost light was on. As I walked backstage, I noticed that in the corner where our stage managers call the show there was a half-full water bottle, just as they’d left it.
We didn’t know very much about Covid at that point, and I was filled with anxiety. We didn’t know if it was still in the building. My son helped me take out a few things that needed to be taken, and I said goodbye to the Jacobs, and then I thought, No, goodbye to the Royale, because the Royale had been a much more elegant theater name than the Jacobs. And then I burst into tears and said goodbye to my life in the theater. Because it’s been my life. Even during the occasional blizzard, we’d still make it to work, trudging through the snow to get to play to twelve intrepid people. So said goodbye to my life in the theater that day, not knowing anything about the severity of this disease but with an instinct that this would be the end for me. I wouldn’t be back on stage ever again. I guess maybe I’m a Sicilian witch. My instinct said goodbye to the theater.
I left the theater, got in my car to go back to Connecticut, and, oh, I could cry right now just remembering. I’d burst into tears that day, crossing from stage left to stage right where the exit was, the exit and that ghost light.
Bobby Conte Thornton (PJ, originally Marta) My sister and I flew out to Big Sky, Montana. I come from a great outdoor family. We love extreme outdoor sports, skiing, intense hiking, cross-country skiing, sledding, those things, and so we’d been coming out here since I was a child. It’s just been a wonderful blessing that we’ve had in our lives for multiple decades now. It seemed like the right place to go, so I packed two weeks of clothes and thought I was going to have a little mini-break with my sister before Broadway came back. Six months later I still had the same two weeks of clothes.
I did go back to New York near Thanksgiving. We were able to have a socially distanced Thanksgiving with my grandparents on Long Island, my sisters and I at a table in the driveway while my grandparents ate in the dining room, the screen door between us.
While I was there I also moved out of my apartment on the Upper West Side. I moved everything into storage, and came back to Montana.
Terence Archie (Larry) The first few months, I spent my days in a bit of shock, and quite frankly that shock was expressed through consuming comfort food and more than a few extra drinks. Then came the Zoom readings, and the self-tape auditions, and I started to say, Okay, several months have passed and I think I need to start creating something. So, I started to create some online content with my partner, the actress Christina Sajous. She’s done a lot of Broadway – SpongeBob, American Idiot. We created an Instagram series called A Tale of Two People, seven episodes, about five minutes each. And basically every episode is an argument, the type of argument that people go through when they’re in very close quarters with one another. We sort of examine the absurdities of those arguments, and try to bring some levity to what can be a very crunchy situation.
And through all of this I was wrapped up in various protests of racial injustice and political foolishness, and the exhausting conversations related to that. No matter what Broadway looks like, no matter what the entertainment industry looks like, if it’s in America, it has to be somehow flavored by the American system. Being in a position where we now had time to focus on these things, the voices standing up for racial injustice are going to be heard more. One thing that I’ve been able to do is be a part of a new organization called Black Broadway Men. We started getting together and formulating things early last year, and with the shutdown, it just grew as a sort of support system, to secure our voice for ourselves, so that we know exactly what we stand for before we’re defined by any other standard. We have meetings every several weeks, and we’ve developed things like book clubs and helping get out the vote. What we can do is make sure that our voice is solid and confident, and that we’re really in charge of our voices so when we have a chance to perform again, we’ll have a renewed sense of identity and purpose. I think we’ll have even more to offer.
Nikki Renée Daniels (Jenny) If anyone knows how to make things work with no money, it’s actors. That’s part of why I went out of town to do Hamilton in Chicago, so that we — my husband Jeff Kready is an actor too — could have money saved if we didn’t work for a while. But it’s different looking at something like this where it could be a year if not more.
I’ve been teaching my master classes and doing private voice lessons over Zoom, and a lot of little virtual concerts where you sing onstage to an empty theater and they tape it. It feels like trying to cobble together a million little gigs to hopefully make a quarter of what you were making in your real job. You’re just constantly learning new material for something that’s not really paying enough. But it’s better than doing nothing.
Etai Benson I’ll be perfectly honest. I was able to get a forbearance on my mortgage. I’ll have to pay it later, but that helped. Otherwise, we’re living on unemployment, trying to just watch our budget. I’ve managed to do a couple of little Zoom readings or teaching some kids here and there to get a little bit of extra cash on top of unemployment, and thankfully my wife Alexandra Socha did book a role on television. So she’s been working for a few months in a recurring role on ABC’s For Life. That helps us immensely. We have been very, very lucky. If we were renting a home, it may have been quite different. I know people renting who have had a lot of trouble.
Jennifer Simard (Sarah) We switched apartments, pared down because our old apartment only made sense while we were a working two-Broadway household. My husband is the head electrician at the Shubert’s Belasco Theatre. We’re 49 and 50 years old, at an age where we were able to save a little money. We’re not just kids starting out, and we hadn’t just made a big purchase, and we’re not blessed with children. We divide our time between our apartment and, by the grace of God when we need to escape, some loved ones who aren’t using their homes and have said, Hey, come escape to the country.
Our goal has always been to have a Golden Girls future with friends of ours who also don’t have children, or to take in family or friends who need a home. The irony is that now we’ve been relying on the benevolence of those friends and family, just the opposite of what we had planned. While it’s sad to think maybe our nest egg is going to be depleted when this is all over and we won’t reach our goal for some time, we know how fortunate we are compared to a lot of people. I even booked a TV show recently.
Matt Doyle (Jamie, originally Amy) Max [Clayton, Moulin Rouge!] and I moved out of our apartment. We had this really nice view of the Hudson River on the 50th floor of a building in Jersey City. It was our crash pad after our fancy Broadway shows. But we were paying for a view that we didn’t really need. We found a larger apartment for much less rent, a nice big space to accommodate not trying to drive each other nuts.
I teach online a lot, and I’ve done Twitch online gaming where you entertain while you play video games and talk to people on a live chat. It actually has been relatively lucrative for me. Max got his real estate license and is working in real estate in Manhattan.
Any time my friends tell me they’ve felt shame applying for a job in fitness or something else, I keep saying, Do everything and anything to survive. This is something I’ve done since I was in The Book of Mormon – I have done survival jobs and I have had to scramble. I think that kind of prepared me a little bit for this year. How could anyone feel shame doing whatever you need to get by? Our industry doesn’t exist anymore. You can’t even go into the city and do a concert at Joe’s Pub.
Even in the darkest moments, the thought of getting back on stage is what gets me through. I did my first symphony gig recently in Florida. I wore a mask while I sang and I stood behind plexiglass. It was incredibly bizarre, but I was so grateful to have that gig and to be able to stand on stage and sing. Even if it was behind a mask.
Christopher Fitzgerald (David) We found subletters for our apartment in New York. It’s been really, really difficult. Years ago, my wife and I, with our financial planner, basically started to invest in an emergency fund that would be untouched and liquid, enough to help us pay our bills for a year and a half if needed. We worked really hard to save up that amount of money, and now is the emergency. So that has been a real buffer, along with unemployment and a plethora of things to try to make ends meet. The sad part, to me, is less about the day-to-day survival, it’s that we haven’t been able to build for the future. We lost all that money that would have gone into my pension, and into insurance and to education for our boys. As two people who are in their late 40s, early 50s, this is the prime moment to shore up all that stuff, and to have this big, left-hand turn has been, you know, devastating.
Greg Hildreth About a year ago I shot this commercial for the National Alliance of Mental Illness, where I was Santa Claus with a crazy, fake Santa Claus beard and sprayed white hair and all that. Personally, I feel I’m a little young for Santa Claus! Anyway, it was a commercial that had this really great message, but it didn’t pay a lot. The director, David Shane, said, I will make good on this, I promise. I just figured it was something people say in the business, like, We’ll get you paid at some point for another job. But David actually made good on his promise, and he directed two other commercials that I did this year – a Bud Light commercial where I play a cardboard cutout of a Bud Light vendor at a football game, and the other one was for Spectrum where I play a soundboard operator for this kind of Apple tech presentation. So David Shane, I can’t say his name enough. He saved my ass this year.
Claybourne Elder (Andy, originally April) My husband’s a theater producer and director and he was producing Be More Chill in Chicago, so both of us within a couple of days lost our jobs entirely. Thankfully there was unemployment and extended benefits so that we could keep afloat. We started looking into selling our house upstate. We have an apartment in New York that we were desperately trying to find subletters for. Eventually, we were completely displaced because we needed to make some money. We sublet our apartment in New York, and we rented out the house. We went to stay with my family in Utah for the summer, and so we were able to keep afloat.
After that, I spent several months fixing up our house upstate, retiling all the bathrooms and the kitchen and things like that. My husband kept joking that our house was going to be 18,000 square feet by the time I was done. I just kept doing things and adding things and building things and burying myself in projects just to keep myself going. At least I was adding value to something.
But the biggest change in our lives came when a kitchen company reached out to me through a friend and said they were looking for a brand spokesperson on a full-time job basis. They’re giving full benefits to me and my husband and my child and are paying me a salary and generally I am getting to do something which is pretty fun, making cooking videos for them about their products. I also sell their stuff on QVC, shooting remotely from my newly renovated kitchen upstate. If you asked me last year if I was going to be doing this I would have told you that’s completely ridiculous.
To be totally honest, I wasn’t even sure I was going to talk to you about this. It’s not like I am any sort of superstar of the theater, but it does feel like somebody might look at me and not take me seriously now because I’ve had to get a job. That’s so silly and such a superficial thing to worry about when people are dying and there’s a horrible pandemic and we are so incredibly lucky to just survive. But I think about when we go back to theater, where will this leave me? It is impressed upon those of us who I would call the lesser of the theater-famous folk that the way you present yourself on social media and in your life affects so much the decisions people will make about you. Casting directors are watching.
It’s funny. I think people assumed I might be doing these videos for fun. They see me on Instagram doing these cooking demonstrations, and they’re like “That’s fun!” I don’t think they know that this is my real-person job for now.
Kyle Dean Massey I’m the co-owner of an assisted reproductive technology company, so that is honestly my main job anyway. My husband and I decided that we wanted to become parents through IVF and surrogacy through an egg donor, and we started the process several years ago and we retained what was meant to be the best agency in Los Angeles, this egg donor agency, and it was a horrific experience. It’s kind of hard to understate how icky it made me feel, how off-putting it was and how expensive it was. And so my husband one day said “I feel like I can do this better.” And so he just started and probably about a week later I came aboard. We now have several branches.
So that’s kind of how I’ve been spending all of my time and all my days. The Broadway show was kind of already a side thing, so I just dove right back into this. And you know Covid has actually been a very busy time for people wanting to have babies. I think people have had this sense of having time on their hands, and for a lot of people, especially same-sex male couples, it was like they’d been thinking about having kids for a long time but had just been so busy with work.
Rashidra Scott By July, where my head was at was: I have two more months that I can survive on savings and then I need to get a job or figure out what I’m doing. Then I got an email from my agents that I’ve had since I’ve been in the city — the only agents I’ve ever had — and they said they were ceasing to exist in three weeks. So now I don’t have a job, I’m losing my representation and I’m running out of money. I stupidly filed for unemployment in New York even though I’d incorporated in New Jersey, and so New York only approved me for $183 a week in unemployment, which after taxes is $167 a week. That’s where I was. Sadly and scarily I did have to borrow from my 401(k) at one point. I’d paid my health insurance premium while I had money so I know I have insurance through the end of April, or maybe the end of June, then my husband and I will lose health insurance because the insurance is through Equity.
Thankfully, I had a friend who had introduced me to his voice-over agent before I left Ain’t Too Proud, and now voice-over land has picked up a lot. I have a great setup in our walk-in closet, so I’ve been spending a lot of time in that closet. I had the great fortune of being able to book a couple random voice-overs. They’ve mostly been demos but they always come right on time when I need to pay a bill.
One thing I’ve discovered is that our apartment building has very little soundproofing. I was in the closet doing one recording session and I could hear my upstairs neighbor on a Zoom. And the neighbors that we share a wall with have a 2-year-old who just loves to scream, and there are three dogs on our floor, two of which are very yappy, and there’s a new couple who moved in directly above us and they love to listen to The Daily in the evening and I know it’s The Daily because they’re listening to the same episodes I’ve already heard. I’m like, do you have a subwoofer directly on the floor?
Christopher Sieber (Harry) My husband Kevin and I are out here in rural New Jersey with our dog and our parrot. She’s an African gray. I mean, she’s an annoying little bird is what she is. She can sing but she doesn’t talk. She makes all the noises of the microwave. “Beep…Beep…Beep.”
As creative people, we’re used to doing stuff, creating, writing, learning, and when the opportunities are all taken away it’s just so strange. My mind would start creating ideas but then they’d just go away. I’d have random thoughts that were brilliant and crazy and then they’d just disappear.
I mean, we live on a lake, so it isn’t awful. But the need to create and not having the opportunity is the worst. Birdland Jazz Club in New York City was asking Broadway people if they wanted to do a show, filmed at Birdland without an audience. I performed an hour-and-10-minute show and then it took about a month to put it all together. It was so much fun because I got to create something, and it also was great because I was, like, Wow, [vocally] there’s no effort at all. I was rested. Doing eight shows a week takes a toll on your vocal cords — they swell up pretty easily even if you’re trained like I am and like most people on Broadway are. When I did my Birdland concert, everything was coming out of my face just like it’s supposed to happen.
Patti LuPone I’m nearing the traditional retirement age. Not that I need to retire, and we don’t have to retire in theater. An actor does not need to retire, and I’ve thought about this for a long time. What do I do when I can’t do this anymore? I don’t have hobbies. I don’t knit. I don’t garden. My hobby and my life have been what I’ve done – performing. Acting. Singing. So I was very uncomfortable trying to figure out what to do after the shutdown. I couldn’t fill the day, and I took to my bed more frequently trying to while away the hours.
I’ve gone to the dark recesses of my mind so much more frequently during this lockdown, and it’s scary. I’ve gone to the dark side a lot. A lot. Places you just don’t want to go. I’m thinking about my life, and I’m thinking about what I’ve done in my life. I’m thinking about things that one usually suppresses because one doesn’t want to think about them and one is usually busy enough that one doesn’t have to think about them. Stuff that should’ve been dealt with is just now coming up, because there’s nothing else to do.
I was filled with a lot of anxiety about being able to hold onto my house, to be able to live the life I’d been living. With no money coming in, it was scary. The thing that really broke my heart, though, is when I went and picked up my clothes from a costume house, my personal clothes, and they said they didn’t know whether they could stay open. And I thought, oh my god, the costume houses, the scenic shops, everybody is affected. It was outrageous that there was no entertainment industry consideration in the first Covid stimulus package. I’m talking about the ushers and the porters and the box office staff, anybody that works in our business, wardrobe houses, delis, restaurants. I believe that we are essential workers. But, no, we’re third-class citizens according to them. I’ve spent my entire life as a third-class citizen!
Katrina Lenk (Bobbie, originally Robert) When you’re an actor you’re very used to not working. Like, oh, I didn’t get that job, or, oh, there’s no work for me now, or whatever. So that’s not an unusual feeling, but the despair is knowing that no one else is working. Normally when you’re out of a job, your friends are working, or you can just go and support the theater, see shows. Now, in your little bubble of “poor me, I’m not working,” everybody is feeling the same, and it’s bizarre, and that’s where the despair comes in. Going to Midtown and seeing no one around, completely quiet and no theater. The number of people affected by this — I mean, duh, we all know this — but realizing it when you see the empty streets, every time feels new and huge.
“The grief hit when Nick passed”
Bobby Conte Thornton At the beginning of the pandemic, I’d put out an album of a show that I’d been touring the country for a number of years since I graduated college. Since Company was going to open in March, I wanted to release the album in April and then do an album release concert. I had this whole year planned out. What is that phrase? When man plans, God laughs?
Etai Benson My experience of the pandemic has been colored by immense grief and loss because on April 16, a month after the shutdown, my father passed away very suddenly in Florida. It wasn’t from Covid, it was from a very sudden cardiac arrest. Losing my dad shook me to my core. It was the first experience I’ve ever had where I realized that, oh, I would give up Company, I would give up my career, I would give up all I’ve dreamed about for my whole life if I could just have him back. I feel very confident that Company will come back, and Broadway will come back. My dad won’t, and that’s a concept that I’m struggling to wrap my head around. There’s this irrational, magical-thinking part of me that feels like once the pandemic is over, my dad comes back. But he won’t.
Greg Hildreth Getting Company was not just a job for me. I left Frozen a couple years ago after playing Olaf the snowman for a year on Broadway, and I was really kind of obsessed with perfectly landing the dismount from that show. After Frozen I had a couple months off, and then I did a Chekov play over the summer, and then I did this tiny scene in Tennessee Williams’ The Rose Tattoo on Broadway, and then I would do a Sondheim musical. Tennessee Williams and Sondheim in the same season on Broadway. I don’t mean to, like, toot, toot, toot, but this was a really rare thing, with all the pieces falling into place.
So to have this train blowing forward come to a halt really was painful. So much of my identity is tied up in being an actor who works on Broadway. My entire childhood was wanting to be an actor on Broadway, and that kid from middle school who wore out Sondheim on vinyl was devastated. And the thing that I love most, aside from working, is the community, having a place where I feel like I belong, having a place to turn up every day. I miss feeling like I belong somewhere.
I’ve been painting. I started with my cats and painting the house plants, and then I shared the paintings on Instagram, and people started asking me if I would paint their pets, first people that I knew, and then I kind of opened it up to people that I didn’t know, and now it’s become this thing. I painted two pets this morning that I’ll be sending out today.
Rashidra Scott Sadly, my dog Benny very quickly and surprisingly died in November. He was 14. His real name was Benjamin but he was not a very smart dog so we were, like, Benjamin is just too smart of a name for you. So he became Benny. Greg Hildreth has been doing these watercolor paintings of pets, and I told him when we get back together I’d commission him to do Benny for my dressing room. He must have gotten my address from management or maybe a contact list, but two weeks after Benny died I checked the mail and there’s this big envelope and I open it and, just, tears. Greg had sent a watercolor of Benny’s face. It’s sitting on our table now.
Christopher Fitzgerald My wife and I have two boys, 13 and 11, and I feel we’re probably right in that zone you’ve been hearing about from everyone, which is that there are good days and bad days. There are really wonderful things that we’ve gotten out of this, in terms of quality time together. I had been working so much, and working at night, so just to be around my family has really been wonderful.
But the boys don’t really love it. The 13-year-old is missing that important social milestone of being the cock of the walk in eighth grade, you know? To just skip that and go right to high school, I think he’s a little bit overwhelmed by that move. He hasn’t been able to exercise those muscles. To watch that, and to try to help him deal with that, is hard.
Patti LuPone The first two or three months, until June I think, I was on Zoom doing press for Hollywood, Ryan Murphy’s show that was about to premiere on Netflix. So I was active in doing a lot of press for that, but when that was over, I was like, well, now what do I do at 2 o’clock in the afternoon?
The Zoom benefits started happening because so many people in our industry were bereft, financially challenged, housing challenged. The Actors Fund stepped up, and producers stepped up. I became more famous on Zoom than I am in real life, and I said at the beginning of all of these events, these Zoom events, that there was actually a danger of being overexposed in a pandemic! I mean, I’m still doing Zoom stuff, but frankly I’m sick of it. I’m so sick of Zoom. Not sick of doing the benefits, but sick of how we have to do it.
Early on, the cast wanted to run lines on Zoom, and I thought, no, not without the director, that is a very bad idea, and I expressed myself. I think a couple of cast members weren’t too happy with what I was saying. But what would’ve been the point in running lines if 10 months later we’re going to have to start all over again?
So I’ve sort of stayed away from the cast Zooms because it depressed me, and it depressed me because I hardly know this company. Even though we went through the rehearsal process, we don’t really know each other. I wasn’t at the place where these Zoom things had anything to offer, and it depressed me. I thought I had nothing to contribute. I’m just standing there, and everybody’s sitting there and listening, and I just don’t have anything to contribute. So I sort of backed away from it. I think some of them kept it up, played games and stuff like that, but you know, I have at least 30 years on these kids, 30 years of experience. I was too old for Mama Rose — I used to call myself Grandma Rose — and now I’m way too old for Joanne. I’ll meet them all when we work together again on this show, if that happens.
Matt Doyle It was funny. I was kind of the cheerleader when we started, when we all did the Zoom meetings together. We started with these rehearsals. We were actually reading through our script in the first couple weeks. Then Patti said, You know what, let’s just drink together and talk and let’s meet once a week and maybe dance. So, we would dance along to Patti’s jukebox in her basement and we would catch up and we would cry if we needed to and we would express just kind of our fears and confusion over everything. Then from there it just got too hard for so many people to meet every week and it became once a month.
But the year just turned into something else entirely. I was this cheerleader saying, “It’s okay, guys, so-and-so is telling me we’ll be back in June,” and then, “This person’s telling me July and I think it’s going to happen. Keep your spirits up.” I don’t know why I chose that role but I really wanted to stick by it so, so badly. There was one moment when Patti said to me on Zoom, “Oh, Matt, your positivity is just heartbreaking.”
It made me laugh, but I knew that she was right and it was kind of this moment of, I think I need to maybe just put this away and allow whatever’s happening to happen. I told my therapist about what Patti said and we were laughing, but then he said to me, point blank, “You know, Matt, she’s not wrong. You have not grieved yet, and it’s alarming.” I said, I’ll grieve when I feel like I’m ready to grieve.
The grief hit when Nick passed.
Bobby Conte Thornton When Nick Cordero went into the coma, we thought of course he’s going to wake up. Nick was one of the strongest people I know. Nick Cordero’s not going to be done in by this thing. Even when he had his leg amputated, I thought he’s going to find his way back. Even when we thought he was going to need a double lung transplant, I thought, He’s going to find a way back.
I met him when I was cast in A Bronx Tale on Broadway. He was very sweet, and sort of reached out to me and we got lunch and very quickly hit it off. I have a lot of stories that I’ll keep close to the vest, but the ones I can talk about are truly just how generous of spirit he was, and how he felt like a surrogate brother, a kindred soul in this way of really helping me in many regards of life and transitioning into this community of artists on Broadway. He was in this very high-stress situation of leading a Broadway show at age 24, and he showed me the ropes not only of how to be an actor but how to be a good leader and a good, decent human being, and showing that you can’t be a great actor without having a real complex, decent life as a human being. He showed me how to be present with people and look them in the eye and know that your relationship with them and your family is the more important thing. For me, someone who was so steeped in very rigorous training for four years in college and wanting to get his career going, it was a very vital lesson to learn. He showed me all of that through a number of ways, whether at his home with his wife Amanda until the wee hours of the morning drinking wine or going out to some club.
Matt Doyle Max and I both had tested positive for Covid early on. My symptoms were really mild, a light cough that lasted for several days, a cough that I couldn’t stifle. Max’s symptoms were much more severe, flu-like, and he lost his taste and smell. But we recovered very well, and so I think the reality of how severe the illness could be was still something that needed to sink in for the both of us, and that wasn’t really until our friend was dying. That it became such a huge national story was just unbelievable. I’d worked with Nick in a musical called Brooklynite, and he’d become a good friend of mine. When he got sick we were making him videos and sending them to Amanda and thinking there’s just no way we’re going to lose him. This guy is so strong, this guy is so healthy, this guy is so full of life. When it finally happened, it hit me hard.
Bobby Conte Thornton I have a memory from when Nick had a rock band called Other Courage, and I think he was playing at the Bowery or someplace downtown, and he played on a Sunday night after he had done an eight-show week. My role in A Bronx Tale was a huge undertaking for me, and so I wasn’t going out much. I was sort of shutting it down and living like a monk. But I went to his show, and afterward I said, Nick, great job, I’m going home now, and he was at the bar with Amanda saying Bobby, we never hang out! When are we going to hang out? So I stayed, and we must’ve gone to three clubs that night, and stayed out until the wee hours of the morning and then hung out at his place. There were so many of those evenings, even after we finished A Bronx Tale, that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life, where we got down to the nitty-gritty, being able to understand the balance you need to take care of yourself and be healthy and sustain an eight-show week. It was about knowing how to lead a very full human life, which is only going to make you that much better as an actor.
One of my sisters that I’m living with now in Montana was at the Abu Dhabi affiliate school of NYU, studying political science in Arabic. After Nick got sick, she told me that he was on the local news in the Middle East. He had reached the entire world.
Coming up in Part III:
Greg Hildreth I’ve been teaching acting on Zoom, and I finally met my student yesterday in the park, outdoors, in person because I was like fuck this Zoom. So we met in Prospect Park for a little acting lesson. It felt kind of human.
Katrina Lenk At the beginning of Covid I felt like I had to hold on to Company really tightly – the story, the choreography, the music, the ideas, all of it. I had to make sure that it was really close and I could feel it in my hands. Now it sort of feels like a balloon on a string, and I’m letting the string go farther and farther and farther. The balloon is up there, I can feel it if I tug, and when it’s time to reel it in, I’ll reel it in.