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BWW Blog: My Last “Normal” Theatre Experiences Before the Pandemic

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I will never forget the last week I (unknowingly) spent in New York City.

BWW Blog: My Last “Normal” Theatre Experiences Before the Pandemic
Outside of the Broadhurst Theatre,
currently home to Jagged Little Pill.
Photo credit to Slice of Lime Photography

I have a terrible memory. I find myself needing to write down literally everything, because my brain is so jam-packed with thoughts and feelings and my extensive mental to-do list that I have a hard time remembering most things. However, I know that I will never forget the last week I (unknowingly) spent in New York City before the coronavirus struck the United States with a vengeance.

By the first week of March, the coronavirus was truly only a small blip on my radar. My dad, who frequently travels internationally for business, had gotten wind of the virus and mailed me a pair of N95 masks a few weeks prior with a note that basically read "just in case." I thought he was crazy. Even as the virus continued to wreak havoc on other countries, the general American mindset seemed to be "Well this is not affecting us now, so why should we worry and make it our problem?" Clearly, this was not the right approach, but that's an issue for another time.

BWW Blog: My Last “Normal” Theatre Experiences Before the Pandemic
My roommate Sam and I
at 54 Below with John Cardoza.

On March 1st, I hopped on the E train in Queens and ventured into the city to see my superbly talented friend Rodney Ingram play the title role in Aladdin. The show, which is one of my all time favorites, was breathtaking. I was not at all concerned about sitting close to my seat neighbors, or standing at the packed stagedoor. And I didn't flinch any more than I usually did when someone around me coughed or sneezed. All in all, it was a very normal (and incredibly fun day). The next night, my roommate Sam and I went to 54 Below to see John Cardoza's amazing solo show. His special guests that evening included his Jagged Little Pill castmate Lauren Patten, and fellow Boston Conservatory grad Gabrielle Carrubba. Again, we chatted with the cast and some friends afterwards, and boarded the subway back to our campus without feeling the need to wear a mask or bathe in hand sanitizer afterwards.

By the time Wednesday the 4th rolled around, I had become increasingly more nervous, but there was really nothing stopping me from spending time in the city and doing the things that I was used to doing. One of my best friends Lauren came to town, and we did a Broadway-themed photoshoot with Slice of Lime Photography for an upcoming issue of Senior Style Guide Magazine. We sat on the street, ate in crowded restaurants, and settled into a packed theatre to see one of the first preview performances of the Company revival. Patti LuPone, Greg Hildreth and Christopher Fitzgerald actually came out into the audience and provided a few minutes of entertainment after the show stopped due to a technical issue. We laughed about "the rona", but the jokes didn't really seem to be coming from a place of genuine fear or concern.

The last show that I saw before the Broadway shutdown was Jagged Little Pill on March 5th. I did not feel an impending sense of doom as I sat in the audience of the Broadhurst that night. I have formed such an emotional attachment to Jagged Little Pill, so I would have thought that somehow I could feel that it was the final time I would see the show for a very long time, but there was no nagging sense of dread or sadness. The show made me laugh and cry as usual, and we sat in on a fantastic talkback with Lauren Patten, John Cardoza, and Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, the author of Periods Gone Public, following the performance. By this point, my dad and stepmom, who had flown in from Colorado, were fairly frantic to get home. Rumors had started to swirl that airports would be shutting down and that things were about to change. And, what we didn't know was that the show we saw would be the last Thursday night performance of Jagged before the theaters went dark.

BWW Blog: My Last “Normal” Theatre Experiences Before the Pandemic
Front row at Aladdin!

I took the train home to Pennsylvania for spring break that weekend, and was alarmed upon boarding the Amtrak. Many people wore masks, some were spraying their seating area with excessive amounts of Lysol, and the couple sitting in the row across from me was clad in full hazmat gear. I put on my own mask, a pair of gloves, and prayed that this would be the worst of it.

I arrived back at St. John's the afternoon of Monday, March 9th after spending some time at home. My parents seemed hesitant to send me back, as other schools had started to announce plans for closure, some temporarily and some for the remainder of the semester, so the fear of the unknown was terrifying. I made it back to campus just in time for my evening class, only to receive an email around 10pm telling us that we were being asked to immediately return home for 2 weeks while the city diffused the situation and got everything under control. Those few weeks turned into months, and I will be spending another semester doing class virtually.

"Normal" has become such a strange word that is very individually interpretive and constantly evolving. I find myself saying "I want things to go back to normal" a lot, but what does normal even mean anymore? Will things ever be the way I want them to be and was used to them being ever again? All I know is that my love for theatre is something that will never change, and I will do whatever I can to support the arts as soon as it is safe to do so. Part of me wishes I had known that random Thursday night would be the last time I sat in a Broadway theatre this year so that I could have really taken it all in, but I think a bigger part of me is relieved that I was blissfully unaware and have pleasant memories to associate with my final days in New York City.

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