by Cara Cooper
What’s the quickest way to get an audition or maybe even book a job? Plan a trip. A couple of months ago, I decided to do something I had never done before: take a three-day vacation with my closest friends for my 40th birthday. The year leading up to this momentous birthday had not been the easiest.
Nothing overtly bad happened, but I was really grappling with my identity. I had given birth to my second child and moved to the suburbs. My previous life as an actor was blurring with the daily tasks of taking care of two small children, settling into a new house and finding a community in my new hometown. So I decided to do something to celebrate my birthday rather than lament it, something to help lift me out of what felt a bit like depression.
Of course everyone’s first reaction was, “What if you book a show?” To be honest, that felt so far from my reality that I didn’t think it would be an issue, but the cancellation policy was a full refund if made more than three days prior to departure. Great. Surely, if a job were to come along, I would have plenty of notice and time to change plans if need be, right?
Three days before I was scheduled to leave, Broadway called (well, emailed actually). The Prom, which was still in previews, needed a temporary replacement because someone had been injured, and the job was mine if I wanted it.
Now the logistics of having two young children, one of whom is autistic and has a rigorous schedule of therapies, living an hour outside of the city and having a husband who is also on a show schedule are not easy. Adding an eight-show week to my schedule was no small task. But the moment I read the email, I knew I needed to say yes, to be back onstage, to find that part of myself again. My husband knew it too, and immediately said, “If you want to do this, we will make it work.”
But what about the trip? I couldn’t cancel on my friends. It would cost them way too much money, and all those months back, I had asked them to commit to this time with me. I couldn’t say no to The Prom, and I couldn’t cancel the trip. So I asked if I could still go to Mexico and get into the show on time, and ya know what? They said yes.
I found out about the job on a Thursday, had a fitting and learned all my music on Friday, learned all the choreography and staging on Saturday, and I boarded a plane for Mexico with my girlfriends on Sunday.
While on vacation, The Prom was never far from my mind. In the mornings before we went to breakfast, I rehearsed the numbers in my room. While on the beach, I went over my music. I was pinching myself that somehow all the pieces had come together to allow me to celebrate with my dear friends and then return home to Broadway.
I made my debut in The Prom on Tuesday, November 20, a week and a half after starting rehearsals (and hopping to Mexico for a few days in between). Being put into a show is such a wild experience. Here’s this machine with all these moving parts, onstage and off. You need to slip into it without being a wrench in the works, but also bring your creative self to the stage, making it your own. It’s an awesome challenge, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like it.
Similar to understudying and swinging, both of which I have done a lot in my career, it’s an adrenaline rush like no other. It’s a test, a test during which you are under bright lights with new faces dancing around you. All the while, an audience watches and shouldn’t have the faintest idea that it’s your first time onstage. It’s sounds crazy. In a lot of ways it is, but man, is it fun.
The Prom has been such an unexpected gift and I am so grateful for every moment I am there. The “kids” in the show, most of whom are making their Broadway debuts are these incredible balls of energy, dancing their hearts out onstage. Watching them reminds me of my younger self, of a simpler time when I had much less responsibility, no children, and Broadway was my only passion. They are joyous and humble (a good mix right?), and I can’t wait to see where their futures take them. Then there are the Broadway vets, many of whom I have known for years, who are giving a master class in musical comedy. Everything you have read is true - they are incredible.
It is such a treat to share the stage, and continue to learn from them. But honestly the best part of The Prom is its message of love, inclusion and acceptance. With all the turmoil, unrest and division in our society, this show is exactly what the world needs right now. Somehow, the universe knew The Prom was exactly what I needed right now too.