by Courtney Balan
We live in a social media-frenzied world. One where Broadway fans can track a performer’s trajectory from casting to opening and beyond, daily or even momentarily if you so choose. The curated life we present online so rarely presents the reality of the eight-show-a-week life.
Whether you are backstage or onstage, ensemble or principal, there is rarely a week where we all feel 100% at all times. We live our childhood dreams, frequently addressing the reality that it isn’t all sunshine and roses. Sometimes we are tired or hurt or missing aspects of our unemployed lives (like families and holidays and weekends), but shouldn’t we just be #grateful?
What I notice lately is the social media veil seems to be lifting slightly. My peers are being more honest about the reality of show business. It’s showy but it’s also a business and that means it’s not just fun and games and dreams, but actual work. Rewarding and life changing, but work.
I joined The Prom for the Broadway run. I had seen a workshop of it in 2015 and laughed and cried so hard that I was pretty excited when the audition came through. Getting cast was one of those thrilling moments that was accompanied by a side of fear because I haven’t been in many splashy dance musicals. Plus, I was joining after a production had been done out of town and there had been workshops and labs. That meant that I would be playing catch up to a cast that had already experienced many years of The Prom.
Before official Broadway rehearsals began, I had a three day boot camp to learn all the dances and music before jumping in with a cast that had all done the show before in some capacity (save for one other brand newbie). So here I am, this character actress, broadway “mover” learning Casey Nicholaw choreography in two weeks. I came in early and stayed late, dancing on subway platforms to play catch up. I wanted to succeed - both for the beautiful Prom family I was with and for myself.
And I was keeping up. Though I was sore and exhausted, I worked and worked so that by the first preview I felt almost good about where I was. However, the rehearsal, tech and then preview schedule left little time for rest and rehab. Sometimes, sore muscles just can’t take it anymore.
It was our ninth and last show of the first week of previews. I was standing backstage waiting for my entrance into “Acceptance”. It had been an exhilarating, exhausting week and I saw that day off on the horizon. I was feeling proud and empowered for having conquered this challenge of dancing, not simply “moving” on Broadway. I took one step. One step and bang. An intense shooting pain in my left calf and I instantly knew something was severely wrong. I tried putting weight on it and when I couldn’t, I had to hobble offstage and get out of there. The next thing I remember was sitting on a chair in the backstage stairwell crying in pain and disappointment. Chicken hat on my head and painted freckles running down my cheeks.
The cast and crew rallied around me when they could. Our remarkable stage management and company management team were by my side, our phenomenal swings sprang into action and the Caseys (director Casey Nicholaw and associate director Casey Hushion) came back at intermission to check in. Everyone with positive, encouraging words as always, but I knew it was serious.
One long, teary cab ride to Long Island where I live, five interminable and anxious hours in the ER with my husband, and a painful, sleepless night led me to an orthopedist appointment the following day confirming my fears. I could not walk, I definitely could not dance and I was out of my show for at least a month.
One if the most devastating aspects was that I had worked so hard. But the thing about this business is there is not a cause and effect. You could work and coach and break yourself preparing for an audition and you might not get the role. You could rehearse and dance yourself silly and still miss performing in the opening night of your Broadway show, and the Thanksgiving Day parade performance with your amazing cast who made history, or the first weeks of understudy rehearsal with all your friends.
It was a long, emotional, heart breaking six weeks of rest, ice, compression, Epson salt baths and rehab with a physical therapist before I could return to the challenge of doing the show. It was a week before I could even walk without crutches, then it was about rebuilding the muscle and then dancing full out. Yoga helped. The Great British Baking Show helped. My friends and family and the support of my cast helped. But ultimately, it was up to me to do daily affirmations reminding myself that I could handle this, because besides the physical pain, there was an emotional pain and sadness equally as debilitating.
This brings me back to where we started. I am not a huge presence on social media anyway, but I stayed off completely for the duration of my recovery (except to post about opening) to avoid the constant FOMO I would have felt. As I got closer to returning to The Prom, I decided to post about where I was and what happened because I’m not ashamed that I got hurt. I’m proud of myself for taking the challenge and conquering something that was and still is scary.
I want to let people know that when you see any show on Broadway, the performers are muscling through something or recovering from an injury or have a cold. On a day when you see us sparkly and fresh faced on Good Morning America, what you don’t see is the 5:15am call that morning after a show the night before and a show that night. It’s a full and complicated life on Broadway.
Even as I write this, I’m still recovering from my injury, causing my hamstrings to be super tight. I’m getting over a sinus infection that the majority of the cast had and have worked during and that’s the reality. But being back to eight shows a week at the Longacre theatre in a deeply hilarious and moving show that is nightly thrilling audiences makes me feel super #grateful.