by Jane Bunting
After leaving thestage at the Schoenfeld Theatre last Friday night, I went into the wings to find my stage manager, Arturo, with a bottle of whiskey and a stack of paper shot glasses.
“Is that for me?” I asked.
“Well, not the whole bottle, but yes.”
As the company toasted my performance and tossed their shots back, I thought to myself, “I think I’m in the right show.”
I originally auditioned for Come From Away in February 2016 down in Washington DC for their pre-Broadway run at Ford’s Theatre. I was staying with a friend there while doing a show at the Kennedy Center, going back and forth with the idea of moving there full time. I got an appointment and was delighted to find out Ricky Hinds was the associate choreographer, as I’d worked with him three years prior at Flat Rock Playhouse.
I booked it as a standby and worked harder than I ever had in my life to memorize multiple roles within the mind-bogglingly detailed staging of the show. Although I never performed during that run, the show and its message nuzzled its way into the corner of my heart.
A year and a half later, I got offered the North American tour of the show as a standby and Dance Captain. That same week, while doing a press event for the show, I got a call from Arturo asking if I could get to the Schoenfeld in two hours for music rehearsal. Due to a combination of injuries and personal days within the company, I’d be making my Broadway debut in six days.
With no time for a put-in, I dove (nay, slammed) into rehearsals, spending every waking moment reviewing spike marks, numbers, traffic, accents, prop and costume pass-offs, lines, and anything else I could glean from watching the show until I went on as Bonnie, all eight times. After spending sporadic weeks with the Broadway company last summer, re-learning my tracks in preparation for the tour, I finally met my sweet “road family”in September, and I’ve been happily adventuring around North America ever since.
That is, until last Thursday.
Halfway through our week in Hartford, I got a call from our Associate Director Danny Goldstein saying they might need me to go on as Janice the following evening back in New York and stick around for the weekend, just in case. That night, I sat down with the Broadway archival video, wrote down all of the differences I could find between our show and theirs, and hopped on the phone with the Associate conductor, Chris Ranney, to review the differences in the vocal part. I had friends that were supposed to come to Hartford and visit the next day, but when asked if they’d be willing to see me on Broadway instead, they heartily agreed to shift their plans.
The next day after a brush-up rehearsal with our newly Olivier-winning choreographer Kelly Devine and Ricky (where I was told I was definitely going onstage that evening), I hopped on a train to New York with my wig and costumes in one suitcase and everything I’d need for the weekend in another. At 7 pm, Arturo opened my cab door, grabbed my bags, and shoved me into the stage door. Josh Breckenridge, the Broadway company’s fabulous dance captain, took me straight to the stage to quickly talk through every question I had. An hour later, the bodhran beat sounded and I entered from stage left.
In retrospect, I’m grateful I wasn’t afforded the time to worry; I had to swallow my panic and go. I had a list in my head of all the differences between the show I’d been doing for nearly a year and the show I was currently doing and I hoped to all that is holy I wouldn’t forget them. On the road, we’ve played some pretty massive houses, and the Schoenfeld is much smaller than what I’m used to, so the sound difference and audience proximity were incredibly jarring at the outset. All of this on top of being onstage with humans I hadn’t played with since last June.
I’d like to thank nearly 10 years of cognitive behavioral therapy for helping me maintain my sanity, because doing this job as a human with high-functioning anxiety would be impossible without the tools I have to manage stress. Thankfully, the panic faded away as I allowed myself to settle into a more intimate experience of this show that lives deep in my bones. To do all this with kind, compassionate people who trusted me was a gift.
The character of Janice lives in her own world onstage quite a bit. It was such a lovely experience to walk into a light special and directly address an audience that was so engaged and present and quite literally in my face. Having them so physically close was intense, in all the best ways: the energy in the Schoenfeld house is always so palpable and fuels what is already an emotionally charged piece of art.
Although it must have been slightly terrifying for everyone to have me step in so abruptly, they encouraged me, shoved with love when necessary, and welcomed me back into their show with open arms. I had a blast, and was even given a chance to do it all again at the matinee the next day.
I felt loved and supported on all sides: my tour family, the Broadway company, and my brilliant circle of humans and friends who were able to attend. I’m unsure if I’ll ever have more of an out-of-body performance experience, but I couldn’t be more grateful for the unexpected gift of spending the weekend back on Broadway in the best piece of theatre I’ve ever had the pleasure of performing. I’m flying back to join the tour in Milwaukee with a happy heart.
And needless to say, I’m looking forward to my vacation next week.