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  • Scott Carter Cooper

Broadway Here I Come

On November 9, 2018 I was in New York, midway what had become an annual tradition of seeing theatre. I was seeing King Kong The Musical that night and could not have been more excited. I’ve always had a thing for puppets, and Kong was the King of them all. Standing more than thirty feet in height and requiring a small army of acrobats to operate him, I’d read everything I could about the puppet and the production. My expectations couldn’t have been higher, and for the record my expectations were exceeded. Marvelous piece of theatre.

About three hours before curtain I received a tearful call from my mother. All she said was that she thought she needed to go into a nursing home. I was to discover later that she’d been trapped in her recliner for three days, not having the strength to get out of it. She’d somehow found the strength to call a neighbor, who dialed the phone so that she called me.

That all sounds dramatic. And it was. But it was also somewhat routine. I’ve learned to take a step back from such crises as they’re happening and breakdown the things that need to be done to resolve the situation. So, from New York I managed to get an ambulance to my mother in rural Iowa, talk to doctor, nurses and social workers, and then my mother again to make sure she was all right, and still make the curtain.

I enjoyed the hell out of that show. I sat next to a six-year-old girl who screamed in terror and delight when Kong made his entrance. Sitting in the front row of the balcony, it felt like the animatronic puppet was pitching his performance just to me. I saw eight shows that week, and when I look at the pictures I took from the trip, I remember them all vividly. But I don’t need any prompting when I think of King Kong. I remember that night vividly and will for the rest of my life.

Part of the reason I proactively enjoyed King Kong was because I knew it would be the last time in a long time, perhaps ever, that I’d be in New York to see shows. The phone call from my mother marked a year and a half of going in and out of the nursing home. She bounced back in time for a Christmas visit and she was better than I’d seen her in years. But there was a rapid decline and a return to the nursing home. The second visit culminated in a fight to be released. The nursing home didn’t want to release her, she was adamant. I knew that she’d have to win. A visit from my sister showed a decline in her abilities to take care of herself, and my Christmas visit confirmed it. Finally, just as Covid reared its head, the third and ultimate trip to the nursing home happened. She’s doing much better.

Still, that year and a half is not one I care to repeat. Not a lot of joy. And it culminated with sending my mother off to the one place where people were catching the plague and dying at horrifying numbers. 2019 and 2020 were exhausting.

Still, in Chicago I managed to see and make theatre in some capacity. The last time I set foot in a theatre and watched people make theatre was on March 1, 2020. Chicago Dramatists hosted an evening of impromptu theatre every other week called Playwrights Aloud. Playwrights submitted ten-minutes of material. A slate of pieces was chosen and then on a Sunday night playwrights, directors and actors converged on the Chicago Dramatists site. Directors took scripts. Actors each read a page of dialog and then were sent out so that the directors could cast/trade actors for their pieces. About an hour and a half was set aside for each piece to be rehearsed, and then an on-book performance was given. I love that concept and thoroughly enjoyed each and every night. If I didn’t have a piece going up, I’d take part as an actor. I directed. I loved it.

My last day in the office for my day job was March 7. At that point there was already talk of the pandemic being something more than the flu, and I went home thinking it might be June before we’d go back. And I did go back to the office in June, but only to help in shutting it down for the duration. I’ve been incredibly blessed to have maintained employment throughout. But it has taken its toll.

The day I got my second vaccination felt a little like a childhood Christmas, so as a lark I went out to the travel websites to see what hotel accommodations would run for a week to New York. Reasonable. Then I thought, what if I went over Thanksgiving? Affording a New York trip takes strategic planning. As much as I’d love to go in May or September, a week’s hotel stay in Manhattan during those peak times cost about four times what my monthly mortgage is. Holiday weeks are generally worse. But because this was all just fantasy, what could it hurt to look?

Shockingly, nothing at all. One hundred and forty-five dollars a night during Thanksgiving week. I agonized for about an hour about whether it or not it was too extravagant. My sister is the one who pushed me over the edge. I booked the room. I have an airline credit for the airfare, and an accumulation of Ticketmaster gift cards to take care of the shows. My plan has been to sit tight and not book the flight until Broadway opens back up.

And then as if the angels heard my prayers, news comes that New York will be back in full swing in May, with Broadway expected to be opening in September. And just like that, it felt like the first breath in two years. I’m going to New York!

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