• Natalie Wisdom

David and Stacey Abeles-Broadway Couple

Updated: Mar 24, 2021

[Interview Date: October 27, 2020]

David: Once, Million Dollar Quartet, Matilda Tour, Harry Potter (Broadway and SF)

Stacey: Former Radio City Rockette, Crazy for You Tour, Across the Universe Film

Where were you both on March 12, 2020 when Broadway shuttered? And what was the week leading up to it like for you?

David: March 12th… I had gone to work on Wednesday the 11th. And on the 12th, we had decided, since I suspected that I wasn’t going to be at work that day, we took a drive to Mount Diablo, which is the mountain that anchors the whole valley around where we are. So, we were on the top of a mountain, and that’s where we got the word that the show was shuttered. At first, they said two weeks, I think. April 4th. But I had been following this for a while, and we all sort of had the sense that this was going to be a lot longer. And I think we got that news before New York. The Bay Area theaters were the first to do shelter-in-place. The previous week, the mayor had set guidelines. I think the opera shut down on a Monday before we did. There was talk about them limiting capacity, so we were only going to sell a certain number of tickets. But the whole week previous, we sort of felt it coming.

California shuttered theatres first. What was that like for you? Did you think the rest of the country would follow suit so quickly?

David: I sort of did, but I’m always prone to catastrophizing. I had been following this for months beforehand. And I had talked to my company manager in February, and was like, “When are we shutting down?” And the response I got was, “Calm down. It’s all going to be fine…” I don’t think anybody really imagined the extent of it. But I did feel like we would be closed for a while, because it’s such close quarters. I remember talking to my dressing-roommate who plays Harry. And I think we had been talking about it the whole week previous. And, our idea was that we were definitely not going to be open in two weeks. And we thought maybe July. Maybe Labor Day. I don’t think anybody expected it to be as long as this. Stage door signing was up to us, at first. But then, they just shut it down. They had taken precautions, cleaning the space and wiping everything down, telling us to be careful and wash our hands. But you know, you’re doing a show. I had four stage kisses in my show. I remember the last night I sort of brought it up to our Resident Director. “We should probably work out some way to make some adjustments to that, so that we’re not exponentially exposing ourselves…” But it never got to that.

What have you been doing over the past year or so to stay sane? What has helped you the most? Were you sure you wanted to stay on the West Coast when the pandemic began?

Stacey: When things first shut down, it felt like a handful of people in David’s show skipped town immediately. Which I totally get. You know, they were like, “Oh, we’re going to be off for two weeks or whatever it is.” You don’t get time off in a show like that unless you’re taking your vacation. People got on airplanes right away, went back to L.A., New York, wherever their people were. We didn’t think about leaving ever. I think because we have kids. We were like, “We have to just stay.” It’s not so easy for us to just hop on a plane and go somewhere. Especially because of safety.

David: Even when we were fully shut down, fully quarantined, which we’re not far from now. Even when it was full shelter-in-place, nothing was open. There are a lot of open spaces here. We were going to parks and hiking and stuff like that. There’s a lot more available around us than we remembered there being in New York. And we didn’t have a place in the city anymore.

Stacey: I had been in touch with some of my friends in New York, and a lot of them were just in their apartments. Even the ones that were in a very desirable area, right by Central Park. In order to get to Central Park, they’d have to go in their elevator, down a busy path…Here, we’re in an apartment, but we have a little bit of outdoor space. We started googling parks and hiking trails. We would go hiking at different parks. There were still green areas. There were schools that were closed that had big soccer fields, so we were like, “Ok, we can get our fresh air.” The little ones could run in the grass and get their energy out, and we’d get some vitamin D and sunshine. I think that was really what kept us sane; getting outside and trying to do something every day. In the beginning, especially, when we were on lock-down, it was pretty difficult. Not seeing anybody in-person is tough. We’re both theatre people. We’re used to being very social. Even if we’re not going to parties every day; we’re chatty, friendly people.

David: Part of it, being stuck inside, we did have to come up with ways to pass the time and things to do. We bought my daughter a bike for her birthday, so she could go across the street and ride around there. Stacey had a birthday, and I got a lot of people to send video messages, so we could play that. And she couldn’t go to the Celine Dion concert she wanted to go to, so I put on a Celine Dion concert on the TV, and we set up chairs, and we pretended we were there. We had to build forts and make the best of it. It does get old pretty quick. It’s hard to make it sustainable. I think one of the main things that’s kept us sane was when we found a preschool that was open. And it allowed our three-year-old to see other kids and socialize. That wasn’t until a few months in. It gives us some time with our baby, and it makes it manageable, But mostly she has the best time. They take precautions, and they’re outside a lot. That’s probably the best thing we have going on right now.

What’s the hardest thing about the past months since the shut-down?

David: Honestly, just the uncertainty of everything. It’s the idea that, potentially, a career I’ve spent almost twenty years building is suddenly gone, and I have no idea when it is coming back. People who aren’t in the business are more flippant about it and say, “Oh, it will be fine.” I think that’s probably true, but the feeling of it is so uncertain. Everyone’s been dealing with that insecurity but also dealing with questions of mortality in a much more real way than we had before. Especially in April and May, with everything that’s been happening in New York and thinking about getting sick and what we’re going to do about our kids and parents. Feeling isolated. Feeling very far from everyone and also just so unsure about the future has been the hardest thing.

Stacey: Also, I want to add not seeing our families. Back in January, our second daughter was born. And in that first six weeks, our families came to visit. And we kind of figured throughout the rest of the year that we were here, more people would come visit. That’s really hard too, for both of our parents to not be able to come out and spend time with us and their grandkids. When it comes to your parents and people that you know are already at risk, you don’t want to risk it.

What has this time been like for you, as a family?

David: One of the nice things is that I never got to be here for dinner every night. We’re having family dinners every night, so that’s a nice thing. And I’m here for the first nine months of my daughter’s life, and that’s time that I wouldn’t have had and will never get back. In that way, there have been great, fulfilling moments during this time. But they’re always punctuated by existential dread. The highs are higher, and the lows are lower. But being able to be around and not working such crazy hours, which is what I’ve been used to during my whole working life. And Stacey. We’re both forced to be here all the time, which is hard on a professional level, but really good for the family, in a lot of ways. My older daughter said, “Now you don’t have to go to work, Daddy!” Which is nice to hear from her, but you know, you’re also not going to work!

Stacey: Being a performer, working in theatre, there’s a hard schedule. I didn’t really realize when I was training, before I started working. When I started working, I was traveling constantly. Missing my friends’ weddings and missing other important things with family and friends. Once we got married, we started being more selective of when we were taking jobs. People are like, “Oh, it’s Broadway! You have all day where you don’t have to be there, and you go to the show at night. It’s this fun, glamorous job!” But really when you’re doing eight shows a week, you’re gone every night; you’re gone all weekend. I remember, when David was doing Harry Potter in New York, we would have something on a Sunday-my daughter’s birthday party or my niece’s birthday party. And David would have to leave around noon to go to his show. And people would be like, “You have to work today?” Yes, everyone else’s entertainment day is the day that we work! So, it’s nice to have David here for bedtimes and weekends and stuff.

That old saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In a way, it does. Even if it’s just going to a playground and being able to play with other kids and talk to other moms. You can say, “ I forgot something at the store and I couldn’t get it, could you drop it off?” “Could you help me?” To have a support system is so important, not just for us but for our kids too. For them to have people around that they know care about them. Not having that; we definitely saw how that affected our daughter, that she hadn’t had that.

David: We’re lucky that our kids are younger. Because they don’t fully understand or appreciate what’s going on. My older one understands that the world is on a break. I think, for people with kids 8 and above; it’s a hard thing. They take in the anxiety and the fear. Our kids are a little more sheltered; so we’re lucky, in that way.

What is your biggest worry right now?

David: At this point, we’ve been dealing with this for long enough. For me, it’s about, what am I going to do? Is the work going to come back? If it does come back, are the opportunities going to be there? Where am I going to be in a year or five years? Also, I’m going to be 42 in May. This is my career. It’s what I’ve devoted my whole life to. All my work experience is in this. And, so when I think about, “ok, what else could I do?” I look at trying to put together a resume; there’s nothing on it. Going back and getting another degree or starting in another field is so daunting, just because I’m not in my 20’s. And a lot of people, I think, are dealing with that. That’s the main worry right now.

Of course, there’s the health worry; your parents, older family and friends. For whatever reason, that seems more short-term, That fear that the industry is not going to bounce back with the amount of financial strain and economic distress it’s gone through… It’s going to be rocky for a while, it feels like.

What do you miss the most about theatre/your job/the arts?

David: I think it’s about theatre, in general. I miss the electricity that comes from being in a room with that many people and getting onstage with 1600 people in the audience. And the curtain call, or really feeling alive in a scene. Right now, I feel like that’s what most theatre artists are bereft of is: the doing of it. There’s no real way to do it. Anything that we’re sort of trying to replace it with pales by comparison. You can’t act by yourself in a room in a box. We’re trying, but it’s not that same intangible thing that makes it the art form that we’ve all made a life of. I miss that. I don’t know what that is, but it’s all of it. And you miss being around your friends every day. That aspect of it too. The immediacy of it being in one room at that time, in that moment. It’s only there for that specific moment.

Stacey: Before we left New York to come for David to do Harry Potter here, I was

teaching ballet and movement, and choreographing at Stella Adler, NYU Conservatory. I know there are dance classes and movement going on now, online through Zoom, and we’re trying the best we can. There’s no comparison between being alone in any space and being in the same room as other people moving your bodies together. There are ways that you use your sense when you’re in a room with everybody. It’s not the same experience. And, so much of the work I was doing with my students and actors was about ensemble-building and using your body in the room. It’s stuff that can only be accomplished with people in the room. And I worry about when we can do those things again. It’s not just Broadway. It’s also training programs. There’s a local ballet school here that I was going to teach some classes for, after the baby was born. They’re still doing things on Zoom or their performances in a parking lot. But not to be able to be in a room with people—there’s something missing!

How do you think your jobs will be different when you return?

David: It’s so hard to say, because I don’t know in what condition. We’ll be much more

conscious of personal space, and that’s going to add a level of protectionism. I wonder if that will make its way to the choices that actors make onstage and in scenes. How close can we get? And, does it feel taboo when we get this close? And will the audience be wearing masks? Will we still be able to make connection? Maybe, however, once there’s a vaccine, maybe everyone will feel okay, and go out into the sunshine. And we just remember this crazy, weird year. That’s a best-case scenario. However, when society moves back towards any kind of normalcy, theatre is going to be the last to come back. It demands that we’re next to other people, breathing in the same space, in each other’s company. In a word, it will feel weird to come back. But I’ll take it. I can only imagine what it will feel like when the curtain comes up or when the first notes of a show are played or that first curtain call. I think everybody will just be a total mess.

What is your biggest hope for the arts industry right now?

David: I just hope that we all can be gentle with one another through this. I feel like if there’s any community that can do that, it’s this one. I think that if we can all be gentle with one another, that will go a long way towards bringing people back. The whole job description of this industry is to get into a room with strangers, sometimes colleagues; other actors, and drop all protection and really play with one another. And to do that, you have to regain trust. There’s a lot of angst right now. A lot of fear and emotions happening, and I hope we can all be gentle with one another when we come back. I was watching a bootleg of Once. There’s a line that really struck me, and I hadn’t heard it in a while. There’s a line towards the end of a play: “You can’t have a city without music.” And I think you can’t have a city or a society without the arts. And my hope is that the arts are the thing that, in some way, connects everybody again and brings people together; which, at its best, is what art does.

What’s your favorite theatre memory?

Stacey: I was a Rockette for almost ten years. There’s a number in the show that is called, “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.” It’s been in the show since it first started in 1933. Same music, same chorography for the most part. Same costume, designed by Vincent Minelli. There’s an intro, and we all have to line up and get our hats checked and put on our cheeks, and we just stand in the line. There’s something about the same set pieces, the same photos of women in the 30’s and 40’s and 70’s—there’s something about that moment that feels really special. Even the backstage of the hall. A lot of it has been maintained as it was from when it was first built. They’ve improved the technology, but the mechanics for the elevators to the stage, things like that; the controls offstage right… They are original. I’ve seen photos of women in the 40’s meeting famous people of the day. Having that. It’s like when you walk through a historic hallmark. There was always that moment when the number started.

David: One that I remember really well was I had that whirl-wind year of being in the original company of Once, and it was all very buzzy and very exciting. And we were nominated for all these Tony awards…And there was this moment right after we finished playing "Gold," where we turned around. We were at the Beacon. Just turning around and looking up. And I could see the crowd. And, of course, the front row were all those fancy people, and everybody was sort of going nuts. And I just remember feeling like I needed to hold on to that moment and savor that moment. So many years of work coming together there. That was really magical. To have been with that group of people; we love each other fiercely. From putting it together at the bottom of a church basement in Cambridge. So, it was a real journey that felt like it had come to fruition. It was really special.

What is the first thing you’re most excited to do when live theatre is back?

David: I think, get ‘five.’ I’m excited for the five-minute call. And to feel the butterflies again. The energy; the giddiness that comes right before the first laugh. I’m doing a show where I happily get a lot of laughs, and that’s one of the things I miss the most. It’s like a drug; you can’t replicate it. The feeling of making a theater full of people laugh. I’m looking forward to that first laugh.

Stacey: I’m going to take my daughter to see a show!

What advice do you have for young Broadway hopefuls during this time?

Stacey: Something I tell my students when they leave for the summer… They say, “We don’t have a training program. We don’t have a dance program here. I’m going away for the summer.” And, I say, “If you have time-a little bit of space; there’s so much to study.” There’s so much that’s accessible. Not to sound like, “back in my day,” but I do remember in college, one of my voice teachers made us listen to a Broadway cast recording every week. You had to sit with a cast recording, read the synopsis. You had to look at the characters, find a song that you would sing, or a song that someone in your class could sing and tell them about it. And that’s so much easier to do now with Spotify and YouTube and the Internet. You could probably find videos. I remember going to the Lincoln Center Library, and one of the shows I wanted to listen to was only on record, so I had to go to a special room and get on headset. There’s so much available through the Internet. Study up on it. I remember, in high school, someone’s friend from camp had a VHS tape of the Tony Awards from the 80‘s. Now you can watch them on YouTube. When we go to voice lessons and we record them, we practice some of them, maybe not all of them. So, this is the time to take out the old recordings of your voice lessons. You don’t have to see people to do your homework, Do a workout class together on Zoom. You could do the cast recording homework together. Just keep learning, and keep the passion alive. You don’t have to stop learning.

Lightning Round:

Favorite Broadway Show: Stacey: Cabaret David: My Fair Lady

Favorite role you’ve played: David: Jerry Lee Lewis in Million Dollar Quartet Stacey: Polly in Crazy For You

Dream role you’ve yet to play: Stacey: Roxie in Chicago. David: I don’t think it’s been written.

Favorite Movie Musical: David: Man of La Mancha. Stacey: Little Shop or the Hamilton movie!

Movie that you think should be a musical: Stacey: My Cousin Vinney, and Princess Bride! David: The Breakfast Club and What About Bob Stacey: I was also in a parody musical of the Goonies!

Favorite Musical Instrument: David: Piano. Stacey: Violin

Instrument you wish you played: David: Drums or Cello Stacey: I started learning the guitar, and I wish I was better at it!

Favorite Place in San Francisco: Golden Gate Bridge never gets old.

Dressing Room item you can’t live without: David: A guitar Stacey: Photos on my mirror.

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