• Natalie Wisdom

Austin Colby and Caroline Bowman - Broadway Couple

Photo Credit: Murphy Made. (Matthew Murphy)

[Interview Date: December 9, 2020.]

Austin: Hans in the National Tour of Frozen. Sound of Music Tour, Jersey Boys and more.

Caroline: Elsa in the National Tour of Frozen. Wicked, Evita, Spamalot and more.

What was March 12, 2020 like for you both? And what were the weeks leading up to the day like for you?

Austin: We’re not certain whether or not I was ill with the Coronavirus or just the flu. However, on Sunday night, I started feeling sick; woke up Monday and just felt terrible. And the Coronavirus had become more prevalent on the news, and they were talking about it reaching America, and it being in Seattle. The states of Washington and Oregon were the states it was hitting first. And we were like, “Wow, we just came from Seattle, and now we’re in Oregon.” And all this stuff is going through my mind, and Caroline is like, “I can drive you to Urgent Care.” And for some reason, I was like, “Everyone needs to get away from me. Caroline, I don’t want you to get this.” So, I took an Uber to Urgent Care. And on the way, I looked up the symptoms for Coronavirus, and it was reading off the symptoms that I would share with the doctor.

Caroline: I remember you texting me. You were scared.

Austin: I was like, “I think I have this…” And I went to the doctor, and they said, “If you haven’t been exposed to anybody with the virus, then we don’t need to test you.” And I tested positive for influenza, and they were pretty positive, at the time, that you couldn’t test positive for both. Later, I did some research and found out that is incorrect, according to the source that I found. And so, I got medication, and I called out of Tuesday night’s show and Wednesday night’s show.

Caroline: And those were the first shows you called out of. That was a big deal for you.

Austin: Right. It was nothing like, “I’m against calling out.” But I take my job seriously, and I want to do every performance I can. I’m not going to be a hero though. I felt like crap, and then on Wednesday night, I remember you, Caroline, coming home and starting to talk about the Coronavirus potentially affecting the show. As in, maybe the show is going to get canceled, and kind of joking about it.

Caroline: To expand on that a bit, leading up to that, we were in Seattle, and hearing grumblings during our show. And in Seattle, I was just starting to feel really good about my shows, and starting to find my groove of playing Elsa. And I was like, “I know how to do eight shows a week now. I know what to do when we get to the five-show weekend.” They started to not let us do Stage Door, and I had gotten used to that. To see the kids and adults, and how they were affected by the show. It was such a special ‘cherry on top’ of the fun, so I was like, “Wait, they stopped having people come to the Stage Door?”

Austin: We started doing Stage Doors in Portland, but then our Company Manager started to go out and be like, “So sorry,”-ushering people away, making sure we got out without being bombarded by everybody.

Caroline: I remember having a family member text me and saying, “You need to be careful, because COVID is happening,” but I didn’t think too much of it at first. I’m not a hypochondriac, while I do a lot of things to stay healthy. I was drinking so much ginger tea… But then, they got stricter about the Stage Door; Austin got sick. It started to feel really stressful and weird, all the sudden. We did the five-show weekend, including those two shows that Austin was out. I was worried about him.

I remember I was backstage about to go out for “Dangerous to Dream,” my first song in the show. I went up to (one of our stage managers), and I was like, “Are we going to get shut down because of Coronavirus?” And she was like,” I think so.” And our stage managers and our team were very transparent, but I feel like, normally, stage managers try to be cautious about what they say to the actors. “Don’t say anything until after the show…” But she was like, “I think so,” and I opened my eyes really wide and then walked out and did my show.

And I remember finishing “Let it Go” that night, and being proud of that particular “Let it Go.” And I was like, “Ok, if that was the last time that I get to do it for a while,”- as in a month or a couple weeks- I was like, “Ok, I can be proud of that, and take a break.” I was thinking of it that way. And then, the next day, we wake up to an email that said, “Come to the theater at noon, and Austin was still sick. He had had 24 hours of antibiotics at that point.

Austin: And I was like, “I’ll probably be able to do the show tonight.” And at that point I was like, “I can push through these symptoms. I’m not contagious anymore.” And then, we had the meeting!

Caroline: I remember sitting in that theater, and (our company manager) didn’t know and she was like, “Information is changing by the minute.” And it was bizarre. And she was like, “We have boxes. Tell us where to ship your trunks and where you want to go.” I was bursting into tears, and I didn’t know why I was bursting into tears. Just, none of us knew what to do. We were still in the beginning of this journey. We were all still finding our footing; and then, suddenly, we were saying “goodbye.”

Austin: But we were saying, “goodbye” for what we thought was the rest of Portland and San Diego. That was a month or a little over a month.

Caroline: It felt like this couldn’t possibly be anything.

Austin: And we’re still not doing it, and not expecting to, until over a year after March 12, 2020. And we had really formed a community with the group and the show. And that was a part of the grieving process- grieving the loss of our community.

Did you initially anticipate that Broadway and other theatre productions would be closed for this long?

Austin: This long? No.

Caroline: I still think, every meeting we have, they’re going to tell us we’re coming back sooner. This is crazy. I still wake up in the morning; I open my eyes, and the first thing I think is, “This is insane.” We worked so hard to get these jobs. You work so hard to get a job like this.

Austin: When we first started rehearsals, we truly thought about 2020 being a year where we travel the country together; working together; making plenty of money to potentially buy a future home.

Caroline: And lead us into the next phase of our life.

Austin: And I think we still have hopes for, if and when we return to Frozen, that that’s possible. But it’s definitely like, there are aspects of 2020 that feel like we’re put on-pause. And we have to remind ourselves that we’re not put on-pause. We are still living our lives, and so it up to us to make the most of what we have; but also, in a safe way. There are limits. There are boundaries now to how you live your life.

Caroline: I think I’m still in that shock of it all. The shock ebbs and flows. We went from having our lives are scheduled- everything is set- we don’t have to hustle. This is what we’re doing. This is the job- it’s set for us. But we have to either create work, pivot, figure out how we can maybe perform, in a way, this year… All this stuff our brain had to shift in a way that none of us thought we’d have to this year. We were like, “Sweet. We booked this job, worked really hard to get it. I’m good. Tell me where I need to be, what time I need to be there, and I will show up and do the job I do best. That I was hired to do. And that’s all I have to do.” And then we had to be like, “Wait what?”

And also, we were going on an adventure, and we’re still newlyweds. And it’s this dream scenario-getting to bring our dog and getting to explore. We were exploring different parts of the country, just because it was dog friendly. It was such a cool adventure, and we were doing it together.

Austin: And this was coming at a time when the majority of the time we’d been together had been long distance. She was on tour, and I was in DC or New York. And then, I went on tour, and she was in New York. So, to be able to work together, both be working and be together, be able to travel together. We don’t have a child yet, (so) to have this experience where you get paid to travel and explore the country together- so much of that is dreamy. After years and years of long distance. And we made it work- it was never too much work. It was never our preference, but we’ve had experience with screen life. And now, here we are.

What have you been doing over the past year or so to stay sane? What has helped you the most?

Caroline: Each other. Thank God we have each other. I’ll have a bad day, and Austin will pick up the slack. And then, when he feels that way, we’re totally a see-saw for each other. And I’ll be like, “Cool. We’ll keep our feet on the ground.” Thank God we’re together.

Austin: Just adding perspective and being grateful for one another. It’s so true. And I’m glad you said I had down times too, because if we’re keeping score, I’m the Scrooge, and you’re the peppy Tiny Tim!

Caroline: We have people to talk to. There are therapists in here.

Austin: Lots of things that need to be worked on for me. I was already working with a therapist, but I think things got ramped up, significantly, with the pandemic. And there’s so much time to marinate on thoughts, and fewer things to distract us from those thoughts. There are certain thoughts I have that I’m embarrassed or still figuring out how I want to talk about them, so having someone who’s completely separate to allow myself to vomit all my thoughts on is a huge help.

But Caroline has been such a rock for me, and I’ve always said that she loves me aggressively. Which means that if somebody has wronged me, even if it’s myself, my own inner critic, she is loving me aggressively. To the point where she is willing to fight, even my inner critic to support me. And I couldn’t have asked for a better life partner. And, Wow! We just celebrated three years of marriage! And to come out of this pandemic stronger, than we did entering it, is a huge testament to our relationship.

Caroline: And our choice.

Austin: Yeah, and our choice.

Caroline: Especially early on. It’s dwindled a little, but I was getting together with my Musical Theatre Class, once every two weeks! We started early on in the pandemic. And (we) play games and just get drunk, on Zoom, like we were in college again. And that is cool. And we celebrated everybody’s birthday, and we had a theme for everybody’s birthday.

And also, just checking in with people, and knowing that you’re not alone. Everybody is going through it, in their own way, especially early on. The rug was pulled out from all of us, and time is so weird right now. I can’t believe you’re asking us about the last nine months, because I don’t know what really has happened. But a lot has happened.

Austin: Caroline has started teaching voice lessons, and whether she wants to admit it or not, she has learned how good she is at teaching. It’s fun to see her, right afterwards. Because she talks about the fun stuff that she was trying for her own voice, and then trying to have them implement it. There are so many success stories, afterwards, and it’s cool. And I don’t think that, Caroline, you would have chosen to take on many students when you were playing Elsa in Frozen, because you need to conserve. But it’s cool to see that you have these gifts, and I think you’ve done a good job of choosing how many students you want to take on. Because it reminds us that we’re doing this, because we can’t do that.

Caroline: This is a very overwhelming time. I’ve been teaching and finding these different outlets to make a little money. I try not to overbook myself, because I’m already overwhelmed when I wake up in the morning, by the world and everything. So, I try not to put too much in my day, because I’m already overwhelmed.

And something else that’s kept me sane is writing things down in my planner. The top of the pandemic, I bought a planner, which I didn’t need on tour. (It was) “I’m gonna do eight shows a week, and maybe a little press in there. And I show up at the theater and do my hair and make-up. And I know what I’m doing.” But because everything is so all over the place, opportunities have presented themselves. But because of this year, if I have one thing on my schedule for the day, it’s like, “I’m booked for the day!”

Austin: She also writes it in the full month (page), with the little square. And she has really big handwriting.

Caroline: It works for me though.

How has this time affected your relationship, as a couple? Have you adopted any new rituals?

Austin: I think, going along with the fact that on tour, our schedule was already determined--I don’t do well with excess time. And that’s one thing that we’ve learned in our relationship. I have to go to bed at night, knowing I have things to do, and when I’m going to do them, within the day. And I need to communicate them with her. That is not something I would have expected to have. I’m discovering it about myself. And then, learning to handle it, as a couple.

There are definitely fun shows we have gotten to watch together. Caroline tends to watch shows faster than me. So, I will say, “I will watch this show, but we have to watch it together.” So, she will watch that show and three others that she’s binge-watching on the side, and then she’ll watch an episode with me. That’s been a lot of fun.

Caroline: We’re learning more about each other too, and what each other’s needs are during this time. I learned very early on-and I already knew this-but everything is heightened during this time. I learned very early on that you (Austin) need a schedule, and if you ask for something to be at a certain time, you want it to be at that time.

Austin: It’s trouble-shooting anxiety before it happens. And that’s something I realized about myself. There are times I am going to be lazier about it all, but to have Caroline’s understanding.

Caroline: I’ve learned all I have to do is ask that question: “Is this a strict time, or can we be flexible?” And then we trouble shoot it, before it turns into a fight or an anxiety attack.

Austin: We learned I do my best work first thing in the morning, and she does her best work later in the day. But I think, in a way, some days we literally separate and meet in the middle. It’s good. I think we would potentially have learned this about each other much later in our marriage. But I feel like we’re checking a lot of boxes.

Caroline: I do feel like this is such an extreme time, and I’ve heard from talking to other people- “This is a make-or-break. It’s either gonna bring you together or make you learn things you didn’t want to know. And it’s definitely not a deal-breaker for us.

You have been able to perform some concerts during this time. What have those been like as far as audience reaction? What was it like to be onstage after that much time, not doing eight shows a week?

Austin: Caroline’s mom writes children’s books. And she was signed up to do a presentation for The Freeman Stage, which is a venue in the community where Caroline’s parents have a beach home. It’s an outdoor pavilion, which has the capability of hosting 4,000 people. And they have people like Diana Ross come and perform. And they had to cancel their season, because nobody’s touring. And so, they were looking for local talent. And (Caroline’s) mom wrote to them and was like, “I have two Broadway actors in town.” And luckily, the talent they were getting was mostly cover bands and bar bands. They didn’t have a Musical Theatre act. It was a great opportunity for us to do it! Initially, I was a bit nervous, but I felt weird saying “no” to an opportunity to perform. It was like, “We have to say ‘yes’ to this, on behalf of the industry. To make sure we are still present in people’s minds.”

And the audience response was huge. They loved it so much; they asked for us to come back! And they didn’t have any space on the schedule until they had a cancelation. And they asked us, last minute, and they asked for a new show! It was cool, because we were able to do new songs. The first show was our resume, and our story. And then, the next was songs we’ve always wanted to sing, but never have.

Caroline: And because we had done it before, we sort of knew what to expect. Like, lower pressure. So, we were like, “Let’s just sing songs we want to sing!” The second concert, I was singing, “I Dreamed a Dream,” and I knocked the microphone out. And I was like, “Whew! Let’s just do that part again!” And I went back to- “As they turned our dreams to shame!” I was just like, “Let’s go back to that part!” It was really cool- a special thing to be able to do.

Austin: It being a grassy area; they had drawn a circle in the grass. And inside the circle, were four chairs. So, you bought a pod, and you could have up to four people in that pod. And once you stepped out of that pod, you put your mask on.

Caroline: They did it so safely. They didn’t have to shut down; they had a season that was safe. Nothing was shut down, which means nothing was traced back to The Freeman Stage, and now, we have a relationship with them. And who knows what next summer’s going to look like. We’ve thought about saying that we’d love to come back and do another show.

Austin: I think there was an appreciation for our art. People were like, “We should just have you over to our house, and you can sing in our backyard!” And we’re like, “If you have money, great!”

Caroline: It’s funny, because we’ve had ideas where we’re like, “We could sing for private parties…-- We can’t sing for private parties! We can’t be in their home!” It’s very tricky to come up with ideas of how to perform live right now. So, to be able to do that. The first one we did was in July, and we hadn’t sung for a little while, so we were nervous, making sure our chops were still there. And I sang, “Let it Go,” which was exciting, proving to myself that I could still do it! Not letting our brains play tricks on us. It’s not going to go away. We’re still going to be able to do what we do.

Austin: And also, reminding us that we don’t need permission to be creative. It’s great that we had that opportunity, but we don’t have to have a gig coming up, in order for us to sing and still enjoy singing. And remind ourselves that we enjoy singing, because that’s going to bring us happiness. And I don’t know why I am hesitant to sing; maybe I’m like, “What’s the point?”

Caroline: It’s hard to get motivated.

Austin: But when we’re doing it, it’s like, “Oh, yeah! I do love doing this!” And how often do people get to say that they love what they do for a living? We shouldn’t ask for permission. We should take. Seize every moment, on your terms. If you feel motivated, run to that motivation.

What’s your favorite theatre memory?

Austin: I’ve got two. The first one is, during Frozen, it was every show. It was getting to watch Caroline from the wings, singing “Let it Go.” And I say this a lot, because I get to see somebody I love, do what she loves, and do it so well. And do it in a way that is appreciated by the audience, every single time. And to watch our cast in the wings also geek out, every time she’s singing it. And their vocals are even more motivated by the things that Caroline does, and the energy that she gives.

Caroline: I can’t wait to do it again!

Austin: I don’t think that people who aren’t in the industry truly understand how fulfilling it can be to feel what you feel when you do what we do. And also, to witness somebody feeling those feelings too. Because it’s like, “Oh yeah, I know exactly what she’s feeling." And also witnessing audience members appreciating it. It’s truly out of this world!

Caroline: it is really special to have your partner, because he doesn’t do this all the time! He doesn’t rub my ego all the time, even though, as actors, we’re so needy! Especially after singing a song like “Let it Go,” your adrenaline is high at the end. So, you don’t even remember what you did in that moment! So, to have someone offstage, who you love and who you know loves you, be offstage and be like, “Yeah, you nailed it!” It’s so-everything you need as a needy, sensitive people! We’re putting our hearts out there, and to have somebody say, “That was great!”

Austin: And when you come offstage, and to be able to read it. I know what she’s feeling. I know when to amp it up, and sometimes I just laugh at her. “You’re a robot. You don’t even realize what you’ve just done. The lives that you’ve just changed.”

And my second one is, I did West Side Story. It was always a dream show for me. And the last performance, I did; I didn’t know how much it was going to affect me. But I wept at the end of singing “Maria.” Fully out of character.

Caroline: The audience wouldn’t stop clapping for him! It was the most incredible-one of my favorite audiences to be in.

Austin: And then, my co-star, she played Maria. She came backstage. I was still crying-really emotional. And she started jumping up and down, and was like, “Let’s stop crying!”

Caroline: The audience did not stop. He got to take in the love. How often do you get to just feel that? We need affirmation, but we’re also- especially him-so humble. And it was really cool, being there, and seeing him accepting that love that the audience so wanted to give. And it was beautiful. (To Austin) You shined your heart and kept your heart open to us for a long time.

Caroline: I think (my favorite theatre memory is) my Broadway debut. I was in the ensemble of Wicked, and I had dreamed for so long about being in Wicked. And I’ve kind of manifested it. I do think my powers worked for that. I do believe we manifest our destiny; I put that out there really hard. So, when I came out for the “Good news!” in that ridiculous horned wig-we called it the “horny wig,”- it was two-horned. I came out on the side balcony- “Good news! She’s dead! The witch of the west is dead”--Drop! I shook! The whole show- my adrenaline was like, “This is it! You’re here, and you made it!” It was all that energy! Whew! I’m sure it’s going to feel the same way when I’m back playing Elsa, because it will feel new again. That energy was crazy! I was 23; I was not able to compartmentalize and figure out how to hone that energy quite yet. But that was just crazy; unbelievable feelings to be in a Broadway show and have dreamed about that and made that happen. I just will never forget my heels shaking; being on relevé, and I couldn’t feel the ground. I could not ground myself.

Austin: But, how could you? You were in the clouds! Something you’ve worked so hard for, growing up, and dreamed about!

Caroline: It was frenetic energy; it was just crazy! I don’t remember much more of that show- just my heels and not being able to plant them.

Austin: I wish that energy on every performer-whether it’s your Broadway debut or your thousandth show, at whatever regional theatre. That’s why we do what we do, and I think coming back after this pandemic, I think people are not going to take it for granted. I know I certainly won’t.

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

Austin: I would say the same advice I would say pre-pandemic, which is, you can never stop learning. Use this time to make sure that you are 100% ready for that opportunity; for that job. And also creating, for your own fulfillment and passion.

Caroline: Yeah, be ready for when we’re back. Don’t be complacent right now. And also, oddly, artists are available to these young people right now. Top Broadway people are completely available, more so than ever. It would have never been six degrees of separation, of any of these people. I wrote a paper on Hair my Senior year of college, and why it was a good time to have a revival of Hair. I did a whole thing, and saw Caissie Levy (in the show). And when I got coffee with her before tour, I would have never thought, “Oh gosh, she’s my peer now.” And I texted her on tour when I was having bad days, and she’s my friend. I admire her work, and I’ve looked up to her. And when I graduated, coming right out of school, and being a young Broadway hopeful, I never would have thought that I would have an opportunity to be that close with her. And these kids can get advice from anyone they want. They can do a million Q and A’s and voice lessons. The world is their oyster right now. If you have the funds, you can get training with anyone you want!

Austin: I also think anybody who is questioning the effects of the arts on humanity, just needs to acknowledge that, during this pandemic, everyone is turning to books and Netflix and music to bring them joy. Give them an escape from the stale, quarantine life that they’re living. And so, I think that’s a testament to the fact that this industry is going to be present. I’m quoting Margot Siebert, when she was saying, “This is a Renaissance; a rebirth of the arts, opening new channels for creativity.” The arts haven’t died. People are like, “Cool, ok. These are our new parameters, on how we can share art with the world. How are we gonna do it? You’re not willing to put in the energy? Cool, get out of my way. You’re now an obstacle.” Just stay on your toes, be ready, and hold on to that passion. It will come in handy.

Lightning Round:

Favorite Broadway Musical: Caroline: Pippin Austin: West Side Story

Favorite Broadway Play: Austin: My favorite book is Of Mice and Men and I wanted to see it.

Caroline: Brighton Beach Memoirs. And Seminar by Theresa Rebeck.

Favorite role you’ve played: Austin: Tony in West Side Story. Bob Gaudio is a close second. Caroline: Lady of the Lake in Spamalot.

Dream role: Caroline: Jo in Little Women Austin: Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. I think I’m more of a Jalvert, which is also amazing. Maybe I’ll do a production where I play both!

Favorite Movie Musical: Caroline: Meet Me in St. Louis! Austin: White Christmas. Singin in the Rain.

Movie that you think should be a musical: Austin: A League of Their Own!

Caroline: A League of Their Own, Oh and also, Death Becomes Her!

Favorite City on Tour: Austin: Seattle Caroline: Seattle was great!

Favorite Dressing Room item: Austin: Pictures of my family, especially for tour.

Caroline: Ginger chews. I have this little director angel from my high school drama teacher that I have in every dressing room. She’s like my angel watching over me. Trinkets that remind me of people I love. My best friend gave me a crystal before this tour, in particular. And I would hang on to it, if I needed a little extra power before I go onstage.

What show would you want to do together and play opposite each other: Austin: Damn Yankees, Jekyll and Hyde, Camelot. There are also roles that I want Caroline to play, and I could just be in the Ensemble and that would be okay. Last Five Years is another one we’ve talked about doing. Caroline: Yes, Last Five Yearsand I want us to be in Bright Star!

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