Patrick Wetzel and Aaron Kaburick, Broadway Couple.
[Interview Date: November 10, 2020]
Patrick: Broadway Performer, Director, and Stage Manager:
Frozen, Tuck Everlasting, Something Rotten, Aladdin and more.
Aaron: Broadway Performer:
Mrs. Doubtfire, Hello Dolly, Something Rotten, Sister Act, and more.
Where were you both on March 12, 2020, the day Broadway shut down? And what was the week leading up to it like for you?
Patrick: I was working at Frozen when everything shut down. I had just finished working on a film and was back at Frozen only a few days when everything was shut down. It felt like the rug was pulled out.
Aaron: He had been in LA prior to that, I still remember the night you flew back we hadn’t seen each other in a while. And he got in the apartment and ran to the bathroom to wash his hands.
Patrick: It was all starting to get crazy. By the end of the movie shoot, they had closed down Craft Services. And they were like, “You can’t go here and there.” and hand washing was all over the place. It was all ramping up before I left LA, and the day after I left, the movie shut down. And then, Broadway shut down a few days later.
Aaron: And I was at Mrs. Doubtfire. We had just done our third preview the night before, and we were in rehearsals making some major changes, that day actually. We had already had a meeting about one production number that was going to have a major overhaul. I remember we were kind of just buying time, because we were going to have another meeting at 4:00 with our producer. And the writing was sort of on the wall at that point. Because by the time we went to rehearsal, I think Moulin Rouge had already canceled their show. And Phantom… So, the writing was on the wall. And I vividly remember sitting in our dressing room, honestly 15 of us, and hearing Jen Gambatese practice her Act Two ballad over and over, because they didn’t want to start on the production number we were going to change. And I vividly remember hearing that song over and over before they called us in for the meeting at 4:00. I texted Patrick and was like, “They’re shutting down for a month.” We packed our bags and took off for our cabin that day.
Patrick: At first, we thought, “Oh, a week.. We’ll be out here a week.”
Aaron: I remember Broadway was shut down and thinking, “We’ll be back in two weeks before Broadway reopens to put in this new production number and do this extra work.” And this is terrible now, but I remember thinking, “What a bummer. We’re only going to be gone for two weeks.” And now I’m like, “What a foolish, foolish thought."
Patrick: Same here - my initial thought was “Oh this is great! We’ll get a little bit of a break and go back to work.”
Aaron: And we had been separated for a while, because Patrick was in LA, and I was in Seattle with Doubtfire. And we had visited each other during that time but we hadn’t been together for a solid six or seven months. He had just gotten back to New York just before the shut-down, so we were like, “This is great! We’re going to get some time (at the cabin) together!” And now, were still there.
Did you initially anticipate that Broadway and other theatre productions would be closed for this long?
Aaron: I would say within a week of shut-down, when I saw those terrible numbers in New York, I was like, “There’s no way we’re coming back in June." I was like, “Ok. Labor Day." I had it in my mind, “that’s so far away, but that feels safe.” And then, I would say, “Probably by June.” I was always a month ahead of the official announcement. About a month before, I would change to the next time-frame. And now, I’m very conservative. Now, I sort of feel like my show probably won’t be back until a few months behind Broadway coming back. I’m anticipating not for another year. Not until next Fall.
Patrick: Same for me. As the numbers got higher and higher-I got less and less optimistic. At the time, I thought “Oh ,they just need to get this under control…” And as it got even worse, my optimism dwindled.
What have you been doing over the past several months to stay sane? What has helped you the most?
Patrick: We’ve spent more time at our cabin than we ever have.
Aaron: The most we’ve ever been here is four nights in a row.
Patrick: On a normal Broadway schedule, we’d come out Sunday night after the last show and go back Tuesday afternoon. That was our normal routine out here. It was still winter when Broadway shut down, so we saw everything kind of come to life. We’ve been doing a lot of gardening; we got our house in really great shape. Unfortunately, we dealt with lots of house repairs this year. Luckily, we are here to take care of them. But mostly, what keeps us occupied is working in the yard and just focusing on growth; literally new things growing. That kept us hopeful; you know, life continuing through plants and flowers. That’s been helpful.
Aaron: We got lucky because out here by the cabin, the lake we’re on not only has private hiking trails, but there were other hiking trails nearby that were not bombarded with people trying to get out of the city. We would see some trails closer to the city get shut down because there were so many people. So, we would go on hikes and just return to nature. May and June were sort of bleak. April still had some hope, but May and June, my brain would spin a lot. I would think about my career; every choice, basically, I thought about. Anytime I couldn’t handle my thoughts, I just tried to busy myself with a house project, gardening, and jogging. We did a lot of puzzles. We got very good at puzzles. That first month it was kind of grey weather and you didn’t really want to go outside. Listening to music, discovering some new music.
Patrick: I started doing a lot of writing. It started with just writing letters to people. And that sort of grew into creative writing, and I’ve found it helpful, and a way to use that creative outlet still, without being able to be in theatre.
Aaron: Patrick is also into genealogy. So, he got a lot of genealogy work done.
Patrick: Yep. I learned where we’re from- both of us; did lots of research. This has forced us to slow down. We didn’t have any other option but to slow down. It forced me to think about my life and realize how I deal with it, and how I can improve. Looking at the good and the bad - how I deal with people and crises… that’s been somewhat helpful.
How has what’s happening in the world affected your drive to create? Have you felt more motivated or inspired? Less so?
Aaron: For the first few months, I had zero motivation to create. In the first few weeks, it seemed like we were gonna come back, so the thought didn’t even pop into my head, except the things that were being asked of all of us. But that wasn’t the impetus from me to do that; it was somebody reaching out. As this has gone on, maybe a little bit more. My brain has gone, “Oh, I could try this to feel creative…” But it’s still not as much of a drive as I think it should be, to be honest. I think a large part is because my entire life, my creative outlet has been live performance, so for me to think about being creative in another way is a big turn. It’s hard for me to think about.
Patrick: I felt the same way. At the beginning, I had zero creative juices. And I didn’t know what to do; I just felt kind of lost. I would hear about other people- “I did this creative thing!” “I’m motivated.” And, “I’ve created this new project!” And I was like, “How are these people doing this? I have zero creative flow right now. I don’t know where they’re finding it.” Because the pandemic has gone on so long, I did ultimately find-writing was a big outlet for me, and I did find that. But it can’t compare, at all, to what we’re used to. I think we both said, “yes” to any benefit or any zoom where we have to record something or sing something to raise money for anything. Because it was some way to get creative and get back to our craft and have a purpose and a project. It has gotten a little bit easier, and now we know a lot more. At the beginning, there was this question mark of “What is this virus?” and, “How do we deal with it?” and all our energy went toward that. Lately, we’ve both have been working on different projects here and there; more than at the very beginning.
Aaron: This is how desperate I was for just feeling like I was a part of something: In one week, I recorded a video thing for Bette Midler’s charity; I was on a podcast for some high schooler in Texas; and a podcast for some woman who has- I’m not kidding- a cat podcast. She reached out to me on Instagram, and I was like, “yes”. The gamut from Bette Midler to a cat podcast.
And a friend of ours reached out to us- probably over two months ago- she stumbled on a company that does virtual online, live tours of cities. And she reached out to them and said, “Hey, you don’t have a tour in LA.” (she’s in LA) “Would you be interested in that?” And they said, “yes.” And she said, “I could probably find people in New York too,” and they said, “Yeah, we’d love it!” The company is based out of London. So, she reached out to us and was like, “Is this something that would interest you guys?” And we said, “yes,” and we’ve been doing that since- I have no frame of time,-now at this point. But we’ve done five of those tours now, and we have two more lined up, but we basically do this live stream, free tour. People can tip if they want, but we don’t get paid anything. But it’s pretty cool, and we decided we wanted to do it together as a team. The company sends us a stabilizer for our phone, and it’s through their app. And we do a thirty to forty-minute live tour. We pick it out and plot it out in advance; what we want to do. We’ve done Times Square; we’ve done two Central Park tours.
Patrick: We did a tour in the financial district, and we’re venturing out into Philadelphia this weekend. The great thing is, this company is new, so there’s a lot of room for creative movement on our part. We can plot out a good section of town and decide what the content is. We’re having a lot of fun. We feel like as long as this is fun for us we’ll continue to do it. It was a way for us to be creative and have a focus, and get something done. That has been hugely helpful.
Aaron: And it is sort of like performing for both of us. So, it feels a little bit similar, because it’s live, but there’s a chat on the side of the screen. So, if you were about to watch our tour, you could say, “Hey, what’s that building on the right?” And we would be like, “Thanks for bringing that up!”
Patrick: “We don’t know what that building is! Its brick!” Haha. Seriously, we’ve been doing lots of research, and it’s nice to have a project.
Aaron: Neither one of us were tour guides before, and when you live in New York; especially when you do what we do in New York, you end up having a lot visitors come to the city. You inevitably end up becoming their unofficial tour guide. It’s been fun! We started with the areas we like and the areas we knew really well, and now we’re doing ones we don’t know as well. I remember the first one we did, we were frazzled. But I think we both were on a little bit of a high, because we felt like we had a purpose, and we were doing something.
Patrick: Yes! We had a purpose, a project. ANY project. And when it was over, we were like, “That was exhilarating!” It felt exciting to do something new.
Aaron: And in a larger part, it is the aspect of having the people on the other end who are live. That’s why we do what we do; that live interaction and mutual feeling when we can share each other’s energies. And, as a result, raise our energies together. I think that’s a large part of it. As we’re saying this, I’m realizing, at the end of each of our tours, we discuss it like it was a show.
Patrick: We do! We find ourselves talking about it like a show – “The beginning was a bit slow. We could pick up the pace here or there.” When it’s over, we’re both full of energy.
Aaron: We’ll be like, “That went well. They seemed to like this part!” I never thought about that until now, but we definitely do.
Patrick: And for the people that want to visit New York but can’t right now; it makes them feel like, “Oh, this is what’s happening in the city.” It’s good – it shows everyone that the city isn’t dead.
What has been the hardest thing about the past months since the shutdown?
Patrick: Not seeing people – not being around people. We’ve gone to see our families, quarantined for two weeks and gone to visit people; but overall, I miss seeing people at work. The camaraderie of doing a show, the backstage energy, and saying “hi” to the same door guy every day, and having everyone check in with the stage managers. I miss the world and the community; it’s really a community when you walk in that building – all the different departments.
Aaron: I would agree. The only thing I would add is, on a logistical front, one of the hardest things has just been the insecurity of all of it. Even when we’re unemployed, normally in our business, you know that the phone could ring tomorrow, and that would change. And we’re not in that position right now. The phone can’t really ring tomorrow. It’s not going to ring for at least six months, and that’s hard to grapple with.
Patrick: And thank God Aaron’s in a great position—well, no one is in a great position-- but when Broadway comes back, Aaron will have work. But for so many of us, it’s going to be like revving up the machine again, making those phone calls, drumming up business. We’ll have to play “catch up” for a while. The view ahead of us just sort of seems daunting.
What positives, if any, do you think have come out of this time of quarantine?
Patrick: I think the biggest gift during all of this is time. It’s given us time to volunteer for things. We did a lot of work for the election. We wrote letters and made phone calls. We helped in ways that, on a normal schedule, we wouldn’t have had time to do. We’ve really enjoyed working on these virtual tours. We’ve had time to do things like work on our yard or write – things we always say we’ll do if we had the time. I’ve come to realize what a gift time is. Time to volunteer, to do creative things that we don’t normally have time for and to work on our own.
Aaron: Piggy-backing on the virtual tours thing, we’ve both said it’s something that- when Broadway is fully back, we’ll continue doing. It takes, total, about an hour and a half out of our day. It’s weirdly almost like doing a Broadway classroom. It’s an hour and a half, but it’s a live thing. You remain online after, for ten minutes or so, to answer questions or say goodbye to people. And I would do it between shows. Or a Sunday morning before a matinee. And that’s something we wouldn’t have ever thought of or worked towards at all, if we had been working. And I bet it’s something that we will continue; I mean, if there’s a demand for it. If the vaccine is really great and everyone feels back to normal by next summer, then this virtual trip thing… People might be like, “No way, I don’t want to see another virtual thing ever!” But we will know how to do it and be ready to do it and be available to do it. And that’s a good thing that’s come out of it.
We’ve gotten to spend some time with family. We spent three weeks with my dad this summer. He’s not getting any younger. To have that time with him; even though by the end of it, I think we were ready to get home, it’s valuable. And in our industry, when do we ever get that chunk of time to be able to spend time with family like that?
What do you miss the most about live theatre?
Aaron: What I was saying earlier, of what we get a little bit from our live tours; and that’s an exchange of energies. And I’m not sure I would have really understood that until I did so many of these virtual things, where there’s no energy coming back at you whatsoever. I mean, even on a TV or film set, there’s the crew and other actors watching it. But with these virtual things, there’s zero energy coming back at you, and it feels so bland. Like you’re pulling at strings and there’s nothing on the other end. And what Patrick said earlier too: Walking in to that stage door, seeing everybody. I always say in a Broadway classroom, it is my job, and there are certainly days just like anyone else… You wake up, and it’s a gorgeous day, and you’re like, “Ugh, all I want to do is play in the park. I don’t want to go to work today. But the minute I walk in the stage door, without fail, I see the people there. I see the crew backstage; I see my castmates, and my energy kicks in. And I get very excited to do the show every single time. Are there days when it’s harder than others? Absolutely. Because your body hurts or you don’t feel well or whatever.
Patrick: You realize it’s a team effort. Even when you’re not feeling 100 percent, you walk in the door, and you feed off the energy of other people. And, all of the sudden, one person’s positive energy spreads and we all produce this show for that afternoon, or that evening. And then the audience is added and you’re all there, in this room, creating one event, one thing. And everyone is vital to it. The audience and the actors and the crew and everyone. Everyone’s moving together towards one single goal. The thousands of people that are there that day experiencing it all together - I just miss it so much.
What’s your favorite theatre memory?
Aaron: I have a recent one- I have so many. Well, I’m going to do two, if I may. I want to do one as viewer and one as a performer: My viewer one is seeing, at the St Louis MUNY, Debbie Boone in The Sound of Music. I remember they built a hill for her to come twirling down in The Sound of Music. And I remember seeing that. I was like, “They built a hill, and she came twirling down, just like Julie Andrews in the movie, but this was live!” And that is one of the first times, a light; a fire was inside of me. And I was like, “I want to be a part of this. Somehow. I don’t know how.”
And as a performer, it was our invited dress rehearsal for Hello Dolly, when Bette Midler appeared at the top of the staircase, and the audience just erupted! And that was pretty special. I think, because it’s something, during rehearsal, we all thought about over and over. And how iconic that moment is, and there it was, live. And we were a part of it. That was pretty special.
Patrick: Mine are very similar. When I was a kid, I went to see Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ on tour - 1979 or 1980. I remember sitting in the balcony and there was a very specific moment in the show when something clicked in my head - understanding what musical theatre was. I had taken dance lessons. But seeing this show was more than just dance; In that moment, I made that connection – that you could tell stories on stage through song and dance. I thought, “That’s it. That’s what I want to do.” Years later, I played that same theater on tour. I went to the balcony, called my mother and thanked her for that moment. It felt like things had come full circle.
And another was a show I was seeing. I took some famly members to see Gypsy, and the moment when Rose says, “My daughter can do it.”, I heard my family gasp! And hearing them react to it; that was one of my favorite memories of seeing theatre.
What is the thing you’re most excited to do when live theatre is back?
Aaron: Well, I don’t know that it’s necessarily a thing to do, but I think about what that audience response is going to be like the first show back for us. And just knowing how good our show is, and how wonderful Rob McClure is, and how receptive the audience is going to be to his performance, in particular. And we all just, sort of, piggy-back off that, to be honest! I’m most excited for that moment. Honestly, I can picture in my head what it’s going to be like, to stand behind that curtain, waiting for the curtain to go up, with that first audience. I’ve been thinking about birthdays too; to celebrate each person’s birthday.
Also, I love when somebody’s joining a company, and it’s their Broadway debut; that excitement that they have. Finding out who is in the audience to watch their Broadway debut and knowing they get to be a part of history. I love that. And, also when an understudy goes on for the first time, and everyone crowds in the wings to watch them do their number or scene. Those two things; I look forward to that again.
Patrick: Saturday bagels!
What advice do you have for young Broadway hopefuls during this time?
Aaron: I think it’s just to keep doing, keep training, keep at it. Because Broadway will be back, in full force. What I worry most about are the people who graduated last year or the year before. Those of us that are older; we have our careers. Casting directors have started to know us. You are at varying degrees in your career, but for them, the plug was pulled, just when they were getting started. I think there is going to be a need for them when theatre reopens. But I hope they can still make the leap to New York and jump back into it. So, for anybody who’s training right now, just keep your nose to the grindstone, because by the time Broadway reopens, you’ll be ready!
Patrick: Yeah, I basically support what Aaron said. Just keep working on your stuff; even if it’s via Zoom. Continue taking classes, when you can, and continue working on your skills however you can do it. If it’s at home, do it at home. But just keep working on your craft.
Aaron: The motivation to do it at home is a lot harder than if you say, “I’m gonna go to a class,” and be held accountable and responsible because you’re in a room full of people. But the upside, right now, is there has never been more opportunities to study at home. I mean, you name it; it’s online. And it’s either free or donation or inexpensive. To do anything and everything. It’s kind of incredible.
Favorite Broadway Musical:
Patrick: Crazy for You
Aaron: Music Man
Favorite Broadway play:
Patrick: August Osage County!
Aaron: August Osage County!
Favorite role you’ve played:
Patrick: Man in Chair in The Drowsy Chaperone.
Aaron: Mine’s tricky, because I want to play the roles, I played in high school, again. Baker in Into the Woods and Marryin’ Sam in Li’l Abner.
Patrick; Harold Hill.
Aaron: Horton (Suessical)
Show you would love to work on together:
Aaron: This is the only one we discussed. Anything that would have us together. Patrick: We’d do any show together.
Favorite Movie Musical:
Patrick: Singin’ in the Rain
Aaron: Tie between Summer Stock and Moulin Rouge
Movie that you think should be a musical:
Patrick: We haven’t discussed this, so on the count of 3-- 1,2,3.
Patrick: I swear, we did not discuss this!!!!
Favorite Broadway Theatre Ritual and/or Tradition:
Patrick: Birthday Club for me!
Aaron: I have a weird thing where I don’t look at my playbill before the show. I like to read my playbill on my way home, after the show. Or I look at it when I get home. It lets me relive the show a little bit afterwards.
Favorite NYC Restaurant:
Aaron: Jacob’s Pickles
Patrick: Starlight Deli. Not because it is the best food. I mean – it’s a solid deli. But they’re so supportive of the theatre community. They know who the show folk are when we walk in. I guess I’m just feeling nostalgic for working in midtown!
Favorite city on tour:
Aaron: Seattle or Nashville
Patrick: Denver. Honestly, while I do like Denver, truthfully, it’s where Aaron and I roomed on tour. We weren’t together then; we were just friends. And that was where I was like, “Oh, I really enjoy spending time with him.” And we started dating a few months after that. I have a soft spot in my heart for Denver.
Favorite Theatre Superstition:
Patrick: I like not mentioning the Scottish play. There’s so many, but people seem to take that particular one very seriously.
Favorite Dressing Room item:
Aaron: A cozy hoodie. You never know with understudy rehearsals, or what it’s like backstage. I always want a cozy hoodie.
Patrick: Pictures in the dressing room. You spend so much time in the dressing room, looking in the mirror to get ready, so you are constantly reminded of loved ones. And also, a nap mat.