• Natalie Wisdom

Theron Alexander, Broadway Stage Manager.

First National Tour of Frozen, Summer: The Donna Summer Musical (Broadway), Jersey Boys, A Bronx Tale National Tour.

[Interview Date: November 13, 2020]

Can you describe your thoughts and feelings when the Frozen tour shut down on March 12, 2020? What was the week leading up to it like for you?

The week leading up to it was a normal week, honestly. Aside from Broadway Cares being canceled because of COVID, I had no other thoughts of COVID shutting anything down. I was watching the news, and I was aware of it getting worse, but I didn’t think that it would get to the point of having to shut down theatre. You never think of that. And the day that it happened, we received the first email, and then a second email, pushing it (the company meeting) up an hour. I slept through both emails! My call wasn’t until the evening, so I had no reason to be up that early. And I just happened to roll over and look at my phone, and the meeting was in a half hour. So, I was like, “I don’t know what I’m walking into right now.” A random meeting… I had no thought of the show being shut down, and then, I walked in and everyone was already there. And they said, “The show has shut down,” and my first reaction was joy! Because I was like, “This is great, everyone gets a two-week vacation. We’ll see you guys in San Diego. It’s gonna be great.”

And then they start saying, “Where do you want to go; what do you want to do with your things?” I thought, Florida… I called my grandmother in New Jersey and told her I was going to Florida. She said, “Great.” And I just sat in the back of the audience for fifteen minutes, and I started sobbing. I called my friends in New York like, “I’m not sure how I feel right now.” I wanted to be with my grandmother, but New York City is becoming an epicenter of the virus. And I know myself, and I would probably catch it in a stupid way. So, I was like, “Let me avoid everything and go to Florida.” And I think the emotion of leaving both of my grandparents in New Jersey while this virus is spreading--but I realized it was the best choice. I went back to work, and we collected the trunks. I decided to stay a few extra days in Portland, because it was such a fast transition of not working, that I wanted to sit in it for a moment. So, I stayed a few extra days and flew out the next week.

How did the shutdown affect your immediate and long-term plans? Did you make any big decisions that you wouldn’t have, otherwise?

I’m putting family as a priority right now. Family and friends. Like, going to L.A.- my best friend moved out-he was on Beetlejuice, and his show closed. So, he moved out of the city, and he moved back to Michigan, so we hung out there. The six months with my family in Florida was great. And now, I’m back in New Jersey. I don’t want to make any career decisions right now. I’m just reconnecting with my family, because I’ve been on tour for two years, and I’ve missed every holiday, every birthday, when I was on Bronx Tale and then, Frozen. Once I graduated college, I have been nonstop working, which is great, but also exhausting. So, this time, I’ve been enjoying it with my family and having a break.

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

I didn’t. I thought it was going to be a short thing. I had no idea that COVID was going to be what it is. I thought it was going to be two weeks to a month, and now we’re entering almost a year.

As a Stage Manager, what were the biggest challenges for you when you saw things were shutting down?

Load-out was pretty smooth, because we’ve done it so many times before. I have my own system of doing this, this, this. And I can’t start load-out until the show starts, and I have to be done when the show is finished. So, I was done within a couple hours. And what was difficult for me was having to load out the show, go back to the hotel, pack my own trunk, and then collect everyone else’s trunks at the same time. Because my trunk was smashed together, hoping for the best.

What precautions have you discussed or heard discussed in regards to innovative ways to come back to safe rehearsals and performances? How do you think this will make your job different when you return?

Absolutely none. I have talked to no one about anything. I thought about masks and how that would be a thing, but I also don’t know if they would bring us back until we don’t wear masks. Because I can’t imagine calling a show and running a deck with a mask on. Because so much of what we do is whispered and mouth-reading backstage. So, maybe they would be the clear masks, but we haven’t really been in communication about what the plan is. So, once we get closer to it, I’m sure they’ll come up with a plan. ‘Cause right now, I say Lysol everything, daily! But at some point, I’m sure we won’t get to that.

What have you, personally, been doing over the past several months to stay sane? What has helped you the most?

I have dived deep into a lot of TV shows that I didn’t know existed! Persons of Interest for one. I’ve watched Downton Abbey three times already. How did I not know this existed? West World!

Also, in Florida, I have two gorgeous nieces, so I’ve had play time with arts and crafts daily. I went on long walks while I was out in Florida. And then, in LA, we did ten-mile hikes every day. So, just lots of fresh air, and lots of reading new works. I’m a lover of fiction-rom com fiction. Crazy Rich Asians, the trilogy. Great LGBTQ books that are coming out.

What has been the hardest thing about the past months since the shutdown?

Unemployment! I didn’t get unemployment, for the first time, until last week (November). I am not an American citizen; I’m from Trinidad. I am an immigrant, so everything in America is hard for an immigrant. I’ve done unemployment before, but this was my first time doing it in New York. So, everything was just delayed, miscommunicated… I could never get through to anyone. I’ve had to wake up at 5 AM to call someone on the East Coast. I finally got through to someone. Then, they were like, “Your money’s coming next week.” It didn’t come. And then, finally, a nice lady explained their system was updated for Covid, and that’s where a lot of the mistakes were happening. And then, they released it all at once. So, I got seven months of unemployment. Thank God for savings. I can’t imagine the people and families out there that don’t have (it). I can’t imagine what they were going through.

What positives, if any, do you think have come out of this time of quarantine?

A lot of time with myself and realizing who I am, alone. When you’re going and going and going and constantly surrounded by people, and hanging out, and never taking time for yourself… My head isn’t crazy right now, if that makes sense. I am comfortable in myself, is what I would say is a positive that came out of this, Even, everything with the Black Lives Movement; I’m glad that I got to be with that alone. And what I did- when everything was happening- I was one of those people who didn’t do social media. If someone sent me something, personally, I would look at that. But I didn’t want to hear what others were saying, at the moment. And then, I gradually started looking at social media, and having an opinion, and being upset about things. But I’m glad I got to process it.

What is your biggest worry right now?

My biggest worry-My uncle bought a black Christmas tree, and I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to decorate it!

I’m used to life being a little crazy, and I think right now, it’s a lot less crazy than it usually is. Yes, a pandemic is happening, but it’s been worse, in my opinion.

What do you miss the most about being a stage manager?

Everything. There would just be days where I would get a feeling in my body, and it would just hit me that I would miss walking into a rehearsal room. Or calling a show, or dancing with Caroline Bowman from across the stage. Just random things. And I can’t stop saying, “Elsa?” Everything that happens, I go, “Elsa?”

What’s your favorite theatre memory?

I did the Broadway production of Summer a couple years ago. And on the first day of rehearsal, LaChanze walked in. And she saw me sitting behind the table, and I don’t think anyone else was around. But she screamed, “Oh my god, there is a Black brother behind the table!” And I was like, “You’re right! I am the only Black person in the room, other than the cast. Thanks for recognizing!” That was a great moment; to be recognized by someone who I had never worked with or met. That was great for that to be our first interaction.

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

Work! Get back to work. I would be excited to see a lot of the shows that come out of this time that every artist has (had) to develop and create things. But I’m most excited about getting back to work. The time has been great; I have a lot more months ahead, so I’m sure I’ll be looking forward to getting back to work.

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

To stay hopeful. Don’t feel like theatre isn’t going to come back. Theatre has been through a lot in history, and it has always come back and risen above. And I’m sure it will.

Lightning Round:

Favorite Broadway Musical: Rent

Favorite Broadway Play: A Raisin in the Sun and Fences!

Favorite Movie that has already become a Musical: Legally Blonde

Movie that you think should be a musical: It hasn’t come out yet, but Devil Wears Prada!

Beautiful or Jersey Boys: Jersey Boys!

Hamilton or In the Heights: Hamilton

Come from Away or Once: Once

Favorite Theatre Ritual: I used to love a circle up, when you, as a company, would just come together before the show and have a connection.

Favorite city on tour: Washington DC

Tour item you can’t live without: Melissa’s Espresso Machine

Favorite Stage Manager Gadget (glow tape, spike tape etc.): My flashlight

Best Personal Superhero Stage Manager Skill: I’m calm.

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