We met working at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in June of 2013. A mountainous beachside haven for artists to come and create new theatre—could it get any better? We fell hard for each other, were married in May 2017, and in March 2018 brought our sweet, beautiful, hammy daughter Luna Jay into the world.
March 12, 2020, was a tough day for both of us. We each had shows on the polar opposite ends of development, and both have been cut short. Here are our stories.
Jared Zirilli: I was confused in the best sort of way. A call had come from my agents in early February with a direct offer to originate a role in the very first reading of a new Susan Stroman show. It was a musicalized version of the 1977 Robert Deniro/Liza Minnelli film New York, New York. I say confused because I hadn’t auditioned, and the last time I crossed paths with Stro was on the very first reading of the musical Bullets Over Broadway in 2012. I was part of the ensemble, and in the chaos of a 29-hour reading, I didn’t have much one-on-one interaction with her. Maybe she saw me playing Donna Summers’ Italian husband in the Broadway musical about her life? I had no idea where this offer came from, but I wasn’t going to question it!
This particular reading was very early stages. It would be a two-day process: a rehearsal to learn some music and go over my book scenes, and then getting with the cast to read the first act aloud for a lead producer. Typically, rehearsal and performance for this sort of thing happens at one of the few large studios peppering 8th Avenue between Penn Station and Port Authority in New York City. In this case, however, a phone call from my agents the day prior told me my rehearsal would take place at Susan Stroman’s home! An absolute, undeniable, theatre nerd pinch-me moment.
The day arrived and I made my way to the Columbus Circle area of Manhattan. I took the elevator up to the corner apartment and was greeted by her with a huge smile. Where those rehearsal studios on 8th Avenue could feel pretty cold and detached, here I was sitting beside the beautiful grand piano in Ms. Stroman’s living room and being offered coffee and a bite to eat. It was time to learn music. Some period pieces evoking the era of the show. Lovely, hummable tunes. I had my part played for me and then sang it back. “You sound fabulous,” she echoed from the dining room table.
It was then time to go over my scenes for the book writer. The other actor in my scenes was not there, so I read them with Ms. Stroman. When we finished, she said, “You’re just perfect for this guy.” The book writer echoed the sentiment. As my rehearsal ended, I thanked them for the time and headed out. What a completely surreal experience this was, having that personal time and that empowering feedback from an absolute legend of our business.
I stepped out of the building, turned on my phone, and was met with an eruption of buzzes. Vibrations with texts and alerts. Broadway shutting down. Within an hour, an email from Susan Stroman to the cast saying this reading would have to be postponed. Now, from home, I wait, as do hundreds of thousands of artists, for the world to resume so we can get back to work.
Whitney Bashor: I was on the train heading into the city a few hours earlier than usual to teach a voice lesson before my 7:30 p.m. show that evening. The night before, while performing The Unsinkable Molly Brown—unbeknownst to us, for the last time—we were glued to our phones any time we were offstage as we learned the NBA had cancelled the remainder of their season and a Broadway usher had tested positive for COVID-19.
I had been involved with this production for the past six years. First in Denver, then at the MUNY in St. Louis, and finally, after many drafts and readings, in a production by the Transport Theatre Group in New York. Our run had been extended through April 5th, and our company was hitting its stride after opening on Feb. 26 when on Gov. Cuomo announced the closing of the theatres.
My initial reaction was shock. I couldn’t believe the show I had poured the last six years of my life into (including being pregnant while doing it at the MUNY) was gone in an instant. They instructed us to make time to get down to the theatre in the next 36 hours because they planned to shut down the building. The next day my husband and I drove down to the Lower East Side, not realizing it would be our last day in the city, and our last day of being completely oblivious to whether someone was two feet or six feet away from us. We walked into the ladies’ dressing room. I was the last to collect my things, so there I stood, in a once vibrant, personalized room for six performers, laid bare with only tissue boxes and theatre-provided mugs. Our costumes hung on the rack, most likely never to be worn again.
We then headed down the stage. All the sets had been condensed onto the stage, so it was this crowded mishmash of different scenes in the dark, lit only by the ghostlight. It felt eerie, sad—over. And that was it. Six years of work sat huddled on the stage, in the dark, and that was it.
Three weeks out from that day, we are both so thankful to be healthy and together, knowing so many are not as fortunate. As a household of two actors though, we feel an immense uncertainty about the future. Our entire industry and livelihood has been put on pause for the foreseeable future, and that is a hard reality to wake up to every day.