It could have been a "disaster" when original I Love You, You’re Perfect Now Change, cast member Jennifer Simard asked the show’s light board operator, Brad Robertson, out on a date. He could have lost his job and his standing within the community, but instead he gained a wife. Now they are lighting up 41st Street with love while Simard stars in Disaster! at the Nederlander Theatre and Robertson works as part of Aladdin's crew at the New Amsterdam, which has a stage door entrance across the street. They explain how their relationship has helped them bridge the gap between cast and crew.
Ok let's get right down to it. Who put the moves on who first? Is it common for the crew to ask cast members out?
Brad Robertson: It's frowned on for the most part. There's this separation that happens when you're crew and the talent — and we call them "the talent." The whole idea is that we need professional distance to do our jobs.
Jennifer Simard: I asked him out, and he actually pondered it for that very reason.
BR: I really thought about whether or not to say yes, because I could have lost my job. With the way the industry works, I have no standing. I was the guy who turned the lights on and Jennifer [was an original cast member] in the show, and she was also the assistant director at the time.
JS: So Brad was a little afraid like, "Gosh, what if she breaks up with me?"
BR: I'd be looking for a job. I had to think it over.
JS: Our first date was March 7, 2001, but we had actually known each other since October of 1999. When I first saw Brad, I immediately thought he was handsome, [but] I didn"t really believe in dating people I worked with. I hadn't been dating industry people either, so I filed it away. Fast forward to January 2001 when Brad went out on tour with the American Indian Dance Theatre. At the last minute he decided to include me on a mass email, that was sort of a diary of his adventures. I wrote him back and said, "Gosh you're language is so..." I used the word "mellifluous." I never use that word, but that's what it was. I was just really drawn to his mind. I was like, "When you get back, why don't we go out?" You wanted to, but you were afraid. Then like a day later he said, "Yes."
BR: By that time I wasn't really at the show anymore. When you leave a job to go on a tour there's kind of an agreement or understanding that when the tour finishes and you come back, it's still your job, but I had no expectation of going back to the show at the time, so it was easier for me to say yes.
Brad, how did your friends react when you told them? Were they worried about your job?
BR: My friends were really impressed actually. When I first moved to the city I found a sublet on the Upper West Side with this great guy who had been an actor for a very long time. Years later, I ran into him on the street and he asked if I was seeing anybody. I told him I was dating an actress. He asked what her name was and I was like, "Jennifer, Jennifer Simard." He stopped and said, "You're dating thee Jennifer Simard? Thee Jennifer Simard?" I was like, "Wow, okay. Yeah, I guess."
JS: I think I said the same thing: "Wow, okay."
BR: To this day we still joke and call her: Thee Jennifer Simard.
Are you ever thee Brad Robertson?
BR: No. But I do get Mr. Simard a lot.
JS: And what the world doesn't know is that he's by far the better half. By far.
With you guys being a union of cast and crew, do you feel like you've been able to bring those two worlds together in a way?
JS: I think so. It's thrilling for me to walk through the Nederlander and know that Brad knows all of these people who work there. And of course I know all of his colleagues over at the New Amsterdam. When you put in the time, these relationships form. I'll say that from an actor's point of view, not everyone understands what the stagehands do. I certainly know what it takes, and it's exciting for me to have a relationship with the stagehands, and if my colleagues have questions, I can sort of bridge the gap a little bit better.
BR: My understanding of what actors go through is certainly much deeper. A lot of times the crew can get impatient with actors because for us it's very mechanical; it's straightforward. You need to do X, Y, Z to make this happen. What actors are doing needs time to grow and cultivate. I liken it to a Formula One racing car — it needs to be fine tuned. To keep an actor in voice, in the right emotion and in the moment, that world needs to be created and protected. I think that a lot of my stagehand buddies don't quite understand that quite as well as I wish they would. I didn't understand it quite as well prior to this relationship.
JS: And not to get too controversial here, but when negotiations come up with unions I get frustrated when I hear people say, "Oh, it's just pulling a curtain" or "It's just pushing a button." It's such an inaccurate description of what the stagehands do that it makes my head want to blow off. When my husband's in the lighting booth he might as well be running a spaceship. In an emergency, I could not do his job — I guarantee it. But yes, being on the other side of the aisle for both of us has absolutely informed our knowledge and relationship. I want a T-shirt that says "Local 1 Wife" one day. I'm very proud.
See the media day performance of Disaster!
Now you're working across the street from each other! Jennifer, you're still in previews, but are you going to be able to sneak in some visits during work?
JS: Of course we're going to meet for meals, and once the show's up and running we'll commute together. I think it's a once-in-a-lifetime event to make it to Broadway, let alone have [theatres] across from one another. It's pretty special.
BR: Yeah at some point we're going to stand in the middle of 41st Street and have someone take a picture of us.
Is this your first time being in simultaneous Broadway shows?
JS: We've been in shows at the same time, but our theatres have been at the opposite ends of the Theatre District. Brad was down in the low 40s, and I was in the high 50s.
BR: When I was doing Newsies at the Nederlander she was at the Broadway all the way up on 52nd. It's actually pretty hard to see each other when that happens.
Is it comforting to know you're so close to each other now?
JS: It is comforting. He's my right arm, so it's nice to know that he's right there — and he's been able to say hi to his colleagues over here on a couple of coffee breaks. It warms my heart to see those relationships. It feels like a community, and it makes me feel very proud.
It’ll be nice to be that close on Valentine's Day since you both have two shows. Are you going to try and celebrate at all?
JS: I think we decided that we're going to do something quick between shows on Sunday and then do a really nice dinner on the 15th — our day off.
Brad, since Jennifer has been in Off-Broadway productions of Disaster! since 2013, how many times have you seen it?
BR: Would you believe that I've only seen it once? I actually had to take a night off work to go see it because of our schedules.
JS: He'll be at opening night.
BR: I'm going to take the night off.
Jennifer, does Brad ever walk the red carpet with you?
JS: He has. It depends on the event… Sometimes people will say "I just want a picture of you, Jennifer," and then there's my husband. I get it, but that's just interesting to finagle. I feel guilty sometimes when I do have to do those things and I'm like, "Can you hold my purse?"
BR: I don't take it personally. It doesn't feel vindictive. "Light board run by Brad Robertson," doesn't sell tickets. They're not clapping for me at the end of the night. Like I've said many times, I know who I'm married to. I know the gig.
JS: But you have to understand from the point of view of someone who really does consider you — cue the music — "the wind beneath my wings” it makes me uncomfortable. I do consider you my better half.