Checking in With… Tony Winner Betty Buckley, Star of Cats, Sunset Boulevard, Hello, Dolly!, More

Special Features   Checking in With… Tony Winner Betty Buckley, Star of Cats, Sunset Boulevard, Hello, Dolly!, More
 
The new feature series catches up with Broadway favorites during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Betty Buckley
Betty Buckley

As the temporary shutdown of Broadway and theatres around the world continues, Playbill is reaching out to some of our favorite artists to see how they are coping with the self-isolation on a daily basis, both physically and creatively.

The series continues with Tony winner Betty Buckley, who had just completed the first of a two-week engagement at New York's Café Carlyle when performing arts venues in New York and around the country started closing. Texas native Buckley, recently seen in an acclaimed performance as Dolly Gallagher Levi in the national tour of the Tony-winning revival of Hello, Dolly!, famously won her Tony Award for her heartbreaking performance as Grizabella in Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats, later earning another nomination for her similarly exceptional work in the musical Triumph of Love. She starred in both the London and New York productions of Sunset Boulevard, earning an Olivier nomination for her compelling take on the ill-fated silent-screen star Norma Desmond. London audiences have also enjoyed Buckley's work in Promises, Promises and Dear World, and her other Broadway credits include Carrie, Song & Dance, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, 1776, and Promises, Promises.

READ: Checking in With… Tony Nominee Max von Essen, Star of An American in Paris, Evita, Falsettos, More

Tell me about your trip back to Texas following your shortened run at the Carlyle.
I think I had COVID-19. My assistant Cathy Brighenti had it worse than I did. Ironically, we were exposed by a new lung doctor we both had met with in NYC the day before we started driving back to Texas. The second week of my two-week engagement at The Café Carlyle was canceled and the city shut down. So, we decided to drive home instead of flying. Fortunately, we had anticipated the shut down and had rented an SUV ahead of time. I started feeling sick the second day of our drive. But I wasn't exactly concerned. I have been dealing with recurring bouts of bronchitis since doing the 13-month long national tour of Hello, Dolly!. I had experienced ongoing exposures to mold in dressing rooms, etc. Cathy has had a repetitive cough, too.

It took us three-and-a-half days to drive from NYC to my ranch in Texas. We took it slow. It was really weird witnessing the shut down gradually happening on the days of our drive. Restaurants were closing. Hotels doing major disinfecting, which we, also, did each night, when we'd check into a new hotel. I got sicker on each day of the drive, but I really thought it was just my usual bronchitis. But this time the exhaustion level was startling. I still thought I could not have gotten the COVID virus. And I was taking Doxycycline for the bronchitis.

Cathy got really sick the day after we got home. I've actually never seen her that sick. My doctor in Dallas prescribed a Z-Pak for her. On that Sunday, two days after we arrived at the ranch, we received a call from the lung doctor we'd seen in New York. He said we'd been exposed, that he had tested positive for COVID-19. I was in shock! We were both then tested for COVID—Cathy in the first week she was sick, and me, finally, a week-and-a-half ago, after I started feeling better. My doctor in Dallas sent us nasal swab tests by Fedex. Cathy's test was positive. Mine, sent later, came back negative. The doc says it will show up later in a blood test, if I had the virus. I feel pretty certain that I did have it.

Neither of us had fevers or night sweats. Mostly our symptoms were very bad coughs and total exhaustion and pain in the chest, headaches, shortness of breath, etc. So, relatively speaking, compared to all we've read and heard, we got off lightly. We both quarantined in our respective houses at the ranch. And when we spoke to each other, we wore masks and gloves and stayed at a distance. I constantly washed my hands and spent every day disinfecting everything. My hands were really raw after a week or so. I was obsessed! A friend brought us groceries a couple of times over a two-week period or so, and we kept our distance from each other and from everyone who came to the ranch for work, for deliveries and all.

We both started feeling better three weeks ago. Cathy and I still have lingering coughs that are pretty wicked. But actually my cough was milder last night and today, so I'm feeling hopeful that I'm finally on the mend. Cathy seems so much better, too.

Are you working on any theatrical projects during this time?
Before the quarantine, I wrote a story, a little piece of verse that my collaborator Christian Jacob, who finally has had the time, scored with a beautiful piece of music. We're making a demo of that. I'm hoping we can make it into an animated short. My friend Jamey Haddad did the percussion for the track from Cleveland this week, and my friend Trey Henry in L.A. added the bass lines. And my wonderful engineer Jason Wormer will be mixing the tracks from Virginia. It's so sweet. I really love it. Hope I get to share it with you all, one day soon.

I'm also working on a couple of other projects that, hopefully, I'll be able to share with you sooner than later. And I'm going to start teaching this week using Zoom. I'll be doing some online classes in May for the Terry Schreiber School and some guest lectures for some other schools that have invited me. Those will be announced pretty soon, I think.

What book/TV show/podcast/film should everyone take the time to consume during this period?
At night I've been binge-watching Netflix shows till all hours. I was obsessed with Ozark, The Tiger King (OMG), and last night I just finished watching four seasons of The Money Heist. It is so great, I highly recommend it! I'm really sad it's over for now. I just heard the new season doesn't start till spring 2021. Drat! And I watched The Staircase documentary series (weird and not worth it) and The Stranger—very good! And started watching The Five last week. These were all recommended by my brother Norman Buckley, who is an amazing director and producer who lives in L.A. And Cathy's sister Maria and her nephew Benjamin recommended The Money Heist. It's the best!

How are you keeping your creative juices flowing?
I started working out with my wonderful trainer in New York City, Pat Manocchia, twice a week on Zoom two weeks ago, and even though he kills me, I'm just starting to feel like myself again. So, I'm feeling so much better. I'm taking walks with my dog Lucas a few times a week, and I'm training every day with one day off each week. And I'm vocalizing and working on music again. I've been speaking with my mom, brothers, and friends on FaceTime and Zoom. And I'm meditating and reading. I've been getting lots of requests to do videos promoting various charity performances and fundraising efforts for The Actors Fund, which I've been very honored to do. And my friend, writer Eddie Pomerantz, asked me to sing "Not While I'm Around" on video for his friend who is a doctor at a big hospital in NYC. I hope he liked it.

Choose joy! I learned recently, doing the Hello, Dolly! national tour, that joy is a choice. It's not something that you need to wait for. Choose it now. Then, do what you need to do to feel it.

To be really honest, I find it really challenging to do these video sessions because it takes such an effort to put on makeup and wash my hair and all. I have to say during this quarantine, I like the part of just hanging out in gym clothes and not being concerned about making such an effort to look presentable. It reminds me of when I first moved to my ranch in Texas 18 years ago. After a day of riding my horses, I went to see my mom in Fort Worth to take her to dinner. I was in my jeans and boots and spurs and a T-shirt, and my mom met me at her door and said, "You look like one of the ranch women who don't care what they look like, Betty Lynn. You need to put on some makeup and fix you hair!"

I make myself make my bed every day. For some reason, that gives me a sense of order and normality. Cathy has been cleaning out and rearranging her office in my house. And we both love playing ball with our big dogs who are great ball players. We'll have to post some videos, so you can see them in action. But, only if I don't have to wear makeup!

I also took a course online about the teachings of Thich Nhat Hahn, which I'm still in the middle of watching. I purchased the whole course, so I could watch at my leisure. Here's a link if you're interested.

And I've been meditating to stay calm, and I'm learning to practice "Radical Acceptance." Those are my words for the day from my brother Norman. He wrote me about this last week. And, boy, is that hard! Because even when I think I'm accepting things and letting go, I realize, on some deeper level, how angry and confused I am by all of this. So, on the surface of things, I think I'm doing really fine, but, then, I get fresh evidence that I'm spun out, more than I've realized. For example, I just did an interview with Ben Rimalower and Daniel Nolen for their QuaranStreams Podcast, and to me, I sound completely frantic, not calm at all. It was a real lesson to realize, that despite my best efforts, I'm not calm. So, I just gotta keep working on it. Every day. I appreciated talking to my friend Ben about this. The whole process of doing his and Daniel's podcast made me realize I gotta work a bit more to remember to rest inside myself.

I'm also speaking to my psychologist mostly once, and sometimes twice, a week on the phone. She is in New York. She keeps reassuring me that everyone is going through all of this same stuff, which I know, but need to remind myself and remember every day. I read the verse of my little story to her this week during our last phone session, accompanied by Christian's music on the recording he sent, and she liked it very much. That was reassuring. She is, also, really helping me process my anger and confusion. Although, sometimes I have to say, I'm left with a deep world weariness. I know you know what I mean.

We are eating healthily, drinking lots of water, and curtailing alcohol intake (and that's hard because I like really great red wine and spicy lime margaritas). I miss Joe T. Garcia's (best TexMex food in the world!), but we hear they are doing take out, so we're planning a drive to Fort Worth, maybe next week for a drive by. And, then, maybe dinner with my mom Betty Bob through her back door. She is doing great, by the way. At 94 years old, she is still such a light and inspiration. I love her so much, and I'm so grateful that she is still with us. My FaceTime and Zoom sessions with my mom and friends are such a pleasure. I'm a lucky girl to have my family nearby, and I'm very blessed to live with all my animals on this pretty little ranch. My horses don't quite understand why I'm not riding. I told them I haven't been feeling well. I'm not sure they get it. They seem happy to see me, when I go to the barn, although they were perplexed when they first saw me with my mask.

But maybe I haven't reached out to my friends enough. Evidence of this: I tried to have a conversation with a little skunk in the back pasture yesterday. He had a giant tail, the likes of which I have never seen. So I tried to talk to him yesterday, after just observing him, at work in the back pasture, the day before. He was having none of it. I mean I kept my distance, but I was trying to get a good photo of him since we're neighbors and all. He gave me a small gesture of raising his tail, so I followed at a distance. So, there's a lesson here: Keep your distance from skunks—animal ones...and people ones. And reach out to your friends or helpful folk. Skunks don't want to converse. (See my Instagram @blbuckley for the video of our one sided conversation yesterday.)

What advice would you give to someone who may be struggling with the isolation?
1. Make your bed.
2. In the morning, after you stretch and take your time to get out of bed, wash your face with cold water and run your fingers through your hair.
3. Brush your teeth.
4. Have a great breakfast.
5. Drink good coffee. I love Colombian ground from from Zabar's. I have it shipped to me from NYC.
6. Limit your online time. Read the headlines, but don't get into debating with anyone. It is exhausting and invites attack. Don't expose yourself to that. There is a painful futility in that.
7. Donate, if you can, to people who need our help.
8. Go for a walk. Keep your distance, of course.
9. Do a little stretching and workout, if you're so inclined. Push yourself a bit. You'll feel better.
10. Call a friend or family member and tell them you love them. Tell them with tears in your eyes, if that's what you feel.
11. Take a nap.
12. Eat a good dinner.
13. Read a good book.
14. Watch the sunset. Look at spring unfolding all around us.
15. Remember gratitude. It is still a very beautiful world.
16. Take epsom salts baths. Add a box of baking soda. Works for me. Don't forget to shower after your salt bath.
17. Brush your teeth. Don't forget to floss.
18. Watch Netflix, HBO, etc. or your favorite shows. There's some really good stuff on TV these days.
19. Pray before bed and when you wake up.
20. Choose joy! I learned recently, doing the Hello, Dolly! national tour, that joy is a choice. It's not something that you need to wait for. Choose it now. Then, do what you need to do to feel it.
21. Meditate. Just be still and watch your breath. It's not complicated. There is no "way" to do it. Just be silent with yourself and for yourself.
22. Be your own best teammate. Discard thoughts that are mean to you and to others. Choose love for yourself and all other people.
23. Call a professional if you need help. Reach out and say, "I need help!" It's gonna be OK. We're gonna be OK.
24. Oh, and if you feel so inclined—write in a journal. Get it all out. And determine to let it all go. Remember "Radical Acceptance."

I feel so much love for everyone. Well, to be really honest, maybe a little less for the moronic regime currently messing with all of us, but then I remind myself that they must be in way more pain to act out their craziness with such cruelty on other people. I really didn't know, before the fiasco of these last three-and-a-half years, how many ignorant people there really are on this planet. So, I guess that is a good thing that it's all out in the open. I guess... But, then, I wish they'd go back in their hidey holes and leave the rest of us alone. But then I think they live here, too, and they must be in so much fear and pain to act that way. So, I've come full circle and realize I must do my part to go through all of this with everyone else and do the best that I can. So, it's necessary to be really strong and clear eyed to help wherever we can. This seems to me to be a world reset. Sure feels like it.

13 Betty Buckley Videos Getting Us Through #StayatHome

Click Here for Playbill’s Theatre Coverage,
Resources, and More During
the Coronavirus Shutdown
Recommended