Arts & Culture

Iowa City actor home while Broadway lights go out

Patrick Du Laney was in 'Harry Potter' ensemble until COVID-19 halted show

Patrick Du Laney relaxes backstage in his Sorting Hat costume, during his first year on Broadway with #x201c;Harry Potte
Patrick Du Laney relaxes backstage in his Sorting Hat costume, during his first year on Broadway with “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” He’s now at home in Iowa City as New York City waits out the COVID-19 virus, shuttering the city’s theaters. (Courtesy of Patrick Du Laney)
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On March 20, 2019, professional actor Patrick Du Laney of Iowa City made his Broadway debut in “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” at Manhattan’s Lyric Theatre. Part of the ensemble, he’s also the understudy for Ron Weasley and the dual role of Hagrid and the Sorting Hat — characters he steps into when the primary actors are ill or on vacation.

what’s happened since

The show will go on. Just not right now.

Du Laney, 45, is back home in Iowa City, on hiatus from the play that’s given him his first taste of Broadway. Just as he was about to begin his second year with the show’s wizarding world, the lights went out in New York City theaters, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The word came down March 12, as the cast was in the middle of that afternoon’s rehearsal.

They weren’t surprised by the move.

“Once they started canceling the NBA, and the day before, we heard that San Francisco (theaters) had limited their seating, so it seemed like a matter of time — and moreover, the right thing to do,” he said. “I think people were disappointed, of course, but no one was crying about ‘not fair.’ ”

The blackout is slated for one month, March 12 to April 12, but that could change, he noted.

While Du Laney didn’t personally know anyone affected by the virus, a part-time usher at another Broadway theater had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Audience numbers still were strong for the popular two-part Harry Potter play — with slight mood shifts — the week before the shutdown, Du Laney said.

“We had seen some face masks here and there,” he said. “It was interesting: The last week we had really, really good audiences — very, very vocal on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, then all of a sudden Sunday hit (March 8), when I think the news started to get around. The mood was noticeably more subdued. We did not see really a change in the audience size — a few empty seats here and there — but the people who were coming to the show were people who bought their tickets weeks ago, so they were in for a penny, in for a pound at that point. There was no real sense of isolation being widespread.”

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On March 13, he posted this message to Facebook from New York’s LaGuardia Airport: “Headed home to hide in the cornfields. I’ll see you in a month, Hogwarts.”

Now that he’s home, he and husband Chris Okiishi have started tackling their household project bucket list, including a bedroom closet overhaul, two trips to the grocery store and some games of fetch with a dog that was very happy to see him come home. He also had started some other personal projects in New York that he can continue at home.

“Once the show is open, you need to find additional things to keep you occupied artistically, to feed your beast, I have found,” he said. “So I have some writing projects. I’ve always been a person who drew, so I’ll have lots of opportunities to work on those projects. Those are solitary by nature.”

He arrived in New York City on Dec. 17, 2018, to begin rehearsals.

“New York is everything I expected — and nothing I expected,” he said. “Midtown is every bit the loud, noisy, rude, chaotic, exciting place that you imagine it to be. But there are a multitude of quiet neighborhoods that are within walking distance of that, and I live in one of them.

“I learned you can find quiet in New York.

“I have learned the joys of corporate theater, which sounds like sarcasm, and it’s not. To be in a Broadway production that has paid vacation and 13 sick days a year — it took me forever to get used to.”

But that came in handy when he suffered a knee injury in November and had a paid week off to recuperate.

“When you work regionally and are brought up on a strict diet of ‘the show must go on,’ unless your leg actually falls off, you don’t miss a show. That took some getting used to,” he said. “It felt wonderful to be taken care of.”

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Union representatives are negotiating on their behalf to see what kind of restitution they’ll have during the layoff.

“That’s been new,” he added.

Another discovery came after the initial Broadway excitement gave way to more of a 9-to-5 feel — although his workday is anything but 9 to 5, considering they have eight shows a week, with two shows on Saturday and Sunday, and Monday and Tuesday off.

“Something happened to me over the summer,” he said. “I started to feel the wonder again — I started to feel ‘I can’t believe this is happening,’ and that’s been exciting.”

Always one to go backstage earlier than others to be by himself, looking at the lights and listening to the audience chatter, he gets that “how did I get here, how did that happen” feeling.

“That has not worn off,” he said.

Once the theaters are back up, he’ll be staying in New York another year, and is happy to have his foot in the Broadway door.

“I now know what the world of the New York actor is like,” he said.

... If Broadway comes knocking again, I’m going to answer the door and at least find out what they’re going to say. Iowa is still home. When my two years in Harry Potter are over, I’m going to bow and hug everyone and come home.”

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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