On Broadway, a Playwright Becomes an Actor, Saving a Show
Keenan Scott II made his Broadway acting debut this week in “Thoughts of a Colored Man,” which is a remarkable milestone. It’s even more remarkable when you consider he also wrote it.
The actor-turned-playwright was pressed into acting duties at the last moment Tuesday night to keep his show open while all around Broadway battles spikes in COVID-19. He saved at least one performance.
“Like any other actor, I’ve always wanted to make my Broadway acting debut in whatever show wanted to hire me,” Scott says. “I did not know it was going to happen like this and on my show during the same season.”
His heroic efforts saved the night but it wasn’t enough. Late Thursday, COVID-19 claimed “Thoughts of a Colored Man,” joining “Waitress” and “Jagged Little Pill” as shows closed this winter due in part to rising infection rates.
Scott’s path to the stage was frantic on Tuesday. He had left the theater and was on a subway platform waiting for a train to take him home to Brooklyn when he got the call from producers: Come back to the John Golden Theatre right now.
Two non-COVID-19 illnesses had already stretched the seven-person cast but now an actor had tested positive for COVID-19. While everyone waited for a PCR result to see if it was a false positive, Scott was being readied.
He was hooked up to a microphone, crewmembers were piecing together a costume for him and checking his shoe size. A stage manager printed out the script and Scott highlighted his lines. At 7:55 p.m., the second test came back — positive.
Five minutes later, Scott was onstage.
“It was just beautiful to be up there with my brothers — we are all family now — and for me to be able to step in to save the show for that night so the audience can get what they deserve. They purchased tickets. They’re traveling to come see us. They are also battling and trying to stay diligent with being safe with this new variant but still wanting to come out and support us.”
“Thoughts of a Colored Man” is made up of related vignettes and set over the course of a single day in Brooklyn, where seven Black men discuss gentrification, violence, racial and sexual identity and what it means to be part of a community. Several characters, ranging in age from late teens to mid-60s, have specific themes to illustrate — Wisdom, Anger and Happiness.
Scott went on as Wisdom, a 65-year-old man. While the playwright had performed various characters in his play over the years at workshops and festivals, he had never played Wisdom before. But he knew the blocking and cues, and had originally trained as an actor and was a slam poet. He went on with a script in hand.
“That was a challenge of sorts, but it was really great to be up there. The actor me always wanted to be up there,” Scott says. “There wasn’t even enough time for me to get nervous or even wrap my head around what was what was happening. I think if I would’ve known the day before or something like that, you know, there’s time for nerves to build.”
Multiple Broadway shows, including “Hamilton,” “Aladdin,” “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” have called off performances in recent days because of breakthrough virus cases in their all-vaccinated casts and crews.
Other creators who have gone into their own Broadway shows include Sara Bareilles slipping into “Waitress,” Sting in “The Last Ship” and Green Day’s frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, who made several onstage visits to his show “American Idiot.” But they all had days or weeks to prepare.
“My wife actually said, ‘Are you proud of what you did tonight?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ Because as a performer, I know how hard it is even when you have four weeks of rehearsal and you’re fully prepared,” Scott says. “So to do what I did in a short amount of time — you know, half a costume, being able to hit my mark, hit the lights, hit most of my cues, being able to engage with my actors — I was truly proud of what I did.”