When you’re a touring actor, your life unfolds in suitcases and trunks shipped from town to town. Packaging becomes a science.
For Donald Webber Jr. and Rebecca Covington, who perform in “Hamilton” at the First Interstate Center for the Arts, life on the road is a little more complicated.
There’s a portable crib and high chair, for example, and a collection of toddler toys and clothes.
The couple – he plays Aaron Burr and she stars in the dual roles of Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds – welcomed a son 15 months ago, and he is traveling with them from town to town.
“Before, our trunks were just ours individually, and now they are ours and his,” Webber said. “It’s a less elegant tour, I guess you say.”
His wife says it more bluntly: “I ditched a pair of shoes for an inflatable pool.”
Donald Webber III, or D3 as his parents call him, has been traveling since his childhood. While her parents’ castmates can fly from town to town, her family drives the tour. A full-time nanny travels with them, as does Ella, the family’s French bulldog.
“We learned on every road trip. For our first trip, our SUV was packed and we had to be followed by Donald’s parents in a fully loaded minibus. It wasn’t sustainable,” Covington said with a laugh. “On our second road trip, we both drove SUVs. We had to rent a second SUV. Now we’re finally down to a single SUV, which is fantastic.
As the couple prepare to swap one city for another, they’re learning to pack differently “because he’s growing up,” Webber said. “So every three weeks he wears different clothes. … It is something constant and evolving.
Some parents — those who, at the end of a child’s second year, find themselves drowning in their baby’s business — might think cutting everything down every few weeks is a godsend. But it’s tough, Webber and Covington found.
“Yeah, he’s ready to get rid of that toy, but I’m not ready to get rid of that toy. I love watching him play with this toy,” Webber said. “I went to USC, and he has his USC suit that he can’t fit into anymore, and it was really hard to let go. I guess if we were home he would go into a closet somewhere and stay there until he was 28. But we can’t do that now. It has to go.
The only predictable thing about children is that they are unpredictable. The key to their success is keeping things as consistent as possible as they change cities every few weeks. The great thing about a show like “Hamilton”, they said, is that it tends to stay in a city from 2½ to six weeks, so there’s time to unpack, settle in and explore new surroundings.
“We try to keep a lot of things very consistent for him. We travel his Pack ‘n Play, we travel his high chair,” Covington said. “It’s like a part-time job, but finding accommodation is very complicated for us. We try to make sure we have certain things. We try to make sure we have a kitchen everywhere we go. We try to make sure things are within walking distance.
However, D3 feeds on the energy of his parents. “The cool thing is that we’re adaptable, and we couldn’t do that without support. We couldn’t do it without our nanny, we couldn’t do it without our families supporting us, and he’s just like, ‘OK, cool. What’s the next adventure?’ It’s really cool to watch him grow and learn and watch us grow and learn.
D3 begins to notice their change of scenery. In Portland, the family’s apartment was on a streetcar line, which fascinated the young boy.
“He could hear it from the front block, so he was shouting, ‘Car! Auto! Auto!’ It was his favorite thing. We would go to the window, and he would watch the streetcar go by, and he would smile and smile at us, and then we would go on with our day, and 20 minutes later, the same thing,” Webber said. We got to Spokane, and we go to the window and he looks outside, and I can see in his eyes that he notices we’re in a different place. So he said it differently: ‘Car?’ “
It also does all the normal things children do as they transition from infancy to toddlerhood. He trots.
“He just started walking last week,” Covington said. “So we’re on a whole new adventure, which is fun.”
The couple met as members of the original Broadway cast of “Motown: The Musical,” which premiered in 2013. They married in 2015 and began working at “Hamilton” in late 2018 and were doing part of the Puerto Rico series in early 2019. They later moved with the show to San Francisco, where “Hamilton” ran for nearly a year before COVID-19 lockdowns ended live theater for 18 months. While the couple have a home in New Jersey, they weathered the pandemic in Los Angeles, where their son was born.
Actors are said to have often used their own lived experience to inform their performances. For Webber, returning to Aaron Burr after the birth of his son brought unexpected emotion.
When D3 was 4 months old, the family hit the road, returning to San Francisco to take over “Hamilton”. As the cast began rehearsing the show after their 18-month layoff, Webber realized he’d been paying attention to the big numbers — ‘Wait for It’, ‘Non-Stop’ and ‘Room Where It Happens” – to catch his breath. back. He hadn’t done “Dear Theodosia,” the beautiful song from Act I that sees Burr and Alexander Hamilton sing a love song to their newborn babies.
He opened his notebook, which dated back to rehearsals for Puerto Rico, and saw that he had jotted down comments about what he thought was a father.
“These first notes start, and I look at my notebook, and I realize that I’m looking at these notes of what I thought it would be like to be a dad, and now I’m a dad. The emotion was too much. The tears have started streaming down my face,” Webber said. The rehearsal paused for a few minutes. “It was really beautiful and therapeutic for me because everyone in the room, nobody said a word, everyone world let me live the moment. I even apologized, and everyone was like, ‘No, no, no, you get it. We are here for you, we are here with you. I looked at Rebecca, and Rebecca tried her best not to look at me because then we had to stop rehearsal and come back the next day.
“So it happened. We cried. We came back and these notes came, and I sang this thing and I was like, I’ve never felt anything like this before, like my two worlds were converging on each other. The world I had created as Aaron Burr, and the world that was loyal to me as Donald, were blended into one big thing.
“Every night it’s always there,” Webber continued. “Right at the back of my neck, my hair stands on end and I’m like, ‘Come on, man, finish the song. These people paid. They don’t want to see you sit here and cry. Just sing the song.
This support he received from his fellow actors has continued since that first rehearsal. Covington said one of his favorite memories is D3’s first birthday party, which was attended by a group of adults and two children.
“It’s a testament to our village,” Covington said. “I’m so grateful to the company we travel with because they really support us and they’re always there for us, and they’re always there to celebrate everything, even the things that may seem small, the first ‘Mama’, the first ‘Dada’, they are truly world class.
They appreciated all the help they received and enjoy the fact that their work schedules are the opposite of a typical family.
“Most days our nanny doesn’t arrive during the week until 6pm, so we have all day with him, which is wonderful,” Covington said. “It’s really cool to be able to spend this time with him.”
The weekends, when they give two shows a day, are harder. But there is always value in this missing time.
“The best part is showing him that mom and dad work hard, and we want to do all of this together as a family, so we’re on the road right now, and it’s nice to have a job, it’s It’s nice to have a balance, it’s nice to be able to do both, and it’s nice to have someone to look after you while mom and dad are away,” Covington said.
For everything to work, you have to be real partners and be able to communicate.
“That’s the beautiful part of working together (at work) and working together (at home),” she said. “The great thing about our relationship is that we never stop working, and that’s working together, working for each other, working on ourselves, and I think that’s been key for us. There is no manual Everyone is going to do it differently, but we work together on so many levels.
They loved being able to spend time with him as a family and visit a host of new cities. They explored aquariums and zoos in their temporary homes and found new favorite things in every place they went.
“The best part of Spokane? The walks and the beauty of nature,” Covington said. “I’ve never experienced the Pacific Northwest like this, and it’s truly amazing. We took a 45 minute walk yesterday.
In navigating their way through parenthood on the road, the couple took advice from friends and colleagues who toured with children, and took inspiration from Renee Elise Goldsberry, the original “Hamilton Angelica Schuyler, who talked about having kids in her Tony acceptance speech when she won Best Actress in a Musical in 2016.
“If you know anything about me, you know that I spent the last 10 years of my life, what some would consider the lifeblood of a woman’s career, trying to have children, and I can testify before all of you that the Lord gave me Benjamin and Brielle, and then he gave me this again,” she said, breaking down in tears.
“When Renee won that Tony, and she became a mother who won a Tony and expressed it in her speech, that was one of the most liberating things,” Webber said. “Rebecca and I had always hoped to have a child and to be able to continue our careers, and to watch her do that and the fact that we could do that particular show every night. All we had to do was look up and put one foot in front of the other, and here we are.
When asked how long they thought they could continue touring with a child, Covington replied that it was impossible to say.
“This far in the future is overwhelming. Thinking about where we will be living next month is overwhelming,” she said. “We take the adventure as it comes and see what the adventure continues to to offer. Right now the weather is really nice. We saw places and got to experience things that we had never seen before, like someone walking a goat yesterday in downtown Spokane. It was really cool. We can ride the wave right now.