When you’re an actor on tour, your life is lived out of suitcases and trunks shipped from city to city. Packing becomes science.
For Donald Webber Jr. and Rebecca Covington, performing in “Hamilton” at First Interstate Center for the Arts, life on the road is a bit more complicated.
There’s a portable crib and a highchair, for instance, and a collection of toddler toys and clothes.
The couple – he plays Aaron Burr and she is in the dual role of Peggy Schuyler and Maria Reynolds – welcomed a son 15 months ago, and he travels with them from city to city.
“Our trunks used to be just ours individually, and now they are ours and his,” Webber said. “It’s a less stylish tour, I guess you say.”
His wife put it more bluntly: “I gave up a pair of shoes for an inflatable pool.”
Donald Webber III, or D3 as his parents call him, has been traveling since infancy. While his parents’ castmates might fly from one city to the next, his family is driving the tour. A full-time nanny travels with them, as does Ella, the family’s French bulldog.
“We have learned with every road trip. For our first trip, our SUV was packed, and we had to have Donald’s parents follow us in a fully packed minivan. That was not sustainable,” Covington said with a laugh. “Our second road trip was us both driving SUVs. We had to rent a second SUV. Now, we’re finally down to one SUV, which is fantastic.”
As the couple prepares to trade one city for the next, they’re learning to pack differently “because he’s growing,” Webber said. “So, every three weeks, he’s in a different set of clothes. … It’s a constant and evolving thing.”
Some parents – those who by the end of a child’s second year find themselves drowning in their baby’s stuff – might think paring everything down every few weeks is a godsend. But it’s difficult, Webber and Covington have found.
“Yeah, he’s ready to get rid of this toy, but I’m not ready to get rid of this toy. I love watching him play with this toy,” Webber said. “I went to USC, and he has his USC onesie that he can no longer fit into, and it was really tough to let that go. I suppose if we were at home, it would go in a closet somewhere and just stay there until he’s 28. But we can’t do that now. It’s got to go.”
The only predictable thing about children is that they are unpredictable. The key to their success is to keep things as consistent as it can possibly be when they’re changing cities every few weeks. The great thing about a show like “Hamilton,” they said, is that it tends to stay in a city anywhere from 2½ to six weeks, so there is 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 looking for housing is very intricate 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 walkable.”
Still, D3 feeds off his parents’ energy. “The cool thing is we’re adaptable, and we couldn’t do it without support,” she said. “We couldn’t do it without our nanny, we couldn’t do it without our families who are supportive, and he is 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 is beginning to notice their change of scenery. In Portland, the family’s apartment was on a streetcar line – something that fascinated the young boy.
“He could hear it from the block before, so he would scream, ‘Car! Car! Car!’ It was his favorite thing. We would go to the window, and he’d watch the street car go by, and he would smile and smile at us and then we’d go on about our day, and 20 minutes later, same thing,” Webber said. “We got here to Spokane, and we go to the window and he’s looking outside, and I can see in his eyes that he notices that we’re in a different place. So, he said it differently: ‘Car?’ “
He’s also doing all the normal things kiddos do as they moved from infancy to toddlerhood. He’s toddling.
“He just started walking last week,” Covington said. “So, we are in the throes of a brand 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 their work in “Hamilton” in late 2018 and were part of the show’s Puerto Rico run in early 2019. They then transferred with the show to San Francisco, where “Hamilton” ran for almost a year before COVID-19 lockdowns put an end to live theater for 18 months. While the couple has a home in New Jersey, they rode out the pandemic in Los Angeles, where their son was born.
It’s said that actors 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 resume “Hamilton.” As the actors began rehearsing the show after their 18-month layoff, Webber realized that he had been paying attention to the big numbers – “Wait for It,” “Non-Stop” and “Room Where It Happens” – to get his breath back. He hadn’t done “Dear Theodosia,” the lovely Act I song that sees Burr and Alexander Hamilton singing a love song to their newborn children.
He opened his notebook, which dated back to rehearsal for Puerto Rico, and saw that he had jotted down comments about what he thought it would be like to be a dad.
“Those first notes start, and I look at my notebook, and I’m realizing I’m looking at these notes of what I thought it would be like to be dad, and now I am a dad. The emotion was too much. Tears started flowing down my face,” Webber said. Rehearsal stopped for a few minutes. “It was really beautiful and therapeutic for me because everyone in the room, no one said a word, everyone let me have the moment. I even apologized, and everybody was like, ‘No, no, no, you got it. We’re here for you, we’re here with you.’ I looked over at Rebecca, and Rebecca was trying her best not to look at me because then we would have to stop rehearsal and come back the next day.
“So, that happened. We cried. We came back and those notes came, and I sang that thing and I was like, I hadn’t felt anything like that before, like my two worlds were actually converging on each other. The world that I had created as Aaron Burr, and the world that was true to me as Donald, were jumbled into one big thing.
“Every night, it’s still here,” Webber continued. “Right at the back of my neck, my hairs stand up, and I’m like, ‘Come on, man, just get through the song. These people have paid. They don’t want to watch you sit up here and cry. Just sing the song.’”
That support he received from his fellow actors has continued since that first rehearsal. Covington said one of her favorite memories is of D3’s first birthday party, which was attended by a bunch of adults and two kids.
“It’s a testament to our village,” Covington said. “I’m so thankful for the company that we travel with because they’re really supportive and they’re always here for us, and they’re always there to celebrate everything, even things that might be seemingly small, the first ‘Mama,’ the first ‘Dada,’ they’re really world-class.”
They’ve appreciated all the help they have received and take advantage of the fact that their their work schedules are the opposite of a typical family.
“Most days our nanny doesn’t arrive during the week until 6 p.m., so we get all day with him, which is beautiful,” Covington said. “It’s really cool to be able to get this time with him.”
Weekends, when they perform two shows a day, are harder. But there is still value to that missing time.
“The best part is showing him that Mommy and Daddy work hard, and we want to do all these together as a family, so we’re on the road right now, and it’s OK to have a job, it’s OK to have balance, it’s OK to be able to do both, and it’s OK to have someone step in and take great care of you while Mommy and Daddy are away,” Covington said.
Making it all work takes being true partners and being 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 has been the key for us. There’s no handbook. Everyone is going to do it differently, but we work together on so many levels.”
They have loved being able to spend time with him as a family and visit a host of new cities. They have explored aquariums and zoos in their temporary homes and have found new favorite things in every place they’ve been.
“The best part about Spokane? The walks and the beauty in nature,” Covington said. “I’ve never experienced the Pacific Northwest like this, and it’s really incredible. We went on a 45-minute walk yesterday.”
In navigating their way through parenting on the road, the couple has taken advice from friends and colleagues who have toured with children, and inspiration from Renee Elise Goldsberry, “Hamilton’s” original Angelica Schuyler, who talked about having children in her Tony acceptance speech when she won Best Featured Actress in a Musical in 2016.
“If you know anything about me, you know I spent the last 10 years of my life, what some would consider the lifeblood of a woman’s career, just trying to have children, and I get to testify in front of all of you that the Lord gave me Benjamin and Brielle, and then he still gave me this,” she said, breaking down in tears.
“When Renee won that Tony, and she got up there as a mother winning a Tony, and expressing that in her speech, it was one of the more freeing things,” Webber said. “Rebecca and I had always hoped to have a child and be able to continue our careers, and watching her do that and the fact that we get to do this particular show every night. All we had to do was look up and put one foot in front of another, and here we are.”
When asked about how long they think they might be able to continue touring with a child in tow, Covington said that’s impossible to say.
“That far in the future is overwhelming. Thinking about where we’re living next month is overwhelming,” she said. “We take the adventure as it comes and see what the adventure continues to offer. Right now, it’s been really beautiful. We’ve seen places and been able to experience things that we’ve never seen before, like someone walking a goat yesterday through downtown Spokane. That was really cool. We get to ride the wave right now.”
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