A Broadway Star Shines Through it All

Chad Kimball of "Come from Away" on recovering from COVID-19, what he’s learned, and how to give back

29 Apr 2020 | 09:55

“Come from Away” was set to celebrate its third anniversary on Broadway on March 12. That same day, Governor Cuomo ordered theaters to go dark in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. To cope with the close, the cast immediately started a group text thread to share this unprecedented experience together. For actor Chad Kimball, who has been with the show since its beginning, that sense of unity was a glimmer of hope in a time of uncertainty. “It’s meant the world to be able to reach out in an instant and be able to express your fear and frustration,” he said.

The Tony nominee looked to that source of support to get him through his COVID-19 diagnosis that followed. On March 16, he started to experience symptoms such as a low-grade fever, body aches and a cough. “The cough was the thing that was different. I never really had a cough like that,” he explained. “It wasn’t major, but it was just incessant.”

The next day, he took a test and three days later, learned that it came back positive. For two weeks, he quarantined in the Upper West Side apartment he shares with his wife, actress Emily Swallow. Throughout his illness, he relied on his strong Christian faith, explaining, “it doesn’t rest on things here, so the fear is not as palpable.” To ease his symptoms, he took over-the-counter medications like Tylenol, and credits rest and drinking a lot of fluids, like Diet Coke - and the caretaking abilities of his wife - with nursing him back to health.

Kimball, a Seattle native who moved to New York in 1999, also found comfort in being a part of a production that is centered around the theme of helping others in a time of emergency. Set amidst September 11, “Come from Away” tells the story of how the less than 10,000 townspeople in the Canadian town of Gander, Newfoundland took in the 7,000 passengers from the 38 planes that were diverted there after American airspace closed. “Knowing that I was in a show that spoke the language of crisis really was a boon to my spirit,” he said.

"People Start to Open Up"

For others who are suffering, the 43-year-old will be donating his blood so patients can use its antibodies, known as convalescent plasma, for treatment. Since blood banks have regulations regarding the length of time being symptom-free and off certain medications, he is currently on a roster, waiting for an opportunity. In preparation, he has been working with the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, and when he is able, will donate plasma at New York Blood Center as well as Mount Sinai. “One of the joys we do have as human beings is helping others,” he said. “It’s sad that it comes at this moment, but it’s usually in times of crisis that people start to open up a little more.”

As for how he may have contracted the virus, he said it’s normal to attempt to trace back to where one could have been exposed to it. “That’s totally inevitable, trying to figure out how you got it,” he said. The nature of Broadway actors’ work, he recognizes, does lend itself to possible contamination. “It could be that we’re constantly interacting with the public. Onstage not so much, but after the show, we go out the stage door and like to talk with people.” At his theater, there were some who were sick leading up to the shutdown. “We just don’t know, because there were several people in the building who had colds and nothing really came of it,” he explained. “We live in this huge city that’s so compact; it’s hard to imagine where it comes from and when.”

When asked for his advice to those with COVID-19 symptoms, he urges them to be proactive and patient. “There’s no reason to stay at home if you really feel like it’s an emergency situation. If your symptoms are mild, like mine, you’ll get through it.” He also stresses that for him, as well as others, the virus comes in waves. “It’s odd and there are some ominous components of it, but wait it out ... I felt a little better and then the second wave hit.”

Although away from his home on Broadway, Kimball has still been experiencing the power of the human spirit taking center stage. “It’s really shown, even being distant, how close we can be to one another, in some ways even more intimate.” With many asking how they can contribute, his answer is simple. “Do the thing that’s right in front of you. Help the neighbor who’s next door. That’s a really great place to start.”

"“Knowing that I was in a show that spoke the language of crisis really was a boon to my spirit.” Tony nominee Chad Kimball