When the Broadway Lights Went Out, Two Theater Workers Found Love

When the Broadway Lights Went Out, Two Theater Workers Found Love

Jhanaë Bonnick and Patrick McDonnell, who both worked in theater, connected on a dating app just before the pandemic began. They grew closer virtually with the help of “36 Questions.”

For three weeks after they matched on Hinge in February 2020, Jhanaë K-C Bonnick and Patrick Sean McDonnell tried to make plans to meet, but both were too busy with their jobs in theater. Then the coronavirus pandemic began and everything shut down.

Their first date, on March 19, was a viewing of the film “Always Be My Maybe” using Teleparty (formerly Netflix Party), an extension that allows subscribers in different places to watch TV shows or movies on the streaming service at the same time.

Soon they were texting each other every day. At the time, Ms. Bonnick, a Broadway stage manager, lived in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, and had no work since all the theaters had shut down. She has asthma, so she was nervous about catching Covid-19. “I was in my apartment with my roommate and her cats, just hanging out for a long time,” she said. Mr. McDonnell was working remotely for New York Theater Workshop as a special projects associate, and living with his parents in Carle Place, N.Y., where he grew up.

In search of a novel virtual activity for them to try, Mr. McDonnell came across the “36 Questions That Lead to Love.” (These are part of a study developed by psychologists to investigate conversations that can build intimacy between two strangers.) In mid-April, he suggested that for their first Zoom date, they ask each other the first 12.

After the ceremony, Ms. Bonnick headed to the Lunt-Fontanne Theater on West 46th Street for a preview performance of “Sweeney Todd.” She is the show’s assistant stage manager.Yun Li Photography
She was cheered on by the stage management team. “I checked the props in my wedding dress,” she said.Yun Li Photography

“I was like, lead to … what?” Ms. Bonnick said. “I’m panicking, texting my friends. What does this mean?”

Over the course of three consecutive Saturdays, they went through the entire list. Each conversation lasted around three hours.

“It works,” Ms. Bonnick said. “We fell in love.”

Mr. McDonnell said he appreciated that Ms. Bonnick “was willing to answer everything with a lot of vulnerability and thoughtfulness.”

Recently, Ms. Bonnick and Mr. McDonnell looked through the text messages they sent each other during those early months. “We were there for each other through the really weird parts of the pandemic,” Ms. Bonnick said.

They found ways to connect outside of the digital world, too. At one point, Ms. Bonnick, who rarely cooked or baked, mailed Mr. McDonnell a tin of homemade snickerdoodle cookies with a handwritten note. “She baked the cookies, she went to the post office in the middle of the pandemic, went to the trouble to overnight ship them,” Mr. McDonnell said. “That was the first time I thought, Is this what being in love is like?”

The couple matched on the dating app Hinge in February 2020 and got to know each other virtually during the pandemic.Yun Li Photography

The note Ms. Bonnick sent with the cookies began a tradition that they still keep up with. Every month, on the anniversary of their first date, on March 19, Ms. Bonnick leaves a Post-it note for Mr. McDonnell to find. And Mr. McDonnell writes her notes during the run of each show she works on. (For their wedding, Ms. Bonnick made Mr. McDonnell a box full of notes and photos, and he wrote her a letter and made a digital album of 36 photos, one from every month they had been dating.)

After more than three months of dating from afar, they finally met in person on Memorial Day, at Fort Greene Park in Brooklyn. “We talked for a long time,” Ms. Bonnick said. When they were saying goodbye, both were wearing masks and didn’t know how to end the meeting physically. “In normal times, it would be a ‘Do we kiss now?’” Ms. Bonnick said. Instead, she said, “There’s a weird pause, and Patrick goes, ‘Is it OK if we hug?’” Disappointed, Ms. Bonnick went home and told her roommate, “Well, that was nice while it lasted.”

Ms. Bonnick was convinced that the hug signified coldness, but she was misreading the signs. Soon after, Mr. McDonnell texted her as usual, and their romance continued. They began seeing each other regularly in person.

That summer delivered a series of painful challenges that solidified their commitment to each other.

The groom prepares for the morning wedding ceremony.Yun Li Photography
He had worked at the New York Theater Workshop as a special projects associate. He is now a full-time security guard at Madison Square Garden.Yun Li Photography

Since receiving a bachelor’s degree in theater arts from State University of New York at New Paltz in 2014, Ms. Bonnick, 30, has worked in theater. In 2016, she had her big break as the production assistant for “Hadestown” at the show’s Off Broadway debut at New York Theater Workshop. She went on to work on shows like “The Cherry Orchard,” “Caroline, or Change” and, more recently, “Sweeney Todd.” But several months into the pandemic, she was wondering if her career in theater was over. All she could think, she said, was “I’ve spent five years investing in something that doesn’t exist anymore.”

She was facing challenges on a personal level as well. In late spring 2020, Ms. Bonnick’s maternal grandfather, Joseph Johnson, died, and in August, her paternal grandfather, Keith Bonnick, also died. The Black Lives Matter protests that began in late May raised difficult emotions for Ms. Bonnick. And she and her roommate found out on short notice that they had to move out of their apartment.

Mr. McDonnell, 28, who received a bachelor’s degree in theater from Brooklyn College in 2017, had held on to his job for the New York Theater Workshop when the pandemic began. He is currently working full time as a security guard at Madison Square Garden.

That summer, he faced a major health scare. “I had a massive tumor growing along the side of my jaw,” he said. “It started the size of a pea and by summer it was the size of a golf ball. I started going for tests. In mid-August, I had surgery to remove it.” When he went in for a follow-up, the doctors told him that the lump had been an extremely rare form of cancer called secretory carcinoma. “Luckily it was a clean removal,” he said.

Also that summer, Mr. McDonnell’s grandfather on his father’s side, James McDonnell, died, an event that deeply affected his family.

The bride wore a white, ankle-length JessaKae dress with puff sleeves.Yun Li Photography

Throughout it all, Ms. Bonnick and Mr. McDonnell leaned on each other. He came to Manhattan regularly to join the Black Lives Matter protests or to help out at New York Theater Workshop, which, along with other theaters, decided to open its lobby to give protesters a place to drink water, use the bathrooms or just rest. In the evenings, he would head to Ms. Bonnick’s apartment and stay overnight.

That summer “was one of the ways I knew and felt very confident that the relationship was built to last,” Mr. McDonnell said. “We spent time together either navigating these things directly or hanging out,” he said. “If we wanted an escape, we could have an escape. If we wanted to plan, we could plan. If we just wanted to be safe, we could comfort each other. There wasn’t any tension between us.”

Ms. Bonnick said that all of the challenges they faced that summer, along with having started a relationship talking on the phone or texting and having done the 36 questions early on, built a foundation of constant communication. Check-ins became a norm. “We don’t really fight now,” she said. “It’s not that we don’t disagree. If we disagree, we’re just having a different kind of conversation.”

Last summer, they started floating the idea of marriage. For Mr. McDonnell, the month of July carries particular significance. On July 2, 2008, when he was 13, Mr. McDonnell almost drowned at Jones Beach. The situation was dire enough that a helicopter evacuated him to a nearby hospital and he was kept there overnight. “Around that time every year I think about what it means to be alive and to have been so close to death,” he said. “Last July, I knew I wanted to be married to her and I didn’t want to wait much longer.”

The ceremony took place in the rehearsal room of the theater workshop.Yun Li Photography

Ms. Bonnick agreed. So that August, Mr. McDonnell arranged an outing in Port Washington, N.Y., with Ms. Bonnick’s parents, Karen and Hugh Bonnick; her brother Jalel Bonnick; his parents, Laura and Peter McDonnell; his aunt and uncle, Linda and Greg Pietrzak; and his cousin Jeffrey Pietrzak. His plan to propose on the dock as the sun set was almost thwarted when the arrival of Ms. Bonnick’s family from Staatsburg, N.Y., where her parents live, was delayed. Luckily, they made it, with 20 minutes to spare before nightfall.

“He got down on one knee at the waterfront during sunset and asked me to marry him,” Ms. Bonnick said. Afterward, the two families, who were meeting for the first time, went for dinner nearby at Finn MacCool’s.

Choosing New York Theater Workshop as the venue for the wedding was easy. Mr. McDonnell worked at the theater for four years, and Ms. Bonnick worked on four shows there, including “Hadestown” and “Slave Play.” “That was where we launched our careers and met many of our friends,” Ms. Bonnick said. (They never met through work, though Mr. McDonnell knew of Ms. Bonnick.)

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On March 19, 2023, Ms. Bonnick and Mr. McDonnell were wed in the theater’s rehearsal room in front of 44 guests. Their friend, Yang-Yang Chen, who was ordained by Open Ministry, officiated. They asked guests to test for Covid-19 if they felt unwell.

When choosing the date for the wedding, Mr. McDonnell and Ms. Bonnick quickly settled on March 19, their anniversary and a Sunday this year. But what they didn’t count on was Ms. Bonnick’s work schedule.

Forty-four guests were in attendance.Yun Li Photography
The couple enjoy a dance as newlyweds. They celebrated later in the day with a small group of friends and family at Dim Sum Palace on Second Avenue.Yun Li Photography

After the 10:30 a.m. ceremony and a brunch featuring mimosas, crepe cakes from Lady M Cake Boutique, and a coffee truck, Ms. Bonnick rushed across Manhattan, from Fourth Street to the Lunt-Fontanne Theater on West 46th Street, for a 3 p.m. preview performance of “Sweeney Todd.” Ms. Bonnick, the show’s assistant stage manager, walked in wearing a white, ankle-length JessaKae dress with puff sleeves. “All of my friends, the whole stage management team, were screaming,” she said. Afterward, she said, “I checked the props in my wedding dress.”

After the show, she met Mr. McDonnell and a small group of friends and family for dinner at Dim Sum Palace on Second Avenue. At some point, Ms. Bonnick and Mr. McDonnell realized that besides being their anniversary, March 19 was also the last day of winter this year. “It was the perfect time for a new beginning,” Ms. Bonnick said.

When March 19, 2023

Where New York Theater Workshop, New York

A Shared Commitment Mr. McDonnell and Ms. Bonnick will take each other’s last names, both becoming Bonnick-McDonnell. It was an “important statement of values for us, another marker of the commitment we are making together,” Mr. McDonnell said.

In Their Words As part of the ceremony, the couple asked guests to read passages of a poem called “A Spell for Reclaiming the Moment” by Adrienne Maree Brown. Ms. Bonnick’s close friend and former roommate, Madeleine Foster Bersin, read a passage from bell hooks’s “All About Love: New Visions.” “We wanted a balance between it feeling like a traditional ceremony and it feeling distinctly our own,” Mr. McDonnell said.

Rebirth For their rings, the couple chose aquamarine, the birthstone for March.