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Broadway Bound

Ever since his adolescent years, my son and I have had an ongoing conversation (you might call it an argument) about my habit of speaking too frankly when sharing my opinions, which I do frequently.

Or, as he puts it, I have a big mouth.

I’ve sometimes wondered whether, as a pediatrician, I’m so used to asking my patients personal questions and stating my medical opinion that I habitually talk this way even in conversations where it’s not entirely appropriate. This has the potential to create conflict—especially in these pandemic days, when many people feel strongly about so many issues.

This question was the unspoken backdrop to my recent talk with a patient’s mother, who’d accompanied him into the exam room.

After caring for the patient, I spent a few moments chatting with his mother, who is a busy producer of Broadway shows’ touring companies.

Me: I’ve been wondering how you’re handling your tours, now that Broadway has removed its mask mandate.

Mom: Nobody wants to wear a mask anymore.

Me: I do!

Mom: Of course you do! You’re a doctor.

Me: I guarantee you that there are lots of other educated older people who make up your audience and who want to feel comfortable in a crowded theater and will only feel comfortable if everyone around them is masked.

Mom: Do you really think so?

Me: Of course! After not having gone to any concerts or shows for almost two years, I finally starting going back, but only when I knew that everyone around me was vaccinated and masked.

Mom: You can still wear a mask; lots of people do.

Me: The case numbers aren’t great, and I don’t feel prepared to risk my life by going into a theater unless I feel safe, and the only way I’m going to feel safe is if everyone around me is wearing a mask. Think about all the shows that have closed because the cast has been sick with COVID. I worry for their safety, too.

Mom: Good point.

Me: So what are you working on?

Mom: I’m producing my first Broadway show. I’m a producer for The Kite Runner.

Me: You’re kidding! I just finished reading it, just because I want to see the show!

Mom: You’re going to love it! It’s a great production!

Me: Do you require masks?

Mom: Of course not!

Me: I really want to see it, but I’m not gonna see it.

Mom: Really?

Me: Yeah, really! And I’m sure there are lots of other people who feel the same way. I also just finished reading Between the Lines, because I want to see that made into a musical

Mom: It’s a great show! You’re going to love that one, too.

Me: And they require masks!

Mom: Yes, they do.

Me: I’m going to see that show, but I’m not seeing yours unless there’s a mask requirement.

Mom: Do you mean it?

Me: Yes!

More talk, then a lightbulb moment:

Mom: What do you think of the idea of having one performance every week that requires masks?

Me: I love it! You tell me when it happens, and I’ll be there.

Mom: Let me present it to my team and see what they think.

She emailed me the following week to tell me that they were going to start requiring masks for all Friday-night performances. It was so successful that a few weeks later they added a masking requirement for Wednesday matinees.

I saw the show, it was excellent, and I felt totally safe.

I haven’t seen the data, but I hope the ticket sales for the masked performances are strong, and that other venues will adopt a mask requirement for some (or all!) performances, so that more people can go to see live theater and concerts and still feel safe.

Best of all, perhaps, my success in this encounter allowed me to point out to my son that sometimes it pays to have a big mouth: to speak up and help to change the world one step at a time—or, in this case, one performance at a time.

Marc Wager practices pediatrics with the Pediatric Group of New Rochelle. He graduated from Lehigh University and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and did his pediatric training at Jacobi Medical Center and his adolescent-medicine fellowship at Montefiore Medical Center. In addition to practicing pediatrics, he plays French horn with local orchestras, chamber ensembles, operas and musical-theater productions (his favorite genre). “I owe my love of reading and writing to my favorite teacher, Jeff Laffel, who taught me in sixth grade and in twelfth-grade English.” His stories and short pieces have appeared in Pulse, in the New York Times “Metropolitan Diary” and on


7 thoughts on “Broadway Bound”

  1. Classic example of good pediatrics: Start with the care of a single person, in this case yourself; point out the benefits (and harms) of the “status quo” vs making a change, thus engaging their thinking and inspiring a new (novel) solution; then sharing the benefit with the wider population so more can now enjoy both an evening and a matinee production in greater safety. Good work! Thank you!

  2. Michael Eliastam

    Please ask your adolescent kids if your story is a good example of “your big mouth”. I suspect it is not. Ask them to provide representative examples.

  3. I’m glad you have a big mouth. I’m equally glad that rather than getting into a mask argument she was willing to look at a compromise. I have enough health issues that I don’t feel safe around groups of unmasked people and literally no-one wears them anymore in my area of South Florida except in medical facilities. Even there I see people sitting out of sight of the receptionist with their masks pulled down.

  4. Dominick Falzone

    There is no good answer for indoor productions. I do not want to go without a mask indoors, and catch or spread COVID-19. But I do not find pleasure in spending time while I am wearing a mask, either. I will continue to avoid most indoor entainment for the time being.

    I got atrial fibrillation (a heart issue) in January. A Los Angeles city fire department advanced life support ambulance took me to the hospital for 10 days. Although I have primarily recovered, I have had to visit health care facilities numerous times for follow up care, and to pick up medication. That includes cardiac rehab sessions twice a week for a few months. I am also making preparations to have cataract surgery, requiring visits to health care facilities. I am always REQUIRED to wear masks in these health care facilities–it is not optional. I must occasionally have mandatory COVID-19 tests at these facilities. The disease pandemic is certainly not over for me.

  5. Jill Rovitzky Black

    Thank you, Dr. Wager! Besides providing an entertaining read, you’ve set in action a useful compromise that will allow at least a few more people to see a live production without having to worry about compromising their health. Your so-called big mouth is clearly a superpower when it’s coupled with respect and reason.

  6. Sometimes, arguing with people can lead to shared solutions.
    In this case, having one–or even two–“mask nights” was a brilliant

    You argued without rancour, and she didn’t seem to take offence.
    It was clear that you are both confident people, and regard each other equals.

    That said, in a different situation, your “big mouth” could easily, as you say, “create conflict” and make the other person feel bullied.

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