Mattie Jo Cowsert
Mattie Jo Goes Home
Updated: Jul 5, 2020
During my freshman year of college I took this class called Voice and Movement. This is the class where I learned to paint rainbows with my pelvis and hum from my solar plexus. Most of the time this class left me incredibly confused and freaked out. But I did enjoy the opening regimen of saying “Today I feel…” Because that’s what you do when pursuing a theatre degree. You just share your feelings. Loudly and usually involving hip thrusts. Allllll over the Art Annex.
Because that’s what you do when pursuing a theatre degree. You just share your feelings. Loudly and usually involving hip thrusts. Allllll over the Art Annex.
So anyways, one fine day my opening statement was “Today I feel…like I want to go to New York.” Then I left the class and bought a ticket.
See, after my first trip to theatre camp, I fell in love with the musical Wicked. And since I lived in Hollister, Missouri (where theatre education was totally a priority and not the prevention of high school dropouts due to pregnancy or the “why should I graduate when I can just get a serving job at the Macaroni Grill like my mom?” mentality), I didn’t really know many (any) other musicals. Okay that’s a lie. I knew Grease 2. But really I think that’s it.
Every year around my birthday my mom would be like “I think we should take you to see Wicked this year!” Great idea mom!!!
No Wicked. Usually just a marble buttercream icing cake from Country Mart and Papa John's.* But like hey that was cool too. (It was charming how the Country Mart cake décor connoisseurs always misspelled words like “friends”). Well now I’m a big kid in college and if I want to see a damn musical, I can make that happen. So I’m off. Giant suitcase in hand.
A Fond Memory of a Giant Suitcase
1. My parents do not understand the value of quality luggage. I once asked my mom for a $70 suitcase with 360 wheels for Christmas. The amount of times I had to say, “No mom I do not want a floral carpet luggage set for $70. I WANT THIS ONE REALLY GOOD SUITCASE WITH 360 SPINNY WHEELS” was innumerable. She got me the suitcase. And still complained about it on Christmas morning. Oh Val.
2. I didn’t know how cumbersome a suitcase of that size would be in the big City. Trekking from Queens to Brooklyn on and off subway platforms was rough. But damn if I didn’t look great with all those planned-2-weeks-in-advance-outifts. No one knew I was from the fashion-forsaken Midwest. Anyways. First note of visiting NYC, don’t bring a suitcase the size of the Bootheel.
So despite my unnecessarily large suitcase, I’ve made it New York City. But it’s LaGuardia so I’m actually in Queens, not Manhattan. I ventured to a magical place called Astoria. I later learned this magical place is coined “Actoria” because the actors are moving in, making things fabulous, and increasing real estate rates. This is called Gay-trification. You know. When the gays move in and make everything sparkle so naturally the rates increase 200%. My party ate at a place called Pita Pan. Only I don’t think I ate because I didn’t know what pita or falafel was so I just ate a Special K protein bar. So much to learn, Mattie Jo.
I arrive in Brooklyn Heights to stay with my beloved friend Julia whom I’d met a year prior at theatre camp in California. She and I bonded due to our brooding 18-year-old souls. And our love for Diet Coke. Julia was my favorite person because she was unlike anyone I had ever met. For reasons such as she grew up in Vegas with a single mom and a lesbian sister (so exotic). She said the F word so often my Missouri ears actually started to enjoy its sound. T’was rather melodic and SO versatile. I decided I would like to say Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck (ahhhh sweet freedom!). She was learning German because she had this super hot boyfriend from Germany. She had Regina Spektor lyrics tattooed on her body and wore mostly black with Doc Martens like those girls in The Craft. She slept in oversized Beavis and Butthead T-shirts and demanded a single room while attending conservatory because “I just hate people.” But she loved me. And together we wrote this song about being ghosts from the Titanic. We were really going places. The Odd Couple.**
MJ in the Citayyy
I was 19 at the time. So my NYC experience was definitely PG. I wouldn’t turn over to the dark side of rooftop clubs and gay bars for another two years. Anyway. Julia lets me crash in her dorm room in the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn Heights for the week and we experience all of the things. Dollar pizza, Central Park, shitty hotdogs at Central Park (never again), Brooklyn Bridge, China Town, and Times Square. TIMES SQUARE. I actually had her film my first view of TS because I’m obnoxious. But seriously. That was the moment. I know that sounds incredibly cliché, but something about seeing all those huge buildings…I felt so small and yet invigorated by a place so big. It’s like…I’m little me and those buildings are my potential. Time to rise to the occasion and kick some ass.
I saw Billy Elliot with my friend Richard and it was pretty great. But whatever. What REALLY matters is I had my first celebrity encounter! So we’ve just finished stage-dooring (back in the day when I stage-doored) and I’ve gotten my picture with the little 12-year-old who is already starring on Broadway (ugh I hate everyone). My digital camera (throwback) had JUST DIED. I look up, turn right back and hit Richard in the stomach with my face because that’s about the proper height difference, and say “Richard. That’s Corbin Bleu where’s your camera get it out NOW.” No breath. I gather myself, walk up to Mr. Cordon Bleu (seriously who does that to their kid? I don’t care how well he can dance with a basketball. Shitty name parents!) See it’s REAL tacky to ask for an autograph/picture with someone when you didn’t even pay to see their show. So I totally lied and said I was seeing the show the following night. Def didn’t see it. I think I stayed in with the New York Conservatory kids and drunkly ViewPointed in their dorms. They were drunk. I wasn’t drunk. I was dating a very holy Catholic boy and if I wanted any chance at ever doing the hibbity dibbity (which of course is second base) I had better keep my morality in line. Ha!
MJ's first adventure to NYC! Those pretzels are gross save your dollar
Anyways I totally got a picture with Corbin Bleu. Which means I basically made out with Zac Efron. Or something.
There was that day we were stranded in the torrential downpour of the fucking century. But I’ve come to learn that any time it’s raining in New York, it feels like the torrential downpour of the fucking century. Even if you’re just like “Damnit why does it have to acid rain drizzle on my $80 LuLu shirt?” So we took refuge in Macy’s cuz where else when you’re a tourist? I called my dad to tell him about how amazing NYC is while Richard tried on shoes and complained about being too thin to be an underwear model. Life is so hard.
Oh, and that night we used fake IDs to get into a Look Mexico concert. I had no idea who Look Mexico was, but I would later use this experience to seem cool in front of my brother’s hipster roommates. They had Look Mexico on vinyl and I was all “Oh I saw them in concert in New York City” hairflip.
Oh, and on Richard’s birthday I was total bitch. I got together with my long lost theatre camp friend (hottie), Sam. Sam bought me dinner. On Richard’s birthday. At Richard’s birthday dinner. Oops? But like seriously Sam was totally adorable AND a soccer player. What did Richard want me to do? Just because I had a perfect holy man waiting for me in Missouri didn’t mean I couldn’t SEE my ex-Facebook husband.
(Remember when you could do that? Be pretend married to someone on Facebook and no one thought it was real? That was also when I could wear my purity ring on my left hand and no one thought I was married. Life was so much easier when everyone wasn’t so concerned about my marital status. P.S. No one is concerned about my marital status.)
I took pictures on the TKTS stairs in Times Square, went to see the Statue of Liberty and Ground Zero, I saw a different Broadway show almost every night, ate ramen and bought some fake Coach purses, and called my Catholic every night to share the experiences. He, of course, was spending his Spring Break shadowing at a hospital. In hindsight, I probably should have just lied and said I was having a terrible time so as to empathize with him. But what did I know? I thought he liked me for me so I was just like “YES EVERYTHING ROCKS SORRY YOUR LIFE IS BORING.”
It was almost time to come home. But let’s not forget the reason for the season.
It’s my last night in the City and I’m finally seeing Wicked! Everything is great in the world! What a fantastic finale to this incredible week!
Now, let us all remember, this is 2010. Mattie Jo would not get a smart phone until 2013. After I paid off my car. Because I’m a mother fucking adult with priorities. Anyway, Richard drops me at the Gershwin and goes on his merry ole way to see another show with some old dude (tehe). I walk up to the box office to retrieve my ticket, which cost approximately 7 virgins (I was one of the virgins).
“What do you mean you don’t have it? I ordered it like a month ago.”
THEY DON’T HAVE MY TICKET WHAT IS HAPPENING?
So I call my dad and ask him to check my email, because of course I don’t have email on my phone like a functioning human. Well naturally our dial up isn’t working out in good ole Taney County, so he can’t retrieve my information. Oh dear God.
I start to cry. And I mean I REALLY start to cry. Pure hysterics right there in the lobby of the Gershwin Theatre. So much so that the house manager is trying to console me. Yes that’s right. The box office guy called for backup because little white girl from Missouri is heartbroken she can’t see The Wizard of Oz prequel.
Yes that’s right. The box office guy called for backup because little white girl
from Missouri is heartbroken she can’t see The Wizard of Oz prequel.
He tells me I have the option of buying a last minute cancellation seat. What does that mean, you ask? That means some asshat on the Upper East Side bought prime seats for $300 like four months ago and FORGOT ABOUT THEM. What a life where you can forget about a $300 purchase. This was the beginning of my severe dislike for East Siders. But thanks asshat cuz now I get to see my show! I ended up paying an additional $90 for Row H, Center. For those of you who don’t know theatre layouts, this means I got Orchestra Center, a.k.a. seats reserved for people like Jewish theatre investors and John Stamos.
Because I Knew You
I cried, saw the show, cried some more. Then cried more because my trip had come to and end. I had to go back. I had to go back and spend every single day of the year awaiting my annual trip to New York. Trying to convince myself I liked singing worship songs more than I liked saying the FUCK word with Julia. That I liked Wendy’s more than salmon and lox on an everything bagel. That I loved a Catholic (very HOT, nerdy, bearded) boy more than I loved my dreams. What can I say? I lead such a life of conflict. During the next 3 years, I wasn’t certain of much. But I was certain of one thing. Those 6 days in New York City changed me.
“I (had) been changed For Good.” :)
* It’s not that my mom didn’t want to take me to Wicked. We were a busy family. I in no way shape or form hold this against her. I mean, after all. If it weren’t for her negligence I might have stayed in Missouri forever. So, thanks mom!
** Julia DiVergilio is now a thriving actress in New York City. She and I starred opposite each other in an Off-Off Broadway workshop of a new musical, a.k.a. a shit show. We also starred as "mean girl" and "sidekick" in this wildly inappropriate short film by her sister, Laura called #SORRYNOTSORRY. See link below for a short clip if you want to feel both uncomfortable and inspired. #PussyPower #BadBitches
*** Catholic boy took me to see Wicked a year later. He cried during “For Good” and told me that’s how he felt about me. Broken Heart Emoji.