'Company' Actor Learns old Benefactor's Identity and Pays it Forward

Thursday January 6, 2022

Out actor Claybourne Elder from the current "Company" revival paid it forward and learned the identity of the man who paid him a similar gesture 15 years ago that influenced him to move to NYC and pursue a theatrical career.

In the current revival of "Company," out actor Claybourne Elder plays Andy, a flight attendant who has a one-night stand with the show's heroine Bobbie (Katrina Lenk) in this gender-switching production that transferred from London. Top-billed in the production is Patti LuPone, who plays the acerbic Joanne.

As People Magazine reported in an exclusive story, Elder's relationship with LuPone dates back 15 years and involves a total stranger whose kind gesture to the actor influenced him to move to New York. Recently, Elder recalled the event and how, after a bout of COVID returned to the show, he replicated the gesture and reconnected with the stranger in the process.

"So I'm giving away two tickets to the show. Because, I don't know, I want to do something to celebrate - pay it forward - express gratitude."

He went on to explain that on one of his first visits to New York, a man approached him (whom he included in a snap on his Instagram post) and his friend "after we went to see Putnam County Spelling Bee in standing room. He said 'you looked like you were having more fun than anyone in the expensive seats. Here's $200, go buy yourself tickets to 'Sweeney Todd' it will change your life.' And now here I am years later working alongside Patti Lupone on a Sondheim show on Broadway. So if you know this guy - let me know. I would love to thank him."

"I was deciding whether or not I wanted to move to New York," he told People. "I grew up in Utah, and I was thinking New York is this big, scary city. Having this stranger do this thing is one of the reasons that led me to think like, 'It's going to be okay, and I should move to New York.'"

It turns out the degrees of separation between Elder and his good Samaritan were just two — after sharing his story, Elder told People he received an urgent message from a friend.

"And I was like, 'Oh, that seems strange.' And I called him, and he said, 'I saw your post, and I saw your picture of the man who gave you the money 15 years ago. He's one of my best friends.'"

His name was Mark Howell.

Not only did Elder learn his unknown benefactor's name, his friend reconnected them. "It had been years since Howell had thought about that then-23-year-old he met outside the Circle in the Square Theatre," People added. "When Howell received a call from his old friend, he never suspected who would be waiting on the other line of the three-way FaceTime."

"[Elder] just started telling the story and said, 'We went to see Putnam County Spelling Bee.' And as soon as he said that, I just said, 'No way,'" Howell told People. "Because I knew exactly who he was."

"[Elder] is taking it as a sign to continue paying it forward," People said. "After almost two years of devastating losses for the theater, his friends and followers helped him secure over $5,000 to buy 'Company' tickets [for] those who couldn't otherwise afford them."