Valentine’s Day stories: Henderson performers recall early stage of their relationship

Looking at Sarah Lowe’s Claddagh ring, Matt Donnelly noticed something different.

The jewelry, which comes from the Irish tradition to represent love, loyalty and friendship, features a heart in the center. When the point faces outward, it signals that the wearer is single, while pointed inward means taken.

For the five months they’d known each other, Sarah always had it facing outward. When that changed, Matt noticed.

“I didn’t even do it intentionally,” she said. “It just kind of happened. He made a comment about it, and that’s when I noticed it was turned around.”

Though it would be years before they would marry, both said that was a key moment in their love story.

Matt and Sarah, Henderson residents, have worked in the entertainment industry throughout their relationship. Matt is a podcaster alongside Penn Jillette on Penn’s Sunday School and hosts The Bucket Show, which is focused on improv comedy. Sarah, who just finished working with the “Jersey Boys” musical on the Strip, is a choreographer.

They view acting similarly to how they view marriage.

“I used to hate to do improv with Matt because he was so good I thought he would make me look bad,” she said. “Then I realized if I was his scene partner, he had to make me look good. That’s kind of how marriage is.”

Their story as a couple began in 2005 when Sarah, who had just finished a stint in a production of “Mamma Mia!” in Las Vegas, moved to New York City and tookan improv class.

She had two options for teachers: Matt or some guy whose name she couldn’t pronounce or spell.

“It’s a good thing she hates big words,” Matt said, flashing a smile at Sarah. “Our story could have had a different ending if he would have had a different name.”

Tens minutes late, Sarah rushed into her first class. For Matt, it was love at first sight.

“She walked like a dancer,” he said. “There was just something about her.”

Though he was conflicted about being her teacher and having romantic feelings, Matt figured out ways to speak with her without crossing any boundaries.

Flirting ensued over the next few classes. But the first date didn’t go well.

“I was trying to concentrate on what he was saying, but they were playing ABBA in the background,” Sarah said. “I had just finished that show (“Mamma Mia!”), which was a huge accomplishment in my life. It was the first time I had heard any of those songs since I finished the show.”

Sarah kept lip-synching the words of the songs.

“Are you really into this song?” Matt asked. She explained she’d worked on the ABBA-focused “Mamma Mia!”

They knew the evening was a bad start, so they opted for a restart.

“We went outside and pretended to meet for the first time,” Sarah said. “We went to the bar next door and had drinks.”

It was on a trip across the Hudson River to New Jersey when Sarah went to check out one of Matt’s improv shows — something he couldn’t get former girlfriends to do because of their disdain for the Garden State — that things really developed. It’s also when her Claddagh ring magically switched directions.

“But it took him forever to propose to me after that,” she said.

After four years, during which Sarah was cast in “Jersey Boys” and the couple relocated to Las Vegas, they finally got engaged.

Matt planned a trip to San Francisco, where he proposed. The couple married in 2011 and have two children.

“It’s not really marriage that changes communication,” Sarah said. “Children are the game changer.”

Even 11 years later, they feel they lucked out.

“We have become each other’s secret weapon,” Sarah said.

To reach Henderson View reporter Michael Lyle, email mlyle@viewnews.com or call 702-387-5201. Find him on Twitter: @mjlyle.

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