Cool Job: I Traveled the Country as “Fancy Nancy”

[Jay is traveling the beach today as “Fancy Daddy.” So check out this post by Stefanie O’Connell of  The Broke and Beautiful Life while he’s getting a tan ;) Or, more than likely, trying to get Baby Penny & Nickel to quit putting sand in their mouths, sigh…]

If you have parented, “aunted” or “uncled”, or babysat a young girl of a certain age in the past five years, you are likely familiar with a sassy and classy little storybook character that goes by the name of Fancy Nancy.

At the age of 25, I spent six months of my life and made a major career move playing this fun loving, fancy talking eight year old.

I starred as Fancy Nancy (and about nine other characters) in a storybook musical review that toured the United States from major cities like Dallas, Texas to middle of nowhere towns like Spirit Lake, Iowa. Five actors, one stage manager, and a full set packed into a Dodge Sprinter, brought Fancy Nancy (and other storybooks) to thousands of kids across America.

A Typical Day as Fancy Nancy

On a typical day we’d be called to the hotel lobby around 6:30am to drive to the performance venue. Upon arrival, the six of us would unload our full set from the back of the van and spend the next hour and half putting it together and setting everything from costumes to props to set pieces for the show.

If we were lucky, we were in a theatre that had a loading dock we could back the van right up to and stage hands to help us out. The less than ideal venues, typically school gyms and cafeterias, required us to haul our entire set through the winding hallways, stairs, and throngs of children before crafting a stage out of nothing but a dirty floor.

Then… showtime! In one hour we would bring to life six popular storybooks, all in song…. And the kids LOVED it. I played a chicken, a campaigner, a reporter, a mom, Fancy Nancy, a different mom, a baby, a monster, and a bitchy teenage cat. I burned at least 500 calories as I sweat it out with potty jokes, time steps, and important life lessons like “there’s no fancier or better way to say, “I love you””.

fancy nancy tea party

After each show, I would feel like a total wreck. I had props and costumes from quick changes flung all over the place, and I would be sweating through my entire base layer. We’d typically have half an hour to reset before doing it all over again for the next group of kids.

After show two, we’d break it all down and load it back in the van before driving anywhere from two to six hours to the next city. After arrival and check in, I’d force myself to go for a run while scavenging for semblances of healthy, vegetarian food for dinner. It’d usually be dark out by that time, and always being in a new and unfamiliar place, I managed to put myself in compromising circumstances more than once.

After surviving my run, several hundred miles of travel, and anywhere between 1-3 shows in the day, I would plop down on the hotel bed and obsess over my new favorite activity, counting my money.

How Much it Paid

In addition to our salary, $464/weekly (before taxes, union dues, and agent fees), we were given $54/day per diem, meant to cover food and housing costs.

Even in bumblef**k, America, hotel rooms cost more than $50 a night – forget eating anything. The worst part was, the company would book the hotel rooms, often at $80-$100 per night. I took it upon myself to research alternatives, occasionally finding a deal to save $10-20, but it had to be approved by everyone in the cast and by “changing the itinerary” (i.e. staying in the cheaper hotel next door), we forfeited any overtime. Yeah, it was bullsh*t.

During the first four months of tour I roomed with the other woman on the road to split room costs. But after living, working, driving, eating, and breathing the same people in a tiny van for all those days, I couldn’t bear it any more. I started couchsurfing, contacting any and all distant family and friend contacts, even ridesharing, to avoid spending more money on hotels or more time in the van.

As for eating, I got real creative. I would find a local grocery store and concoct healthy creations in my hotel room microwave since the only thing available in most of the country is Waffle House and McDonalds – neither of which I’ll touch with a ten foot pole.

I also got real good about finding cheap liquor, because there’s nothing like the roar of children, having to sit in the front seat between the driver and the passenger for six hours, and then loading set pieces that weigh twice what you do to make you start drinking.

Some Perks in The Madness

It wasn’t all terrible. I got to expose many children to their first ever musical theatre experience. As a “storybook celeb” I would get star struck little ones asking for my autograph. I often made press appearances at “Fancy Nancy” tea parties where I was revered. Not to mention, I got to see some beautiful parts of the country. Sure, I wasn’t a fan of all of it, but certain locales caught me by surprise – Des Moines, Iowa; Newport, Oregon; Provo, Utah.

As for that major career move I mentioned, playing Fancy Nancy allowed me to join Actor’s Equity Association, the professional theatre union. A few months later, that move facilitated my NYC debut in the multi million dollar production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas at Madison Square Garden.

So while I was living off of pennies, breaking my body with oversized set pieces and cramped car rides, and subsisting off of side dishes for six months; I was bringing theatre, art, and education to thousands of young’ins while learning some important things myself (and, by the way, birthing my blog).

Do I regret it? Not for a moment.

fancy nancy baby

Stefanie O’Connell is a New York City based actress and freelance writer. She chronicles her struggle to “live the dream” on a starving artists’ budget at

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  1. Jon @ Money Smart Guides August 14, 2014 at 6:46 AM

    It’s interesting to read all of these stories about what people did for an income. The greatest takeaway is that for as much as many complain about the jobs, none of them would go back in time and not do it. They all learned valuable life lessons along the way. That is the key – to find something to take away from it.

    I remember working in a steel pail factory before heading off to college. My Dad got me the job. It was pure hell. But it showed me what my life would be like if I didn’t go to college and get a degree.

      1. J. Money August 19, 2014 at 1:53 PM

        “It showed me what my life would be like if I didn’t go to college and get a degree.” – Hell YES.

  2. Shannon @ Financially Blonde August 14, 2014 at 7:10 AM

    Thanks for sharing this Stefanie!! I would not have lasted a week in the van, but it’s amazing what you can do when you are passionate about it.

  3. Brandy @ Busted Budget August 14, 2014 at 7:58 AM

    Very interesting job! I for one could not do it with all the kids and lack of space and privacy. But good for you for hustling through it! It sounds like you are in a good place now.

  4. Nicola August 14, 2014 at 8:34 AM

    Thanks for sharing that! I can’t imagine doing that as a job due to the travel and conditions, but I bet the looks on the kids’ faces made it worth while.

    1. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life August 14, 2014 at 9:29 AM

      I gotta admit, some days, not even a smiling child could make me smile on the inside (I was always smiling on the outside, it was my job, haha)

  5. Brian @ Debt Discipline August 14, 2014 at 9:59 AM

    Great story Stefanie. Not a big income for amount of work, but I’m sure the kids reactions helped keep you motivated.

  6. Retired by 40 August 14, 2014 at 10:02 AM

    That is way cool! I’m amazed that you stuck it out – but it totally makes sense once you got into the actor’s union. Hopefully it leads to even more opportunities!

    1. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life August 14, 2014 at 12:15 PM

      Being in the union is a blessing and a curse. It’s great because I have union protection and benefits, it sucks because producers are increasingly hiring non union actors because it costs less money, which means fewer and fewer jobs for union members.

  7. Even Steven August 14, 2014 at 10:03 AM

    It’s great that you did something you enjoyed and got your feet wet in acting. It’s not glamorous but I think that’s the point to learn a ton while you work.

    1. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life August 14, 2014 at 12:17 PM

      This was actually my fourth or fifth job, and it was particularly hard because I had been on some really big tours, one with a major star, so we got treated incredibly well. Making the shift from that to this was painful, but oddly enough, a necessary step forward.

  8. John @ Frugal Rules August 14, 2014 at 11:26 AM

    Thanks for sharing Stefanie! Our daughter is a big Fancy Nancy fan, though I can’t imagine traveling like that and dealing with masses of kids waiting there to see you act it out. But, it’s very cool to see how it all worked out in the long run and the opportunity it provided you.

  9. Ben @ The Wealth Gospel August 14, 2014 at 11:28 AM

    That’s insane! But I’m sure you learned a lot from the experience, which is really the most important thing anyway.

  10. Amy August 14, 2014 at 11:33 AM

    Thanks for the “sneak peek” into the real life of these performers. I already thought they had a tough job, but I now respect them even more!

    1. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life August 14, 2014 at 12:21 PM

      Some tours are definitely better than others, but either way, giving 100% while living out of a suitcase for months at a time is challenging.

  11. Darrell August 14, 2014 at 11:47 AM

    I heard an interesting quote on the tv show “Don’t trust the B in apt 23” that went along the lines of, “You’ll only last 6 weeks, but you’ll have enough stories to last you 10 years at cocktail parties,” (insults omitted). These odd jobs make for a more fun life because you can cash in on that experience forever. So long as you think Excel is fun…I’m a hit at parties. Otherwise, I depend on people like you to make things interesting.

    1. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life August 14, 2014 at 12:22 PM

      Haha, well I LOVE Excel :) I’ve been acting professionally for six years, so I should be set on stories for the rest of my life!

    2. J. Money August 19, 2014 at 1:54 PM


  12. Michelle August 14, 2014 at 12:01 PM

    This is very interesting! I don’t know how you did it, sounds like a ton of work! Good for you for trying to find other ways to save money while working this job.

  13. Will @firstqfinance August 14, 2014 at 1:42 PM

    What did you do when you weren’t working and making microwavable creations??

    1. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life August 14, 2014 at 2:25 PM

      Well there wasn’t much time otherwise, but I trained for my first half marathon, and did it on a day off in Dallas. I also did as much sightseeing I could do without a car.

  14. Shannon @ The Heavy Purse August 14, 2014 at 1:49 PM

    Oh my, Stefanie, you would be greeted as hero .. well, more like a princess … in my home. My girls have mostly outgrown the books but they are HUGE Fancy Nancy fans! They would want to dress up with you and reenact the books until you pleaded for mercy. :) It’s definitely an interesting look at what happens behind the scenes. We only see the magic, not all the hard work that it takes to make it happen.

      1. J. Money August 19, 2014 at 1:55 PM

        I wonder if my two boys will get into her, or if it’s only a girl thing?

  15. Sam @ August 14, 2014 at 2:13 PM


    Your photos cracked me up on this one! Thanks for sharing about your financial adventures. :) Even though you were in some small, little, no-name towns at times, I’m happy you got to travel like that.

    Taking my route means a lot of stagnancy and staying in one place. Alas, someone’s got to do it! ;) Haha.

    Great read,

    1. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life August 14, 2014 at 2:29 PM

      I’m really grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to travel with shows. I’ve done two national tours now, one throughout Asia, and one throughout South America- LOTS to see and experience.

  16. EL August 15, 2014 at 10:09 AM

    Very cool gig Stef and it led to a union job, which is awesome. Im sure all the kids will never forget their first theatre experience and meeting Fancy Nancy.