[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””.
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.
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 TheBrokeAndBeautifulLife.com.
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