Hi, it’s me again, talking about my wavy career path, through hill and dale, over rivers and through woods to, not grandmother’s house, but Oregon State University! When I last blogged, I was talking about the national children’s theatre tour gig I landed in the aftermath of 9/11. So, today I’ll talk about what that was like, 6 months on the road in a van with 5 other actors and a stage manager. We went from school to school, and from venue to venue, rarely staying in one place for more than two or three nights.
The show was Superfudge, and I don’t know if you read Judy Blume books when you were a child, but it was based on the Judy Blume book of the same name about a kindergartener called Fudge who gets into all kinds of shenanigans and, of course, lessons are learned in the process. This book was preceded by Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, a quite famous children’s book that maybe you read. In this musical adaptation of Superfudge, I played the mother of two boys, Fudge and Peter, who were played by grown men. Both of them towered over me at 6 feet or more, and I was 22, definitely not the right age to be a mother of an 11-year-old. There were three other actors in the musical, a guy who played the dad, and a man and a woman who played all the other characters. So, I was one of two women on the tour; the stage manager was a guy too. The other actress and I shared hotel rooms to save money because we were given a “per diem” as part of our salary that was meant to cover our daily expenses, so if we could cut costs on hotels, we would make more money in the end.
Each morning (And many of the show times were in the morning. For some reason, schools like morning shows. Have you ever had to sing for 45 minutes at 8 am? It’s not easy!), we would drive our two vans to a venue, put up our set, put on our costumes and microphones, do a sound check, then have about 20 minutes to warm up before we performed. The contract I worked under for this tour employed me as both an actor and a stage manager so that I would be contractually obligated to unload, put up, tear down, and load our set back into our van. Lots of work! We often did more than one show in a day, and sometimes in different locations, so we could end up doing this routine more than once in a day. But we were being paid pretty well, for actors, and we were contributing to our union initiation fee as part of our paychecks, which would, in turn, entitle us to health insurance. Whoo hoo! I hadn’t been a union actor before this experience, and it felt good to be paid well and treated with respect.
It turned out that we needed that respect and those union rules a couple of months into the tour. Remember that the seven of us are crammed into two vans over six months, and we didn’t know each other before the rehearsals began. Would you ever take a six month long road trip with strangers? It was inevitable that personality conflicts would arise. The other woman thought she was being harassed by the man who played the dad; she complained to the stage manager and the union representative; and all hell broke loose. For a week or so, I didn’t want to room with her and ended up paying extra for my own room. She eventually left the tour, as did our stage manager, and we got a new actress who became a really close friend. Conflicts like that are going to come up when perfect strangers spend months together, 24 hours a day, 6 days a week. We did get one day a week off, but on this day, if we were out on the road, we were limited by the available transportation (our two vans), so we really couldn’t get away from each other. In all, touring with Superfudge was a pretty stressful, amazing, great, and fraught experience. I recommend everyone try it. You’ll learn a ton about yourself and what you are willing to tolerate in others.
When my tour ended, I needed to find work, so I began asking around to friends and friends of friends. This strategy paid off. I’ll talk about what I did next in “Confessions of a Career Changer”. Hope you are enjoying my story and have a great Thanksgiving break!
Jessica Baron is currently a Graduate Assistant in Career Services at OSU and a full time student in the College Student Services Administration Program. Before making her way to Oregon State, Jessica worked as an actor, waiter, online tutor, receptionist, college composition instructor, creative writer, gas station attendant, nonprofit program director, writing workshop leader, high school drama coach, Hallmark card straightener, substitute teacher, real estate office manager, and SAT tutor, not necessarily in that order. Her “Confessions of a Career Changer” will focus on her wavy career path and the challenges and joys of wanting to do everything.