There comes a time in each young person’s life when the ‘real world’ looms large on the horizon. As a young theater and film student, you can imagine the terror that that might invoke. But when I was a young, bright-eyed, bushy tailed intern at a video production company in my senior year of college, I thought that I had been given my big break.
As an intern at a video production company, you get a lot of coffee, haul a lot of sand bags and let the gaffers boss you around. You try to be indispensible, but quite frankly you’re not. Not until the head of the company turns to you one day and says, “Rachel, you’re an actress, right? I think we have a role for you!”
At these dulcet tones, I saw my star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, my cement-sticky hands pulling up from the wet concrete. I saw a life of exotic film shoots in far off countries. I saw weeks of treading the boards as I interpreted Chekov, Miller and O’Neill.
He wanted me to play a teddy bear.
Yep. That’s right, the acting job that I would be perfect for was to dress in a giant teddy bear mascot costume and parade around with four 9-year olds for a featured video about the March of the Teddy Bears, an art installation traveling around cities in the early 2000s. I took the job.
Sure, I realized that maybe this might not be my path to fame and fortune, but it did pay $300 for three days of work and my name would be in the credits. Why not? How bad could it be?
Maybe I should have prefaced this with some context. It was July. In Kansas City. My costume was a fur suit with a mini fan running on D-cell batteries that was duct taped to the inside of my oversized head. My co-workers were nine and one was the boss’s daughter. But still, I soldiered on.
The shoot took place over three days in the beginning of July. If you’ve lived in Kansas City for any length of time, you know that July is when Hades exacts his revenge on the earth. It’s hot. It’s muggy. If you’re wearing a fur suit, then it’s particularly unbearable (no pun intended). If you’re wearing a fur suit and dragging four 9-year olds around Kansas City landmarks such as the fountains at Crown Center and the grassy knoll outside of Starlight Theater, then it can make you homicidal.
And yet, I didn’t complain. At least I don’t think I did. I may have blocked out some of the more grisly details. I do remember that the production crew that I normally assisted by grabbing them water and coffee where happily plying me with pints of water at every opportunity. I think they were scared I might pass out from heat stroke. I drank and drank and drank some more and never seemed quenched. Salt crusted on my forehead. The batteries for my fan came unstuck from the humidity inside my giant head and swung around, slapping me in the face as I frolicked around the city.
I lost five pounds during the shoot. I lost a bit of my dignity forever. But I was a working actress and that was all that mattered. My boss saw something in me—namely that I talk with my hands and could fit inside a rented bear suit. I haven’t gone on to greatness in the theater and film world but for three sweaty days in July, I was a star. So if you see a video called March of the Teddy Bears on a shelf somewhere, grab it and burn it. I appreciate it. Thank you.