Stephanie Courtney spent more than a decade working in theater and small TV roles before she became one of the world's most recognizable spokespeople.
My dad was very much like, "Go to college!" It was a foregone conclusion that if I had the grades, I'd go to Binghamton University because it was a really good school and it was nearby. I got in and thought, Great, I'll get my English degree, then I can go on with my life. I did plays, plays, plays, and then one year, one of my acting teachers said, "You should really go to a Meisner technique class." It's an improv-based acting technique. I had a friend who had graduated from the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York, and she put in a good word for me. I graduated from Binghamton, and I got squeezed into one of the last classes at the Neighborhood Playhouse, where I spent two years studying acting.
When I got there, I felt like, Oh my god, I belong here. These are my people. Everyone's in their 20s, everyone's dramatic, and it's crazy, but it was great. That's when I also realized that I was going to have a bunch of survival jobs and I would have to get comfortable with being fired a lot.
I lived with two cousins who had jobs and I worked first as a waitress, which didn't last very long. I am a terrible waitress. Then I worked at a gourmet Italian grocery store for a while. Then my aunt got me a job answering phones at Smith Barney [brokerage firm]. I would go to school from 9 to 5 and then I'd walk up
four blocks and I'd answer night calls for the CEO. It was just me in this big, empty office building from 6 to 11. They'd give you cab money to go home, and I'd pocket it and just walk. That was my life for the last year of acting school. From then on, it was lots of temping and lots of catering for many, many years.
I was auditioning a lot. In New York City, if you don't have representation, which I certainly didn't, you look in Backstage Magazine and find auditions. If you're auditioning for a theater company, you'd wake up at 5, sit outside on the street to sign up for a spot, then go home, shower, and come back at your time and audition. I had the attitude that, this is all new and I'm just going to suck until I suck less and less. I never felt like, Man, you should not be doing this. If I didn't get the job, that was OK. I knew there were things I could learn, but I felt like I belonged there.
I got my first job pretty soon with Theatreworks USA, which is how a lot of people get their equity card. The job was to perform for children. So we'd get in a van, drive around, stay in Motel 6s, and show up at an elementary school and do two musicals. Then we'd pack up the van and drive to another city. We did that for three months, and at the end of it, I got my equity card, which means I was in the union for stage actors. I got paid better, and I qualified for health insurance.