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Work-week Interview #2: Donna Lynne Champlin

TheaterMania chatted up the Working actress about a job that made her hands bleed.

Donna Lynne Champlin

In the musical Working, now running at 59E59 Theaters, six actors portray a slew of Americans who are not actors, as they search for meaning in their day jobs. TheaterMania thought it appropriate to chat with the cast of Working about, well, working. Over the course of the next week, each cast members will reveal their experiences checking the coats of drag queens, deep-cleaning barbels, and other "normal people" jobs.

Round two: Donna Lynne Champlin, who told TheaterMania she once worked a janitor-slash-barista job that made her hands bleed.

What was your first job ever?

My first job ever was selling balloons with my brother at parades when I was about six years old. My father wanted us to learn about money, how to make it, save it, spend it, etc. We both [were] held accountable for how many balloons we sold. We learned book keeping, the cost of product vs. price, opened bank accounts, learned how to deposit our money and write checks, etc. We sold the little latex balloons on a stick for a quarter and then we sold Mylar balloons on a string for a dollar. "Silver satellites," we called them. Mylar balloons were a brand new thing and the dollar price was outrageous in those days, but they went like hot cakes.

Were you good at it?

I think so? I was just happy to have the freedom to do my thing...It was a game to me: [I had to] figure out who looked like buyers and who didn't. Obviously families were a good bet, especially if there was more than one kid. You can't just buy one kid a balloon and not the rest, right? And there was always a healthy competition between me and my brother. He was four years older so he could cover more ground, but I had the cuteness factor so we always ended up pretty much even...Now that I'm a parent, I can't imagine letting my kid go off into massive crowds unattended for hours at a time to sell anything, but it was a more innocent time, I guess. The worst thing I ever suffered on that job was some second degree sun burns and a couple bouts of sun stroke. [I] was in it to win it. I still have my little plastic box somewhere with all my book keeping sheets inside it and my balloon stickers on the lid. It's a source of pride to this day.

Donna Lynne Champlin in Working
(© Richard Termine)

What did your parents do for a living when you were growing up?

My mom was an English teacher at various high schools and colleges in the area and my dad was a chemist at Kodak.

What was the worst job you've ever had and why?

About six months after I moved to New York City, I was literally down to my last twenty dollars when a friend of mine from college got me a job at an Upper East side gym. I ran the cafe and I was the janitor. It was an unfortunate combination of duties, to say the least. I prepared people's sandwiches, smoothies, shakes, fruit salads, etc., and then I also cleaned the gym's equipment and locker rooms with heavy chemicals [and] did the laundry. They wouldn't let me wear gloves because it was a high end gym and they didn't like the look of them, so my hands would bleed from being washed raw umpteen times a day. I would slather my hands in Vaseline every night and sleep with cotton gloves on to try to repair the damage. l endured some pretty rude behavior from the posh clientele, almost went insane stationed in the middle of three different class rooms -- all with varying music at competing tempos, bass levels and keys -- and it took me an extra hour to get home but every night...All that said? Every day I thanked God and my friend for having that job. Without it, I really don't know what I would have done.

Who is the hardest working person you know and why?

My brother Mike is the hardest working person I know. He runs his own award-winning film editing business called DeBergerac Productions up in Rochester, New York, and also somehow finds time to raise his two daughters and take care of his wife who was diagnosed with ALS almost four years ago. He's a miracle. And he never sleeps. I'll get texts and emails from him at all hours. He just keeps plugging away to make sure that everyone is taken care of, never thinking of himself. He's always been that way though. I call him "Deputy Dawg" because he's always running to someone's rescue. He's got the biggest heart of anyone I know. I worry about him a lot, actually, but there's no telling him to take it easy. He's just too busy dedicating his life to giving his customers the very best product possible and making sure his wife and daughters' every second on this earth is full of quality, love and laughter. He's my hero. I should probably tell him that more often.


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