Mandan News

Returning home to the stage

Melissa Schumacher (left) rehearses a scene with actress Renae Swift in the Dakota Stage play, "Rabbit Hole." Brian L. Gray photo

By Brian L. Gray

Professional actress Melissa Schumacher goes where the good work is. Her latest job ended up taking her 1,500 miles. Back home to Mandan.

Schumacher, who for the last four years has been working as an actress in Los Angeles, is starring in the upcoming Dakota Stage drama, “Rabbit Hole.” Currently living in Burbank, Calif., Schumacher has been working steadily in theatre, independent films, TV series and commercials since she made the decision to move from North Dakota to California.

Lately Schumacher has been receiving a steady amount of acting work, which most recently included a commercial that was given significant airplay during the NFL playoffs. But her start in the business wasn’t so easily achieved.

After graduating from Bismarck State College and later Dickinson State University, Schumacher made plans to move to L.A. once she earned enough money.

“But before I knew it I was 29 and still couldn’t get enough money saved,” she says. “So I made the promise to myself, that when I turn 30 I’d go. And that’s what I did.” Schumacher got into her vehicle, left her home in Mandan and headed out to follow her dreams.

She took the L.A. leap with no real concrete plans in place – no work, no agent or manager, or a place to live – and had nothing more than the motive, patience and the curiosity to find out for herself what would happen if she took the chance.

It took Schumacher three weeks before she was able to find a place to live, and she nearly maxed out her credit cards before she was able to settle down. Eventually she was able to find a job to keep her afloat before falling into too much financial debt.

Schumacher began taking acting classes that helped refine her acting skills, which also provided her with personal guidance from longtime Hollywood actors in making a living as a professional actress, in an environment that is known to be a ruthless and unforgiving business.

Her persistence paid off, as Schumacher managed to find a commercial agent to represent her, and as time went on she continued to land more and more acting jobs.

In the last year alone, Schumacher has seen her acting work substantially increase. She says it normally takes an actor five to seven years to make it in the business. And Schumacher says she’s feeling pretty confident now that she’s entering that fifth year in L.A.

“Just last year my work increased by four or five times more than the year before. So I’m feeling pretty good about this year,” she says.

Now that she has established herself with commercial work, the next step for her will be to begin auditioning for work in co-star and guest star roles on television. With the help of some of the mentors Schumacher has been studying under in Los Angeles, they have given her the assurance that she is ready to get into that level of work.

But when it comes down to it, Schumacher says one of her main passions is to pursue the opportunities to do the kind of work she wants to be involved in. And that’s where “Rabbit Hole” came in.

The play is an examination of grief, which follows a married couple who is trying to cope with the sudden loss of their 4-year-old son. Schumacher, a longtime DSL stage veteran, said she knew she wanted to audition for the show once it was first announced the play would be performed in Bismarck.

The show begins Wednesday, March 15, and runs from Wednesday to Sunday through March 25. Shows are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $18 for adults and $15 for students and seniors. You can purchase tickets online at dakotastageltd.com, by phone at 258-4998 or at the door before each show.

Schumacher, a 1996 Mandan High School graduate, also served as Miss Rodeo Mandan in 1996 and 1998. While in college she had plans to go into public relations or ag education.

But the acting bug refused to go away. It was while in a production of the play “Cover of Life” at BSC that Schumacher learned how a story can move people. “It was there that I witnessed firsthand how the story impacted people, and I heard from some people who went to the show how much it helped them. To be able to give someone that  kind of catharsis, even if it’s for only one person, makes what I do worth it,” she says.

Schumacher says she isn’t bound by any sort of timeline while in L.A. She plans to remain in the acting business as long as the work and the drive continue. She says she would like to eventually return to North Dakota, but she’s making no plans to do so any time soon.

“I can see myself coming back to North Dakota at some point. It’s always been home to me. Even after four years, L.A. still doesn’t feel like home,” she says.

Acting, for Schumacher, provides a healthy outlet for expressing herself in ways she normally doesn’t express in her every day life.

“Acting has always been therapeutic for me,” she says. “It helped me get through some dark things in my life… It gives me a safe place to feel all sorts of feeling that are scary and horrible, and I’m able to express things that I don’t normally get to show in every day settings. In life I appear very calm, and my friends see me as a strong and composed individual. But when I’m acting, I’m allowed to show a real range of character.”