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This article by Caroline Calogero was prepared for the May 29, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Portrait of the Actress as a Young Girl
Sometimes Madeline Blue lives the lifestyle of a secret
agent. By day she’s your average high school sophomore. But when a
call comes in, a car arrives and she is whisked away to her next assignment.
Madi, who attends Montgomery High School, doesn’t spy while away from
school. She auditions. "I just pick her up with her bag in hand
with her resume, pictures, whatever and then we go," says Hannah
Schussel, Madi’s mother, regarding her daughter’s professional acting
Madi is one of thousands of young would-be actors, dancers, models,
and singers who avail themselves of a plethora of central New Jersey
performing arts programs (see page 39). They cannot be blamed for
being a little starry-eyed: Because of their proximity to New York,
they can afford to shuttle back and forth to auditions in the hope
of Making It Big.
Playing children’s parts, Madi has had a string of professional acting
successes. Her parents have spent far more on her training than she
has earned. Now she faces the inevitable challenge, to move from cute
child roles to a more womanly persona — a transition that not
every child actor is able to make. At age 15 she needs to score some
big successes in ingenue roles.
With seven McCarter productions under her belt, Madi has logged in
enough stage hours to be eligible for a coveted Actors’ Equity card.
Yet at age 15, she has chosen not to be a member of the labor union
that represents theater professionals. "For me, at my age, when
they’re usually looking for non-Equity," she explains, "sometimes
it can be a burden. When you are Equity you can’t be on non-Equity
calls," which include the productions of many regional theaters
with smaller budgets.
She is a card carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and
the American Federation of Television and Radio Arts (AFTRA). Her
AFTRA card was acquired doing extra work for Saturday Night Live and
All My Children television shows. Madi has also done radio commercials
and been featured in an episode of Law & Order and as the young version
of Janice in the Sopranos.
At age five Madi had her first role at McCarter Theater as Trixie
in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." Four years ago, while playing
Bet in a production of "Oliver" at Playhouse 22 in East Brunswick,
she was noticed by a talent scout in the audience who recommended
hooking up with Marianne Leone, a manager who specializes in children.
Finding a manager changed acting from an amusement to a vocation for
her. "It’s a different level. It’s no longer as much of a hobby
as it is something I’m going to pursue as a profession. It’s like
a new level of pursuit," she says. She hopes to continue her career
through college but doesn’t currently see herself majoring in drama.
The last name of Madi’s manager means lion in Italian. Although Marianne
Leone doesn’t quite roar while speaking, it probably wouldn’t cost
her much effort to let one loose. Hannah explains Madi finds her a
bit intimidating and prefers to leave the business dealings to her
Leone, who has been a manager for 20 years, handles only "child"
actors who range in age from three to thirty years old. She believes
film is Madi’s strength and is relentlessly optimistic — labeling
her as triply gifted since she can act, sing and dance. "She has
a talent. All we need is a vehicle," says Leone.
Madi sometimes goes to Manhattan for three or four auditions
a week. To minimize the time missed from school, Hannah aims for the
late afternoon spots in the casting schedule. In order to trot Madi
around, Hannah needs to be able to drop her work on short notice.
She has made having this flexibility a condition for her own employment.
Currently Hannah manages the company store for McCarter Theater which
is open only during performances. Previously she was her own boss
as owner of a shop, Toys…the Store, on Palmer Square for six and
a half years.
Madi’s father, Sandy, directs sales training for First Investor Corporation.
He also does her taxes and helps her rehearse lines.
Madi owes her stage name to her only sibling, her sister, Stephanie,
who is currently a freshman at Tufts University. Anticipating the
birth of their second child, her folks showed Stephanie a list of
possible names for the baby. Stephanie chose Madeline after the literary
character and blue for her favorite color. To create her stage name,
Schussel, the family surname, was simply lopped off.
The endless auditions don’t strike either mother or daughter as disruptive
to Madi’s schooling. But once Madi lands a part in a stage production
the pace heats up with a schedule of rehearsals followed by the actual
While filming her only full-length movie, "Wet Hot American Summer,"
during the spring of 2000 with Jeneane Garofalo, Madi was assigned
a tutor on the set to assist with schoolwork. Her mother was also
present during the shooting — three days spent in a bungalow at
a camp in the Poconos followed by another few days later in the season.
The film was released at an inauspicious time, September, 2001, and
did not make a large splash.
The auditions Madi attends are not cattle calls. They are usually
arranged by her manager, although she found her most recent job, a
role as the ingenue in the play, "Two in the Aisle, Three in a
Van" opening this summer at Monmouth University’s theater, on
her own. "Mostly it’s a lot friendlier than you might think,"
she says regarding auditions.
Theater auditions generally have a small audience. Ten people sitting
around a table may observe. But Madi says she has never auditioned
in New York on a real stage, belying the image of an undiscovered
actress belting out her song in front of an empty theater.
Film auditions are "a more personal trial" done in private
with only the cameraman and producer or casting director present.
She has sent tapes to the West Coast but has never had an audition
Her pre-audition ritual includes reviewing her lines and then applying
cosmetics for 20 minutes. Her familiarity with stage makeup has yielded
interesting benefits for her friends, whom she has instructed in the
use of under-eye-concealer cream, a beauty secret usually associated
with older women seeking to erase the dark circles of age and not
Madi frequently copes with rejection, an actor’s most commonly encountered
occupational hazard. "After you do it enough it’s not nerve wracking
anymore and it’s not sad when you don’t get something. It’s a day’s
work . . . It’s worth it in the long run," she says.
Hannah thinks dealing with rejection requires learning not to take
it personally. "It has nothing to do with you. It has to do with
what they’re looking for a lot of times. You can be the best of the
best but you don’t match the parent (actor). . . Or you’re too tall.
You’re too short. You’re too blond. You’re too dark . . . It could
be anything," says Hannah.
But Hannah doesn’t like to see Madi get blue. "She does get very
angry with me if I’m at a stage of `I don’t know why I’m doing this,’"
says Madi regarding her mom’s reaction to a funk on her part. "She
has taken so much time out of her life to do this that if this isn’t
really what I love and want to do, that would be a big sacrifice for
her . . . It’s a big thing for her to see me discouraged."
Experience has helped Madi grow more confident about asserting herself
with producers and casting directors. She is a sylph-like girl with
large light brown eyes, shoulder length brown hair and dark dramatic
eyebrows. Her voice is clear and bell like. Her thinness contributes
to the illusion that she is taller than her height of 5’3".
Auditioning for a part on Law & Order, she appeared armed with a load
of sweatshirts to boost her bulk, if necessary. The casting call was
for an awkward overweight girl. She landed the part and convinced
the casting agent to let her play an gawky thin girl instead of a
Conscious of her long commute in from the suburbs, she recently urged
a disinterested film director to turn on the camera and give her a
chance, insisting that at age chronological age 15 she was not too
old to play the part of a 15-year-old character — he had been
looking for someone two years younger.
Madi’s expenses have exceeded her income for three out of the last
four years. Over the last eight years her parents have spent about
$11,000 on instruction, including six years of acting classes, a year
and a summer of dance classes, and coaching sessions. That doesn’t
count the gas, parking, and tolls for trips to New York, and head
shots, the professional 8 by 10 inch photographs required for actors,
which added another $2,000. "I’m lucky enough that for us it’s
not about the earning as much as it’s about the experience," Madi
Madi has been through the training wing at McCarter Theater and participated
in its summer program in Shakespeare for the past two years. But she
is not taking lessons in voice or dance now and has no singing coach.
"It’s something that I never really wanted. I would like to believe
I could do it on my own," says Madi.
This year she signed on with New York acting coach Peter Miner, who
has a couple of Emmys to his credit. Madi prefers to visit him immediately
before an audition to run her lines. She sees it as a way to grab
an edge. The sessions cost $75 an hour.
"You don’t want to be too rehearsed," she says, but an unprepared
reading doesn’t work well either. Looking down at the script reading
lines during an audition obscures the actor’s face. Facial expression
is particularly important in film where gestures are smaller and more
nuanced than on stage. Stage acting requires bigger mannerisms that
are too much for the camera.
Professional management does not come cheap either. When an actor
gets a job, the manager’s cut is 15 percent. Fees to outside agents
may eat up another percent.
But reruns are what make Madi feel like a real actress. These repeats,
the bane of frequent television viewers, pay residuals. Turning a
TV series or movie into video cassettes or DVDs also entitles actors
to earn residuals, a small fee paid for every one sold.
Despite no new bookings during 2001, Madi earned several thousand
dollars in residuals when her movie and The Sopranos episode were
released on tape and disc. That was a big improvement over the $25
per performance that McCarter paid her for "Christmas Carol."
Her mother’s attitude about expenses is pragmatic. "Whatever you
earn almost gets washed out until you hit something really big,"
That 2001 was a slow year hasn’t dampened Madi’s enthusiasm. Her next
production — her first ingenue role — begins rehearsals at
Monmouth in mid-June and opens later in the month. She will go on
tour with the cast and her mother to Delaware and Maine later in the
summer. And there are auditions and more auditions, always with the
hope that the next one could provide her biggest break yet.
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