Flight attendant turns travails of a career into one-woman show, book
at 12:57 on March 7, 2004, EST.
Actor Rene Foss is seen in her one-woman play Around the World in a Bad Mood. (AP/ann Heisenfelt)MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Has anyone ever said you look like Monica Lewinsky?
Who's flying the plane? Do you have a place where I can put my cheesecake? Passengers have asked these and many other questions of Rene Foss as she scurried to fetch their drinks, hand out their pretzels and pick up their garbage. Foss, a second-generation flight attendant, has taken her 19 years of experience and turned it into a hilarious one-woman play and book, Around the World in a Bad Mood! (subtitled Confessions of a Flight Attendant).
Foss still works at Northwest Airlines, where she started flying in 1985. She's quick to say that the company featured in play and book, We Apologize for This Inconvenience Airlines (WAFTI) is not based on any specific carrier. She wears non-specific uniforms while performing and does not mention Northwest in the book or play.
"It's really a commentary on air travel in general," she says.
Flying these days isn't the same as it was when Foss's mother, Maxyne, worked as a stewardess for Northwest Orient Airlines in the 1950s. Flying then was considered a luxury; Rene Foss calls it the golden age of air travel.
"Instead of wearing white gloves, we're wearing rubber gloves. Instead of serving lobster thermidor, we're learning to put handcuffs on people. And instead of practising the art of polite conversation, we're practising the art of self-defence and disease control," Foss says.
On stage, Foss is a dynamic performer, throwing herself from a frenzied "safety demo" pantomime that opens the show to different skits that feature her as a flight attendant training supervisor with an accent straight out of Fargo or as a gun-toting pilot with a southern drawl. Audience members get a bag of pretzels and a once-over with a mock metal detector before they enter the show.
In one sketch, Foss uses puppets made of barf bags to re-enact Macbeth as a comic duel between two passengers warring for the same first-class seat.
Foss hasn't had to cuff any unruly passengers in her career. But she understands how crowded airports, long lines and increased security can try passengers' patience.
"So you kind of get on the plane and you are hungry and you are tired," she says. "And now we don't even really serve food anymore."
That's when passengers end up in a bad mood, she says. "And then the flight's full and there's no room to put your bag on because you're the last passenger, and then we're going to take away your bag and check it. And then the only seats left are centre seats. And, well, welcome aboard!"
After Foss graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1984, her dad encouraged her to get a job with benefits. Foss, who grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina, had acting ambitions but couldn't decide between Broadway or Hollywood. The solution: a flight attendant's job that allowed her to live in New York.
She thought she could quit in six months. "Of course, 19 years later I'm still picking up garbage on the airplane," she says.
Foss says she was so down and out that she was ready to give up and move back home to Minnesota. But she decided to write a play and star in it, and chose flight attendants as her subject.
"I would be an expert, and I would know how to play that role because I've been doing it," she says. Foss got her actor friends to come over, and with piano player Michael McFrederick writing the music, came up with a five-actor revue. Around the World in a Bad Mood! - featuring songs about the safety demo and greeting passengers - debuted at a New York cabaret in 1998.
A New York Times article about the play caught the attention of Hyperion, which approached Foss about writing a book, which was published in 2002.
Meanwhile, Richard Frankel Productions, a producer of such Broadway hits as Hairspray and The Producers, suggested Foss trim her five-actor play to a one-woman show. She premiered that version at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland in August 2002, then performed it in Melbourne, Fla., and last August at the Minnesota Fringe Festival in Minneapolis.
Foss is planning to take her show to Los Angeles. She hopes it becomes a franchised theatre piece such as Late Night Catechism or Defending the Caveman, and dreams of a TV sitcom. She also would like to do a sequel to the book, and has a Bad Mood Hot Line at 212-712-8702 where passengers can tell Foss about their terrible flight experiences.
"Instead of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, maybe it'll be My Big Fat Airline Career," she says.
Some of the secret language of flight attendants, from Rene Foss's book and one-woman play, Around the World in a Bad Mood!
F/A: Flight attendant.
INOP: Inoperative - broken!
ATC: Air traffic control - or God.
Slinging hash: Serving the meals.
Screamer: A passenger who has lost his or her cool.
Steerage: Coach class.
Cockpit queen: A flight attendant more interested in the front end of the aircraft than in the chamber of horrors known as the "cabin."
Crop dusting: Walking down the aisle while inconspicuously passing gas.
Debriefing: Party in someone's room after a flight.
Pax: Slang for passengers.
Upgrade: A passenger who has moved up from economy or business class to first class. Upgrades are recognizable by the way they demand refills on their cocktails every five minutes because they are free.
Widebody: This usually refers to the 747 aircraft, which is also known as "the Whale." Also used to describe a large person.
Blue room: The lav, the biffy, the john, the bathroom.
Tuff cuff: Plastic handcuffs for disruptive passengers. "Disruptive" includes, but is not limited to, carving initials on the window with a penknife, unwanted sexual remarks or advances (this may include the captain), and running down the aisle naked.
Just a few moments: A long time. A very long time.
Equipment change: Broken aircraft.