April 21, 2009 -- When the invitation arrived in the mail, Andrea Wachner said she was "aghast." Attend her 10-year high school reunion? Never.
Walking into a roomful of past acquaintances can elicit nail-biting anxiety, especially when the No. 1 question on everyone's lips is: "What do you do?" Wachner, a freelance comedy writer, was no exception.
So, rather than attend her reunion, Wachner, who is now 31, sent someone else in her place, a stripper, and made a documentary about it.
"I Remember Andrea" wasn't picked up by the film festivals this go-around, but Wachner did find a manager who took interest in her project. They are shopping it around as a reality TV show or a narrative feature.
Now, Wachner's memories of her hometown, Palos Verdes, will be forever associated with the launch of her filmmaking career -- and a scantily dressed woman named Cricket. High school may have been, as Wachner said, "brutal," but her first film was born out of those awkward memories. Already, she's begun inching her way past Hollywood's notoriously difficult barriers.
'There Was Just an Incredible Amount of Pressure'
Her decision to make the film surprised family and friends, initially.
"I thought it was a little out there. A little odd," Wachner's mother said of her daughter's project when she was interviewed for the film.
Wachner's prank generated an outcry from other '95 alums when she posted clips on YouTube from her 40-minute documentary.
"There's definitely a contingency of people who hate me because of this," she said.
Raised in swanky Palos Verdes, a bedroom community for Los Angeles' professional set, Wachner acknowledged having been fortunate enough to grow up someplace "beautiful and safe," even if it could be "pretty sheltered and homogenous."
Surrounded by high-achieving, well-to-do students, Wachner found her niche in the drama clique.
"It was enormous, competition was fierce, there was just an incredible amount of pressure -- for grades, for everything," Wachner said. "I can't think of one thing you could do there where you weren't competing against hundreds of other kids. I didn't really relate to a lot of what the others accepted as the norm, and I was OK with that -- it just didn't make it great. Most of the girls I knew had eating disorders. A huge percentage.
"I'm not scarred by it. It wasn't torture. It was not a miserable experience. But I think high school in and of itself is kind of awful," she said.
Stripper Scouting: A Crazy Night
On the day of the reunion, Wachner brought a crew, two cameramen and a sound technician to the Marriott Hotel in Torrance, Calif., and set up near the festivities. She also brought her yearbook to aid in identifying the attendees.
In the film, Wachner's mom left her with this advice, "If you get arrested, don't call me."
Cricket showed up in a burlesque outfit: fishnets, a tight black dress that resembled a slip, and tall black spike-heeled boots. Her visible tattoos and short jet-black hair, accented with a purple flower, only added to her look, which differed markedly from the formal attire of the other reunion attendees.
Cricket and Andrea had met in Jumbo's Clown Room in Hollywood, Calif., a night Andrea described as one of the craziest of her life.
Wachner and a friend watched the dancers perform one by one, but the older, African-American and Asian women who came on the stage did not in any way remotely resemble the actual Andrea Wachner, a petite olive-skinned brunette with thick, black-rimmed glasses.
Then she saw Cricket, 30, whose birth name is Amy Bernadette Russell. Cricket wasn't a stripper, but she was known for being a "little daredevil." At Jumbo's Cricket consistently wowed audiences with elaborate pole tricks and balancing acts.
Right away, Wachner knew she'd found her girl.
The camera crew that followed Cricket to the reunion also drew stares from the crowd. She told the curious alums that they were filming a documentary about artists called "Work to Live, Live to Work."
As Cricket surveyed the scene, she communicated with Wachner through an earpiece.
"She was coaching me the whole time -- and every time she said, 'That's great,' it just made me feel stronger," Cricket said. "No one could question me. What could they do, take a DNA sample?"
Cricket told the reunion attendees that she'd had reconstructive surgery and also suffered from amnesia. It wasn't completely unbelievable, because some had already heard that the real-life Wachner was in an accident after high school -- her car was totaled and she had been injured, but she had never suffered from amnesia.
Most of them had not seen or talked to Wachner since high school, but many found her new profession suspect: Cricket as Andrea said she was working as a stripper to help pay her graduate school tuition.
Daniel Wolowicz, 32, who had been an acquaintance of Wachner's in high school, said he was immediately suspicious.
"She was just so different. You have to understand the community we had come from," he said. "Everyone was questioning who this person was.
"I had asked her a very specific question about seeing her at a bat mitzvah when I was 15 years old," he said. When Cricket answered his question correctly, Wolowicz said he assumed it was Andrea or "someone else who had been given a lot of information."
It would be awhile, however, before he learned the full truth.
'That Is Not Normal'
As the night progressed the drinks flowed, and Cricket, always outgoing, was getting ready for the climax of the evening: a striptease performed to what Cricket described as "one of the worst songs of the '90s," Lisa Loeb's "Stay."
Barry Smith, 31, a math professor from San Diego, was eating dinner at the same table with Cricket.
"She was talking to my wife for a little bit and tried to get her to go on the dance floor to try to do some sort of joint voyeuristic dance-type thing," he said. "But my wife wasn't up for it."
They had met up with Cricket in the lobby earlier that evening. Aided by her earpiece, Cricket pretended to recognize Smith.
"She said, 'Oh, I remember you, you're friends with Jennifer Taylor,'" Smith recalled.
Smith, who couldn't remember what the real-life Wachner looked like, never suspected that he was dining with an imposter, even when Cricket took a chair to the dance floor and began stripping.
As she pulled off her top, and then her skirt, revealing her underwear, several of the alums clapped, screamed and laughed. One woman ran up to Cricket and stuffed a bill in her panties. Some just gaped in amazement.
"People were like, that is not normal," Cricket said.
But, she added, "That's probably what I would do at my reunion if I didn't go to private Christian school."
'I Like You Better'
During the dance her earpiece fell out -- but nobody seemed to notice.
After Cricket stripped, an alum asked her to go home with him, saying there was plenty of room for her to dance at his place.
"Let's dance right now!" Cricket suggested quickly.
As "Push It" blared over the speakers, he asked where the real Andrea was.
Cricket feigned ignorance.
"I like you better," he said.
But the night came to an abrupt end for Cricket -- and Wachner -- when hotel security intervened. It turned out the hotel hosting the reunion hadn't wanted footage of someone dancing scandalously in its ballroom.
When Wachner posted the trailer on YouTube, it attracted both huge fans and angry critics, igniting a kind of class warfare.
Yellowmxwheels wrote, "I went to a school in San Diego that was just like that (Valhalla). The school had a nickname that other schools used,(Snobhalla.) All the nice cars, we even had a kid that drove a friggin Ferrari our senior year. I mean I had a nice car too but I paid for mine it wasn't given to me. …"
But others, who claimed to have attended Wachner's high school, seemed incensed. Nacalaca wrote, "Yeah there were spoiled kids, but definitely the minority. Andrea, thanks for perpetuating the myth that ALL of PV was snobby kids. This video makes you look like the biggest snob of all."
Dorisdrive said, "Husband & I bought flight, ticket, etc, & night was hijacked by wanna-be reality star. It was tacky & distracting & turned night commercial even though we paid to be there."
Whether they loved it or hated it, one thing is clear: Wachner will never again be just another face in the crowd.
"I can appreciate what she was trying to do in the sense of making an interesting documentary -- and why not? Most of the reunions are predictable so why not do something that was different," said Wolowicz. "The one person I'll remember most from the reunion was that fictitious character."