To experience the full fabulousness of Denee Busby, first you have to see her in action, then you have to meet her, and finally you have to listen to her story.
I recently saw her onstage, playing a scantily clad comedic floozy opposite Vivica A. Fox. When we met after the show, Busby was resplendent in a neon orange jumpsuit with rhinestone hoop earrings and wild, curly shoulder-length hair. And that was when she told me how she got to be both a working engineer and an actress.
Since 1999, when she graduated with double bachelor’s degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering from the University of California, Los Angeles, Busby has assisted with the design of refineries, plants, and pipelines along the West Coast for Shell and Chevron. She has also appeared on the TV series ”Eve” and ”Charmed,” had a role in the 2004 movie The Cookout with Ja Rule, and was in last year’s sold-out touring musical Whatever She Wants with Fox. She says her cast mates would tap her for computer tech support on the road.
”People tell me, ’You don’t act like an engineer, but you operate like one,’” Busby says with her husky voice. ”I was attracted to electrical engineering because it was so structured. It was circuit design, and there was only one way it worked. But because my brain thinks in absolutes, the subjective nature of entertainment is hard for me to deal with.
”I always knew that the analytical side of my personality would be how I’d make my living. But I still danced and sang through college, as a release. It didn’t happen until after I graduated college that the acting bug really got unbearable.”
Busby grew up in northern California and began dancing at age 2. In high school she acted in school productions and spent a summer performing with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. But an affinity for math coupled with two academically oriented parents pushed her to the safer path of engineering. She began at MIT, but says she found it too cold, too white, and too staid, so she transferred to UCLA. From there she went on to Shell and Chevron.