I’ve spent five solid days in and out of a mascot suit, rehearsing and performing a show to hundreds of screaming kids. Every time I don my smelly, vinegary costume I transform into a champion of magnitudinous joy. With a heavy head, fat suit and puffy hands I tax my body to its limit as I bring the imaginary world of kids fiction to reality. I risk temporary blindness as sweat drips into my eyes, burning them zestfully. I relish that sweat in my eyes, it tells me that I’m owning what I’ve been given. This is a rite of passage, this sweaty baptism. You can do Shakespeare, I’ll do Mascoteer.
There are days when doing this well is exceedingly difficult. I’ve performed at midday on a sweltering, summer day on an open-air stage. On those days all I can visualize is an ice cold Windhoek Lager waiting for me backstage like a mirage in the desert. If I can just make it through the last bout of on-stage acrobatics, if I can just get passed the horde of screaming children and their camera phone toting parents who furiously demand an instant selfie. If I can just get passed the drunken jock who hurls mockeries at me as I pass by. If I can see it, I can believe it, I can do it.
I tell myself I can quickly eek away as the last note of my theme song fades out. Perhaps no-one will notice me abscond to the changing room. But my bright, neon coloured, over-sized head glows like a lone flame in the darkness, pulling multitudes of tiny humans to me like a tractor beam.
If I could just get out of the sun then this dollop of sweat won’t creep glacially down the back of my neck and down the small of my back. If I can just get out of the sun there won’t be pools of salt water in the tiny pockets of space between where the inside of my suit meets my skin – maybe it won’t look like I wet myself. Maybe when I finally get to the dressing room I won’t have to rip off all my clothes in a re-enactment of an Axe advertisement. Maybe, just maybe – there’ll be some gorgeous groupie waiting to take my autograph and commend me on a jaw-dropping, Tony award winning performance. And hopefully while standing in all my glory and looking back at myself in the mirror I won’t find a rash under my armpit from all that mucky and gooey giration.
As I finally get to the dressing room I’m left with 5 minutes to realise that the beer I so fantasized about will not be guzzled down because it was not included in my rider (if I had one) and I realise the gorgeous groupie I imagined is really just my colleague, with his hairy chest and potbelly. So much for my big dream of playing London’s West End. I strip my clothes down to my briefs and flop down into the nearest chair.
At the door we hear a knock, it’s our producer – he wants us to put our suits back on because a group of fans want to meet us. We look at each other reluctantly, we’ve hardly had a moment to catch our breath and now this man wants us to go back out there. We are not even getting paid for a meet and greet. Our producer says the group of children who want to meet us are blind. They enjoyed the show and they heard our voices and they want to meet their heroes.
Suddenly all of my exhaustion fades into insignificance. I put on my heavy head, shimmy on my sticky fat suit and slide my gooey fingers into my puffy gloves. The blind children meet us hand to hand as we get down on our knees and softly speak to them in our character voices. Their hands feel the fabric of our suits as they admire us. Through my suit’s mouth I can see the wonder on each child’s face. One of them says, “I have all your DVDs! I like the one where you went to Table Mountain.” I say, “Oh really, and what about the one where we went on holiday?” “I really like that one too!”
A tinge of emotion pierces my heart as I realise the grandeur of this moment. This child might never forget the day she met her favourite character – it was well worth the beating sun and the heat. It was well worth the odor that can only be washed out in vodka. It was well worth wearing on my skin the sweat of numerous mascoteers who have gone before me. It was well worth my drama degree and the three years I studied acting with the best of the best. It was well worth quitting my corporate job and going full-time. It was well worth boarding taxis and getting mugged and beat up by three tik addicts on the way to an audition. For this moment, it was well worth it. As the children are escorted away, I peep through my mouth-hole and wave them goodbye.
Days later I get a message from our booker, “Josh, are you keen to be in the suit for a show next week?”
“But of course!”