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Filling some big shoes, literally
As I danced around on St. James Street in front of Canad Inns Stadium, shaking my tail and waving at cars without tripping over the beach ball-sized shoes on my feet, I realized I was grinning from ear to ear.
It’s not something I ever thought I’d do. In fact, I don’t think it’s something the average person would ever get a chance to experience. To be honest, when my editor came to me with the idea of dressing up as one of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ famous mascots and writing about the experience, I was a little apprehensive; maybe even a little frightened.
My first thought was: "I am going to fall on my face and completely embarrass myself." My next thought was: "I am going to die of heat exhaustion."
Thankfully, I didn’t succumb. I danced, I posed for photos, and I walked around the stadium grounds and owned the fact that I was dressed up as Buzz, one half of the famous mascot duo of Buzz and Boomer.
And yes, as you might have guessed, the costume smelled like a hockey dressing room. I could hardly see because my costumed head kept slipping down. Despite the fact my feet were suddenly the size of beach balls, I couldn’t believe what a rush I felt after I put the costume on.
You can be anyone you want when you put on a costume. I was no longer Dani Finch, journalist; I was Buzz, the bird with swagger.
A week earlier, I sat down with Bombers’ mascot co-ordinator James Deighton, who’s played Boomer for 24 years. I asked him what kind of advice he had to offer a rookie like me.
"It’s so multidimensional, that’s the thing people don’t get. You get the ability to experience a lot more than people can even contemplate, especially if you’re a Bomber mascot," he told me.
Buzz and Boomer were born in 1984. Deighton has been playing Boomer almost since the beginning.
"The experience ranges from just going to small events where you’re entertaining kids, to being able to perform at the Grey Cup. It’s amazing. At Bomber games you control the volume switch for 30,000 people. I think that’s why I’ve lasted 24 years — I haven’t had a boring moment doing it," he said.
While I didn’t entertain 30,000 people (in fact, I don’t think I could), I definitely earned a few honks from passersby.
It certainly wasn’t boring. It was difficult, though. Even though Deighton had warned me the job isn’t as easy as it looks, before he had, I was under the impression it would be a piece of cake.
Then he told me a story that set me straight. He told me about his first mascot experience, back in 1988. He was tricked into covering for an injured Buzz during a game by a friend. Like me, he thought it would be easy.
"I was terrible. You learn right away that you’ve got to be able to entertain, and unless you’ve done it before or are a natural at it, it takes time to learn," he said.
In addition to playing Boomer, Deighton also recruits and trains new mascots.
His advice to newbies like me?
• Drink lots of water. As you might imagine, it gets pretty hot in the costume. On game days mascots can lose anywhere between five and eight pounds of water.
• Wear a bandana. It helped. It kept the sweat out of my eyes, and the helmet from rubbing up against my forehead every time it slipped down.
• Take instruction well. This one, I’m not sure I succeeded at, but not for lack of trying. I had a hard time remembering I wasn’t allowed to talk.
• Always be approachable.
• Keep in mind you’re representing the Blue Bombers. People will always notice poor behavior. For the record, I was on my best behavior.
I was fortunate to have an opportunity to work with Mark Dolphin, one of the people who usually dress up as Buzz. He joined me on what I called my mascot adventure and was happy to offer me some on-the-job advice.
"Act like a dude. Buzz is a ladies’ man. Exaggerate everything. Quit bouncing, you’re not a Muppet, you’ve got to have swagger. Be cool."
So much to think about when all you’re really worried about it not falling on your face.
Dolphin has played Buzz for two years, but started out as a mascot for the University of Winnipeg. He also plays Mick E. Moose at Winnipeg Jets home games, and it’s obvious by his enthusiasm he loves his job.
"You feed off people’s energy and it’s all about the kids. You could have a horrible day and have a little kid that shouts out the character you’re doing and you see the smile on their face and your troubles just disappear. It’s great," he said.
So how did he feel about a rookie stepping into his oversized shoes?
"I think it’s great. Anytime we get an opportunity to give exposure to what we do and give another person an opportunity to be the character is awesome. You pulled it off, and you did a really good job," he told me.
OK, so maybe didn’t do as poorly as I thought.
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(1 of 17 articles for this week)06/12/2013 1:00 AM 0
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