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From the mascot’s mouth – notes from a costume performer, part 1

10 real challenges facing a mascot performer

the_toony_bin_cat_costumeMark Velvick is a talented costume performer based in the south of England. Mark, through his company The Toony Bin, has played a wide range of characters from football mascots to well-known children’s characters. In this blog, Mark shares his experiences and 10 challenges faced when performing as a mascot character:
From my perspective, mascot and costume character performance is one of the best jobs in the world. Even the most rewarding jobs can have their obstacles, however, so here are my top 10 in no particular order:

If you can’t stand the heat…

Wearing a mascot costume is a literally ‘hot’ topic even if you’re standing still for a meet and greet. The more active you are and the higher the ambient temperature, the worse it will be. Staying hydrated is a must during these times. After all, the worst thing a mascot can do (aside from de-head in public) is pass out during a performance.
This is something I’ve seen happen and something I’ve even experienced. Heat exhaustion starts from the moment you begin to feel unwell. If you start to feel faint or dizzy, it’s time to get out of there. Other signs are nausea, excessive sweating, rapid/weak pulse and cramps. You may experience one or all of these but knowing the signs can save you a lot of hassle and even save your life!

Peekaboo! Wait, where are you?

Some costumes have more limited vision than others and many people still don’t understand this about mascots. I have heard people many times utter the words; “Look at the camera”, in moments where I’d be lucky to see the person even saying that. You need to be aware of the limitation of vision your costume has. Walking into or tripping over things you can’t see is pretty embarrassing. Not as much as tripping over people though…

Watch who you’re stepping on!

You’ll often be walking or dancing about, only to find your limited vision filled by someone who has walked straight out in front of you without a second thought. Try as hard as you might you will sometimes trip over people. It’s best to let your minder apologize and explain the situation whilst you just do your best to act sorry for what happened. Whether it was your fault or not, just be apologetic. Some situations can be defused with just a simple “Sorry”.

These feet were made for walking… right?

Segueing neatly into the next challenge, ‘mobility’. Some costumes are great and let you perform in any way you think works best for the character. Others… well, others look wonderful but the most you’ll be able to do is shimmy on the spot or wave a little. Walking is out of the question sometimes and you’ll either be reduced to a waddle, or your steps will be so small you might as well just stand still.

Breathe in.

Nothing to do with your respiratory system, think more about getting a new pair of jeans. There isn’t much worse than showing up for a mascot gig and finding the costume was meant for someone half your size (this did happen to me once). There are times where you think you’ll fit because you’re smaller than the maximum height, only to find the costume completely swamping you. Knowing the recommended performer height in advance is a must.

What’s that smell?

I’m not talking about breaking wind in costume (though I will recommend not doing that), I’m referring to some companies who are happy for a mascot to make them money, but never willing to spend any on maintenance. Some costumes will have several years of sweat in them and I feel sorry for anyone who picks the short straw for those like I have a few times. If you see black mould growing anywhere inside the costume, turn the gig down. Your health is more important.

Do you feel a breeze?

This does bring up another issue I’ve faced a few times. On occasion the costume will be spotless and clean at first glance, only to find everything inside is falling apart. From cracks in the plastic head to broken harnesses, torn fabric to missing body parts, there’s no real excuse for such things except being too cheap. Mascots are a big investment that someone is supposed to perform in. It’s like a mechanic trying to fix a car with half the tools missing, it just won’t work as well.

Ow, my neck!

The few times I have managed to injure myself in costume, my most common injury is neck strain. Mascot heads often sit on the performer’s own head or shoulders. Either way, it is regularly supported by the neck due to the helmet or harness inside. Taking regular breaks every 20-40 minutes can help reduce this problem and proper stretching will also help. If the head is supported by a metal rod down the back, just make sure it won’t injure your spine during a performance. Again; your health is most important.

What did I ever do to you!?

On some occasions, you’ll be the target of harassment. Mascots are not supposed to take on members of the public so it’s down to your minder to deal with the problem. Never actively retaliate against someone who is ‘attacking’ you. Defend where possible until they’re gone or get your minder to remove you from the area. If security is available such as at a theme park or shopping centre, make sure your minder knows to get their attention before your first time out as the character. Try not to lose your head, it’s not uncommon for these kinds of people to try and remove it…

Mind the minder.

Oh, the joys of working with a minder who can not only help to guide you but can interact on your behalf and improve the overall experience for everyone. What a shame they’re so rare!
I have lost count of the number of times I’ve been to an event or gig and the minder that was drafted in last minute was completely clueless. Often poking at their phone whilst you’re performing, unsure of how to help you dress and ignorant of your gestures when you need assistance or a break, despite going over it repeatedly beforehand. A terrible minder can spoil events no matter how good a performer you are. If you’re able to get through without, it’s better than having a bad one.

Despite these 10 challenges, I still love mascot and costume character performance. To be honest, these unfavourable times are few and far between. Rare as they are, it’s always best to know in advance and to prepare for all eventualities (like buying shin pads)!

Prepare for the worst, perform like the best.

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