by Kathy Miller Haines
One of the common motifs in mystery and crime fiction is a character who commits a terrible act in response to something awful that happened to them in the past. They’re seeking revenge against a mother who didn’t love them, a friend who scorned them, or a society that disenfranchised them. It’s helped me a lot when I try to work out the psychology of a character to think about acting theory. See, in method acting, you’re supposed to draw from those experiences you have that are somehow equivalent to what your character is going through. If your character is a murderer, you don’t have to murder someone to see what that’s like. You simply call up those moments when you had similar disregard for life, like when you squashed a bug or shuddered with glee when the mousetrap you set sounded its snap.
I’ve had a relatively easy life. So when I wanted to know what I felt like to be the subject of everyone’s scorn and ridicule, I had to reach pretty deep.
As an actor, I’ve endured a lot of crappy jobs for cash. I’ve wandered around in a grass skirt and mingled with total strangers for someone’s Hawaii themed Christmas party. I’ve shot T-shirts out of a canon at Pirates games. And I’ve been part of the entertainment at so many bar mitzvahs that one rabbi said I should be made an honorary Jew. My worst gig, by far, though was wearing a giant Nickolodeon character costume at a kids event. You know those giant, oversized costumes that swallow the wearer whole, allowing them to be Mickey Mouse, or the Oscar Meyer weiner, or the Pirate Parrot? As adults, we tend to shy away from these enormous cartoons, lest the doofus inside of them attempt to make conversation with us. Kids, it would seem, adore them. After all, it’s the rare opportunity to meet a two dimensional character up close and personal.
So I thought that walking around in a costume for an hour would not only be an easy way to make some coin, but immensely entertaining as well. I like kids, and I liked the idea of helping to fulfill their dreams of wrapping their little arms around someone who, until that point, been only a flash on a TV screen.
If only it had been so easy.
The costume was ridiculously heavy and made for someone much taller and stronger than me. It was in the eighties outside, but inside my enormous noggin it was so hot I was making my own humidity and swimming in my own soup. The genius who had spaced the eye holes had apparently been raised by a colony of fish and didn’t recognize that, typically, those orbs we see out of are mere inches apart. And those sweet adorable kids who I thought would shower me with love? They relished the opportunity to smack the costume, twirl me around until I was disoriented and to hurl wise cracks at me. I was assigned a handler (a friend I might add) who was supposed to help navigate the crowd since my ability to see was greatly reduced, but said handler delighted in watching me be abused by the under ten set.
Worse, my voice had been taken away. The thick suit didn’t allow me to be heard.
So for an hour I stood in a crowd of tormenters, waving and carrying on an endless monologue that no one could hear but me about how I felt about the little hooligans shoving me to and fro. I posed for dozens for pictures, my giant painted on grin hiding the sneer frozen on my face. I grew dizzy from the heat and hoarse from my attempts to scream for help. I also had to pee. Badly.
Remember when Goofy was accused of shoving someone at Disney World? I’d bet my house that guy was asking for it.
When my hour had ended, I was drenched, demoralized, and ready to sign up for an hysterectomy. I also wanted someone to pay, and not just for my hour of work. These feelings faded pretty quickly after I took a shower and downed a gallon of water, but when I want to know what it feels to be abused and mistreated, all I have to do is mentally put on that giant head again.