Never let anyone see pieces of your costume out of context or not on you. That's akin to a child seeing a beardless Santa Claus hunched over his taco salad in a mall food court or spying Batman washing his tights in his cowl in his bathtub. It's a no-no and it destroys the already fragile illusion.
Seeing Toyota Center devoid of people and lights is eerie. Everything echoes and the A/C is turned off except where it's needed. It costs almost four grand a day to cool the complex
during peak usage times. We didn't get to visit the main floor, as it was being refurbished for the coming Rockets season.
This is the first year that Robert Boudwin, the man who has played Houston Rockets mascot Clutch the Bear for 16 years, has opened his breadth of knowledge to a group of young aspiring mascots. For eight hours he would tell us the tricks of the trade, from costume care, war stories, to the fundamentals of silent communication.
One camper, a 12-year old professional child clown, came from Oklahoma for this class. He's the mascot for his town's high school team. Another kid came from Pearland, our own hometown. Seeing him unpack the famous Oiler character brought back memories of our botched mascot heist. We are saving that story for a later date.
Boudwin started the class by having us don a Clutch mask and asking us to each hype up the class with our own routine. To the strains of Gary Glitter's "Rock & Roll Part II," I did this
off-the-cuff six-shooter thing before proposing marriage to a crowd member and giving her a free camp shirt. It was not even 10 a.m. and I was already plotting some way to get the Houston Press to buy me a mascot outfit.
Boudwin schooled us on the dos and don'ts of mascotting. Remain active; you are a live-action cartoon. Every movement should be exaggerated and massive. Always stay in costume and character around your audience, and hide all superfluous communication. Be sure to stay rested and hydrated and drink as much water as possible. This isn't a job for drinkers, obviously.
A kid asks about a tip he had heard about not wearing deodorant, which is quickly laughed off. Another inquires about cooling mechanisms, like fans and ice vests. True pros don't use any sort of cooling system; it's just a part of the job. That's for amateurs and people on street corners handing out coupons for tacos, says Boudwin.
As for having to pee while in the suit, if you are doing your duty entertaining folks and sweating it up you will never have to stop and drop costume to do that. All your liquids will come out through your pores naturally.
There was an intensity to these performers that is hard to quantify, a sort of mixture of eye-of-the-tiger athleticism and show-business wonder. Depending on the size of your costume, you are flying half-blind, mostly deaf, and encumbered by a sweaty and restraining suit. Never again should you poke fun at Junction Jack or Toro while they are toiling on the field of stands at Minute Maid Park or Reliant Stadium, especially during the hottest times of the season.
These people work as hard as some of the players do. The only difference is that you will never recognize them on the street, nor do they want you to know what they look like. For the high school kids who are mascots, the job is no different or less important than the star varsity quarterback or the hotshot running back.
If you are a good mascot and love the craft enough you can make thousands upon thousands
of people happy they way Boudwin does year in and out. He's already been inducted into the very real Mascot Hall Of Fame, an honor he received in 2006 during his first year of eligibility. In the industry, he's a seven-foot rock star with a 92-inch waist.