When I think back to my most memorable Easter it was long after the stages of neon grass filled baskets and endless jelly beans. It occurred my first year out of college. I had recently ended things at one of those “internships” that looks suspiciously like a 60-hour work week, and I’d started looking for something that I could finagle with last minute auditions. While leafing through BackStage West I came upon an ad for a local company that hired actors to perform at kids’ birthday parties. I sent off my headshot and resume, and within a few days I was hired.
During the training we were taught to do a few simple magic tricks involving a magic wand, including one vital one that gave us the power to remove our fluffy costumed paws. (Yes, the tricks were really high tech.) That way we could use face paint on the kids and make balloon animals. I learned how to twist balloons into the shapes of giraffes, bunnies, swords, and flowers.
Each Friday I’d drive to Culver City to find out who I was going to be for the weekend. Sometimes I was a Power Ranger. Sometimes I was Barbie or Cinderella. Other times I was Scooby Doo, Hello Kitty, or even just a generic dinosaur. (Of course, they never advertised their characters as those specific names for copyright reasons. I was a fashion doll or a mystery-sleuthing hound. You know the drill.) The costumes varied from being quite realistic and well made to a little flimsy around the edges.
At first I really enjoyed it. I was greeted like a princess rock star.
“Oh, my god. Barbie is here. Barbie! At my birthday!”
I regaled the girls with stories about Ken and our dream house. I painted hearts and flowers on their cheeks, made some balloon daisies, and gave my best queen-like wave goodbye.
Then after a few weeks, it somehow took an unfortunate turn. The problems began when I started going to parties for children over seven. I don’t know what it is about seven, but at that point suspicion came to life. It’s not the full-blown affirmation that happens around ten. It’s this nagging and overpowering sense that they might be getting duped. If seven year olds had their own kiddy version of Cheaters, it would mostly involve finding out the real truth behind the Tooth Fairy.
“Betsy, we have this video footage of your mom grasping underneath your pillow while you slept. Do you want to see it?”
It was at that age that I spent a good chunk of my time deflecting the question, “Are you real?”
Was I really Barbie? My North Hollywood dream apartment and dream Chevy Cavalier would have pointed largely to no. But what do you do? The parents have shelled out money for their little one’s party all bent on the idea that this celebrity sighting would be a highlight of the day.
But I should get back to the subject at hand, and that is Easter. On this Easter in question all of those years ago, I was to attend a small gathering dressed, of course, as the Easter Bunny. When I picked up the costume, I was impressed. It had a real lifelike look to it, much better than your average mall-variety bunny. It eased my worries a little, as just a week before I’d had a particularly bad run-in with a ten year old who wouldn’t let it go that I couldn’t possibly be an actual dinosaur at his party.
“You’re extinct!” he screamed at me. I only wish I was kidding.
So this bunny gig boded well. It seemed like it would bring on better days. I drove to East Los Angeles and popped on my bunny head. (We were told to do all of this from outside of viewing distance from the home in case the kids were watching out the windows.) I knocked on the door and was greeted by a mom who was surrounded by a group of seven to ten year olds and one baby. The mother put the baby into my furry arms, left me with the children, and went outside presumably to mingle over fruit salad and mimosas. I started into my shtick, but the kids weren’t having any of it. (Although the baby seemed positively delighted.)
I should mention that playing Barbie or a princess was the easy part. The hard part was when parents would leave you to play games and watch after their sugar-loaded kids while dressed as a fluffy bunny. You know who doesn’t garner respect? A grown adult dressed as a fluffy bunny. I felt as if all of the tools I’d gained in adulthood in keeping order with children were now stripped from me.
(If parents really want their 18-year-olds to consider higher education outside of theatre school, they should show them a variation of those 16 and Pregnant-style precautionary shows. It would pretty much be me wearing a headband to catch all of the sweat that pours into your eyes while wearing an enormous costumed head but that you don’t have access to with your hands. I’d be sneaking up on a house, slipping on my rabbit head and saying, “I didn’t plan on my twenties looking like this…”)
I showed the kids my magic wand. I offered to make balloon animals. But all they wanted to do was have that epic, existential conversation… Was I real? At this point it all seemed to be very surreal being dressed as the Easter Bunny, pondering the questions of our times. Who was I to break the truth to these kids, once and for all?
After a considerable amount of debate, the kids gave up on me and ran outside. I worried what that might do to my tip that I couldn’t keep the kids entertained. I decided the only thing left to do was continue on with it for the amusement of the baby. I removed my paws and started working on a few tricks for her, and then the kids had a change of heart and came back just in time to see me handless (or would that be hand-ful?).
“See! You aren’t real!”
“No,” I sputtered. “It’s all part of the magic. See, but you missed it…” Happy Easter, kids.
It was completely fruitless. I’d sealed my bunny fate as a fraud.
I did a few more parties after that, but I started looking for other things. If I’d wanted to spend that much time pondering my own existence, I would have gone into philosophy.