The Mother-Goose-does-Vegas tone of the TCF Holidazzle Parade seemed at odds with my method acting background. With more than two hundred and fifty lighted characters brought to life by a different group of volunteer actors each of the twenty-one evenings the parade marches between November 25 and December 23, a cohort of dressers, lighting technicians, and radio-equipped pacers is assigned to line up the characters and move them out, and with utmost efficiency: The cast goes from its minivans to Liberace-esque splendor in a mere forty-five minutes.
The lure of revealing my inner gingerbread boy via twenty-four volts of colored lights proved too much. I recruited a friend and her neighbor, too—like me, they are both highly artistic individuals committed to a brave and honest representation of whatever characters we were assigned. Most roles are filled by employees of the corporations that sponsor of the parade, but every night extra costumes are assigned to standby actors like ourselves.
As everyone knows, relaxation is the foundation of “The Method.” Without this foundation, the technique sinks into the quicksand of chaotic convention. It was hard to relax as the best roles were claimed—Cinderella, the suit of cards, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, and my favorite, Bo Peep. Adding to the tension, many of the characters seemed to come in pairs—Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, the King and Queen of Hearts—but there were three of us. Giddy groups of amateurs swarmed the mezzanine level of the Minneapolis Hyatt and joined the fray in a conference room-cum-staging area. As check-in time came and went, the anxiety became insupportable. Recalling my training—“the actor is encouraged to release tension in the neck and throat with a long, sustained aaaaaahhhhhh or a short, staccato HAH!”—I executed the latter just as I leaned over the registrar’s shoulder to glimpse what roles remained on the list. She apparently was not accustomed to working with professional actors.
“You three, sign here, get your costumes. The parade starts in fifteen minutes,” she said with an edge of peevishness. We signed next to the Three Little Pigs and went wee wee wee all the way to the costume room, where we each were fitted with sixty pounds of uncomfortable and inescapable pigwear.
The premise behind method acting is to avoid acting. Rather, you inhabit the character. You find the truth and own it, as Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and James Dean did. I didn’t know which truth to own (straw, sticks, or bricks) but quickly discovered there was more to this modern interpretation of the pigs than a healthy appetite and rounded hocks, and it started with a twelve-pound battery pack.
Let me give credit for our stunning performance to our personal dresser, without whose succinct, if terse, directions there would have been no Three Little Pigs. She literally took us by the hand through the cacophony—the scampering blind mice, costume racks, coat stacks, cables, tables, techies, and yards of fake fur—to the battery station. With the incredibly heavy batteries strapped on suicide-bomber-style, I felt a great hazard to myself and others, not only for the danger of electrocution but also because once in motion, I was powerless to stop the momentum. It would not do to bowl over innocent merrymakers in my debut performance.
A proper pig has a pink fur pajama body with built-in hoop belly, a light-encrusted chest plate in the shape of a bow, trotter shoe covers, three-fingered hoof/gloves, and a head like a vintage deep-sea diving helmet. I obediently put feet in holes, held arms out, stood still, and tried not to panic as I lost touch with the boundaries of my body one extremity at a time. With the placement of the gloves and, finally, the cavernous head, I couldn’t hear, see, or scratch. A bit of light came through a four-inch circular screen in the pig’s mouth. It opened downward, but by bending back, a slightly more forward view was possible. The one-size-fits-most head was supposed to rest on the shoulders, but, mine being narrow, it fell all the way down, pinioning my arms and completing the vertebrae compaction initiated by the battery pack. Three blind pigs, we were led to the back door of the Hyatt where we had our picture taken with a police officer.
The dresser handed us off to a pacer, a harried stage manager of sorts, who steered us down six scary steps and a curb onto Nicollet Mall. Rousing band music and a general hubbub of cheering and whistles indicated we were onstage and the show had indeed started for those at the front of the parade. It struck us at once—the lights were on, the crowd was shiny-faced and delirious, expecting action. I sensed this was the time for bold strokes of pigdom. We three pigs had just touched noses for a shouted collaboration when the pacer broke in with this artless direction: “Just keep moving, high-five the kids, and wiggle your tails every once in a while. They love that.” Consummate (though non-union) professionals, we withheld the abuse this rube deserved. At any rate, a combined modality of high-fives, wiggling (we saw this as an enlightened pig truth), and sassy circle dancing was formulated. And well received. Eight blocks fully wired and attired is but child’s play to the trained actor, though I hereby report that pigs do sweat.
While the critics cast aspersions about the validity of burlesque and pointed out that the audience was stoned on hot chocolate, the Three Pigs were alight with the love of our craft, of life and fake fur, and of our adoring audience as we rode the bus back to the Hyatt. It’s all about the work.—Sarah Barker