As a werewolf, how do I better entertain young human children?
May 26, 2022 5:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm an amateur costume performer who does an event or two every year dressed as a realistic anthropomorphic wolf. I love it, and I'm not terrible at it! At least, the kids seem to like me and the adults who run the event keep asking me back. I'd like to put together a better act to entertain the kids for a longer period, but I have no training as either a performer or caretaker, don't have kids myself, and I'm a little lost trying to figure out how to do this...

Here's what I look like when I'm doing this (I'll have a second wolf costume this year as well):
Jasper The Wolf

First of all: yes, I'm a furry. I'd be wandering around in a fursuit no matter what because I find a lot of joy in that, but I got pulled into the childcare area at the event one year, found I really enjoyed entertaining the kids as a performer, and I want to really put some work into developing an act just for them.

In previous (pre-pandemic) years, what I've done is carry around a basket full of little origami wolves and passed them out to young kids, along with hugs, high-fives, and pictures as requested. The costume itself is the chief draw - it moves really well and has a moving jaw, although I don't talk in it except to make speech-like dog noises (think Rowlf crossed with the Peanuts adult speech sounds) - and the act is to look like something interesting and maybe a little scary while behaving the way a real animal might, curious and friendly but also quite shy. There's lots of peekaboo and paw-boops with the little kids, and hugs and pictures with the bigger ones.

My problem is that while that act works great for brief encounters, it really doesn't hold the interest of most kids for more than a few minutes. Without being able to talk it's hard to communicate things like boundaries or directions, so that's an added level of difficulty - I'm kind of a big fuzzy mime with limited facial expressions. As somebody who has absolutely zero formal acting training, and no education in child care or entertainment, what are some resources for learning how to put together an act (either solo or with others), workshop/develop it, and just generally learn how to be a better performer? Specific act ideas/suggestions are also welcome but not primarily what I'm looking for. I'd also be interested in the best way to approach other performers and offer myself up as a sidekick for whatever they're doing.
posted by hackwolf to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Luckily you have a ton of prior art here because Disney has been managing these encounters very successfully for many years. My observation is that it's very hard to make lengthy encounters work with children when you can't talk or do real facial expressions. At Disney parks, the encounters are very short - hug, kiss noise, maybe a little gestured communication, an autograph - and the suited entertainer is always accompanied by a human handler who can "speak for them" and enforce their boundaries. My understanding is that the most useful training for this kind of performance is dance training.
posted by potrzebie at 6:40 PM on May 26, 2022 [7 favorites]

I think this might work very well with partner (I'm picturing someone in a human costume) where you are the sly, mischevious character and they are the straight man who gets tricked or annoyed by your antics. It could be fully mimed or your partner could speak but you would keep to your wolf vocabulary.
posted by metahawk at 7:11 PM on May 26, 2022 [8 favorites]

You could do the standard dog games - play fetch, follow instructions like to sit etc. But since you are a wolf you are rather more than a dog and not really prone to a well trained dog's willingness to please.

I would think you could work with the legends that the kids might be familiar with - Peter and the Wolf or Little Red Riding Hood or the Boy Who Cried Wolf, or the Three Little Pigs. Of course in those the trope makes you the villain so you need to reverse the trope. If you can get a partner they could be the Boy who Cried Wolf, or Riding Hood or Peter, or you could use puppets or dolls to play those parts.

I picture short skits - possibly with the music of Peter and the Wolf playing in the background. In one you could repeatedly prevent a little Red Riding Hood puppet from straying into the woods. When it comes time to "blow the house down" complete failure can be pantomimed - such as huffing and puffing and not being able to blow a birthday candle out and then using an asthma inhaler and trying again. When the boy cries wolf you can immediately look around for the wolf, or else be innocently napping and getting woken up by the boy's cries. A pillow makes a prop to show you are sleeping. When the boy finally cries wolf for the last time you pick up your pillow in disgust and go to sleep somewhere else.
posted by Jane the Brown at 8:26 PM on May 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

Hold up a map, and have a sign asking them to point out where their grandmother lives?
posted by nickggully at 8:48 PM on May 26, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Maybe look into writing about busking? You're not asking for tips, but it's similar short interaction in public where you are sort of appearing to perform free of charge to the audience/passers by, but hope they enjoy it and find it genuinely valuable.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:09 PM on May 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

Your costume is lovely! I really appreciate that it isn't just the usual scary monster but a real, gentle, mischievous animal.
My husband used to do something similar to this with a costumed, non speaking character. It helped to have an activity built in that the children already understood.
For example, in the persona of a rather scary looking man in a shabby black suit, he was in charge of the soft serve ice cream machine, and communicated to the children, by means of gestures only, the ceremony of the ice cream, how they had to line up, and each one had to shake his hand with great seriousness.
It was simple enough that the kids understood immediately, and the ceremony of it made it easier for them to interact as they knew what the rules were.
Having a talking side kick is a great idea.
posted by Zumbador at 10:22 PM on May 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Can you howl while in costume? Brief howl-off "contests" with kids throughout the event. Pairing up with another performer (human 'handler'/interpreter, sheep friend, fellow wolf) is a good idea. Who else is getting asked back by the people holding this event? Ask the coordinators if you could get in contact with the other regulars in advance.

When you talk/email/__ with those performers, your opening is that you'll both be at the event, and you thought you might add ___ to the established routine they're doing. Or, you would like to collaborate on a new, brief skit. If you have good chemistry, your cameo in their routine, or your new skit, can morph into a running bit throughout the event.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:30 PM on May 26, 2022 [3 favorites]

Maybe Looney Tunes cartoons can be an inspiration — there were so many bits in there that were funny to kids but hilarious to adults. Wolves show up so frequently in metaphor and fable — can you pantomime some of those? Like, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or dressing up in a little red riding hood cape…? Kids generally enjoy things that are patently wrong - putting your food in a dog dish, for example. The entire project sounds like a lot of fun.
posted by Silvery Fish at 4:10 AM on May 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

My thought was slapstick. Spin around chasing your tail, and fall down doing it. Then just scratch yourself, as if you intended it all along, etc.
posted by Windopaene at 7:46 AM on May 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

Why don't you just talk ? It might be amusing to chat with a Wolf who's nice to humans, wanting to be part of their World somehow, but who's also trying to resist animal inner urges at the same time. You could be quite a fascinating character.
posted by nicolin at 8:14 AM on May 27, 2022

I would learn to juggle. A juggling wolf would be a sight to see!
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:43 AM on May 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

Apologies if this is stuff you already know about, but I know that Further Confusion has had a couple of panels on performance in fursuit, though I don't remember who ran them; could be worth reaching out to the con organizers to see if they know. It looks like youtube might also have some recordings of similar panels at other cons (found with a search for fursuit performance panel).

Whatever else you do, I would second the advice that you should prioritize having an non-costumed handler with you at all times while performing as you really need situational awareness around kids that you're just unable to have with the costume on.
posted by Aleyn at 9:44 AM on May 27, 2022

OMG, juggling or magic tricks would be amazing, but, paws? Could you manage short stilts. Without the lower body, unicycle.

In your basket, you could have a red hood/ cloak, pull it out, consider it, fling it over your shoulder/ shrug.

If you had a co-performer who speaks, they could tell facts about wolves and dogs.

You are stunning in costume. ❤️
posted by theora55 at 9:50 AM on May 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

I feel like developing your character/persona will be key here. It might be fun to have your character be a wolf who's scared of children, so the kids get to either reassure you or feel powerful. It's counterintuitive, which is exciting/funny for kids, it keeps them from being scared of you, and it gives you a way to be playful with them—you ham it up as a cowering wolf and they can decide their role.
posted by babelfish at 10:58 AM on May 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

This is so awesome!

I think that a second human, on your side, is the most powerful idea. Do you have a niece or nephew or cousin or friend who gets along with you, and gets along with kids, and likes doing skits / riffs / bits / jokes / performing in general?

As mentioned, this is also a really good idea when working with or around kids, for safety reasons. When something goes wrong, a second person on your team means everything.

Watch cartoons. Wile E. Coyote. Sam the Shepherd. Clifford. Random idea: impersonate famous dogs (and wolves?) and get the kids to guess who you are. You could almost do this nonverbally on your end, with a few printed cards you could use to set up the game. GUESS THE DOG.

100% steal anything you find that you think might work!
posted by sixswitch at 3:52 PM on May 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

I think that funny-wolf, straight-man double act suggestion above, has amazing potential. Find a partner and work on some bits. Two person comedy acts were a vaudeville classic for a reason!
posted by notoriety public at 5:57 PM on May 27, 2022 [1 favorite]

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