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It was about halfway through our first Plaza Inn breakfast set, and I was over at one end of the restaurant near the windows, working the room in my baggy cat suit, walkin' and wavin' with Pinocchio, when we got waved over by a large group of very friendly and talkative Italians. One of the younger women, who could speak English, asked for Pinocchio's autograph on a paper napkin. I waited my turn to sign and watched as Pinocchio obliged and a smile of recognition passed across the woman's face and she said something to the group, which got a really positive reaction. I signed my autograph: G-I-D-E-O-N in a large script, quite easily with my gloved hand instead of the usual three-fingered furry mitt. But when she read it, she frowned and passed it along. When I walked down one side of the table, the formerly friendly Italians kept saying "Bad kitty, bad kitty" to me and shooing me away.
As a performer, I take my character work seriously. Really. No matter who the character might be.
On that magical Main Street USA, a model of a town that never was, an avenue without dirt or debris, where the streets were always clean and there were never any homeless people to step over, I would encounter many Europeans who had been told the original versions of these fairy tale stories in their native tongues by their grandparents who had heard them in turn from their own grandparents and so on back to before the founding of our own optimistic, if woefully na�ve, nation. Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, King Arthur. These were their stories. But I had been shown a bigger, brighter, shinier version of the real thing, and I had bought into it with every fiber of my adolescent being. The castle in the heart of the Magic Kingdom had always seemed more real to me than any outside of Orange County. But I was beginning to see the difference between the pixie-dust-soaked tales of my youth and the darker more grim stories that the rest of the world knew to be true. For example, I knew that the character costume that I was currently walking around in, Gideon the cat, was supposed to be a bad guy. But as far as villains go, I thought he was pretty tame, even by Disney standards. I had forgotten the original.
Think of a curtain on the stage of a big Broadway theatre. You cross the threshold and the darkness backstage gives way to a blinding light, and when the spotlight hits you, bang! At least, that's how it all seemed to me in my ludicrous cat suit. By walking onstage in costume, as a member of Pinocchio's cartoon family, I was an actor putting on a show! I was part of that magic.