JUST CALL IT THE METHOD—not Stanislavsky’s, Dean Schoenewald’s. Reaching deep inside to convey a sense of his art, Schoenewald tells his students, “Stop being yourself. None of you exists—only the character. You’re not even there.”
They are there, of course—six of them, in Nashville, looking pretty silly in their gorilla-head masks and DayGlo costumes. And they’re paying for this—$800 each to take Schoenewald’s three-day Mascot Mania master class. There’s no question that Schoenewald is the master; he has played 17 different mascots in his 18-year career and even tutored the Chicago Bulls’ Da Bull on the elements of mascot humor and style.
Which, of course, involves more than just strutting on the sidelines; it also requires people skills. “Death in the mascot world,” Schoenewald, 36, advises his acolytes, “is a kid screaming [in fear]. You have to get down and let them reach out and touch you.”
And it also entails proper hydration. “Drink water four hours before the game,” says Schoenewald. “Remember, it’s 125 degrees inside that costume.” Good advice, for sure, but that’s just the warm-up. Schoenewald also helps his students hone dance, juggling, spinning and basketball-shooting skills and works with them on their skits. He criticizes, he praises—and he takes them to arenas so they can work a live crowd.
Since 1995, when he opened his school, Schoenewald has sent about 40 of his students out into the sports world, including Ed McBride, who is in his second year as Dinger, the three-horned purple dinosaur of baseball’s Colorado Rockies. “I still stand by Dean’s belief,” says McBride, “that you kiss women, ignore men and pat kids on the head.”
Schoenewald made his own major-league debut in 1979, after he showed up in Philadelphia for an Eagles game and worked the stands as Bird Brain, a goofy green-and-white bird of prey. “I just tried to get laughs,” he says, and he got enough of them to stay on for 15 years. Then he became Duncan, a big, furry, blue character of indeterminate species who hung out at games of pro basketball’s New Jersey Nets. Never one to be typecast, he has also played the National Hockey League as the Shark for the San Jose Sharks and the Lion for the Ottawa Senators.
Now semiretired from the mascot game, Schoenewald, who lives alone in Nashville, expends most of his energy passing on the wisdom he acquired as Bird Brain et al. How seriously does he take being a mascot? “Think of the game,” he tells his students, “as an intermission from your act.”