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Being Elvis always draws strong reactions, as it does here at Hallelujah Night in Fredericksburg. Photo by Matt Ward

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On Being Elvis

by Phil Houseal
Dec 16, 2009


Everyone should be Elvis. At least for a day.

In one of my ever-changing roles in one of my myriad jobs I had the duty of dressing up as Elvis. It was supposed to be a gag, a one-shot stint for a photo shoot to help market a program.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. When I pulled on the white polyester jumpsuit, black wig, and aviator sunglasses, I became Elvis.

I didn’t even have to wiggle my hips, sneer, or croon a note, but people reacted.

Of course Elvis is a universal phenomenon that cuts across all cultures and ages and interests. Everyone in the world knows Elvis.

I walked up and down Main Street in two communities. I went to chamber offices, tire stores, bars, banks - I even showed up at the urologist dressed as Elvis (talk about turning heads).

I drew the most charming response in the drive-through at the dry cleaners. Decked out in sequins, wig, scarf, and trademark sunglasses, I rolled down the window and drawled, “Darlin’, I’m here to pick up my dry cleaning.” The young lady at the window froze for a moment, then asked in all sincerity and innocence, “What’s the name?”

Inside the Elvis garb, I began categorizing people’s reactions. They fell into three categories.

The most gratifying response was total belief. These people - mostly ladies - cried out “Oh, it’s Elvis” and rushed up for a hug or photograph, eyes dancing as they played along with the fairytale.

Another one-third of the people had the opposite reaction - discomfort or even disdain and disgust that a grown man would dress up and look foolish when it wasn’t even Halloween. These people kept their distance or walked away.

The most unexpected reaction was “no reaction.” Some folks just accepted the fact that Elvis would walk into a bank or doctor’s office to transact business. They neither acknowledged nor ignored me, but treated me as if I were a ficus plant. I remember one lady who simply murmured, “Excuse me,” barely looking up as she walked past to continue her filing. Love me! Hate me! But don’t ignore The King!

These are common responses, according to entertainer Shannon Anderson who spent 16 consecutive days dressed “in clown” on a trip to Moscow.

“It teaches you a lot about people,” the owner of the Old Thyme Fun Shoppe said of her role as Sunshine the Clown. “It is often their own insecurities that keep them from playing with you. But they will usually come around if you leave them alone and just keep playing.”

Dressing up as a character also teaches you a lot about yourself. It’s like the whole adventure of being a teenager and trying on roles - rebel, sage, Casanova, rock and roller (unfortunately, I got stuck on “geek”).

“Your inhibitions are lessened,” Anderson noted. “I act in a way people want to act, but are afraid to try. It is having a mask to hide behind when I put on my face. I am in a different place where I say, good, I don’t have to be me today!”

I have no desire to stop being “me” and become an Elvis impersonator, despite several calls from groups asking me to appear as The King for their fundraiser or birthday party. I have moved on to my next dress up gig as Captain “Philcard” of the star ship “Ed-erprise” (you’ll see it in your mailbox soon enough) - and I must say, there is something compelling about pulling on that iconic red and black shirt that makes you want to hit the Comm pin and growl, “Engage”).

But I treasured my time as Elvis. And I encourage you, when you tire of being yourself, to try being someone else.

“Dressing up is like virtual reality or live theater - and life is short on that,” Anderson said. “It’s magic!”