If you’ve been to Hollywood, you have undoubtedly seen the numerous characters strolling up and down the sidewalks, interacting with tourists and posing for tips. Perhaps you were startled by one of the many Spider-Men, took a picture with an incarnation of Johnny Depp, or ran into the famous Hollywood Superman. But have you ever thought about what it would be like to be one of these costumed characters? I certainly had, and when I finally cracked under the looming cloud of unemployment, I donned a costume and went out to the Boulevard to see what all the hubbub was about. Read on for first-timer tips, insider info, and to see if you have what it takes to become a character on Hollywood Boulevard.

Hollywood: the land of movie premiers, double-decker tourist buses, and sidewalk characters. [Wikipedia]
Hollywood: the land of movie premiers, double-decker tourist buses, and sidewalk characters. [Wikipedia]

Know Your Audience

As a character on Hollywood Boulevard, you are catering to tourists. Don’t forget this when choosing which character to portray. There’s a reason why comic book characters and pop culture icons are so successful in this part of town—people come to Hollywood to experience, well, Hollywood. It’s not a convention, and if you don’t dress as someone at least 80% of the general population will recognize, you’re not going to get much business. I don’t care how good your Cloud Strife cosplay is, no one in Hollywood is going to care. On the flip side, if you aren’t comfortable with your character, others will notice. Choose an icon you know well and are certain you can pull off, and your confidence will increase your performance quality and success rate tenfold.

Quality Control

There are some janky-ass costumes on Hollywood Boulevard. I won’t name any names, but if you’ve been there, you know who I’m talking about. Do not sink to the level of having to harass tourists for tips just because your costume smells like a dumpster and no one wants to approach you. Be prepared to spend good time and money putting together a quality ensemble; it will pay off in the long run.

This gang has got it down. Some others...not so much.
This gang has got it down. Some others…not so much. [BeautifulDecay]

Respect Your Elders

Acting on Hollywood Boulevard isn’t always a solo gig. I guarantee you that other characters will approach you, try to get to know you, and, if you’re lucky, give you some pointers. If veterans try to help you out, take their advice to heart—they’ve been doing this a lot longer than you have, and many of them make good money at it. That said, don’t become clingy. Respect their space and clientele. I found most characters to be friendly and sociable during a lull in the crowd, but when they’re in the zone, give them the space to do their thing.

Be Street Smart

The truth is, Hollywood is not the most affluent neighborhood in Los Angeles, nor is it the idealistic place the media makes it out to be. Sure, the streets are packed with tourists, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have your wits about you. Don’t bring valuables with you, and be cautious at night as you would be anywhere else. Keep any tips you make in a safe, secure place like an inner jacket pocket, and if you ever feel that your safety is at risk, know that it’s time to call it a night.

I chose to dress up as Marty McFly and had some memorable interactions with tourists and fans of Back to the Future.
I chose to dress up as Marty McFly and had some memorable interactions with tourists and fans of Back to the Future.

Fame and Riches

Well, maybe you won’t be quite rich and famous, but you’ll almost definitely be better off on both fronts if you put in the time and effort that’s needed. As a character, you are expected to ask for tips when taking pictures, and are legally allowed to do so. However, you are by no means allowed to force anyone to pay you, and it is all around considered rude to refuse to take a picture with someone if they can’t or won’t tip. Not to mention you’ll be quickly categorized into the pool of less-than-savory characters on the Boulevard. When someone requests a picture with you, suggest a tip, but leave it at that. Many find it helpful to incorporate unique, safe, interactive props into their performance as to better engage tourists and make picture-taking more appealing. Experiment with what works for you, and don’t be afraid to mix it up and try new things.

Some Points to Remember

• Plan your character around your audience
• Don’t half-ass your costume
• Respect your colleagues and don’t act like you know it all (pro tip: you don’t)
• Don’t be afraid to ask for and collect tips, and use engaging props to boost your success rate

Be aware that even if you’re into cosplay, being a sidewalk character in Hollywood isn’t for everyone. If you’d like to try it out, go for it, but remember that the most important thing is to have fun!

Spock and I (Kirk) made some friends our first night out on the Boulevard.
Spock and I made some friends our first night out on the Boulevard.

Have these tips helped you in your journey to becoming a Hollywood Boulevard character? Do you have experience in a similar setting? Tell us your story in the comments!

Leave a Reply