Julio Ramazini wobbled out of his green room haven, which was nothing more than a large, empty room with three chairs, a broken game of giant Connect Four, the personal items of the Chick-fil-A cow who left minutes beforehand and the much needed air conditioning. People lounging on the chairs in the Heritage HOA’s clubhouse turned their gaze to him, a childish delight filling their eyes and a smile escaping their lips.
He then made his way to the double glass doors that served as his barrier between privacy and the public. His wife, Kelli Ramazini, snuck out the door first to whisper to the general manager, Laurie Lorensen. “He’s ready,” she said. Lorensen clapped in delight as Julio pulled Kelli back inside to face him.
“Do you want me to carry two waters,” she asked. He sighed at the inaccessibility of such a commodity. “I can’t take my hands out of the suit,” he said.
He finally stepped out the door and grabbed the sole attention of the hundreds of children and parents that gathered for the festival. A chorus of “it’s the Easter Bunny” filled the air as Julio, the Easter Bunny, had officially arrived.
Julio followed the sidewalk to the center of the clubhouse driveway with activities such as food, balloons and pony rides situated all throughout the driveway. As in unison, a group of a hundred parents and children surrounded Julio, snapping shots at the first glimpses of this year’s bunny.
A semi-organized line formed in front of Julio as parents pushed their children forward for a photo. Julio high-fived the children as they slowly look him up and down, deciding whether they want to get closer or not. Kelli stood at the front of the line, keeping watch of the chaos as well as an eye on her husband, checking for any sings of fatigue.
“He sacrifices a lot,” Kelli said. “It’s a claustrophobic’s nightmare inside that suit.”
Each parent had a sole intent in mind: to get a decent photo of his or her child actually looking at the camera and not screaming with the bunny, which is easier attempted than achieved. A handful of children put forth a fear-stricken battle with their parents to remain a comfortable distance away from the furry friend, testing the extents of their boundaries.
“Come here buddy,” a dad called his son away from Julio, showing him the picture. “A perfect shot. That shot was perfect,” said the small eight-year-old boy as he drags his Easter basket, still empty of eggs.
The line moved slow as child after child varying in age from infant to middle school pose with the Easter classic. Kelli looked at the self-formulated line and shook her head. “We were trying to not form a line, but it just starts,” she said, referring to a conversation earlier with Lorensen.
Lorensen greeted Julio and Kelli to the clubhouse just almost an hour beforehand, orientating them to the nature of the event. She then pointed to the direction of their green room, which they share with the Chick-fil-A mascot.
Julio carried his 4-foot container for the costume to the room and began the process of transforming himself into Peter Cottontail, changing from the Hawaiian flower print shorts and t-shirt he wore into the thick suit of synthetic fur.
Julio and Kelli are entertainers by trade, mainly performing gigs as clowns and working with B3 Entertainment. Both met through the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and years ago decided to split to start forming their own family.
Just this morning the two of them had watched the children of two other clowns, falling asleep with the couple’s 12-year-old daughter at a pond, which was a slow morning for them. The typical day entails at least three gigs, requiring makeup in the car and restaurants still in costume on busy days.
“This job requires patience and care and a good feeling inside,” said Julio.
“A lot of people think it’s easy,” said Kelli. “As an entertainer, you have to be very emotional and vulnerable with the crowd.”
“I think everybody has a little Peter Pan to them,” Julio said.
Now, they prepared to entertain hundreds of children by the end of the two hour event the day before Easter.
Kelli’s gaze drifted towards Julio as she grabbed his back suddenly. “Careful, you’re going to hit your ears on the fan,” she said.
The Chick-fil-A cow suited up next to them. “Can you still move your arms freely,” asked the woman aiding the soon-to-be cow. “I think the cow should go naked,” Julio said to the woman helping suit the young employee after watching the woman try to shove the large head in position. The employee starts to reply as the woman chastises the girl for talking.
“What, you can’t talk cow,” teased Julio. “It’s a corporate thing,” Kelli whispered. “You take your job too seriously,” said Julio to the woman just before the woman and the cow exited to the festival.
Within an hour, Julio had to face the nature of disappointed parents as Lorensen led him to the first Easter egg hunt, the stroller-pushing, basket-carrying crowd following him to the plot of grass. He usually stopped for the desperate plea, “Can we take one picture super duper fast?”
For the rest of the afternoon, Julio switched from announcing the start of hunts to appeasing parents’ requests to take one more picture while the mid-afternoon heat created a sauna inside of the suit.
In the past, Julio had to take his hat off to throw up due to the high temperature. To avoid heat exhaustion, Julio escaped to the green room two times throughout the event.
“Can I get a napkin,” Julio asked Kelli as he entered the green room and started to take off his suit. “Everything is just like water.” Julio sat under one of the two ceiling fans in the room; Kelli stretched on the ground.
“I still don’t get why Mr. Bunny lays eggs like who made that,” he said. “It’s like why does Santa go down the chimney.”
He went silent for a few minutes and looked at the floor, perhaps pondering this last question or letting his thoughts drift. Kelli continues to stretch on the floor at peace and at ease.
He started to retell a clown performance at SeaWorld last year when he learned his grandmother from Brazil had just passed. “Today is the day; today one year ago my grandmother passed,” he said. “Wow, one year already,” Kelli asked. “That was such a hard show to do especially since I wasn’t able to see her,” he said. He drank a sip of water and looked off into space, a peaceful silence occupies the room once again.
He quickly returned to his playful character personality. “The best part of this job is just the children’s hugs,” he said, getting up from lying on the floor and picking up the bunny suit container.
“It’s hard to explain, but I have a nephew who’s two-years-old who I never spend time with,” he said. “One thing I miss a lot is him.”
He then followed Kelli out the door. A man patted him on the back and said, “I hardly recognized you now.”
Kelli and Julio then exited the same double glass doors, the crowd having since dissipated. They then walked towards their car with plans to take their friends’ children to see the new “Batman vs. Superman” movie, putting away the costume for a while. The next day, however, they started again: another act, another gig, another day.