On a muggy Saturday morning in August I entered the Big Nazo Lab a man, but I exited an eleven-foot tall astro worm grandma named Worma. My extraterrestrial companions for the day were Worma’s daughter Cornea the cycloptic troll and her husband, the bombastic Commander Glorbo, their son Glammo the astro troll and the family cyberdog Grumbles. You won’t be learning who any of the men or women really are under their masks. This is to maintain the illusion so that their audience won’t get hung up their Earthly insecurities. Most people won’t dance with a stranger on the street, but they will dance with an alien.
I got a crash course in being Worma. As Glorbo explained how the mechanics of my new body would work, Cornea helped me into a modified hiking backpack rigged with an aluminum pole that would be my new spine.
“Stand with a wide stance, that way when you see the giant worm it doesn’t look like it has tiny little hips,” she instructed. Then she fitted me with my long, foam tentacles and I practiced making them wriggle until we left.
We arrived at the Looff Festival in Riverside’s Crescent Park to the sounds of a Beatles cover band. It was high noon and I was about to start dancing under a personal foam and rubber sweat lodge with a heavy metal pole strapped to my back. I asked Glammo for some last minute advice.
“Just be the best damn worm you can be,” he told me.
Ten minutes in I thought I might collapse from the heat. As I struggled to stand, they were bouncing around the festival like we’ve all seen them do a thousand times. They never falter, they never slow down.
The whole time I kept thinking about what Glorbo had said was the key to being Worma: “No one expects an elephant to start giving them attention. Just being an elephant is enough for people. Your character’s along that level. You should always be doing your thing and eventually, in that process, finding your system.”
This became my mantra, and eventually the heat wasn’t so intense and my new body wasn’t so uncomfortable. I still got caught on a lot of low branches, and I probably wasn’t walking with as wide a stance as I should have been, but I found something that could be called a system.
Throughout the day, I experienced moments that only happen between a human and a space bug. People shook my tentacles, gave me high fives, some kids even ran up for hugs. One little girl told me that she had dreams of playing with the Nazo aliens. Another turned to me when an Elvis impersonator took the stage, sure that “the freakin’ King” himself had come back from the grave. When a kid got scared, I’d shake and hide my face behind my tentacles to show them that even monsters get scared. Later, I/Worma slow danced with an old woman who whispered fragments of her life story to me/her while the not-King crooned.
This is the magic of what Nazo does. I certainly walked away with a greater appreciation of the physicality of what they do, but I really came to understand the joy they bring people. As much as these costumes are a means for the performers to step out of their normal selves, they’re a means for audiences to be completely honest with who they are.