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Jul. 31, 2006
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal

DON'T MOVE

Doing nothing for an hour seems like a perfect fit for our famed loafer ... until he encounters nosy tourists, aching feet and nature's call

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Click on the photos to enlarge them...


Visitors photograph Review-Journal reporter Corey Levitan as he works as a living statue at The Venetian.
Photos by John Gurzinski.


Levitan remains unmoved by his assignment.


After 40 minutes at St. Mark’s Square inside The Venetian, Levitan literally can’t stand anymore.


Levitan whites himself out in preparation for his big debut.

A man and young boy approach. They stare up at the pedestal, where I'm standing to the left of Grigor Hakopin, the 41-year-old who trained me how to be a living statue.

"That's right," the man tells the boy. "The statue on the right is a real statue, and the one on the left is a man pretending to be one."

 

Some living statues enter a yogilike trance, achieving near-perfect stillness while reducing their pulse and oxygen intake so an hour passes like a minute. Hakopin is this kind of living statue.

I am the kind that lists back and forth on his burning heels like a Carnival cruise ship. An hour like this, to me, is a day.

"I really like this job," says Hakopin who, like most living statues hired by the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian, had prior mime experience. (He "statued," as we in the biz say, for private parties.)

It's now two hours earlier and we're preparing in an upstairs dressing room run by Best, the modeling agency that employs all the actors here and at Caesars Palace.

Hakopin has worked one Venetian statue shift per week for the past four years. A fencing master and gym teacher in Armenia before moving to Las Vegas 17 years ago, he earns most of his income by building stages for production companies (although he's also a substitute teacher for Clark County).

"But I would like to do more statue work," he says.

The shifts are four hours, with a 20-minute break per hour. The pay is $21 an hour plus tips, which people throw at your feet after they scooch next to you for photos.

Living statues were introduced by 19th-century circuses, as nearly nude painted bodies posed to depict classic sculpture. Since at least World War I, they've inhabited most major Western European cities, one of which The Venetian simulates. (I once heard a porn star at the Adult Video News convention guess, "Venetia?")

Earlier this year, Paris Las Vegas ditched its living statues, which were painted bronze and called "atmospheric performers." This leaves The Venetian's "streetmosphere" team as the only steady statuing game in town.

It's time, I'm told, to make myself even paler than nature did. I borrow Hakopin's Ben Nye Professional Clown Series paint and within 10 minutes, I've joined the White Man Group. As I'm escorted to my pedestal at St. Mark Square, I ask Hakopin for my motivation.

"What do you mean?" he responds. "You're a statue."

A crowd is already gathered under the beautiful fake sky, since a 10-minute hourly Renaissance show — with jugglers, stilt-walkers and opera singers has just concluded. I call this the wiseacre crowd. They watch you walk out, so they're in on the joke, and some try to take it one joke further.

"The worst is when they grab your crotch," Hakopin told me earlier. "The guy says to the girl, 'Why don't you go grab?' And I'm thinking, 'Is she gonna really do that?' And a few times, she does."

The fact that Hakopin endures this with a face as straight as his posture suggests that the Academy Awards need a new category (and a white Oscar for the winner).

"Smile!" commands a woman who I can't describe accurately because real statues don't bust out pads and take notes. I ignore her, keeping my gaze trained on a hand-painted mask at a nearby concession.

"You need to smile," the woman says after walking right up to my eyelashes.

There's a reason I didn't begin with a smile. I know the agony of holding one for a long time. I had a bar mitzvah.

"I bet I can make you smile," the woman says. (This is my karmic retribution, I just know it, for tickling a palace guard at the Queen's pad in 1984.)

I blur my vision so my harasser appears like the mosaic I frequently made out of Mr. Estes' trigonometry blackboard in high school. But she's persistent. She shoves the straw of her cherry drink into my lips, causing them to begin that about-to-laugh quiver.

I fight it harder than Sly Stallone in the first three "Rocky's," recalling my directive from Best assistant entertainment manager Jason Manlapaz: "No moving!" (There's also my lucrative future moonlighting career to consider. If I master this, I could rent myself out as a lawn ornament, a scarecrow or the singer for Radiohead.)

Eventually, the urge to snicker goes away, as does the woman and most of the wiseacres. (Even people who visit Vegas without bothering to buy tickets for anything require better entertainment than this.)

Their replacements are the "is it real?" people. A lot more fun to deal with, they're subconsciously drawn in by our peepers. Marble eyes aren't watery, and don't sport a black dot or a swirl of color. Still, these tourists are not sure.

That's the way it's supposed to go, anyway. My problem, I learn when Hakopin informs me later, is locked knees. Our legs make constant tiny corrections to our posture to help us balance. These aren't noticeable, but locking the knees prevents these adjustments, causing noticeable swaying.

"He's awful!" says a boy in a New York Yankees cap.

Hakopin joins me on the pedestal at the 20-minute mark. Why he is instructed to do this, I have no idea. But the only thing worse than a living statue who moves is a living statue who moves when there's one right next to him who doesn't.

"Hey!" the boy shouts, pointing.

Wait, maybe there is something worse. My girlfriend is calling the cell phone I forgot to shut off. My Treo 650 lights up through my flowing robe and vibrates.

This is an easy gig, I thought, for someone told by bosses that he's good at standing around and doing nothing. But today I've learned the second meaning of "statuesque" that doesn't apply to me.

Besides swaying and lighting up, I'm also harangued by bodily urges. Although I left word with my brain's front desk not to be disturbed, my nose figured out how to get through the message that clown white is highly itchy. (How does Michael Jackson tolerate it?) My heels feel like I imagine lobsters do when the water boils. And my corneas are so dry from not blinking, they can be popped out like gas-permeable contacts.

Then there's that other urgent bodily message, which I will only dignify by reporting that it is not wise to consume a large, gas-producing meal before your first living-statue shift.

"I hold it in," Hakopin tells me later. "If I didn't, I'm afraid that people who get close would take back their tips."

Holding it in might be an option had I stopped at that pizza slice from L.A. Italian Kitchen in the food court. But I added fried rice from Wasabi Jane's.

A pianist begins plunking, talk-show style, signifying the end of my shift of supposed nonshifting. An applause smattering transpires as Hakopin and I are escorted off the pedestal and out an employee exit.

I scheduled another paralysis parade immediately following, by myself at the other pedestal (near Ann Taylor). But I don't need to do the extra hour for this article. More accurately, I don't want to.

"Sorry," Manlaupau says. "We rearranged everyone's schedule and now we don't have anyone to cover for you."

So this is how Lot's wife felt.

Fear and Loafing appears every Monday in the Living section. Levitan's previous adventures can be found at www.fearandloafing.com.


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COREY LEVITAN
FEAR AND LOAFING


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