By Maeanne Llanza
HE walks the streets of Baguio City on Sundays, a masked man. Like Spiderman, he is a photojournalist. Unlike Spiderman, who was only ever Peter Parker, Mauricio “Mau” Victa has many other characters – busking characters.
It all started when his best friend invited him to go “clowning” . They were 16 years old. It was the gig/side hustle, or as that generation referred to it in the 90s, the “racket” of the time. “I learned to host parties, do magic tricks, take photos, and put on make-up,” Mau relates.
In college, Mau started as an Aeronautics student and finished computer programming in STI. Clowning, where he would get his allowance, saw him through college.
When Jollibee came to town, he was part of the pioneer crew. They went to Manila to train. More than the skills of a fast-food chain crew, Mau learned the mascot moves and dance. He was also a Bona Kid mascot at one point in his early mascot calling.
He was still “clowning around” during his first three years as a photojournalist, sometime in 2009 or 2010. He took photos for national papers such as Manila Times, Manila Bulletin, Philippine Post and Business Mirror. As a freelancer, every time TV5, ABS CBN, or GMA asked, he would send them photos. In Baguio, Mau has worked with Sunstar, Cordillera Today, and now with The Baguio Chronicle, among others.
In 2013 or 2014, a friend sent him the Mickey and Minnie Mouse costumes. But “Mickey Mau” and “Minnie Mau” only came out to play at children’s parties hosted by close friends and family.
He got the Spiderman costume in 2017, but “SpiderMau” only started busking in late 2020.
He was walking around the city with friends Frank and Andy. It was COVID time. Baguio was very cautiously trying to get back on its feet after months of lockdown and no tourism, the latter being the city’s economic driver.
Then the city government brought back the Sunday walking street market where they close off Session Road to motor vehicles for the day. A few “buskers” in costumes like the now-famous Green Soldier and a few others such as Iron Man, and even Spiderman, also made their appearance.
“Someone was already doing Spiderman, so I put on Mickey Mouse, sometimes the Minnie Mouse mascot costume.” Delighted visitors and locals alike welcomed the masked characters providing amusement amid the gravity of what COVID was putting the world through.
“Pinasaya ko lang ang mga bata, kesa naka tambay ako,” he said. It was an added persona and a means of earning.
Sharing the blessings
Mau’s daughter has caught on and started wearing the costumes on Sundays. Then Mau’s nephews and nieces joined in.
Soon after, other students reached out to borrow the costumes and busk for extra money, tuition, or yes, cat food. “Minsan tapos na sila by 5pm, makikita ko may dalang cat food.”
Mau was happy to help out. To him, earning by dressing up as superheroes or Disney characters is better than young people spending their time playing games on their phones.
“People take photos or selfies, and it is up to them if they want to give tips,” he says. The tips they get (usually placed in a box near the mascot) depend on the season. During Panagbenga or long weekends when tourists come in droves, they earn more.
There are currently six to eight students “booking” their Sunday slots. “Thursday or Friday, nagsasabi na sila na mag ma mascot sila. Unahan e.” They usually start at 10 am.
But it is not always good days. When it rains, they get much less. “Tito Mau, ang liit, maraming nagpapicture tapos walang naghuhulog,” the students would tell Mau. “So nag aadjust ako sa ibibigay sa kanila….” The students also have breaks and free lunch.
For the cost of laundry and repairs of costumes, if there are damages, “…kukunin sa kita kung may matitira.”
SpiderMau beyond Baguio
In May this year, Mau, the photojournalist went to Poland with four other media people from the Philippines. The Embassy of Poland invited them for a study tour to learn about Poland’s history and culture.
There, they went to the shelter where Ukraine refugees were staying where he met refugees and volunteers.
A crying five-year-old caught their attention.
Her name was Noelle. In her grandmother’s arms, she was calling out for her parents. They had volunteered to stay and defend Ukraine while Grandma and Noelle were evacuated to Poland.
Mau’s clown-mascot instinct came through. Already wearing the Spiderman jacket, he tried the peek-a-boo. He hid his face behind his hands and with a gentle attempt at surprise so as not to scare the children, he showed his face with a surprised expression.
“Pag medyo takot ang bata, hindi ako basta-basta lumalapit,” he shared as tips of the trade. It is important for children not to be afraid. To engage with the young ones, he would usually try raising his hand for a high five, or ‘align’ (connecting the pointer finger), maybe a fist-bump, or peek-a-boo, whichever works.
Still halfway from being our masked Spidey, Mau had Noelle at peek-a-boo. When she was comfortable enough and went to Mau, he put the mask on, transforming into the full SpiderMau. “Nagpakarga sya. Tumawa sya.”
Remember when Peter Parker would set up his camera and take photos of Spiderman? “Wala naman akong photographer, ako yung photog e, pero may mga nagbigay naman sa akin ng photos nila of me especially the young people, those in the refugee camp, the volunteers.”
SpiderMau went viral. Government officials invited him to Poland’s version of the senate and house of representatives.
As our amazing spider-costumed Mau walked the friendly neighborhood, he gave the children, elders and grown-ups a light-hearted moment, a respite from the COVID-plus-Ukraine darkness besetting the land.
A superhuman effort (or Only a man (in a funny red sheet))
“Pagod lang. Pero mawawala ang stress mo.”
As with any work, wearing costumes is not without challenges. And if you enjoy it, it ceases to be work.
“Pag bored ako o gusto ko ng break, habang nag e-edit ng photos, minsan naiisip ko mag costume nga ako….Yung breaktime ko pag nagmamascot during Sundays, tatakbo ako sa [Baguio] Cathedral. Sakristan ako nuon bago ako naging clown.”
But the main concern is body pains. The costumes are heavy and hot.
“Mahihilo ka sa loob ng mascot costume. I tell the students, pag di mo na kaya, kahit ma expose na mukha nyo, tanggalin nyo ang mask para ma ventilate o makahinga kayo. Pag umulan o kaya stranded ka, punta ka sa side, eskinita o isang area, magtanggal ka ng mask and ask for water. Actually [people from establishments] will help naman e, tayo pang mga Pilipino.”
He also relayed how children sometimes gather around Spiderman or Mickey or Minnie Mouse, effectively preventing or delaying the much-needed breaks of the students behind the costumes.
“…hinaharang sila ng mga bata…I tell them to just keep walking. After two hours, they should go on break, drink plenty of water and keep their strength up,” Mau insists to the mascots.
For the veterans like him, he can be Mickey or Minnie Mau for five straight hours. “Minsan, di mo mamamalayan oras mo. Makikita mo lang mga bata naka smile, taking pictures with you. Tapos naka three hours na pala ako. Tapos pagkita mo sa tip box mo, uy! Eto lang?” he laughs.
“Minsan pinipitik lang ang box,” as people pretend to give tips. “Kala nila hindi ko kita.”
A layer of anonymity
“Akala nila wala kang problema kasi naka smile ang mascot. Hindi nila nakikita ang expression mo – kung naka smile ka ba o may iniisip kang problema. Pag nasa loob ka ng maskara, kahit sino ma meet mo: matanda, bata, baby, naka smile ka.”
There can be a point of expansion if tourism picks up and the busking continues.
Mau added other character costumes with Batman and Ironman joining the gang to future-proof the trade. He is also working on a sixth character, Charlie Chaplin, where he will not need a mask, just make-up, a costume, and a mustache. His face will be visible, but he is excited and ready.
This time, the photojournalist taking photos of people is the subject of people’s photos.
(Mauricio “Mau” Victa is a 52-year-old, award-winning freelance photojournalist. A five-time awardee, a.k.a. hall of fame of Agriculture XXX award, Mau is also a board member of the Press Photographers of the Philippines for six years now. Our Baguio boy is married with two grown-up daughters. He dabbles in street, nature, and landscape photography and wears costumes to cope with stress.)