Story of a… Living Statue

Nicolas Jay, 43, paints his body, dresses in costume, and stays perfectly still to entertain audiences at Disney World.

Jay owns World Gate Entertainment, responsible for supplying living statues to Disney daily and across the globe for special events, like Oscar night in Hollywood. His team of 32 trained artists uses custom-designed costumes and a Latex-based sprayable body paint to create more than 640 characters, including Abraham Lincoln, gold angels, Roman emperors—anything to suit the occasion. In 20 years of working as a living statue at Disney World, Jay has performed roughly 150 characters. His favorite? “Whichever one our team has just created—it’s fun to test drive, like a new car.” 

The art form is pantomime. “Panto means ‘all’ and mime is ‘expression.’ So pantomime just means imitator. It’s the umbrella term for living statues and mimes.”

Jay works 30-minute sets, striking up to a pose a minute. “You want to be still like a sculpture as much as possible. For a black-tie fundraiser last week, I did only 10 poses per set. With kids, you improvise, moving around much more to grab their attention.”

Kids are the best audience. “They run up and hug your legs. When I change positions, I hear them shouting, ‘Mommy, Mommy, he moves!’ But even adults get fooled. You hear a lot of, ‘Is that real?’ They start thinking out loud.”

Rain, shine, sneeze or itch, the show goes on. A greeter works alongside Jay, ensuring guests don’t squeeze him too roughly. The greeter also watches for looming clouds. “If it rains, you play it off. You mime getting an umbrella, then you walk as fast as possible while maintaining grace. If you need to sneeze, you change position to hide it. If you do sneeze, you follow it up with a booming laugh or a squeal. You make it spectacular.”

Two hours and 45 minutes is the longest set Jay has worked. “It was a private party and my replacement was walking to relieve me when a server spilled coffee down the front of her dress. I will not say the night was easy. But I could feel the energy of people enjoying what I was doing. I’m like a kid when I work. I enjoy dress up and playing, and when I have a great audience, I don’t want to go home.”

What makes a good living statue? “We never open our eyes. You create a zone that stretches three feet in every direction. With my eyes closed, I sense when people near me smile. I can feel when someone starts filming me with his iPhone. If someone is about to touch me, I know it.”

Categories: People