Experienced mascot performer, ballroom dancer is also everyone’s ‘Buddy’
Nowadays, 25-year-old Jayson Mamaclay is always ready to tackle the next new challenge.
Better known as the energetic and lovable “J.D. Puppy” in the furry world, Mamaclay’s eventful young life has been full of them, yet he somehow finds a way to succeed – from climbing the ranks of competitive ballroom dancing to his graduation from prestigious New York University (NYU) with a degree in Business Administration four years ago.
Not to mention building a fursuit having never touched a sewing machine before in his life.
“Thank you, Mom, for letting me use the sewing machine and teaching me how the contraption works,” Mamaclay said with a laugh. “(J.D.) has held up over the years, so I must have done something right.”
A FLUKE OF NATURE
While Mamaclay’s fursona character is quite well-known today, it is not often realized just how randomly J.D. came about.
Having dabbled in artwork since his preteen years, Mamaclay was toying around with different fursonas and one day tried to draw a fox hybrid that went terribly wrong, yet he decided to finish out his doodle.
“I ended up with a brown, floppy-eared puppy and I thought, ‘Aww, that’s kinda cute!’” Mamaclay remembered. “That’s kind of how J.D. was born. He seemed more fun, and more original.”
After being introduced to the fandom about seven years ago through his former partner Jimmy Wolf, whom he met through NYU’s mascot program, Mamaclay learned about Anthrocon and planned to attend in 2006, but felt it would be a much greater experience if he had a fursuit of his own.
It was time to take all of those “floppy-eared puppy” sketches and attempt to turn the 2-D into 3-D.
“Being a college student, I was trying to be careful with money,” he admitted. “I ended up making it myself, I picked up the ‘Critter Costuming’ book that Nicodemus wrote (September 2011 Featured Fursuiter of the Month)… and worked from there. I built J.D. in an air of desire to go costuming for my first con.”
As luck would have it – or perhaps his lack of it – Mamaclay, currently a working as a CPA, got to take a week off of a business internship to have all of his wisdom teeth removed, giving him the perfect opportunity to start.
“I knew I needed to get myself occupied with a project,” he said of his impending “cabin fever” after his dental operation. “I did my research, bought fur, bought foam, and essentially made my first costume with ice wrapped around my head.”
As nearly all first-time fursuit makers can attest to, the project didn’t come without its mistakes.
Mamaclay, who noted that the initial build of J.D. has never seen the light of day, learned quickly from his errors and eventually let his creativity shine.
“The entire process of making it,” joked Mamaclay when asked the hardest part of building a suit. “Trying to figure it out, reading instructions, figuring out how to make it work… that translation is pretty tough. But I ended up with a product that I liked.”
He liked it so much, that he built another one, and multiple versions of the character’s head, experimenting with different styles.
Having a second body suit also seemed practical for Mamaclay, who definitely goes all-out while performing.
“Anyone that’s been in my near proximity knows that I exert myself a lot physically, so while one was drying and if I wanted to perform more, I could hop in the other costume,” Mamaclay explained, adding that there also was a fun side to having a twin fursuit. “Now, most of the novelty is having them out at the same time, and having people kind of play “guess the suiter.’”
Mamaclay, who participated in drama club during high school and always held an appreciation for live theatre, needed to draw upon all his experience when figuring out how to perform his secondary character.
He had bid on a husky head made by his friend Kio, who was getting back into fursuit building after a brief hiatus, and low and behold, Mamaclay’s bid, which was not intended to win, held up.
“Kio’s a good friend of mine, and I was very happy to give him the money to support his endeavors,” Mamaclay said.
With that head, added sleeves and borrowed feet, the wildly popular talking husky known as “Buddy” was born.
“When approaching Buddy, I didn’t know what to expect,” Mamaclay said. “I learned to always expand yourself beyond your comfort zone, beyond your boundaries, which is a true lesson for everything I would tackle in my hobbies and in my life.”
Not only had he never performed in a partial before, Mamaclay had never performed a speaking character, which, like fursuit building, took a lot of trial-and-error.
He tried his normal voice, a deeper voice, a gruff, New York street-talking voice. They just didn’t fit.
“At one point I just said, ‘Haaaaai!’ said Mamaclay in his distinct “Buddy” voice. “It was very much an eye roll and facepalm at first, but it ended up working.”
Now that he got the voice down, it was about developing his new character.
Mamaclay’s concept for Buddy was that of a little brother, that desperately wants to hang out with your friends and gain acceptance into the “cool” crowd.
“He very much wants to be involved, it’s never-ending,” explained Mamaclay. “His whole-hearted goal is to become as ‘popular’ as possible, without realizing the stresses, politics and drama of popularity within the fandom.”
To pull off such a personality requires him to come off as a little naive at times, yet also come up with quick responses and one-liners that keep the audience engaged, a difficult task even for an accomplished improv actor.
“You’d never really think about it with a character like Buddy, but it takes a lot of mental capacity to be able to react as fast as an improv actor could,” Mamaclay admitted. “You throw a lot of stuff out there, and hope that some of it generates a laugh, but sometimes you’ll drop so no-laugh bombs out there. You have to pick it up and go in a different direction.”
While some veteran fursuiters prefer to have their real identities hidden while performing a second character, Mamaclay had no qualms about letting the world know that he is indeed the one behind the mask and Buddy’s trademark “Popufur” T-shirt.
“It was very interesting for me as Buddy to go through the experience of having a character become popular, but not having the character realize it, and not having the fan base connection that I am the same performer for both,” he described. “(Buddy) was an experiment – can I get people’s attention in a new character, in a new kid of way that I haven’t tried before. It’s been a fun character-building trip, that’s for sure.”
HIGH FIVE FOR HI-4
Mamaclay’s love for character performance extends well beyond the furry fandom.
He spent two seasons as the captain of NYU’s “Mascot Squad,” a diverse group of students that took an interest in character performance.
As the head of the program, Mamaclay organized events for his team, mostly as the school’s bobcat mascot, and made sure they got duly compensated for their time. He also taught basic performance tips, much like a typical “fursuit performance” panel at a convention.
“I had pre-med students, track runners, engineers, you name it,” said Mamaclay on the diversity of his mascot team. “I worked with everyone’s style, and got everyone to do a baseline, similar kind of thing because we’re all the same character – but (encouraged) everyone to have the flexibility and freedom to do their own thing, to add their own little twist to the mascot.”
While his business administration background helped immensely with making the team a success, he also was instrumental in helping to co-found the group now known as Hi-4, a New York-metro based group of fursuiters that do public appearances and charity work.
While not a formal, registered non-profit organization, Hi-4 grew out of the need for all of the area’s suiters to band together under one name and begin fruitful partnerships with charities.
“The American Cancer Society, Multiple Sclerosis Society,” listed Mamaclay as the two biggest organizations the team has worked with.
And as much as he enjoys performing for an audience at conventions, the Big Apple resident admits that there is nothing quite like putting a smile on the face of those that have hit hard times.
“While you may not be finding a cure for cancer, or solving the mystery of autism, what you are providing is a breath of fresh air, a sigh of relief, and smiles to the families and people who are attending these events,” explained Mamaclay. “We’re there to support those who are suffering and those that are fighting the battle against these diseases and ailments, and helping them smile and laugh along the way.
“It definitely is a very rewarding experience.”
LIVIN’ THE GOOD LIFE
While not occupied with the bustle of living in New York City and his full-time job, Mamaclay hits the dance floor – but not in a fuzzy animal costume.
Since his days at NYU, he has been involved with a different kind of dance, ballroom dancing, and has gradually risen through the ranks.
But, as many of the things in life had been, getting introduced to the hobby was another stroke of luck.
“I promised myself that when I went to college, I’d get myself physically active in a sport that I’d be able to build a circle of friends around,” said Mamaclay, adding that he wanted to avoid team sports where his lack of skill would hinder the team’s performance. “I opened up the athletics brochure randomly to a page, and saw ‘Latin Ballroom Dancing’ and ‘Mascoting,’ in alphabetical order. Those two things actually sounded pretty cool.”
Joining the dance club, he immediately found what he was looking for, a close-knit circle of friends that were enjoying the challenge of learning difficult dance steps together, and soon joined the school’s competitive team.
“All of a sudden, I was (learning) the Waltz, the Fox Trot, the Pasodoble, the Samba, the Jive,” Mamaclay listed. “It’s been a blast ever since, and now I go back and volunteer and teach people their first dance steps… at the club organization that I started out in.”
Despite his skill, Mamaclay has only participated in one fursuit dance competition – at the very first Anthrocon in 2006 – an event he helped run with Theome Raccoon and Jibba Foxcoon.
While he ended up winning that competition in a wild turn of events (see story below, “Additional Q & A”), Mamaclay has stayed on the convention’s dance competition planning committee, and also helped launch the first one at MFF as well.
“I’ve done a lot of behind-the-scenes things,” he said, noting that the skill level of today’s fursuit dancers is leaps and bounds beyond what it was when he started on the scene. “I’m so very impressed with all the talent that’s out there that I don’t know if I’d be able to make the finals in a dance competition, with floors as tough as I see today.”
Nevertheless, he will make the leap back onto the floor at Furry Connection North at the urging of a friend, and Mamaclay is thrilled about the opportunity.
“That will be exciting to actually train, practice and put on a show at an actual dance competition,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes.”
In the seven years that Mamaclay has been in the fandom, it’s been quite a wild ride, full of trials and tribulations but mostly laughs, successes and great memories. And he wouldn’t trade it for the world.
“If you allow yourself to get too caught up with the stress or the drama, or the work, then you’re not remembering what the heart of the fandom is about,” Mamaclay said. “It’s about sharing good times with good friends, all banded around this community that we share an interest about. It really should be all about the good times.”
Additional Q & A with Jayson “J.D. Puppy” Mamaclay
Q: Can you speak to the differences in performing a speaking character and a non-speaking character, having performed as both?
A: When I’m performing as J.D., I’m on a stage, there to put on a show. I’m there to be as flashy and as big as possible. He is the embodiment of that concept of ‘make it big,’ Grandiose and sharp as possible. Doing things that catch people’s eye. J.D. is the traditional mascot approach, it’s what I came into the fandom doing. Buddy brings the whole element of improvisation. When he’s out there, he is very actively engaging the audience, coming up to people and saying “Hi,” or having people come up and ask him questions. It’s not just about answering the questions, but anticipating what else they want to ask or what else they want to see and delivering that right away.
Q: What’s the story with you winning the first AC dance competition?
A: (Laughs) Well, we were trying to make it more of a variety show, where we’d have a mix of actual dance entries and also requested some of our friends to enter as more ‘gag’ acts. It’s kinda crazy how things change in four years, with how popular (dance competitions) are now.
Four years ago, we had struggled to find people who wanted to be part of something like this, either as dancers or gag acts. I ended up being onstage as well, and performing… and the unexpected happened. I was originally supposed to do one of the gag acts, but one of the gag acts had been put directly before me. As my name was announced, I put two and two together that you don’t run two gag acts back-to-back. They must have been expecting me to actually perform… (but) I had mixed a really, really cliche mix of songs like ‘How Much is that Doggie in the Window,’ ‘You Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hound Dog,’ it was the cheesiest mix of dog songs ever. I needed to all of a sudden actually perform it, and don’t tell me how this happened, but I ended up winning the dance competition, which I felt bad about because I helped plan the thing. I wasn’t even supposed to be onstage to begin with.
Q: You were asked to judge the Anthrocon dance competition last year as Buddy, What was that experience like?
A: That definitely was a great time. The year prior to that I had judged as J.D., and what I missed out on a lot as J.D. was being able to talk and provide feedback through a microphone, live. When I was able to judge as Buddy, I found myself in the same kind of scenario, where I couldn’t really deliver feedback because Buddy is just a happy-go-lucky, ‘everyone wins’ kind of person. Once I learned that, I just switched back into performance mode – I had to put on a good show, be a good improvisational actor and have fun out there… I don’t know how I come up with some of those (one liners).
Q: When did you start taking ballroom dancing more seriously? Have you traveled to any competitions?
I handle instruction very well. When I learned all the moves, it was pretty much second nature to me. I focused more on performance, making it a show. I progressed through each of the levels in just a few years… now, I compete at the pre-championship level (second highest). Now it’s a little harder to get up into the finals and win, but it’s all inspiration to get better. Maybe I’ll come home with those ribbons.
I travel up and down the East Coast… I compete in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland… and travel as far out west as Ohio. Next year, I intend on flying out to L.A. for a couple competition, and heading to Baltimore for the 2012 Nationals to see how well I fare in the national ranking. That’ll be exciting.
Q: What’s your most memorable fursuiting moment, either at a con or out in public?
A: There’s just so many amazing experiences that I share with my friends, from all around the world, that it’d be really hard to pick a favorite moment. When I’m out there performing for charity and seeing the smiles on kids’ faces, it’s just the biggest, warmest feeling in the world. When I’m out there with all of the amazing dancers that are out there, and dancing right along with them and enjoying the time and sharing this special art, it’s just the most exhilarating feeling out there. Just laughing and sharing the good life with everyone.
Editor’s note: The FNN Featured Fursuiter of the Month is a bi-monthly profile series written by Kijani. Every other month he will choose one well-recognized figure in the fandom’s fursuiting community, offering a unique “behind the mask” look at their characters and lives outside of fursuiting, as well as how they found the furry fandom.
The next feature will be released in June 2012.