I could subsection this forever but today I want to discuss Masquerade costuming at conventions.
I agreed to take on the mantle the head judge for the Workmanship Masquerade at DragonCon, which is held Friday Night at the convention. I have participated in this contest for a number of years now and have been the head judge the past three years I think. So that put me in mind about costuming for a Masquerade which is different than hall costumes or an Anime convention costume call.
I started costuming back in the 1980s. I did mostly recreations of things with a few original costumes mixed in. I met a lot of people through costuming who are still friends of mine. I found myself helping out in pretty short order and learned from some of the best and worst how to run a green room and how to run a contest itself. Since then I have probably done just about everything that you can do for a Masquerade from just about every point of view. This is a subject that I am very well versed in.
Today I am going to talk from the point of view from a contestant and give some tips of things to think about before one signs up.
You will hear costumers talk about Rostler’s Rules of Costuming. A pretty good set of the rules as I know them can be found here.
I suggest you give these a gander before reading the rest of this.
In no particular order here are some of the things I think about before decided to even do a costume or sketch.
What kind of audience is attending this function? Are they going to understand what I am trying to do? A media convention is a better place to do Battlestar Galactica sketch than a literary convention. You stand a better chance that the audience understands the source material. I have seen Anime sketches and costumes kill at media and, more specifically, anime conventions where the source material is know as appose to a literary/science convention where one leaves more than half the audience scratching their heads and most of the judges as well. Consider the more obscure for an audience that is versed in it.
Yeah, it looks kicking but can I wear it for the period of time required for a Masquerade? Usually one has to be in the Green Room about an hour before go time especially if you want to enter workmanship. The length of show itself is determined by the number of entries. You have a lot of entries, you are going to be in the costume longer than just a few entries. Can your skin take the make-up for the length of time you will be wearing it? (If you have extensive make-up make sure you have a touch up kit ready to go. Don’t assume that the Masquerade is going to have a bottle of spirit gum or powder to take care of a last minute oopsie. All though I will say that I met two of my BFFs because of a bottle of spirit gum I just happened to have in my kit backstage.) We always suggest that you try the full get-up before coming to the convention but we know that is not always possible. So I use the rule of thumb, can I stand to wear this for the next three to four hours?
Here is a pet peeve of mine that seems to rear its ugly head about once a show. Unless a microphone is provided or the stage is specifically miked for sound, don’t assume that you can be heard in the back of the room. What you can do in an empty room and in a full room are two different things. I can get to the back of a room full of people but I have trained my voice so I can do this and I trained it for years before I had this ability. Peter can too but we are exception to the rule. The only people I have seen that had a prayer were professionals either singers or actors and even then it was hit or miss.
I know that everyone doesn’t have access to a sound studio but there are so many options these days for sound recording and editing that getting a disk cut is pretty easy. However you have to make sure that your disk will play in the tech gawds equipment. Take that disk and try it in several different places like CD players, game systems that play CDs, places like that. Don’t assume that if it plays on your computer that it will be compatible with their system. Also don’t assume that the balance that you have on your computer is going to be the same. I have heard many a sketch go south because the audience couldn’t understand the dialogue because the music was too loud or the dialogue was so loud it was distorted against the music again making it hard for the audience to understand it.
Practice your sketch and assume the worse for stage conditions. Figure out what can go wrong and how you are going to deal with it. Believe me that if it can go wrong, it very well might. If you can video tape it from the audiences POV, you can learn a lot about whether your sketch works. Also see if you can find out what size of area you are going to be working in before the convention. If you have some idea of the dimensions and entrances and exits are, it can be tremendously helpful. Also what other resources you have. We have used the Stage ninjas to our advantage more than once and they are usually game for whatever we throw at them.
Here is how Peter and I view the sketch part of the contest: Short is better than long, funny is better than serious, short and funny is best. I am not saying that a serious costume can’t be presented. I have seen plenty of serious beautiful costumes win big. However the Masquerade is not the place to promote your room party, political beliefs, or social issues at length. (Believe me I saw all three done within one Masquerade and the poor Masquerade director had to spend the next day hearing how sucky the show was. She hadn’t done anything except allow these people to enter the contest. They screwed it up for her and there are other places/times to do that sort of thing.) Make your point and get off the stage. I have seen points drop rapidly for costumes that go on too long on the judges score card. Figure out what your point is, present it to the audience, and get off the stage.
So that’s part one of this ramble. Part two next week.
I am grateful to all the things I have learned from costuming.