AKA: Where’s Canada’s stage presence?
Hello friends it has been a while since I’ve posted an article about cosplay’s culture. Partially this has been due to a lack of time/energy and setting up the start of the Greater Canadian Costumer’s Guild (GCCG) but I’m back now with what may be a slightly touchy subject: Masquerades can really use a bit of jazzing up when it comes to performances.
Gif from NitrateDiva on tumblr.
This is also somewhat of a localized issue and it’s also not a ‘one answer fits all’ situation either. Instead I plan to talk about trends I’ve noticed over the years I’ve been going to cons and how I think we can work on improving our stage shows: be them Masquerades, skit contests or WCS entries.
What This Post IS NOT About
This isn’t to bash how anyone person runs a Masquerade or how they enter. This is ALSO not about making a hard definition of the terms Masquerade or Costume Contest, because that would A) be tricky even with ICG backing and B) be a losing battle.
This is, again, my personal opinions and thoughts based on observations of stage shows ranging from early Anime Masquerades (2004), ICG Masquerades (Worldcon, Costume Con), Skit contests, American style masquerades, the filming of a Heroes of Cosplay episode and the somewhat dubious nature of being in dance when I was younger. As allways YMMV (your mileage may vary).
The State of the Stage Show (In Central Canada)
Although large conventions like Anime North and Otakuthon have expanded to include separate workmanship competitions and/or skit competitions in addition to the regular Masquerades, many smaller conventions don’t have the luxury or attendee numbers to do so. As a result there is usually only one main competition for cosplayers which encompasses both workmanship AND stage presentations.
On the one hand, that’s great! There’s usually separate awards so if you want to enter a costume you worked really hard on but aren’t interested in a skit, you can do a walk-on. Alternatively, if you want to do a skit or fun stage presentation, you can focus on that and have a simple or less-than-couture level of costume.
Cons (Not the fun kind)
On the other hand if you have crippling stage fright? Too bad. Gotta go onstage unless you injure yourself between judging and the show. Also, not that it should need to be said, but DO NOT HURT YOURSELF ON PURPOSE. YOU WILL LIKELY BE BANNED.
Also, in Central Canada especially, we like our workmanship. Like. We REALLY like it to the point where it’s a focus for most entries in Central Canadian Masquerades to the detriment of the actual performance. After all, if you pull an all-nighter to finish your cosplay, you’re not going to have a lot of time to plan out your stage presentation.
Room to Grow
I’m not saying that every entry needs to be a fully-choreographed routine with lighting effects, just that variety is something to consider if you want to stand out from the crowd.
1. Use the Whole Stage
Walk-on or skit, being on the stage can be intimidating and without thinking about it, sometimes entrants might stick to the very centre of the stage. Whether it’s because after practicing at home, they’re not used to as wide open an area to move around in, or just plain nerves, limiting yourself to a small section of the stage is… well… limiting yourself as a performer.
Even as a walk on, it’s important to make use of the whole stage. Below is the return of Calamity’s use of MS Paint to describe what she means. Cons may vary this layout somewhat (which side you enter on, where the announcer stands, greenroom location) but in general you walk onto the stage from one side and exit on the other to prevent a backlog of costumers in the cramped backstage area.
The best walk-ons I’ve seen make use of the three-pose choreography. Walk across the stage to the far front corner. strike your first pose and count to three. Cross the stage to the other front corner and strike pose 2, count to three. Then walk to the upper centre stage to strike your final pose and then head off stage.
Boom. Walk on isn’t too short, too long, and you let the audience and judges see three different poses that show off your costume to the best of your ability. Paired with practiced poses and appropriate music, and it’s an easy way to wow the audience with your awesome costume.
2. Body Language
Think about who your character is. Are they proud and determined? Are they shy? Are they super-duper-over-enthusiastic? The personality of your character is a huge factor in how they (and you!) will move on stage. More than other events, the WCS Canada Qualifier has a problem with ‘Slow. Graceful. Steps.’ which is hard to describe but easy to spot. It’s when cosplayers, in an effort to show off their costumes the best they can, take strangely long strides and where Every. Movement. Is. Paused. For. Emphasis.
This works for certain characters, but it’s important not to fall into the trap of moving slowly and gracefully for every entry, every cosplay, always. Harley Quinn wouldn’t walk like that. She would skip across the stag, maybe even twirl on the way by. Jean-Jacques Leroy from Yuri On Ice!!! would strut, because he’s arrogant and a wonderful asshole.
What is this? A Masquerade for ANTS?!
Also, for the audience who’s crammed in the back, for the love of the Elder Cosplay Gods, EMOTE with your whole body. If you’re unsure how a character would react in certain situations, look at the Flour Sack emotion sheets from animation tutorials.
No, I’m serious. It’s a way for animators to practice displaying emotions through posture and body only.
Better yet, watch theatre productions and pay attention as to how the performers move. (Also because musicals are awesome.)
3. Props Aren’t a Dirty Word
In cosplay, there’s three kinds of props: props that are part of the costume, stage props, and talking-your-friend-into-being-a-tree-for-your-skit kind of props. Guess which two are NOT judged for worksmanship but can make your skit really stand out?
WCS Canada Qualifiers 2014
Stage props just need to hold together for the presentation, unless you’re competing in WCS in which case they need to hold together for a few presentations. Also, in WCS friends-as-props aren’t allowed. So always read the rules of the Masquerade before planning your skit around using friends-as-props.
Central Canada cons have a history of ‘Ninjas’: stage hands who also act as props, but relying on the ninjas to remember requests more complicated than where to place props on the stage can be tricky. Some shows have up to 80 entries, and the same ninjas help every. single. entry. Not to mention, there might be a shortage of ninjas that day, so they’re busy making sure you don’t fall offstage. (Which has happened at one Masquerade I was at. Luckily no-one was hurt).
4. Practice, Practice, Practice
JUST DO IT. Especially if your skit requires heavy choreography like a dance or a fight scene.
…but please don’t practice in the greenroom if space is cramped or the volunteers ask you not to. No one wants to get a prop-sword in the back of the head or in the face. Trust me.
6. Timing. Is. Everything.
The only thing worse than a skit entry that is too short is one that’s too long with not enough going on. But with Masquerade entries in Central Canada being so short (often a max of 1 minute), when it comes to longer skit competitions cosplayers like myself find that we’re not really sure what to do with all that extra time. Often, we try to stretch out a shorter story into a full two or three minutes because, in the eternal words of Phillip J. Fry (Futurama):
“It took me an hour to write so I thought it would take an hour to read!”
Sadly, that’s not how planning skits works. (sigh.)
I’m not saying to cram as much as you can into a two minute skit, I’ve seen those too and while they’re a bit less uncomfortable to sit through, they’re not what I would call …’easy to understand’.
When you’re working on your skit, think about the rhythm of events. Pauses in the action to let the audience absorb what just happened or drawing out a reaction for comedic purposes can turn a good skit into a GREAT one.
7. Watch Masquerades too!
The best way to see what works on stage and what doesn’t is to watch skits and walk-ons by sitting in the audience of a stage show yourself. Youtube videos are okay, but you can get a real sense of what audiences really respond to when you’re sitting around a bunch of people experiencing the same thing as you at the same time.
Do you have any other thoughts on how to bring back the sparkle to stage shows? I’m curious to hear them! Drop a comment below, or on my facebook page <3