Masquerades: How to actually win a thing part two

It’s been a bit more than a hot minute, my apologies. I’ve returned to you with part two of my guide to Masquerades and how to actually win a thing! This portion focuses on the performance aspect of competitions.

Last time we talked about this as a step 1 but this applies to both craftsmanship & performance contests soooo here’s a recap:

Step 0: DA RULES!

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Photo cred

  • Pick your convention, then read up on their rules!
  • Things to consider:
    • What division you should compete in (Youth, Novice, Journeyman, Master)
    • Craftsmanship only, Exhibition only, or combination
    • What’s allowed (e.g. no Homestuck @ AB because it’s not anime, number of people, props, have to make everything yourself/not)
    • Time limits per division/number of people
    • Theme for the year (will occasionally get you some brownie points)

Step 1: The IDEA! 

  • Think about what you want to do
  • Talk to partners in crime
  • Challenge yourself! Look at what people in your division have done previously, and hold your skit to that standard or higher
  • Start planning! (Best to start vague in case you aren’t accepted, especially with cons that quality screen skits)

Bad Idea, Good Idea

  • Bad idea: using old memes, dance-offs, dance skits that are literally just carbon copies of K-pop videos with anime characters instead, anything that’s been done before
  • Good idea: making fun of old memes, tired skit ideas, or doing a dance skit that tells a story with original choreography (see DiamondDustProductions’ Best in Show skit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GajeU_wpZ_E)
  • Bad idea: making a ton of in-fandom jokes that no one outside the fandom will get (unless the series is popular, but you run the risk of it going over the heads of judges not familiar with it)
  • Good idea: making a ton of cross-fandom jokes for your obscure show (see HSCAbby’s Berserk skit here: https://youtu.be/lag3ZHweRPA?t=35m44s)

Step 2: Dat App

  • PAY ATTENTION TO DEADLINES!!
  • Different cons have different rules for applying to the Masquerade
  • Find out if your division is first come, first served, or if the convention quality screens skits first
  • Have a general idea (or more) of what you want to do for your skit
  • The more info you supply, the more prepared you look, increasing your odds of getting a slot
  • Stay up until midnight, wait for the servers to crash…

Step 3: Working with the Coordinator

  • Most conventions want a script, pre-recorded lines/sound, any video you’re using, and potentially even practice videos if you’re doing a dance… the sooner you get this stuff to them, the better
  • If things get delayed, someone in your group can no longer participate, or you need to make changes to your idea, early communication makes things 9000 times easier
  • If stuff goes wrong AT the con (read: security lines at AB), make sure you have a reliable way to get in touch with the Masquerade staff so they can bail you out

Step 4: Skit Prep 

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Photo cred the 2nd

  • As soon as you’re accepted, it’s time to get to work on your script & A/V stuff and send it over to the Masquerade coordinator for review
  • PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE (repeat 10 more times for dance skits)
  • Practice in front of someone who’s not part of your group or, even better, who’s not into the show you’re cosplaying from; if they’re entertained/“get it” you have a good skit
  • Ask the Masq Coordinator how big the stage is and find a place that’s the same-ish size to practice; if you can’t, find out about your con’s dress rehearsal policy
  • Don’t be afraid to drop out: if your friends aren’t showing up to practice, your costumes aren’t done, or you’re just not thrilled with your idea, it might be best for your overall well-being to just drop out of the Masquerade for the year. It might feel really disappointing and painful especially if you’ve put a lot of time/effort into your skit, but saving yourself the embarrassment of doing a sub-par skit is priceless. I’ve only dropped out once and even though the skit was a good idea, we didn’t practice, and our costumes were low-key falling apart. I’m glad I didn’t compete because I would have been kicking myself for years to come over a bad skit.

Step 5: At-con rehearsal (might be optional, required, or non-existent) 

  • SHOW UP ON TIME!
  • Optional: be wearing the costume you’re going to compete in
  • Ask a friend who’s not in the skit to record you so you can make any last minute changes to blocking and to listen for audio problems
  • Last chance to communicate any issues with audio or lights with staff
  • BELIEVE IN YOURSELF! YOU GOT DIS!

Step 6: THE MASQUERADE 

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Fab gif credit

  • Eat beforehand or suffer grumbly tumblies!
  • Show up on time to curtain call! Staff usually has nice peptalks.
  • RELAX. Deep breathing!
  • Make friends backstage. Compliment each other!
  • WERK IT!
  • Stay until all awards are handed out unless you have an emergency.

Step 7: The Aftermath

  • Don’t be a sore loser
  • Be gracious if you win
  • There’s a limited number of awards that can be handed out each con; there’s a pool of lots of potential winners
  • Your costume/skit were probably amazeballs and judging can be tough
  • It’s a learning experience, so DO IT ALL AGAIN NEXT YEAR.

    HUZZAH, you’ve reached the conclusion of “do as I say, not as I do” — this guide isn’t a fool-proof method for winning skits/costumes, but it will help you to put out costumes and performances you can be proud of, rather than wanting to wipe your brain clean of the memory of them. 😀

 

Tips on how to actually win a thing: Part 1

So continuing on in the vein of competitions/masquerades, here’s a guide to how to actually win a thing! This is mostly informed by my experiences of epic failure! This part will be focused on the craftsmanship portion of stuff, and I’ll be writing another guide soon about performing.

1. Compete in the right division. Different cons have different rules, but generally if you haven’t won anything or have only won a few minor awards (i.e. judge’s awards and not “best in…” or “1st place…”) you belong in the novice division. As you win awards, you’ll be forced to compete at higher tiers. If you have a lot of experience but have never entered a masquerade/contest it’s probably best for you to compete at the Journeyman/middle division; there’s less competition because there’s fewer people at the higher levels.

 

1a. If your convention has a theme, like Anime Boston often does, you will probably get brownie points for doing a cosplay from that theme. 2011’s theme was “music”, so I did Sheryl Nome & Ranka Lee that year; and communicate this to the judges in order to score those delicious brownie points! Otherwise they’ll think it was a coincidence.

2. Challenge yourself!! Go a little bit out of your comfort zone and make sure you communicate this to the judges – taking risks are often rewarded. Take competition as an opportunity to teach yourself a new technique (like embroidery or a new way of fabricating props); even if you don’t win you’ll have added valuable skills to your repertoire. Do your research on who’s done what in your division in past years to give yourself an idea of your competition; make something with equal or higher complexity to those around you. This isn’t to say that more complicated = better; because if it’s poorly executed it’s not going to make a difference. Simple costumes done well will beat complicated ones done poorly.

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Birb says “go big or go home” and did these two for my first ever costumes from scratch. Still have no idea what the hell I was thinking, but this risk won me a candy crown and a kawaii af trophy! 

3. Give yourself enough time to get stuff done WELL. It’s easy to procrastinate on competition pieces and finish them in your hotel room, but if you’re rushing, you’re probably not putting out your best work. You also won’t have time to make sure everything looks right and won’t fall apart as you’re walking around. Costume malfunctions are a lot easier to deal with at home than at the con. Make fake deadlines for yourself of when different components need to be complete (that way, when you inevitably procrastinate, you won’t be completely screwed) and try to stick to them. Stressing out before the con can often cause a dark cloud over your con experience itself, which isn’t fun.

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Ada/K-san from AB staff saves my ass LITERALLY every year I compete; this year I didn’t give myself enough time to finish my sleeves for Small Lady, they fell apart (kinda, and Ada was there to save the day!) and I wasn’t happy with the way they turned out. 

4. Make everything as neat as possible. This means top-stitching, ironing (bring your own iron if possible, because hotel irons cannot be trusted, but in a pinch, hanging stuff up in the bathroom while showering should get out a lot of wrinkles), lining stuff, cutting all your stray threads…etc. All of this stuff alone doesn’t seem like a big deal, but added up it makes a big difference (especially for judges who like to come up close to inspect your costumes!) This also includes your wig and makeup! Make sure your makeup is a) a thing (because it makes a big difference, especially on stage) b) blended out & c) not running, caking, flaking, etc. Bring a touch-up kit with you so you can fix your face before judging. Wigs should look smooth, have little to no flyaways/frizz (although, if you’ve been standing outside in a security line there might not be a ton you can do about that).

5. Show up on time! Punctuality is important, if you miss judging you might get booted from the Masquerade entirely or DQ’d from craftsmanship awards. You want to be at the place where judging is at least 15 minutes before your judging is scheduled; usually things run late, but sometimes they run early! So make sure you give yourself enough time to get into your cosplay, into the con, and down to the place where judging occurs (people will try to stop you for a bajillion photos if you’re in a group or have a really impressive costume). If I have a 10am judging time, my ass had best be up by 6:00 at the latest and out the hotel room door by 8:15 because getting elevators downstairs (10-15 minutes), security lines (who knows, potentially up to an hour or more), and endless photos (15 min for turning folks down; 30 if you’re being nice and letting them snap) add up quick. If something’s holding you up (i.e. medical emergency, stuck in a security line), do your best to get in touch with the Masquerade coordinator and they might be able to re-schedule your judging for a different time. Communication is the key!

6. Rehearse the main points you want to hit in judging. If you’re anything like me, it’s easy to get frazzled in the presence of your senpais and everything you wanted to say about your costume goes rushing out of your head.

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It’s yo girl @ judging 

You only have about 5-7 minutes so hit the stuff that you think is most impressive (i.e. you taught yourself this cool new technique or you spent 700 hours working on this costume). Print COLOR reference photos with as many angles as possible (i.e. front and back) to give to the judges (not everyone is familiar with that cool indie anime). You can also print out progress pictures to give the judges a better idea of how your costume was constructed, and if you know your costumes have too much stuff to get through in 5-7 minutes, you can do a little write-up essay of how everything came together (try to keep it short and sweet; judges’ time is limited and they won’t be able to read a novel before the contest!).

If you do all this biz, you’ll be giving yourself the best possible chance of at least taking home something shiny for craftsmanship! Stay tuned for how to do well in performances!

On Cosplay Competitions/Masquerades

Okie dokie kids it’s time to talk about my most/least favorite aspect of cosplay: competitions in convention masquerades/costume contests.

I’ve always been a competitive person (I am very, very, very much a Type A personality) so competing in my hobby seemed like a logical jump. I’ve been cosplaying since 2007 (just a wee 12 year old bab) and 2008 was the first year I “competed” (the first two years my groups were just “exhibition” skits, so not judged); I had to drop out of one competition in 2013 and took a gap year in 2014 before deciding to compete again in 2015. It’s 2016, I’m 22, I’ve been cosplaying for 10 years, I’ve been in six “legit” competitions, won two minor awards, and I still have no idea whether or not it’s a good idea for me to continue doing this.

I won a minor award for Sheryl Nome & Ranka Lee (my first from-scratch cosplays) in 2011 in the Novice Division, and a minor award for Princess Small Lady Serenity in the Journeyman division in 2016 – SLS Photo by Sumiko.foto Photography.

****DISCLAIMER**** COMPETITION AIN’T FOR ERRYBODY — YOU DO YOU & WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY AS A COSPLAYER.

So, without further ado, tips for entering the Masquerade:

  1. Do it for the right reasons. Do NOT be like me and place your self worth as a person and a craftsman in someone else’s hands (be that judges, the audience, or the peanut gallery on social media). I’m trying to get better at this but it’s difficult for me. You should be doing this because you want to have fun, meet other people, and enjoy a little bit of friendly competition.
  2. Don’t do a skit if you/your group does not have the time to commit to practicing. I’ve made an ass of myself more times than I can care to remember (thankfully under a different pseudonym!!!) on Anime Boston’s Masquerade stage because my group wasn’t committed to practicing. If improv is your thing, check out other cosplay events like Chess or the Dating Game, or consider entering a walk-on if you still want to compete without the hassle of a skit (what I do now).
  3. Do pre-record your audio. It sounds better and makes your life easier because you only need to half-convincingly lip sync your lines. 🙂
  4. Do be on time! For everything! Meeting script deadlines for the coordinator, judging, rehearsal, check-in, etc… don’t be that guy that keeps everyone waiting, if you have an issue (like getting stuck in a security line), keeping open lines of communication is key!
  5. Don’t be a jackass backstage. Little 12 year olds (such as my past self) think that over-used memes are funny and they will use them in their skits. They’re doing their best. Eventually, they will grow up and realize in horror what terrible mistakes they’ve made in their youth, and will make better skits as adults. Making snide comments about others’ skits just makes you look like a nasty person; don’t pretend that you never once thought costume satin was a legit fabric choice…we’ve all been there.
  6. Don’t freaking cheat!! This goes without saying! The judges will know! The con will find out, your rep will be ruined irrevocably because the internet never forgets, and even if you do somehow manage to get away scot-free, your victory will be a LIE.
  7. Don’t be afraid to drop out– seriously. Me making an ass of myself three years in a row all could have been avoided if I wasn’t such a baby about quitting when I know I’m beat and when I know I’m not going to put out the best performance I possibly could. If a skit/con/deadline/life circumstances or what have you are making planning and prepping for the Masquerade more miserable than fun, you should seriously consider dropping out. THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN. I know cosplayers like to procrastinate and joke about “all aboard the suffering train” but it’s not worth spending the entire con miserable (because when you inevitably lose, Sunday is that much suckier) just to do the Masquerade.
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    Image credit  Meguca is suffering but Masquerades don’t have to be! 
  8. Remember: losing is not the end of everything. Losing doesn’t always mean your costume/performance sucked; it just means judges liked someone else’s better; and honestly a lot of these competitions are very tight (especially in the lower craftsmanship divisions)! Cons are limited in funds, which means not as many people that deserve awards can go home with them. Don’t take it to heart, and use it as motivation to do more complex costumes next time!