I wasn’t going to talk much about my production design work this semester, but then I saw this article on the protests happening right now . Judging by my instant ‘Oh I know what to wear to a protest!’ before I even clicked on the link, I definitely still feel strongly about the message of the production and my experiences even though it closed on Sunday.
My university’s production of Waiting for Lefty was a reaction to the Wisconsin protests that took place this past year when labor unions were threatened with the loss of collective bargaining rights. The director staged the production during a contemporary union meeting, and (spoilers!) in the end, they strike.
Contemporary clothing, even high fashion contemporary clothing, isn’t something that I deal with much in cosplay. And it’s a totally different story when you’re not dressing your own body. The illusion of familiarity with contemporary clothing was a challenge, because it’s a vocabulary that the actors and the audience speaks, and because all of the things I like and don’t like about what I (and other people) wear on the street came out in my instinctive design choices. A college student’s Vogue-laced impression of clothing wasn’t necessarily the best look for these characters. The show was all about the background characters of America, and for me, about learning how to preserve that ‘everyman’ look while allowing them to be heard.
I speak a little about my opinion on the relationship between cosplay and a career in costume design in Steven Savage’s recently published book, Focused Fandom: Cosplay, Costuming, and Careers. I interviewed with him before Waiting for Lefty really began, but if anything, working on this production cemented my conclusion that A doesn’t necessarily equal B. What did change was this: if you are a serious cosplayer, I cannot more highly recommend taking any opportunity to see how costuming works in a theatrical or film production. There have been things I’ve picked up from cosplay that help in the theater world, and vice versa, but it’s not about the technical details like that. It’s about seeing what happens when an individual piece fits into something much greater than the sum of its parts. That’s a perspective you can take to masquerades, to group cosplay, and to the entire American cosplay community.