COMPETITIVE COSPLAY 101
So you've finished your costume, and you're thinking, "Hell yeah! I'm proud of this and want to show it off!" Well enter from stage right, Competitive Cosplay.
While it may sound daunting when phrased like that, a lot of Cosplay competitions are pretty relaxed, and they're all great fun! If you don't mind getting up on stage in front of lots of people, then I would really recommend it. I personally love competing, and its my main motivation for Cosplaying now! Since I started competing (at pretty much every convention I have attended since the middle of 2014!), I often get questions from people wanting to get into it, but not knowing what to do or wanting stage advice, so I've put together this blog post to help you! Please note, these are just my opinions based on personal experiences, so take it with a pinch of salt (as with most aspects of the cosplay community...)
do your research
Not every competition is the same. Some are casual and for beginners, some are qualifiers for international competitions, and some have tiered categories based on skill level. Familiarise yourself with the competitions rules and judging mark schemes where available, and tailor your costume choice and performance for it. Try not to do a costume made up of purely armour/crafting or sewing. Try and mix the two and get as much of a variety of techniques as you can, as you'll get undoubtedly more points.
pace your costume making
Start way in advance. Think the costume will take 3 months to make? Start it 5 months before the competition, and give yourself time to rehearse in costume. If you are stuck last minute crafting, between my friends we have a saying (grown from many many occasions of hotel room sewing): “If it’s not done the night before, it won’t get done” It may be 2am and you find yourself thinking ‘Ok if I go to sleep now I can get up early in the morning and finish this’. Trust me, you won’t. Get everything done before you go to sleep, because you won’t do it in the morning.
prepare for prejudging
(If your competition has it). These days, most do, which is good! How else will the judges see all the little details on your costume that make it so special? Make a book of your progress to give to the judges so they can see how it was made - At the absolute very least, take reference photos of the costume. Even if when you applied you had to send in references, 80% of the time something goes wrong and the judges never see those photos so then won't have any way to judge your costume accuracy if you don't take something with you*side-eyes some conventions*
Another small point, but practice what you will say in prejudging! Those 5 minutes will fly by, and you don't want to miss anything out, so speak clearly and succinctly, as you'll also need to leave time for the judges to ask you questions!
think through your stage show - even if you're not doing a performance
Are you a character, or are you a performance? If you come on stage in character, leave stage in character always – don’t worry about leaving your props on stage. If you walk on shoulders hunched looking shy and out of character, it will automatically make your costume look not as good. Walk tall and stand proud. Think about how the character would walk on and off. And hold your poses! Hold each pose at the three stage points (centre, right, left) for at least 3 seconds. You want good photos, and you want people to be able to see it! There's no need to rush - this is your moment.
try to avoid imaginary friends
This means try to avoid having conversations with non-existent people. It’s fine to be speaking to ~someone~, just try not to have them reply in your backing track. It’s a waste of valuable time where /you/ should be performing. (Same goes with having a video, or a blacked out stage with noises - you're being marked on YOUR performance.) If you must have on stage fighting and you’re performing on your own, try and be clever about it so it’s not cheesy or boring. For instance, for my Assassin's Creed skit it was me retelling a fight I had had earlier in the day to the audience, who were supposed to be people in a bar. Training sequences can also be good, and can help be an excuse for fighting invisible enemies. But a rule of thumb is unless you’re pretending the audience is the person you’re talking to, or someone else on stage with you, try and avoid this (mostly because its cliché and overdone) Again, pinch of salt.
use good quality audio
“But my webcam/phone has an amazing microphone!” trust me, on big stage speakers it does not. If you can, book a session in a recording studio to do your audio. If not, try and find someone with high quality recording equipment that you could borrow. And this goes on to my next point; pre-record any dialogue/singing if you can! Some conventions do have performing live as an option, but I really wouldn’t recommend it. Pre-recording means your speech/singing will always be in time to the music, will always be correct/in key, and it means you’re not relying on another human being to not fuck up your microphone.
get feedback from the judges
Straight after the competition, whether you won or not, go and ask for feedback from all the judges! It so important to know what bits you did well, and what you need to improve for future.
Don't fret when you lose
Because you will lose, and there's no avoiding that. Maybe you'll win the first competition you enter, and then lose the next 5. Or maybe you'll have to enter 10 competitions before you win one - who knows. But if you let the fear of losing hit you, then you won't be able to enjoy the experience of the competition. Take each competition, win or lose, as a new opportunity to learn, because each time you enter, you'll grow. (and who knows, maybe one day you'll represent your country and achieve world domination!)
That's it! If you think of anything else, do let me know! There are probably lots of useful things that I missed!
Hope to see you backstage at the next masquerade~
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