More Than Make Believe: Cosplay at BroadwayCon 2018

"Cats" cosplayers revel at BroadwayCon 2018. (COURTESY OF JULIANNE HOLMQUIST)

By JULIANNE HOLMQUIST
Contributing Writer

“Coat check is right this way, Veronica!”

Veronica? I was taken aback until I removed my heavy coat and looked down at my bright blue blazer and my oxford shoes. I realized that the moment I entered that door in the Veronica costume that my sister-in-law Jenny had made me, I was “the dead girl walking” from the musical “Heathers”.

BroadwayCon is a stunningly new convention, which only got its start three years ago. Here, Broadway fans, stars and designers collide to celebrate and connect through theatre culture. Cosplay is a central experience to convention attendance. Looking around the con, I saw everything from a 60-year-old woman dressed as Glinda carrying a nearly identical “Avenue Q”-esque puppet to an eight year old boy dressed as Alexander Hamilton looking around with awe.

The element of cosplay connected everyone and created an energetic and open environment, sparking conversation about people’s favorite shows, their influences and what they love about Broadway.

Paloma Young, the costume designer for the Broadway shows “Peter and the Starcatcher,” “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812” and “Bandstand led a panel on costume design. She looked out at the sea of talented young cosplayers and expressed how impressed she was with the work they had put into designing and constructing their costumes.

Being in the midst of the legends gathered to speak at BroadwayCon is highly beneficial for Fordham students who love theatre. Mellie Way, a theatre major at Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’21, attended Young’s panel. She learned that Young works on the costume design process, but not the construction of her pieces. Way, like Young, takes more of an interest in the design process than production and commented, “It was nice seeing a professional who does what I want to do. I definitely think you should be able to put in your own personal influence. That is the most important part, that [the design] reflects who you are.”

There appears to be two schools of thought when it comes to theatrical cosplay, either the costume must be stunningly accurate to the Broadway production, or fresh and creative. For cosplayers, there are incredible designers to look up to as influences. However, just as each actor brings a piece of themself to a role, a cosplayer expresses their own truth while emulating their favorite characters.

For example, BroadwayCon cosplay panelist, Chris Calfa, likes to dress as genderbent Disney Princesses, as well as other strong Broadway ladies. He grew up with a desire to be like the Disney Princesses, but knew that doing drag was not his truth. “I want to show all the little boys who were like me that they can be a Disney Princess,” said Calfa. “It is also way more fun to figure out how to make [a princess] work as a male character.” Having personal costumes that borrow heavily from the original design while honoring his childhood dream, helped Chris gain success in the cosplay community.

My sister-in-law, Jenny Holmquist, was also a cosplay panelist, known for her “Cats” cosplays. Holmquist embraces both stage accuracy and her own creative vision. She is influenced by John Napier, the original costume designer of “Cats”, who emphasized 80s fashion in his designs. While Holmquist is praised for the realistic look of her recreation of Jemima from “Cats”, she also garnered attention for her “Meowexander Hamilton” costume. She set out to create a character which crossed her two favorite musicals. The resulting product utilized a “Cats” style wig and Jellicle makeup paired with the outfit of Alexander Hamilton. A picture of her as “Meowexander Hamilton” was posted in the “Cats” Broadway dressing room, and the revival cast lovingly referred to her as “The Blankenbuehler Cat,” as Andy Blankenbuehler choreographed both “Hamilton” and “Cats”.

Nat DiMario, FCLC ‘20, loves the musical “Cats” and is an avid cosplayer. DiMario draws inspiration from original designs, as well as their fellow Jellicle fans, who passionately make their own “Cats” costumes. “I’m replicating the work of these incredible professionals!” exclaimed DiMario. DiMario’s love for the original designs is what inspires them to make costumes in the first place. They noted that their work needs to have the look of a “Cats” costume, but the tiny little details that DiMario adds make their work truly personal.

The cosplay experience allows people to embrace themselves through a new lens. “You get to slip out of the constraints of being a human. You can crawl around on the floor, you can be playful, you can be bold and more confident than you might be in real life, because that is how cats are!” said DiMario about “Cats” cosplay. Holmquist relayed that she had been in a production ofCats” at age 14. “Now at the age of 31, when I am cosplaying as a Jellicle, I feel like I’m that 14-year-old again,” said Holmquist. “It’s enormously fun!”

Cosplay is more than dressing up, or the recreation of original designs, it is an art form that allows people to step into the world of their favorite characters. For some, it is about becoming what they always wanted to be. For others, it becomes an escape from their current existence or a way to feel like a kid again. Regardless of what cosplay means for each specific person, at BroadwayCon, it helped bond people through their extreme collective love of theatre and creativity.

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