I interviewed cosplay veterans Level Up Cosplay about what it takes to be successful performing at a masquerade competition. I have watched many masquerade competitions that contained some lively and entertaining skits and some that have left me scratching my head in bewilderment. I have always been curious as to what goes into the planning of successful skits. Recently, Level Up Cosplay hosted a panel at Otakon 2012 called “Masquerade 101: Making It Work,” an interactive panel for those wanting to be a part of masquerade competitions but not sure where to start. I was happy to interview them before their panel about their thoughts on the art of skit performance.
Share with us about how Level Up Cosplay got started, including how you became involved with masquerades.
Level Up Cosplay consists of Brian (aka Agent Bishie) and Lauren (aka Roserevolution). We’ve been cosplaying for nearly as long as we’ve been together, about 12 years. The name Level Up Cosplay came from our cosplay troupe, which was an offshoot of the Agents of Cosplay. It’s been our masquerade skit name since 2008. Over time it’s included many friends and family members, and when we chose to make a joint facebook page we kept the name.
We’ve been going to conventions since 2001, but didn’t enter a masquerade until 2006. Lauren was way too shy, and thought she couldn’t get on that stage. Brian was involved in the theatre program throughout college. Convention masquerades seemed like an obvious choice, as it involved both of his favorite hobbies: acting and geek-culture. At Otakon 2006, we participated in a big cosplay group from the game series “Magna Carta.” Our friends put together a skit, and although neither of us had plans to perform, it turned out that the character Lauren chose played a pivotal role in the game’s, and therefore the skit’s plot. It was really daunting to get up there on the First Mariner Arena stage, but we have been hooked since.
Why is it that masquerades has become so important in cosplay and convention culture?
Masquerades are a great way to exhibit a costume in a way that just can’t be done in the halls. Convention masquerades pre-date the anime cosplay scene, but that drive to show off your best work in front of your peers remains.
What elements of a masquerade skit are essential for winning?
In all honesty, winning has never been the goal for us. For us, it’s more about having an idea and executing it to the best of our group’s abilities. If we make people laugh, gasp, or smile, that’s fantastic. That said, Lauren will now put on her judging hat: For craftsmanship, you’ve really got to have a cleanly finished costume. The inside is just as important as the outside, and it could really come down to just a few details. For performance, keep in mind that originality will score you points. Rehearsal is key; it really shows when someone doesn’t practice.
What are some of the most “rookie” mistakes you see often at masquerades?
Some of the most common mistakes are having a poor audio recording, a skit going too long, not utilizing the whole stage, and a lack of rehearsal. Oh! It’s also frustrating when a skit doesn’t have a clear ending. Strike a pose, take a bow, make one last joke, but don’t just trail off!
How does one know if they have the right talent?
No one immediately “knows” if they have the right talent. When watching multiple masquerades, very few people question why judges award certain skits; The talents displayed in these skits are easily recognized by the average viewer. If someone can watch these skits and think to themselves “I know I’m capable of entertaining people just like that skit did,” their own talent already began to take form.
So far I’ve seen dance, singing and drama skits. Is there a preference of what judges like to see more of?
It’s hard to say, as judges and the evaluation criteria vary from convention to convention. Personally, the type of skit doesn’t matter to me as much as the originality and execution. A masquerade filled with well-rehearsed, fun dance skits would be fine. That said, we really like a good comedy skit.
What has been some of the most brilliant performances you have seen?
One that always pops to mind is “To be a Master, only Faster” from Katsucon 2009. That group really nailed it with props, acting, humor, voice work, and utilizing the projection screen available to the performers. One of the best overall masquerades we attended was the first time World Cosplay Summit took place at New York Anime Fest. Everyone really brought their A-game, and there was a lot of variety in genres (dance, dramatic, comedy, fighting, etc.) Otakon’s masquerade once featured a 3-headed mecha-Godzilla creature singing “Bohemian Rhapsody.” That’s the sort of moment that only pops up during a convention masquerade.
If one wants to be involved in a masquerade, where should they start?
Start with a great idea! Most of our skits have been inspired by conversations during convention road trips. Keep your skit within your abilities; If you’re not a good dancer, don’t go for a dance skit. If you’re shy or worried about lip-synching, try a skit without speaking roles. Neither of us are particularly strong singers, so we tend to shy away from sharing our “nails-on-chalkboard voices” with the rest of the audience. If you’re unsure about doing a full skit, begin with the Saturday hall costume contest so you can walk across the stage during the fashion show. Although it’s a hobby, make sure everyone in your group is fully committed to rehearsing and performing. There’s nothing more stressful and challenging than last-minute drop-outs!
Tell us about your panel at Otakon.
We’ve attended several amazing panels focusing on masquerade logistics. Not wanting to step on any toes and re-teach the same information that other panels cover so well, we’ve developed a workshop to help teach basic stage skills to enhance performances. Both of us have taken courses in acting, participated in an improv team, and are educators by trade. Our plan is to get every person in the room to become more expressive and creative by actually standing and performing with each other. Handouts and guides are also provided to help a group write dialogues in a creative and organized manner. With luck, these skills will take root in the upcoming generation of skit enthusiasts.
Where can someone reach you if they have any questions?
You can reach both of us through our facebook page, Level Up Cosplay.
To see skits that we’ve performed in, check out our profiles on American Cosplay Paradise/American Cosplay Experience.