Here is first of a series of columns on about anime convention subculture from our new writer, Jonny “Jace” Davidson. If you’ve ever participated in a cosplay masquerade or even considered it, than this ‘survival guide’ is for you!

I’ve been attending Anime Boston for five years now. Whether it’s as a contestant or making a cameo in the dating games, as a chess piece in human chess, or as a part of the cosplot, I am always on stage at a con. So why, in the five years that I’ve attended the con, never thought to enter the cosplay masquerade? Well, I never really had a group of friends, until now, who were super-interested in the idea of writing and performing a masquerade skit on stage, in front of the thousands in attendance.

The masquerade is quite different than anything I had done before. Everything counts in this one. You have to make sure you have a great script, it’s well acted, and your costumes are picture perfect. In my opinion, ideally you should devote between 4-6 months of time planning depending on what kind of skit you are planning, as well as the complexity of the costumes.

Masquerade tips:

1. Find the original character sketches by the original author or character designer for reference as you work on it. If you modify the original design in any way, make sure you have pictures of it so the judges can understand why things look different.

2. Look for a pattern. You may just luck out and find a pattern that looks identical to what you need. Two great patterns that can be manipulated are Simplicity’s The Matrix duster coat and McCall’s Civil War coat. I myself have used these patterns a couple times and with a little creativity you can do almost anything to them.

3. When it comes to the skit, a funny idea is all it takes. Be sure to mind your time limits when writing it, or else you may have to shorten things down and it might sound awkward. Record as high a quality audio clip as possible so the audience can understand you. If you feel that your own voice may not be suitable for the character, find a friend who can fill in for you. Make sure that the background music doesn’t overpower the dialogue. If you have access to professional recording software, be sure to add reverb to your voices. Most masquerade stages have no audio monitors, and the echo of the main speakers in the auditorium can make it hard to lip sync to your own audio. Be careful.

4. Rehearse as much as possible. Most professional theater companies rehearse 3-5 days a week until everything is memorized. It is important to make sure you don’t forget any props (I unfortunately forgot my giant Koopa shell, but I was able to buy a substitute on Friday in the dealer’s room.)

5. When the con hits, you’ll be busy as a beaver in a national forest during a flood. You’ll have to check in with masquerade staff, get your group together for judging. Get the appropriate paperwork signed. It’s all a big hassle that leads up to the main event. Saturday evening, backstage in main events. As other groups perform, maybe you have a little bit of stage fight or anxiety. The stage lights up there will blind you to the crowd, unless your skit is supposed to break the fourth wall (in other words, acknowledge the audience) it’s best to just ignore them and give it your all.

On stage, time flies by like it’s nothing. Before you know it, you’re walking off stage to the crowd’s applause and you already want to do it again. It’s an experience unlike anything I’ve ever felt in the six years I’ve been performing at conventions, and it’s something I definitely plan to do again in the future.

Hope to see you on stage! :-)