Tips and tricks for Masquerade competitors

This blog will offer you, beautiful, attractive reader that you are, all the tips and tricks I’ve collected over the last two years of competing in ComicCon masquerades. I’d love it if we all had a better experience, so hopefully these help!

For those who don’t know what a ComicCon Masquerade is, no it is not a giant ballroom filled with dresses and masks. That’s what I thought the first time too. It is actually what they call the competitive costume contest with on-stage presentation of costumes. I’ve never been able to figure out why it is called that, other than that there are other con-floor costume contests that are less formal and therefore don’t get a fancy word to distinguish them. If anyone knows any other reason, please let me know in the comments!

Bring actual food

Most of the masquerades I’ve been to have a small collection of snacks available for cosplayers. Usually there are things like cookies, fruit, and water. THIS IS NOT ENOUGH. Even if you’ve eaten really well throughout the day, your green room time will last directly through another meal. You should eat that meal - you need that energy before you go on stage.

Now, if you’re bussing or coming from out of town, you don’t have to haul loads of Tupperware all day (although that is an option) – even con food will satisfy this need. However, once you’re in the green room you can’t get out, so make sure to save some time to stop at a food vendor before heading over. Speaking of that...

Be prepared to do a lot of standing and waiting

Usually, the masquerade organizers require the cosplayers to show up well in advance of the stage presentation, mostly so that they can get their costumes judged. There are other things to do as well: sort out the stage performance with the ninjas, confirm bio reading with the MCs, and have the official photographer take a picture of their costume. Typically for Ottawa ComicCon the time they require you to be at the green room is 4pm.

This doesn’t mean you walk right in and sit down. You have to sign in and get your official stage entrance number, and then talk to all these people! They will either do most of this right at 4, or will send you up a den at a time to talk to the different groups.

Bathroom breaks

At my last Ottawa ComicCon, they tried to tell us we couldn’t leave at all for bathroom breaks. (haha, I know right??) We ended up having several occasions at which we could zip out to do our business, thank goodness. Regardless, at all the masquerades I’ve ever been to, you always have tell your den parent – they need to know where you are in case the Judges are ready for you, or they may need to send you with a chaperone for security reasons.  Thus – having a plan is the wisest decision. I like to tell them in advance when I’d like to go, so in case things like an escort have to be sorted, there’s time to do so.

Print notes

I brought printed notes and pictures to show the judges my work-in-progress and inner costume details for first Masquerade. At the time, it was unnecessary, because I wasn’t competing at a high enough level. (For those Masquerades that who follow ICC guidelines, they don’t tend to need that detail at the Novice/Journeyman level. However, at Artisan or Master level, it is a very wise idea.) I don’t recommend more than three pages, and I’d include a picture of your costume, as well as any behind the scenes/in progress photos with simple, quick explanations. Leave this with them for judging, to remind them of costume details that they may not be able to take notes on in-the-moment. They typically have less than 5 minutes to review your costume and I don't know about you, but five minutes is not enough time to both record notes and look at all the details that I've added to my cosplays.

No moving

Typically the masquerade organizers don’t want you going too far from your den, as they need to keep track of you to make sure that you successfully complete all the things needed before you go on stage. This means you should plan on NOT being able to practice your routine, get things from the convention floor, or seeing/meeting up with friends/photographers etc... Plan on being bored. This brings us to...

Bring dark-safe entertainment

I recommend a Kobo with light, an actual book with light, portable game console or other device that does not require the internet (which will be spotty if available at all, and of course could use up a bunch of your mobile data, as there is almost never wifi) and doesn't require electricity.

Some masquerades are in separate rooms from the stage/hall, which means there is light and you can bring a book, sketchbook, embroidery, or other tasks to fill the time. Ottawa ComicCon doesn’t have space for that, so the green room is set up behind the stage, and as such, quiet and semi-darkness are the order of the day.

Set your handler free

You’ll need your handler to get into the room, maybe to help you set up before you see the judges, and then before you go on stage, but that’s probably it. Confirm with your den parent that they are allowed to come and go (there might be a limit on the number of entrances/exits, but they are usually allowed to be pretty mobile). This is the time to let them see the convention on their own (and that way they actually get to see things!) Often, my handlers will stick with me, simply because we’re friends and hanging out is the important part of the day, but the green room is pretty boring.

Make friends

One of the things I love about the masquerade as an event and the green room in particular is that you're in a room with 40+ other people who are just as crazy about cosplay as you are. I like talking to the members of my den (and others if my den parent will let me!) about what they like, learning tips on how they made their costumes, and exploring their favourite fandoms. I have made several cosplay friends by doing just this, and they're people I value greatly. 

Have fun

It can get very easy to be stressed by this experience. Bringing your costume to be judged is hard, and sometimes the feedback isn't easy to take. The competition can be stiff and you might not win when you're expecting to. The important thing is to do this because you enjoy it and not for the awards, and to take the time to have fun with the parts of the experience that you like. Going out on stage is also nerve-wracking (I always get nervous!) so I'm careful to distract myself or ask my handler for help when needed, to stay focused on the present.

One of my favourite parts of the masquerade is that I get to show off this beautiful thing I made, to my cosplay sempais and on stage. I also love seeing the beautiful work done by other great cosplayers, especially since I get to see it up close and talk to them about it. I really enjoy getting to meet other awesome new cosplayers, and talk about the new things I (or they) have learned. On top of all this, those thirty seconds on stage, with the lights, and the crowd cheering, and the culmination of all my hard work - those are magical.

I hope to see you at the next masquerade!

Photo of myself and CAZ Art and Design as Ravenna and Freya from The Huntsman: Winter's war by Open Shutter Photography. We competed with these costumes at Ottawa ComicCon 2016 and won "Best in Class" in the Artisan division.