The Costume Closet
Some thoughts on Stage Costumes
I began the
Costume Closet column two years ago with a discussion of “Hall
Costumes,” which are those worn by con-goers to any and all
convention events for their own fun and amusement. The
reciprocal of the hall costume is the “Stage Costume.” Stage
costumes are worn for presentation at a convention masquerade.
What is a Masquerade?
To the SF
convention culture, the masquerade is a costume competition,
usually held on Saturday evening of a convention, on a stage
in the hotel ballroom. The stage is surrounded on one or more
sides by the audience. The layout is not unlike a fashion
show. Competitors enter the stage, show their costume, and
exit. The presentations are introduced by a master of
ceremonies and accompanied by as much technical support as the
convention can provide, which may include music and lighting
effects. The costume presentations are rated by a panel of
judges, with the best in various categories awarded ribbons or
other prizes. At smaller cons, the masquerade may be combined
with a dance or other evening events. At the largest cons, the
masquerade can last all evening.
The 20-Foot Rule
A stage costume will be seen by a seated audience at some distance. Few, if any, of them will be close enough to see the fine details of your costume. To make a good impression, your costume should have bolder, broader lines and features than most hall costumes. This is called the “20-foot rule.” Anything that can’t be seen clearly from 20 feet will not register with the audience. The bigger the masquerade, the more this rule of thumb applies. For a huge masquerade, like Worldcon, your whole body may not be big enough. Many presentations at giant masquerades compensate by making the costume outlines broader and taller with wings or other features. Other presentations include many persons performing together. Lots of motion in your presentation can help to fill a large stage.
your first audience will not see the details is not a reason
to skimp on them. Most masquerades give awards for
workmanship. You’ll have your chance to show fine features of
your costume to the judges in a close-up interview. A retired
stage costume often becomes a hall costume, where your friends
will see it one-on-one.
Once you have put all that time and effort into building a first-rate stage costume, it would be a pity to show it only once. Hence masquerade competitors follow a tradition called, “Competing Up.” A successful costume that has been presented at a local convention (like Coppercon) might be shown again at a regional convention (like Westercon) and thence at a national or worldwide convention (like Worldcon), much as plays can be tried out in regional theaters before going to Broadway.
have won awards at larger conventions are not generally
entered in competition at smaller conventions. This is more a
matter of sportsmanship than an actual, written rule. Costumes
from large masquerades, however, are often shown out of
competition (also called “For Display Only”) at smaller
successful masquerade presentations are those where the
contestants plays a character, rather than simply acts as a
walking coat rack. This can be very, very subtle. You don’t
need a lavish sketch or dance to show your costume on the
stage – a fashion show walk-across across is plenty – but the audience and judges will pick up
your body language. Practice moving in your costume until it
feels natural. Let the costume help you project the air of
being an entirely different person!