ST. GEORGE — If you’ve ever attended a pop culture convention in San Diego, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas or anywhere in between, there’s a good chance you’ve run into people dressed as characters from their favorite films, video games or comics.
Some costumes can be simple, while others can be elaborate, and the result of hundreds of hours of sweat and toil.
These people are called cosplayers and they love what they do.
“Cosplay is a short contraction for ‘costume play,’” said Sarah Hall, who has been an avid cosplayer since the mid-2000s. “The term was invented in Japan, because ‘costume play’ is hard to say in Japanese.”
While the term has its origins in Japan, people dressing as characters from their favorite shows started at science fiction and fantasy conventions in the West, she said.
“It’s people dressing up as their favorite Star Trek character or their favorite Dr. Who villain, or whatever. Mostly to not only pay homage (to their fandom), but to show how much you love it, to find other people, other friends that also enjoy the same things,” Hall said.
Kaela Glover, a fellow cosplayer, said this was especially true when anime cosplaying was not as mainstream as it is now.
A few years ago, when people learned you were into the same anime they were, and based cosplays, they would readily ask you to join in their “shenanigans of having fun” because the pool of anime cosplayers and fans wasn’t that large at the time.
Hall said she’s met many of her current friends through cosplay.
“You automatically know that you have something in common with someone,” she said. “You know you like the same series or the same show (your cosplay is from) and you may both enjoy creating.”
Hall already had a background in costuming when she fell into cosplay. She learned to sew from her mother while making Halloween costumes, and continued in costuming for theater and the Utah Shakespeare Festival while attending Southern Utah University.
It wasn’t until her friend and coworker Natalie Daniel asked Hall to teach her how to sew so she could make a costume for a convention she planned to attend. That was around 2004, Hall said.
“So, we kind of discovered cosplay together, and the next year I went to Anime Vegas with her – a whole group of us went – and we all decided we’re all going to be nerds and wear costumes and its been down hill since then,” Hall said with a grin.
Daniel, Hall and others in the St. George area are behind the Fannatiku Fest anime convention that ran in St. George from 2006-2016. Since then, the convention has been scaled down to a “mini-con” held at the Hurricane branch of the Washington County Library each March.
During the Fannatiku Fests and subsequent “Hurri-con” gatherings, cosplayers have always been present and happy to show off their costumes.
“Half the word is ‘play,’ it is for fun,” Hall said.
The concept of “fun” may be relative with the amount of time, work and money someone may put into a costume. While it is fun, a certain level of stress can be involved, just like with any creative endeavor.
Hall said the longest she’s worked on a costume was around 500 hours. That was for a costume based on outfits from the series “Trinity Blood,” which can have rather elaborate designs. The second-longest costume, based on designs from the manga (Japanese comic) “A Bride’s Story,” took 400 hours to make, she said.
“Yeah, I’m insane,” she said.
While those like Hall can create elaborate costumes, she said anyone at any level can enjoy creating their own cosplay, be it with just the materials and clothing you have in your closet to projects involving so many trips to the local JoAnn’s that you end up on a first-name basis with the staff.
Not everyone has to create a costume to enjoy it, as pre-made costumes can be bought online for conventions – just don’t use them for competitions, she said.
While some people love to wear the costumes for the attention they get – cosplayers always draw crowds, Hall said – it’s never been that way for her, she said.
“I do it for the expression of creativity and for learning,” Hall said. “I taught myself from book and the university of YouTube.”
Being a librarian at the Hurricane branch of the Washington County Library, Hall said she’s taken full advantage of the books available as needed.
Though she knew how to sew, crafting certain costumes required additional skills, like embroidery. Hall didn’t know how to do that and subsequently learned after a friend asked her to make a costume based on one of the outfits worn by the character Cersei Lannister from “Game of Thrones.”
In this sense, cosplay has helped Hall increase her own skills at making clothing in general.
“I think it’s great. Everyone asks why I’d learn to do this and I tell them it’s not a hobby – it’s a post-apocalyptic life survival skill.” Hall said as she started to laugh. “Because I know how to make fabric. I know how to sew it by hand. I can do all these things.”
In addition to expanding her own abilities, cosplay has also enabled her to travel across the Western states and back East for cosplay competitions she has both participated in and also judged as an experienced cosplayer.
“I’ve been to places I never would have been without cosplay,” she said.
Hall’s family is supportive of cosplaying, which has been picked up by her 15-year-old daughter who cosplays with her on occasion, she said.
Another advantage of cosplay Hall mentioned was its ability to help those who may be shy or anxious around others. In much the same way an actor on stage can get into a role and move past their stage fright, so can cosplayers as they get into the role of whatever character they’ve chosen to impersonate.
Hall shared a story of a cosplayer she knew who was uncomfortable around people on her own, yet changed once she put on her costume.
“It’s given her enough confidence in herself that even if she’s painfully uncomfortable around people when she’s not in a costume, when she’s in a costume she becomes that character and like an actor on a stage, it becomes like a wall or a bubble between you and your fears. The costume can become an armor. You can enjoy yourself and others without worry about how others are perceiving you.”
As for the local cosplay community, Hall said it’s great and rather close knit, though on a larger scale encompasses Logan, Utah in the north to Las Vegas. This is due to cosplayers within this area supporting each other by going to their respective conventions and by sharing their skills and ideas.
“We actually have a pretty good community, we really do,” she said.
There are some local cosplay groups based in Southern Utah, though it should be noted that some are based more on Star Wars and comic book characters than anime.
Members of the 501st often take part in promoting local and national charities while dressed as imperial storm troopers or other iconic Star Wars villains.
There is also a local anime-inspired group called the Otaku Dreams Cosplay Cafe whose members, which includes Glover, travel to different conventions and host interactive performances.
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