Thursday, 17 July 2014

Pre-WCS : What it's like to be a rep?

Before I entered WCS prelims, there was a long list of things on my lips I wanted to know about. 
It's a fairly serious commitment, and there are a lot of things that you have to invest into it; time, money, energy, more money – so it's good to know if what you're signing up for is actually what you want to do.
Luckily for myself and Emi, our alumni were more than helpful to fill in what WCS would expect from us. What they like the look of on stage, how best to conduct ourselves in judging and so on. There were a few things, though, that even we ourselves didn't expect, and we would have never been able to prepare a question to get those answers.
As a sort of personal anecdote, I feel really lucky that Emi and I haven't come to blows over WCS this year. There's a lot of difficulties we've had like living nearly 200 miles apart, from working around jobs to not having a job at all, but somehow we've come to the end of the road with our friendship intact. Both of us have seen the strain of competitive cosplay almost (and in some cases, entirely) ruin friendships, lead to resentment, so this blog entry today is going to attempt to detail in an honest, warts-and-all way, some of the issues Emi and I have come across in the last 8 months in the hopes that future representatives can learn from our mistakes!

First of all; I hope you and your would-be partner have a pretty steadfast friendship. This might sound like an obvious one – what would you be doing entering with someone you weren't good friends with, right??  Whether you plan it to or not, a lot of things can get in the way of a harmonious partnership, it's difficult to speculate on where it all starts because between different people you get different ideas of what matters. It's hard to gauge, too, how invested another person is in what you're doing, so really knowing your partner and laying down some ground rules about what is and isn't okay at the times you're meant to be working on costumes is pretty important.
I'm pretty sure I brought Emi to almost breaking point a few times across the year when I put my work in eSports first. It's way too easy to get caught up in other commitments you have and forget to reassure your partner that you are invested in the work you're both doing and you haven't forgotten them. I think I worried Emi a lot this past year by not showing progress when it mattered, and especially May Expo, I devoted all of my time preparing for the show instead of working on the preliminary outfits we meant to trial run that weekend.... And when I did get it done I was so busy I couldn't even wear them. Oops.
So mistakes were made there, and that was one which was totally avoidable and completely my fault. I got overconfident in my ability to pull a costume out of nowhere and forgot to reassure Emi that I had things under control and got carried away.
I'm not saying that WCS is or should be the main commitment in your life at the time of doing it; but you do feel like there's a small amount of pressure on you. I have a responsibility not to let down my partner, the country I'm representing, or cosplay as a hobby when I'm out there; I frequently have to remind myself I'm not alone in this, and if I screw up, other people feel the consequences, too.
As I mentioned before, distance was an issue. I'm all the way up in Newcastle and Emi lives in Manchester. I'm sure you guys down South must be thinking, "what but the North is so small, those two places must be a small train ride from each other!"

Emi and I live near enough 200 miles apart, which when we got down to it, made coordinating matching costumes a slight problem. To keep the uniformity we decided to work on our championship costumes exclusively at Emi's place, it seemed like a smart decision at the time (and I guess I feel like it's still a good one now, they look identically made) but it really limited the time we had available to us to work on them. The contract for the job I was working finished in January, which left me unemployed, and as you can imagine, I needed to be careful with my money (I'll go into the financial issues we faced later). So what I should have been doing was travelling to Manchester whenever possible suddenly became an insurmountable obstacle; how do I even work on the costumes if I have no money?
We spent the first few months of this year sourcing all our fabric, planning the costumes, performance and set. Our preparation time was insane, really, and I honestly hope that at least, shows in what we do.
In the last few weeks I feel like neither of us have had a break; I finish work on Friday, travel straight to Manchester from work, sew for 4 days then get the train back to Newcastle to start work again on Wednesday.
All in all, looking at the results now – it was worth it. Our costumes have this uniformity that we would never have been able to achieve if we hadn't worked together on both of them. It helped us play to both of our strengths, too, and countered our respective weaknesses. Just the journey itself was a toughie; if I were to go into a competitive team with someone who lived across the country from me again, I think it'd definitely think more seriously about choosing two costumes that wouldn't need to match so much.

Money was a big issue for the pair of us, understandably. Because it's easy to think; we have a year, plenty of time to fund four costumes? If that was all we had to pay for then maybe it would have been fine. I think for a pair with steady, full time jobs and good money management everything else that comes into it wouldn't be a problem.
As it stands, the pair of us are part-timer graduates, not exactly made of money. On top of the costumes, the set, the persistent cross-country travel, excess baggage, new suitcases and everything we would need for our holiday FOLLOWING the competition (because don't kid yourselves, you are gonna wanna stay a little longer and enjoy the sights!)... We're a little strapped for cash to say the least, and it was a huge learning experience in itself to have to be so careful with what we invested in.
I think what we discovered the most is good research, spreading the cost across longer periods of time and knowing what you are going to need when you get there really helps. A lot of this we discovered learning from our WCS alumni mistakes; they make them so you don't have to!
The last thing I wanted to touch on is the big one; time. I've mentioned earlier that we already had problems getting together to work on things, but that's really only the tip of the iceberg. Surprisingly when Emi and I sat down together and thought about it, we didn't actually have that many pair costumes – weird for two people who have apparently been cosplaying together for 3 years now! (I feel like I should take the blame for this one, though, because as everyone knows I am oh so good at sticking to my deadlines...)

Finals costumes are bad enough to work on without making at least three other parade costumes, too. It didn't take us long to decide on a few things we wanted to do; and we started on them immediately to get them out of the way. Unfortunately it happens, as it so often does, that we both had some issues with some of the things we planned. My Satsuki costume had become a logistical nightmare, I remade the costume 3 times before having to be restrained from setting fire to what was left. Emi ended up buying 5 metres of the wrong type of fabric for Ryuko. We attempted to custom dye all the fabric for CardCaptor Sakura costumes, only to have the dye split and spot dark blue and yellow everywhere. Things were not going well.
Somehow we managed to pull two more costumes out of our butts; something that will make us more comfortable in the Japanese weather but, ironically, a little out of our comfort zones. I'm looking forward to announcing them next week once we get photos of everything!
Another thing that I suppose comes under the umbrella of "oh god there's not enough time THERE'S NOT ENOUGH TIME!!!!" is forms. So many forms. You will have to fill out forms and questionnaires until you are literally crying tears of answers and they are mopping them up with the sheets. Decide now what your favourite anime is, the reason you love cosplay, what you want to do in Nagoya, all of these things you will be asked on several different occasions!

Also, being prepared with an idea of how you want the lighting and actions to go during your performance will help a lot. There is a several page long sheet to fill out prior to the contest with very specific timings and cues required for the production staff to work around it. I think part of it has to do with basically, where the cameras should be at certain points, how best you want the lights to emphasise your skit and so the stage runners can set up and take down as quickly as possible. I'm told there's something insane like a 40 second window either side to get everything on and off the stage, so going in prepared and knowing exactly where you are going to be really helps the staff.

So this entry ended up being a little long winded. When I sat down to think about it, more and more thoughts just kept pouring out of my fingertips and onto the screen, so apologies if there's a lack of structure or clarity to this particular post.
Hopefully it's given some insights into the ~personal~ world of ours, and I guess the overall feeling is that bad stuff does happen! You just have to roll with it, and not get too hung up on the small things. The entire idea of the experience is to have fun an enjoy the culture and the community, and remember – all the bad stuff will probably disappear when you get there~

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