It was a lot of things. 98% of them amazingly good. The truly crowning jewel, for those who didn’t hear, was this:
Best in Show, Costume-Con 26 Historical Masquerade. Master Costumer for reals.
and the original inspiration.
SO FUCKING WORTH IT.
The blow-by-blow convention recap…
Saturday morning was our whip-cracking rehearsal for the masquerade.
After the performance, many people commented, wow, you must have been practicing that for ages! Um, no, the very first time we physically worked it out was Saturday morning, 8am, at the con. Srsly!
Of course, we’d always had an idea that we’d make the painting come to life and it involved the painter and Thomas would be our Winterhalter. That concept came to us probably at the Costume College where we planned the thing in the first place (because I already had a CC26 membership for him and he likes performing and is a good sport).
Kendra and I had worked out a script. Her husband had provided some movie chatter from her extensive collection of girlie costume films, which Thomas combined with a Strauss waltz and a recording of me saying “the empress!” and him saying “ladies, places please.” The soundtrack and script were synchronized to the second. We’d posted all of this to the Y!Group where the project had been planning everything for 3 years.
We’d also coordinated who had and could bring stools, covers, the easel (I lucked out and found one literally on the side of the street!), and the painting.
So while we had never walked through the whole thing, we had some ideas of what was going on.
We made use of the taped-out stage dimensions that Karen had thankfully done in one of the hotel carports. Not sure if this was publicized anywhere, but I remembered it from a staff meeting — thank the gods for insider knowledge!
Everyone arrived on time, except Lynne who was violently ill. We wore our hoops over jeans, Thomas had the stopwatch, and we walked through it first with out the music and then with and eventually with Lynne too. 27 times total according to Thomas (he says that now, but he could be making it up). We had our musical cues down, counting out the beats, figuring out the crossings, and all that. It was good.
Sunday, we gathered all our crap for the presentation (2 stools, bag of sheets) and for judging (entire costume, shoes, and hoops) and trudged by the overland route to the green room. Omg, surface of the sun! In cruel shoes! My eyes! My feet! Whose stupid idea was this? Oh, right, mine.
Made it with plenty of time. In fact, neither the judges nor tech crew had arrived yet. Our group trickled in, surprisingly very prompt. We had shit tons of stuff. What do you expect for 10 people in mid-victorian get up, sitting for a portrait?
Speaking of which, here’s a complaint: not so clever to schedule only 15 minutes of judging for a group of 10 costumes. Either that, or the judges should have been *a lot* more conscious of the clock from the start. The first people in our group got a lot of attention, while the last folks were hustled through. And also, since our gowns had many similarities, they could have grouped some stuff together to avoid repetition (like: “so how did you all do your berthas?” or something). I believe it took about 45 min. for our whole group.
But I’ll come back to that. It was 1pm and we still had only found 1 ninja. We were desperate. The first person I thought of who I knew was at the con, not in or working the masquerade, and I had in my cell was Johanna. Maybe it was the hope that I could bribe her into it (which, in the end, turned out well ;-). I rang her up, explained our dire straights, and she came right down. OMG, LIFESAVER.
And right then, Yvette showed up too and said she could help. WOW. As it turned out, three ninjas was perfect, because even two wouldn’t have been enough with all our deal. Jayzuz, we were complicated.
Tech rehearsal went smooth as silk. Oh, except for the goddamned castanet lady! Not anyone’s fault except for letting her be there. WTF was her problem? We got onto the stage and were trying to run through stuff and there was this “clack clack clack.” She was sitting in the audience, and someone would glare at her and she’d stop clacking for a minute. Then she’d start, a little bit at first, then more. Finally I told her to STFU. Which was greatly amusing to all around.
Chris O. was an excellent stage manager. She and the whole tech crew were really on the ball during rehearsal and the show itself. It was a complete opposite of what Saturday night looked like (again, I wasn’t backstage then, so I don’t know how that really ran). We did a couple run throughs and could even mark where our props went on the stage — very handy!
Then, into judging. This was the thing I’d been dreading ever since I put needle to thread. And apparently for good reason. The one judge who was someone I knew was also s’one I knew was a hardass, and she proved it. I still don’t know who the other judges were (I may have an email s’where for the program book, but I didn’t want to put just one show’s judges in the book). And I didn’t recognize the other names anyway.
I started by explaining that I had not done these things before, never piped anything, never made hand-bound eyelets, and never flat-lined a garment. This was all new to me.
I explained my methods as intense study of the painting, things like the crossing fold lines of the lace tiers that showed they both extended from the waistline (not that the lower one started halfway down the skirt).
Aurie asked what I thought was a kinda dumb question which caught me off guard: why did you sew the bottom 2 ruffles to the silk? I wanted to say “because they can’t just float there magically in space by themselves.” But instead, I was quick on my feet and noted how there is no color change under the lace, so it’s clear that the solid silk shines through the lace with out obstruction, so the bottom ruffles have to start lower. They also can’t be attached to the lace because there’s no seam line in the painting.
Then she asked my favourite question, the one Bridget and I had discussed a lot on our Y!Group — why did I choose the chiffon for those ruffles? Simple: organza (used on several of the other dresses and arguably more period) was too stiff. I started with organza, but when I mocked it up, no matter how loose I made the ruffles, they stuck out horizontally too much, were far too poufy. The ruffles as painted are very soft and fluid, very drapey, and they puddle at the bottom of the skirt. This is very clearly shown in the painting. Chiffon achieves this effect better.
Still, even thoughI totally won that argument, I came away from judging feeling like they hated me and thought I was a big dumb LOSER. I was completely rushed through (being towards the end of our group). I wasn’t asked any positive questions like “how did you do that?” — just nitpicky ones with the insinuation of “you were wrong to do that, prove why you aren’t.”
Also, I heard not a single polite word. C’mon, whenever I’ve judged (though I’ve only done workmanship a couple times and yeah, it’s been F/SF, but so what?), I thank each person for their effort. I heard the judges gushing over some of our group earlier too. Be fair! Give everyone the same polite neutrality. Especially if you’re old pals with certain folks (as I think a certain judge is). I know judging is hard, but so is being a contestant. I wasn’t rude to them — nervous as fuck, sure, jittery, and forgetting the right words, but never rude. And I hurried through because I knew we had been at it a while, and I tried not to belabor anything. But man, they made me feel like I was intruding or something! It was extremely unpleasant.
Oh and I didn’t even mention the horrible accident that happened in the green room! After our rehearsal, but before judging, a woman was doing something (not sure what, I didn’t see it happened) but fell into one of our heavy wooden stools. She must have been going rather fast because she started bleeding profusely and later I learned her shin was gashed so badly she needed stitches. Thomas, Lana, and Bridget were nearest and got her down and covered the wound. I called TheOtherSarahG in ConOps because I knew she had at least a first aid kit if not a medical staffer. I relayed what happened and said to send someone down to the green room asap. Eventually, the paramedics came and took the woman to the hospital. She was okay in the end, but man, that was pretty freaky for a while. I guess we really are mad, bad, and dangerous to know :-/
After all that trauma, we returned our gear to the rooms and Kendra, Katherine, Teresa, and I had lunch/dinner. We weren’t going to be able to eat again before the masquerade, so this was really it.
We wanted to get ready in a calm, relaxed manner. No rush. I even poured the very last of our Pink Drinks(tm).
At one point, after Kendra had done my hair and I was sitting there in my antique 1860s chemise, about to put on my eight-year-old wedding corset, I let out a big sigh. This was it! Three long, hard years of work were coming to fruition. The con itself was on the verge of being a complete success. And here we were, a group of crazy costumers, about to set out for the stage to recreate a beautiful dream. All the planning, all the bitching, all the money spent, all the sewing, all the swearing, all the fantasizing, it was about to be over. I got a chill…
We laced each other up and put on our little finishing bits. We’d stored our props in the green room earlier. I took my giant tulle-covered hat. I had my camera, cellphone, makeup, and a load of meds in my purse (too bad I forgot my flask ;-). We walked the overland route — no need to cover up, no-one was there yet.
We checked in and were assigned to den #3. Our ‘den mom’ was Marty Gear. He didn’t remember me, but I remembered him from CC23. How could I forget the vampire guy? But this time, he was all about us. Marty was to guide us on and off stage, take care of our needs backstage, watch our purses and glasses while we were on stage, and generally be the best one-man support system anyone could ever ask for. We really lucked out in this assignment! He was perfectly patient with our ginormous group of fussy, not-quite-ready girls and 1 rather cranky guy. He was always there with water, pins, thread, chocolate, info, you name it. And he knew, he just *knew* we were winners. Marty is my new vampire granddad, and if I really do make it to Baltimore for CC27, it’ll be as much because of him as for anything else.
The waiting backstage is always a bit sucky, but I dunno, I’m used to it. I expect it. It’s been years since I’ve done any regular theater, but the feeling comes back to me easily. I accept it. Others (like, yes, Thomas) not so much. Yvette was super-helpful. Bridget and Lana still had sewing to do — little stuff, like bows — and Yvette totally assisted with them. I seem to recall Maegan being relaced into her gown a few times. There was much futzing with costumes and a lot of freaking out about food and drink getting too close to costumes.
After an eternity, our number came up. Marty lead us to our place in line. Most of the group was entering from stage-left, and Lynne, Teresa, and I were entering from stage-right. We heard a little bit of the previous entries — such as the Satin-ist Cult’s cha-cha.
Then came our ninjas’ cue. They swiftly hustled on and set up our gear. Then the lights. Then our music.
Enter Maegan, Kendra, and Bridget. Count to 15, our cue! My group enters. Sometime backstage, someone had suggested we mouth “I Touch Myself” as our faux-chatter. I don’t know if anyone else did, but I totally did! We crossed the stage, as Sarah and Katherine enter. I call to Katherine, we look at the painting, and I announce the empress. Lana enters, and OMG THE AUDIENCE IS APPLAUDING THE EMPRESSS!!!
That was the moment I knew we’d succeeded. They got it! They understood what we were doing! They were part of our dream! We’d achieved everything I’d ever wanted to! Audience and performers were one, and that, to me, is the whole point of being on stage!
Thomas as our Winterhalter entered, “ladies, places please” and we moved into the portrait position. Hold it a few beats, and I’m giddy as all hell. Lights go down, and *YES* WE SLAYED!!!!!
All of us were bubbling, positively floating off the stage, we’re looking at each other, our faces glowing in the dark, I swear we’re flashing devil horns and miming high-fives as we scramble off the stairs and into the back hallway. All of us are lifting our hoops and running down that hallway, we’d have done cartwheels if we could! We’re trying not to scream because we know someone else is on stage. We run to the green room door and practically fall all over each other inside.
Maegan is crying, Kendra has the biggest grin I’ve ever seen, Bridget looks like she’s in shock, Lynne is teared up, everyone’s either giggling or crying or stunned or all of the above. I start crying. Someone hands us a box of tissues. We have a big group hug and I pull Thomas into it because he’s just as much a part of this stellar performance.
This is our real win. The audience. Our performance. All of us pulling off the most amazing feat together, at the last minute, making the dream happen, bringing the portrait to life. Three years in the making, coming together in 90 seconds on stage.
We walked out in a daze to photos, get as many as possible for posterity. Thomas eventually leaves to catch the rest of the Sharks game. Some of our group goes to watch the masquerade, and a few of us just sit in the green room and chill.
When the whole show is over, it begins again. The audience loves us! More photos, more adulation. Questions abound. How long did you practice that? How did you make all of this? Did you get together and sew? Where did you find the materials? How did you do your hair? Where’s the painter?
Many, many friends were happy for us. We’d tried hard to keep this project a secret. The painting is pretty well-known among historical costumers, and other groups have considered doing it in the past but haven’t pulled it off. So announcing it could have really set us up for failure.
A couple people specifically told me that they were thrilled that we did that painting because they loved it and have always wanted to see it come to life. That was really satisfying. Others complimented us on the choreography and how we didn’t just sit like the painting, we did *something* with it — which was exactly our point (well, my point anyway ;-).
But I hear there are a couple folks who are jealous that they weren’t included in the group. Which I think is a bit silly. What do they want, a painting with a zillion ladies in it? Where’s the stage big enough? Honestly, 10 is way more than plenty for a group project. It’s herding cats as it is. I never, ever want to do a costume project with that many people again, no matter how much I love the folks involved! Never again!
The people who were involved were chosen based on who we knew at Costume College 2005 and who was standing in the room at the time. We had one girl drop out, so we asked Sarah because we knew she’d get it done. But there was no master plan or long-term alliance or clique meant about who was in it. Frankly, I didn’t really know the people back then who are acting most jealous now! How could I possibly have involved them? The attitude makes me not want to involve them in stuff in the future.
I’m very proud of our work on this project. We had a goal and achieved it. Some of us had HUGE personal life obstacles to overcome in the past few months, but we still made it. I’m not about to let anything tear down this honor for me or my friends. We slayed the audience and went on to actually win a major award. m/
So about that … yes, it was seriously made of squee!
When the judging was over, we trouped into the audience to watch. It’s no fun to sit backstage — you can’t enjoy everyone else’s awards there.
We asked Marty to sit with us, because he was our rock. And he told us “it’s Best in Show or nothing.” I didn’t quite believe him. I didn’t want to let myself. Besides, I hadn’t seen the whole show, so who knew?
One thing I thought was odd about the awards was that they didn’t give out any Best Workmanship in each level awards, a la Best Workmanship Novice or a Best in Show Workmanship either. Not obligatory, of course, totally at the judges’ discretion, but I still thought it was odd. Maybe that goes back to my perception that these judges were serious workmanship hard-asses.
They did give out a few Honored for Excellence in Workmanship awards, including one to Bess and one to Linsey. At least the judges knew some good stuff when they saw it up close! They also gave out quite a few documentation awards.
In the master class, there was an award something like “Best Confectionery” that for a minute I thought was going to be us. Not sure how I would have felt about that — perhaps a little bittersweet (no pun intended), due to all the hard work and heartache, but then again, the audience reaction was so delicious, so delightful, it’s really hard to say.
The last award in the master category was a special judges choice award, and again we all thought that might be us. Nope. Kendra and I looked at each other and both said “we’re either being snubbed or we got Best in Show.” I honestly did not know which it was.
Well, dear readers, now you know the rest of the story.
I screamed like a banshee and jumped about 10 feet in the air when they announced us. We hugged, cried, I said “fuck yeah!” a lot (you just can’t take me anywhere), and ran up to the stage, tripping all over each other and our hoops. Clearly we did not win for most graceful (well, I didn’t ;-). We did a curtsy in a row after a lot of high-fiving and devil-horning and hugging and laughing and squeeing.
I’ve always maintained that I’m not competitive, I don’t care about awards, I just want to do my own thing. And mostly this is true. I’m not BS-ing when I say that.
But there is a small part of me that’s also felt a bit insignificant, even fraudulent, next to awesome pals like Kevin and Kendra and Rachel who have massive costume chops. One is a talented artist crowned a Master Costumer by the fan world, another is a meticulous and brilliant historian who gets cited by scholars, and the third is a professional theater costumer with a published specialty resource.
Now, I can’t possibly measure up to any one of those things — at heart, I’m just a freak who likes to dress up in funny clothes. But this dressing up thing is part of the artistic expression that is my life, as much as my writing is, as much as the way I decorate my home is, as much as my video productions with Thomas are. I’m pretty satisfied with who I am and how I express the creativity in my soul. But it sure would be nice to have some tiny bit of recognition from the outside world, some little thing that proves, yeah, you’re equal, if in different ways, to those nifty folks you admire so much.
This somewhat ties back to the folks who were jealous of us doing the Eugenie project in the first place. We didn’t leave anyone out because they’re not equal. I understand the feeling of not measuring up. But what I’m also saying is that here is something I did for myself so that I could feel like I measured up. Sure, I got loads of help from every single person in the group, either directly or through comments. But *I* did all the work on my outfit. I also did a lot of work on the presentation (not to mention getting my husband’s involvement). And *I* was up there on stage. My own work got me my own accolades. So if I’m “in” it’s because I worked my ass off to get there, not because it was handed to me or because I’m part of a special crowd or I was just lucky.
I guess beyond measuring up to others, this proved I could measure up to *me.* And that’s just as important. This was a task like no other for me. Everyone else in this group had made this kind of dress before. Old hat. But not me. Geez, you’d think I could have found an easier path to becoming a Master Costumer! Hey, this makes it feel all that much better 😉
It’s equivalent to the SCA’s costuming Laurel. It’s like an Academy Award or the Super Bowl of costuming. I told Thomas that he scored an assist on the game-winning goal of game 7 in the Stanley Cup of costuming. because he won too! He worked his butt off for the presentation, that’s for sure, and without him, we’d have just been a bunch of froofy dresses without a soundtrack even.
Oh and now Johanna, Linda, and Yvette are all Master Ninjas. They can’t be stage ninjas for journeymen or novice level costumers 😉
Back in the bar afterwards, Bridget bought a round of drinks saying “I owe you this one” which went a ways in my mind to make up for Friday night’s debacle. “Yeah, you do” I smiled as I ordered a cosmo 🙂
We bought Marty a drink too, and he helped Sarah and me talk ourselves into going to CC27. We even have a masquerade entry idea. Who knows how long that will last, heh.
My payment to Johanna for being the ultimate last-minute savior was to give her the half-bottle of Lucid absinthe left from our Friday party. A little crazy, but I know she’ll appreciate it and probably drink it faster than I would.
Yvette said she wants her payment is to join us when we all watch the masquerade DVD — so hey, who’s up for it? I don’t mind hosting. My thank you to Thomas will probably be to finally get TiVoHD so we can hook up the HD telly he’s had for 6 months (it was a gift that we can’t hook up). So we could watch it on a big screen.
The Eugenie project was an almost miraculous feat of historical costume and stage performance. It was a trial in many, many ways, but we pulled it off. We really did come together like wildly different colors into one cohesive beautiful painting. I am in debt to my friends for involving me in this project, for teaching me so much, for their support and faith in my own skills even when I doubted myself. The big win was when we heard the applause, when the audience *got* our presentation, they became part of our dream.
Costuming is a dream, a dream of decadence. I am so very privileged in this life to share that dream with people like all of you — the costumers, the fans, the people who like to create and dress up in funny clothes either for events or every day or both. It’s like Antonia Sautter said about this modern world makes it so hard for us to dream, we need a place where it feels safe to dress up and experience the dream. You all are part of my safe space. We build the dream together.
Art does create community.