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Cosplay Expo Takes Flight at the Vortex Theater

Melissa Vogt-Patterson models fantasy slasher makeup with designer Justin Lavergne.
Melissa Vogt-Patterson models fantasy slasher makeup with designer Justin Lavergne.
David G. Robinson iPhoto

Cosplay, short for “costume play,” is a rising trend among fans of all types at comic book conventions, Star Trek and other expos, and anywhere else someone can get attention wearing a costume. The Vortex Theater on Manor Road in east Austin is one such place this week (August 10 – 16, 2014), because it is offering its first, possibly annual Cosplay Expo. This expo may be one of the first in the country to devote itself exclusively to the practice of cosplay.

Cosplay is a costume making and costume wearing activity pursued by people of all ages. It may be described as a hobby or an obsession or a professional performing career path. Regardless of any precise definition, cosplay is engaged in by people with vivid imaginations who receive very little monetary return for their significant investments in time, passion, and money spent for fabrics and supplies. Their satisfaction may be no more than parading through the aisles of their local comic con as at the recent Austin Comic Con. Or they may build a national reputation as a character they invented or borrowed from a popular fantasy series and tour the country with it.

Why would a teenager spend hours of his or her free time fabricating a costume to be worn at a public event for only a few hours ever? The answer is all over the lot. “It’s their way of participating in something in which they find great meaning, obviously,” says Lou Pons, a local fantasy artist who frequently attends pop culture conventions. Her answer speaks to the essence of cosplay.

The Cosplay Expo at the Vortex taps into all of this creative energy. The theater and Vortex Repertory Company are known for presenting plays, musicals, and dance performances of high fantasy and unusual innovation. “We have always pushed the envelope on this kind of thing, and so it was a natural,” says Bonnie Cullum, owner and artistic director of the Vortex. Chad Salvata is a Vortex-allied artist, who, with his production group Ethos, has produced high fantasy cyberoperas since the mid-1990s, all with extreme costumes and makeup. “Chad has been designing these costumes for a long time,” says Cullum, specifying that they are always “over-the-top, outrageous costumes.” The reason for sponsoring a Cosplay Expo is straightforward. Cullum says, “I feel we have developed technology for this kind of thing. We can show others who would like to make costumes what we’ve done, what it takes, and what we can learn together to make better costumes.”

The timing of Cosplay Expo now at the Vortex is very important. It ties in with a new Ethos fantasy film, its first ever, Octia of the Pink Ocean. The feature length film is one element of a fantasy octology, the first works of which were full-length early cyberoperas in the 1990s. “Chad wanted to do something bigger and on a grander scale with this production,” Cullum says. How better to build buzz than to touch base with other media and fantasy enthusiasts? Many of the how-to workshops this week feature the actual props and costume pieces appearing on the screen, so cosplay fans have the opportunity to see how pieces they might make can play in a film. The titles of some of the workshops give hints of the opportunity afforded: “Making Leather Gauntlets,” “Fantasy Makeup Design and Application,” “Fantasy Genitalia,” and “Headgear for Heroes.”

Fantasy fans in all media who attend the Expo get an “insiders” treat. Although showing once or twice per night during the Expo, Octia of the Pink Ocean is still in the final preview stage of post-production. It is not yet in release. The attendees may fill out surveys and request changes (but not big ones) and give comments on the film. Watch these web pages for more information on Octia of the Pink Ocean coming soon.

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