☆ KumoriCon 2014 ☆

It seems like the older I get, the more conventions I attend, the busier and more jam-packed my schedule is at each of them. Even though I managed to cut back to only three conventions this year, they were no less jam-packed on a day to day basis. KumoriCon was probably the busiest convention I've attended all year! For the third year in a row, Ninja of the Night was invited back to host panels, emcee and entertain during the Sunday Afternoon cosplay contest. I had to pull out at the last minute in 2013 due to working multiple cons and moving in the course of two months; wedging KumoriCon in the middle just wasn't reasonable. I was both excited and dreading returning this year, faced with the daunting lineup of 2 performances (one of which clocked in at 25 minutes long!), 2 panels, and judging the Craftsmanship Contest. Through some Miracle, we managed to come out alive. How? Well, I'm still not sure, but here's how it all went down.

The full cast of our "Rules" presentation for Opening Ceremonies. Left>Right, Alycia (CAMYCosplay) as Sasha, Niki (Maoinabox) as Jean, myself as Mikasa, Mandy (Nutcracker) as Eren, Rynn (RynnCosplay) as Armin, Kayla (BATCosplay) as Levi, and Tanya as Hanji.

☆ T H U R S D A Y ☆ Day Before Con (also known as Day Zero) was a lot of touch-and-go. I had planned to be packed and ready on Wednesday night, but was suddenly hit by a minor migraine that kept me from getting finished. I worked a full day at the office on Thursday, then came home and scrambled to pack everything I needed for the weekend. I wasn't alone, as everyone else (including Rynn, who had arrived late on Wednesday night) was over at Kayla and Mandy's finishing up last minute pieces for the skit. I wasn't sure I was going to make it out to the Hotel with everyone else that night, but somehow it all came together and I headed out at around 9PM to meet up with the rest of the crew. That's when the weekend hit it's first snag -- the lot that they had all parked in during previous years at the con, was no longer a free-for-all; it was surrounded by fencing and designated for convention staff only. Frustrated, and with no idea what to do, the rest of them checked in and I headed across the bridge to Denny's (the only food place still open after 11PM, which was what time it was by the time we all got to Vancouver, checked in, and inquired about where to eat) and waited for everyone else to arrive. Food was had, and then we all went back to the hotel where we paid for a night of parking in the garage across the street, after being informed that street parking was free over the weekend, after 6PM on Friday. The plan was to leave the cars parked overnight, then move them to free street parking at 6PM the next day... assuming we could find any. But, that was Future-NOTN's problem, and we had other things to do. We sat around the hotel room and listened to our audio for Opening Ceremonies the next morning, so that those of us who had extensive lines could learn them for lip syncing. We managed to actually get a reasonable amount of sleep that night (if you consider 6 hours of sleep reasonable. Compared to the amount of sleep we had the rest of the weekend, I'd say it was. But, more on that later!) ☆ F R I D A Y ☆ There were a lot of last minute things to be done on all ends on Thursday, so there had been no time to go to the store for water and other snacks to keep in the room. Rynn, Mandy and I trekked out of the hotel at 8:30AM to grab some food and drinks before getting ready. While the Starbucks in the hotel still wasn't open, there was a 24-hour Plaid Pantry a block-and-some-change away, so we went over there. I snagged a case of bottled water for the room, along with some milk, mini donuts, and a muffin. We got back to the room with enough time to hand out food and drinks, and then all of us got ready for Opening Ceremonies at 10AM. We arrived just after the start of things, but with plenty of time to mentally prepare for our own piece.

For the Rules presentation during Opening Ceremonies, we wore our Attack on Titan costumes. This was the 3rd time I've worn Mikasa, and I have to say that it is INFINITELY easier and quicker to get into when I have someone else to help me pin the pieces. It went pretty well, with the audience laughing in all the right places (and a few places we didn't expect) and then it was off to get a few pictures before our first panel of the weekend. We actually got a few good pictures, with nothing more than Rynn's point-and-shoot camera -- Proof that you don't NEED fancy equipment, or even a dedicated photographer to get pictures of your costumes. At one point while I was posing for a solo shot, Tanya reached in with her clip-board to flick something off my neck -- a spider had apparently dropped down from the tree above me and come to rest on my scarf. Like the dork I am, I freaked out, tore off my scarf and my jacket, and danced around, brushing and shaking myself off for good measure. I had to thoroughly inspect my jacket and scarf before I would put either of them back on (despite the reassurances of my friends that the spider was really gone). Ignorance truly is bliss though -- that picture we took before the spider-removal? Actually turned out pretty good, though you can see the little guy right on my scarf!

After we finished taking pictures, we wandered over to Subway, where a few of us got food. From there we split up -- Kayla, Rynn, Mandy and Myself heading to do our Skits 101 Panel, and the rest of them off to the hotel rooms to start getting into body paint for their Adventure Time costumes. I had thrown together a PowerPoint slideshow for the panel to help us keep on track, but unfortunately, it didn't seem like we stuck to what each slide prompted for, and just went from the old outline. We blazed through the panel content in just about an hour, only to remember we had a TWO hour slot. We spent the rest of the panel showing some of our favorite skits, and in the end defaulted to some of our own work as examples. Next time, I think we'll want to have more videos that are NOT our own work, and we may have to go digging for some of the ones we omitted this year (the idea had been to freshen the selection, and not play the same skits as the year prior, in case we had any repeat audience from previous years... but there weren't enough skits produced in that short of time to replace more than a couple of our videos). We had a reasonably good turn-out for the first hour, but it's hard to hold everyone's attention on a single subject for that long.

After the panel, we all went up to the room, where half of them were already in full body paint. I stripped out of Mikasa (now a sweaty mess), half cleaned myself up, and decided to re-pack Mikasa once the harness had dried out a little more. Soon I was the only one left in the room, so I did what any sane woman pushing 30-years-old would do -- I took a nap. Probably a good thing I did, since I wound up skipping a lot of sleep over the course of the weekend. A couple hours later I had to let some of the group into our room, because none of them had a key to their own. Showers were had, along with half-sleeping conversations I barely remember. Finally, there started to be talk about what was going on with our cars; it was already past 8PM. Kai and I seemed to be the only ones terribly concerned about parking, and I knew that if we didn't resolve this issue Right Then, it was going to get put off long enough that the gates would close for the night (at midnight) before we got to it, and we'd be slapped with fines, or worse, towed. So while everyone else worried about how we were going to fit in any rehearsing before Kayla and Mandy's midnight game-play panel, Kai and I grabbed keys and went to re-locate all four cars. The two of us decided we would rather pay for 2 more nights of parking than risk having our cars towed in the questionably-legal lot, so we drove our own cars back to the garage, and paid for it at the front desk of the hotel. By the time we got back up to the room, Pizza had been ordered, and the game plan was to go over some concepts for the skit, with major rehearsal to happen the next evening. Around 11:40, everyone dispersed, going to their own rooms or the Panel. I took a shower (with the dual purpose of also steaming the extra wrinkles out of my top and hat for Mayuri), then Rynn and I tucked ourselves into bed -- I had to be up around 8:45 the next morning, and Rynn had to be up even earlier to get in a run for her Marathon Training. ☆ S A T U R D A Y ; S U N D A Y ☆ For most of the people in our two rooms, days two and three blended together into one - we stayed up so late that it became early, and got a total of 3 hours of sleep between the two. Around 8:45 Saturday morning, I woke up to get myself presentable and in costume for the first half of my day. I had been asked by the KumoriCon cosplay coordinators to judge the cosplay contest, and I was thrilled to be judging for the first time in my home region. Knowing I had a long day ahead, I picked out Mayuri (my easiest costume to get into, and currently most comfortable to wear). The morning didn't start off well, however -- at the risk of a little TMI, I used the toilet and very quickly learned that sometime between the night before, and getting up that morning, it had become clogged. I took one for the team, and with some quick thinking and the use of one of the hotel glasses, kept it from overflowing. Grossed out beyond reason, not to mention embarrassed, I waited to wake up my room-mates. I would have just called the front desk then and there, but I was the only one who had to be awake just yet... but one of them was going to have to answer to whoever got sent to fix the problem, since I had to be downstairs by 10, and if I called someone to come up while I would still be there, I would have been half-naked and still getting ready. Luckily, Kayla woke up naturally and I was able to inform her of the issue, and call the front desk. The engineer arrived just as I was shoving my change of clothes (jeans and t-shirt) into my bag and heading out the door. I don't know if I've said it before, but I absolutely LOVE judging cosplay contests. There is no greater compliment that I could received, than someone deciding that I am qualified to evaluate other people's work. Being shut in a room all day might seem like it's not that fun, but for an introvert like me it's basically bliss to have one-on-one time with individual cosplayers where I am allowed -- nay, EXPECTED! -- to get up close and personal, flip hems, look at seams, and even learn all about techniques I may have never thought of. It's always a wonderful learning experience for me, and I enjoy getting a chance to have that time with other cosplayers, even though I know being pre-judged can be really intimidating if you haven't done it much (or ever) before. Every contest is a little bit different, and the way KumoriCon was set up this year was that costume awards and skit awards were completely separate, and judged by different sets of people. Since I was already committed to performing half-time I couldn't judge skits, but I was free to judge the craftsmanship portion. Michi and Makenna did an amazing job organizing things this year, including scheduling in some breaks for us to get food, or deliberate a little bit. It wasn't until towards the end of the day that I realized that the 'feedback' that the cosplayers were going to receive after the contest, was our direct judging sheets with the notes we had been taking during pre-judging. I wasn't used to that sort of situation, and the notes I generally take are quick, and more to remind me of what I saw while judging when it comes down to award decisions; it is in no way how I would present my critiques to an aspiring cosplayer, especially since I tend to initially judge all costumes on a Master Level of expectation and then reason with myself later -- I hold all contestants to a master level, until I have seen everything that walks through the door, and adjust accordingly. The boxes on our sheets, while pretty big for quick notes, were way too small to write anything constructive, and we just don't have the time for it. It actually had me pretty distressed for a bit, because the last thing I wanted to do was for a first-time competitor to read the notes we'd taken, and be discouraged from ever competing again. After considering re-writing ALL of my judges sheets, I ultimately decided that I didn't have the time for that (and even if I did, again, the boxes were just too small), and instead asked Michi, when they hand back the sheets, to please give out my email address and tell them that if any of them would like REAL constructive feedback on their work they could contact me. I'm just thankful none of our names are on the sheets. We ran basically right on scheduling, finishing up at 4:30, just in time to be ushered out of the space and retreat to a hotel room to make our decisions. I don't know what it is about judging, or really planning anything with a group, but my general mode when it comes to judging is to take control of things by prompting my fellow judges with questions, and take charge of sorting the entry forms so we can weed our way down to the winners. I've done it every single time I've been on a judging panel, and I hope it doesn't make me come across as bossy. But, we managed to sort it all out and decide on awards, just in time for me to change my clothes in the hotel room bathroom, and run downstairs for the "Legends of the Hidden Temple...of Time" Panel, which was scheduled to start at 6PM. I wasn't sure I was going to make it in time, but it all worked out. I threw on my Team Leader shirt for the Red Hylians, and was ready to roll.

The score-board and various game props as made by NOTN and Friends. (I don't even know how many people helped out with these)

Although it needs some tweaking, overall the panel was a lot of fun. It was high energy, and I think my favorite part was the very beginning where the team leads got to pick volunteers from the audience to make up their 'teams'. There were a handful of hiccups, but most of the crowd seemed happy enough to roll with it. After the panel is where things get a little bit fuzzy for me. I know there was a desperation for food, but no actual dinner, though Kayla and Mandy scarfed down their (now cold) lunches that had been picked up before the Zelda game panel. We rallied in the hotel rooms, picked up the set pieces and necessary costume bits, and hauled them down to an empty workshop room that we'd been told we could use for rehearsals. The first couple of hours was taken up by set assembly, which included putting together pipe-frames, working around missing joint pieces, and gluing a bunch of cardboard hands to a frame, while Rynn worked to adjust a few bits of our Audio. The audio continued to be modified throughout the night, as unnecessary lines were cut to reduce the length, and pauses were added to give the ninjas more time to actually do the set changes that were needed. Rey got into town around 9PM, and Chris joined us around 11:30PM after his bus got into town and he and Rynn went on a quick food run. I was mostly useless for the first several hours of rehearsal, primarily watching and preserving my energy. I knew it was going to be a long night -- we all did -- but it was much longer than I had even expected, and I'm honestly surprised that I was not violently ill by the end of it. As the night wore on, I got more and more involved with staging suggestions and adjustments, wanting to find as many ways as possible to move things along quickly, and streamline the process. In the end, we were only able to run straight through from beginning to end one time, before we realized we needed to call it a night and get some rest. It was 7AM Sunday Morning when we finally left that workshop room to haul our set pieces and props down to main events for storage, and we were NOT prepared. I don't know how everyone else felt, but I made every attempt to be rationally hopeful, mostly because I felt like we needed that sense of hope to get us through. We all shuffled off to our rooms, knowing that at the most we would be getting a few hours of sleep before we needed to get back up and be prepared to get down to main events for the show. We had barely had a chance to look at the stage, walk on it, and estimate where our prop and set pieces were going to go. This was the biggest thing we had ever done, in terms of performance length, cast and crew size, and overall number of props and set pieces. In a bid of desperation, I texted Michi to see if we would be allowed to do a run on the stage before the show, and then fell asleep.

SUNDAY, PART II Immediately upon waking up, we were faced with a choice; Michi had responded to my text sometime while we were sleeping, and Tech said we could have Main Events between 11:30 and 12:30. It was 11:30 just then. It was decided that, this was our only chance, and we were going to take it. We made phone calls to the next room over, got everyone on the horn, and scrambled to get downstairs for our ONE SHOT at running everything through on stage. By the time we managed to get everyone together, we only had enough time to run about 3/4 of the skit before they had to kick us out and begin seating for a Q&A Session. The actors seemed to all have their parts down, but the Ninjas easily had the hardest parts of all of those involved. We dispersed after our run through, feeling somehow better and more confidant, but also realizing that it still wasn't Ready. While those of us who needed to be in costume got ready, the Ninjas ran through their marks, without props, over and over again to the audio being played on Kayla and Mandy's laptop. I got into my costume in probably a record time for myself, and as soon as we were all dressed I grabbed the mirror we'd be using off-stage, and we headed downstairs. Did I mention that three of our actors (myself included) were changing full costumes mid-performance? That's what I brought the mirror for. I was starting the afternoon (and the show) as Grell Sutcliff, and changing mid-performance to re-appear and play as Madam Red. Tanya was one of the first of us to be ready and, being an absolute darling, she and Rynn did the Subway Sandwhich run for us so we wouldn't all pass out from hunger. During the show, I had no drive or confidence in my ability to Emcee... my appearance on stage was limited to one stint where I followed Mandy up on stage to harass her in the background for the audiences amusement. The show seemed to go by so incredibly quickly, and before we knew it, it was our turn. I hadn't performed a skit in over a year (minus our Opening Ceremonies skit, which involved little more than standing in a line), so I was exceptionally nervous. I couldn't bring myself to watch, only to listen for my cues so I know when to get up on stage and into place. As of this writing, none of us have seen video of the skit yet, but I can vaguely remember things I heard or thought while I was on stage. I hear that there were a few mistakes, but overall things went well. The sound of the audience as they realized what we were doing was fantastic, and for the first time, I got to play a more exaggerated, borderline comical character. I never would have pegged myself for cosplay as Grell, but I really enjoyed the experience (and it was even better because I didn't have to make the costume -- I borrowed Mandy's). Between my two scenes, I think I had somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 minutes to change costumes. During that time, I was alternately kicking or tearing off pieces of Grell, and also helping Alycia get into her second costume, pinning pieces to her hat, putting in her hair clips, and zipping her dress. And yet, I still had not only enough time to change, but also to adjust myself and even hair-spray my wig before I had to be out on stage again.

All in all, once the performance was done, I felt an intense rush of relief; frankly, I think we all did. It was over, and there was nothing left to worry about. After taking a final bow, I was immediately ushered back up on the stage by Michi, to stand with the judges as awards were handed out. I felt really good about our choices, especially since the audience response I heard seemed to reinforced those decisions. Once the crowd was let out, we took a few more pictures on stage with certain props and set pieces, before they were to meet their inevitable demise in the trash can.

We loitered around backstage for a solid hour after the rest of the attendees and staff had dispersed; partly eating what was left out our sandwhiches and partly tearing down the sets. Somewhere in there, someone on the tech crew started playing a cover of "Let it Go" and we all sang at the top of our lungs. We went outside, got a few photos in our costumes, and then decided to call it a day. I wasn't too eager to get any photos myself because I knew that after only 3 hours of sleep I FELT completely busted, and no doubt I looked it. In my haste, I had decided to forego my usual false eyelashes in favor of mascara because, and I quote "I don't got time for that right now".

What followed the rest of the night was a bit of a blur. We changed into normal clothes, and Rynn and I packed our suitcases -- she had a flight to catch that evening and I was giving her a ride to the airport on my way home. Having no plans for Monday of the con and wanting a solid recovery day before going back to work, I had decided to just go home on Sunday night. Ultimately, we all ended up back at Denny's one more time, where there were milkshakes at almost every place at the table, and I stuffed myself with some of the tastiest value-menu garbage I'd had in days. Eventually, we had to leave everyone, or risk Rynn missing her late-night flight home. Cutting it rather close, I told her to text me if she missed her flight, and then I got myself out of that loading-only zone as quickly as possible. It took me about 40 minutes to get home, where the house was so quiet compared to the constant sound I'd been around all weekend, that my ears were actually ringing. I wound down by watching the newest episode of Kuroshitsuji that I had missed when it came out on Thursday, and then went to bed.


Overall, KumoriCon was a very full, very stressful, but very satisfying convention weekend. I didn't wear everything that I brought, but I got a few more photos of Mikasa, and proof that Madam Red exists. I was busy, and got to do BOTH of the things I love most about cons, which is judging, and performing. It's been almost 2 weeks since the con, and I'm still not fully recovered. In the end, I don't think I ever want to push myself that hard and long for a convention again, but I don't regret how anything turned out. Next Con is NEWCON PDX in January!

#ConReport #KumoriCon

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