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Costume Drama

Just being yourself all the time can be a bore, so – get another life!

By Virginia Betz

Photo by Jorge Quintero

Photo by Jorge Quintero

Used to be that average citizens would wait for that one day per year when they would don outrageous costumes in order to shed their everyday identities and cavort with wild abandon. In much of Latin America, this was martes de carnaval and, in the U.S., it was Halloween. Nowadays, Americans seem to be looking for more and more occasions to dress up as someone – or something – else. Whatever the psychological impetus, the trend for finding ever more excuses to take on an alternate persona seems quite genuine. 

When the dress-up is habitual, the activity may be referred to as role-playing and can be considered a more or less serious hobby. When episodic, dressing-up is more likely to be a form of embodied escapism that cannot be satisfied by passively watching a film or reading a book. In our media-saturated world, there is something charming, and even admirable, in the do-it-yourself approach to escapism. 

Those attracted to role-playing are more likely to join a formal organization where they have a specific character with specific duties and a specific costume that defines their role. Such organizations are commonly dedicated to a particular historical period: Roman, Colonial, Medieval, Victorian, and so on. Some of the most serious groups dedicate themselves to historical re-enactment; this is particularly true for those whose major activity is the commemoration of a specific event, most commonly a battle associated with a specific locale. A majority of these groups are voluntary associations of history buffs, but, some go pro or semi-pro, charging for their appearances at civic and educational events, parties and sometimes as movie or TV extras. 

Members are usually responsible for assembling their own outfits and often meticulously research the details of dress and deportment so that their impersonations are very authentic. For example, the non-profit Arizona Civil War Council, Inc., the oldest, continuously operating re-enactment group in the state, gives the following list of basic costume necessities for an infantryman: kepi or hardee hat, pair of brogans, cotton pull-over shirt, wool pants with five-button front, button-on suspenders, wool jacket or frock coat, great coat, haversack, belt, cup, canteen, rifle, bayonet and scabard, paper cartridges, cartridge box, caps, cap powder and mandatory earplugs. 

Other groups pay tribute to fictional characters and the imagined worlds of wizards, gods and extraterrestrials. While the realm of fantasy would seem to allow more scope for self-expression and invention, hard-core fans often set their own standards of appropriateness and authenticity for established characters.

Popular costumes are always available for purchase, but it’s a lot more fun to create your own. Arizona’s chapter of the International Costume Guild, the Southwest Costumers Guild (P.O. Box 39504, Phoenix 85069; southwestcostumersguild.org) provides fabulous resources for costume research, including patterns, on-line tutorials, discussion groups and links to related sites for a wide range of attire – theatrical, historical, science fiction and comic. A mere $10/year gets you membership in the Guild and their monthly newsletter, Cactus Needles. The on-line site, alleycatscratch.com, is also for serious students of costumery but specializes in movie-related wardrobes, with particularly extensive coverage of Lord of the Rings garments.

If the appeal of all this dress-up is eluding you, perhaps you just need to spend some quality time around dedicated enthusiasts to catch the bug, too. No need to wait till next year’s Renaissance Festival, many events this fall involve costumed capers, and here are just a couple of possibilities:

Friday through Sunday, October 18, 19 and 20: Helldorado Days in Tombstone, AZ, 2013

Tombstone’s oldest festival (since 1929) celebrates the Wild West of the 1880s. Each day citizens in period dress provide non-stop entertainment along Allen Street including live music, line dancing, a street carnival, a fashion show, gunfight re-enactments, a beard and mustache contest, a cowboy social and more. Sunday, the grand Helldorado Parade begins at 11 a.m. All visitors are encouraged to dress thematically, but check out the rules for firearms and replicas thereof at tombstonechamber.com/helldorado-days-84th-annual

Free admission.

October 11 through November 3: Star Trek: The Exhibition

Arizona State Fairgrounds, 1826 W. McDowell Rd., Phoenix 85007; 602-252-6771

Wednesday-Friday: noon to 10:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday: 10 a.m.-10:30 p.m.

Star Trek: The Exhibition is making the rounds of state fairs across the country and will be a new attraction at Arizona’s 2013 Fair. Original costumes, sets and props from the five TV series and 11 feature films will be on view along with a number of interactive kiosks. No doubt, local Trekkies will be out in force and suitably bedecked, given the numerous photo ops the exhibit will provide, like sitting in Captain Kirk’s chair.

Admission: $5 in addition to Fair admission; children 5 and under, free.

 Info at azstatefair.com/startrek

zombiewalkSaturday, October 26: Zombie Festival and Zombie Walk 5

Heritage and Science Park, 115 N. 6th St., Phoenix 85004

Festival starts at 2 p.m., Zombie Walk at approximately 6 p.m.

With an expected attendance of 10,000, this year’s event is the culmination of Zombie month, as October has been officially dubbed. If you’re not sure what an acceptable zombie “look” is, there will be expert help available pre-walk at the Festival, or check out the photos and videos at downtownphoenix.com/zombie/

Admission: Free, but donations of non-perishable food items or cash to St. Mary’s Food Bank requested.

Saturday and Sunday, November 23 and 24: 11th Annual American Heritage Festival 2013

Schnepf Farms, 24810 S. Rittenhouse Rd., Queen Creek, AZ 85242; 480-987-3100

Saturday and Sunday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Calling itself “the largest and most diverse educational living history event in the Western United States,” the American Heritage Festival’s huge cast of interpreters present re-enactments of civilian and military events, portrayals of famous personalities, and music and crafts from multiple historical epochs ranging from the 16th through 20th centuries. Organized by We Make History, an Arizona-based non-profit, the Festival is designed to be educational, interactive and family friendly. To learn about the many other events they stage in Arizona, such as their period-themed balls, visit wemakehistory.com.

Admission: $15 per person, cash only; children 3 and under, free. For information about advance discounts, go to americanheritagefestival.com/2013AHF/publicinfo

And, remember, September 19 is International Talk-Like-a-Pirate Day! 

Click here to read this story in our Digital Edition

This Article appears on the August 2013 issue of LPM under Fitness

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