Friday, 13 February 2015

Cosplaying Renly Baratheon. Part 1: The Crown

After last year discovering the delights of “cosplay” playing "Arrow" , I am now raising the ambition a bit. I am working on creating a costume for Renly Baratheon, the unfortunate (well, aren’t they all?) young king from Game of Thrones. A character already very appealing in the novels, the TV series (and Gethin Anthony’s apt portrayal) showed an even more engaging character, with quite an interesting wardrobe to match. I will of necessity portray an older Renly (let’s pretend he was not murdered) and set my eyes on this costume.


Now this looks deceptively simple, but if you start to study this, this may well be the most complex costume created for the entire series. I need some simplifications…The whole project can be split into three: the crown, the breastplate, and the clothes and accessories.
Let’s start with the crown. I have seen many ways to make this: from thermoplastics, pipe cleaners, and clay  all the way up to 3D-printing, but I decided –after ample study- on paper mache. First and foremost because the result will be light on the head yet sturdy enough, and secondly because the materials are dirt cheap and easily available: just newspaper and ordinary flour. I found Jonni Good’s Ultimate Paper Mache website absolutely indispensable in setting up this project.
How does it work?
The crown can be split up into the head piece and what I call the ‘antlers’. There are three different types of antler used in the crown, and these I made from copper wire which was subsequently covered and ‘sculpted’ with aluminum foil to get the sketelon shapes. These were then covered with paper mache, using strips of paper and Jonni’s recommended uncooked flour paste. I found this technique quite satisfactory, and the antlers dried in front of a fan within an hour or so (it is important that they are thoroughly dry, otherwise mold may set in). What you get is a set of little antlers that are quite sturdy, but can still be shaped to give the best look and fit.
The head band was made from a slender plastic belt which was strengthened with copper wire and treated the same way: first shaping it with aluminum foil and then covering with paper mache.

Then came the fun part: putting it all together using superglue. That’s the stage where I am at now. I will give it another layer of paper mache to secure all the glue points and then it is a matter of grounding, painting and varnishing it. After that, it is on to the armour which is a bit more complicated and involves the use of the thermoplastic Worbla sheets (as well as a duct tape dummy!). That’s going to be fun!!!


Sunday, 8 February 2015

The small pets' industry...Part 2

Less than two weeks after my previous blog, another one of our beloved birds we found dead at the bottom of the cage. He was behaving rather oddly at times, sitting on the bottom just staring at nothing, but as he was a "bottom feeder" anyway (some birds are) we thought nothing serious of it. Until today, that is.

It is, I think therefore time to dig a little deeper in what I talked about before. Here are the facts: over the last 2-3 years we bought five parakeets from the same pet store. I am not going to mention any names, only that it is a big store here in The Hague. As of now, three of those five birds have passed away within less than a year after joining our flock. Two of those were having health problems, which  we took to the vet and for which we received treatment, that worked. But something else was apparently wrong with them, something not obvious upon professional inspection and something that caused them to die prematurely.

The third bird passed away within almost three months and also brought -we think- a case of 'scaly face' -a mite infection- into the cage that was caught by two other birds. One of these was another bird from the same pet store, the other one was our 'senior' who has been with us for over ten years now, but is from a completely different pet store. We treated them, they both got healed and after a few months and some antibiotics also got healed from a persistent cough. Incidentally, I hope it is also clear that we try to take good care of our birds. They get fresh food, vegetables and fruit every day, they get vitamins, minerals and probiotics in their drinking water, and when something is wrong we take them to the vet and treat them, no matter the cost.

The last bird we got from this particular pet store has been on and off suffering from a persistent eye infection since we got him, which only became manifest a few months after purchase. We also managed to cure this eventually.

The point is: this cannot be coincidence. We have been keeping birds for quite some time and although we have noticed that most small pet birds do not live longer than five or so years, this latest experience is really outside of this expectation. Needless to say, we will not go to this pet store anymore for any supplies. We have decided to have no more birds after the current flock, because my prime concern right now is that I do not want to support this kind of business any longer.

Birds- and small animals in general- are not consumables and they do not deserve to be treated as such. They are wonderful, conscious and marvelous creatures that right now are being 'mutilated' by the  commercial pet industry. I am sad because we just loved a wonderful and sweet companion. I am actually more sad and quite angry about how humanity is treating other living creatures in general for its own selfish needs. That needs to stop, plain and simple.

Monday, 26 January 2015

The Small Pets' Industry...

Recently we lost one of our beloved parakeets. That by itself is not unusual, it simply happens to pets. It however becomes a different story when you realize that this bird was only about half a year old, and during that time we already had to deal with some issues with an “assuredly healthy” pet. It becomes even more interesting when you realize that of the last five birds that we “adopted”, none of them proved to be completely healthy in the first year or so. One had an eye infection, another died within a few months from respiratory distress, another one we just saved in time from a respiratory infection and another brought a case of  ‘scaly face’ into the cage. Most of these we were able to treat successfully (we have a great avian vet!). But running an almost continuous birdy sickbay is a far cry from enjoying your pets' presence like you are supposed to.
I do not blame the place we buy them from; they do everything in their power to keep these animals healthy. It is however not enough. The sad truth is that many of these animals are genetically and immunologically unhealthy, due to too much inbreeding by breeders who really don’t care, or don’t know. A faulty stock of subquality product, if I may use that term.

I personally think –and I have voiced this opinion before- that there is something fundamentally wrong with our attitudes towards pets, especially small pets like birds, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits etc. They are indeed viewed as ‘products’, as ‘commodoties’, often purchased on a whim by people who have no idea how to take care of them and discarded with the same ease as they are purchased. It says something when people commend us as if it something extraordinary for making sure that our birds are taken care of –by a professional animal nanny!- when we are on vacation and that we take our sick birds to the vet, no matter the cost.

I have decided not to support this ‘small pet industry’ anymore if that means I am supporting an institution that treats these wonderful, beautiful and expressive animals like disposables and does not care about their quality of life. No living creature deserves this kind of negligent treatment to serve our amusement. We will continue to take the best care possible of our remaining birds, as they deserve nothing less from us. But they will be our last…

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Becoming Arrow 3: An Inner Journey?

As I put on the costume and start playing the character, something interesting starts to happen. It is quite an awkward feeling to be walking with a hood almost covering your eyes. You are forced to look downwards, and you are ‘shading your eyes’ , as if they would betray you by being visible. This creates a sense of smallness, of invisibility that, as I realize, is capturing the stealthy nature of this character so well. I gradually notice that I start to feel alone in what seems to be a increasingly strange and hostile world. As my character, I am observing my surroundings and what I see, I am weighing and judging. I place myself at what looks like ‘strategic points’ from which I can oversee parts of the convention area, where I ‘freeze’ and attempt to melt into the shadows.
And gradually I start noticing that the people around me start interacting, not with me, but with the character. A certain distance seems to be setting in between my fellow fans and me, some attempt to start a conversation, but fail to continue it when confronted with this character. I am a bit amused by this, as I know first hand how difficult it is to interact with someone who is in 'full character'! By way of an experiment, I deliberately " drop him" a few times, and immediately, the interactions with my surroundings become profoundly different. And then something remarkable happens. As I enter an elevator, already with some people, conversation stops while I stand there brooding and observing. It does not take long, but as we all exit, one of the girls bends towards me and whispers, just for my ears: “Have a great day, Oliver!” and for a moment I am actually stunned. In character, I reply that she better keep that knowledge to herself, upon which she grabs her camera and takes a picture.

This –and other little events like these- convince me that something really interesting is happening and that there is more to ‘playing’ this fictitious character than meets the eye. Apparently, somehow, the image I am building inside, the emotions and feelings, are being picked up by the people around me.

As I continue doing this, other weird things start to happen. Remember the keywords I used to build up Arrow: ARCHETYPE, FORCE FOR GOOD, ANONYMOUS, HIDDEN, MISSION, FACELESS? These are still there but, as I walk around, I am also getting new insights into this character: he possesses a great Strength as he seeks to bring Justice according to a finely attuned sense of Judgment as he fulfills the role of an archetypal Archer. It is insights such as these that convince me something very interesting is going on, as this seems to grow beyond simply roleplaying a character: the character itself seems to come alive through me. I do a number of ‘cosplay’ sessions in character and gradually it becomes apparent that “Arrow” has a lot to tell me.

Now, I am not an actor, but I imagine this is the kind of thing an actor would also experience playing certain characters, especially if these are of an archetypal nature. I recall the many stories from actors who played in series such as Battlestar Galactica, on how playing their characters who went to all kinds of transformations and ordeals actually changed them personally as well. It seems that what started as an innocent and fun cosplay will now shift into a more personal journey, if I allow it. That is great, as I have already found out that cosplaying as a competitive art is not something I enjoy. I am not the only one with an Arrow costume, however, the others look more screen-correct and therefore better than mine. I need to take this into another direction, and this sudden shift into such an ‘inner journey’, to me, is much more valuable! I cannot wait for the next opportunity at London Film and Comic Con to “put him on” and, in the meantime, I have some ideas on how to improve a bit on the costume. Let’s see what he will tell me then!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Becoming Arrow 2: And now for the 'play' !

After the costume is done, the next thing is to actually 'play' the corresponding character. It may be sufficient to make a costume, put it on and that's it, but to me the attraction is to actually try to become that character in some way. That is where "roleplaying" comes into the whole thing.

At the Convention where I was going to cosplay Arrow for the first time, a few pointers were given by the actors present on how to build a character, from scratch, if necessary. To give an example, as actor Barry Jenner points out in one of his panels: "It all starts inside. Acting is only going to work if the actor believes inside in what a character is trying to achieve and which barriers he/she is facing and tackling. A good character is written in such a way that an actor can dig deep and find things that will enable him/her to recreate the character in a unique and personal way."

So, in order to play Arrow, I start by asking myself questions like: "Who am I really going to play? Oliver Queen, the hero of the story who becomes Arrow? Or "Arrow", what- or whoever that may be? What actually happens when Oliver becomes Arrow? How much of 'Olly' is in Arrow? Where to begin?

Let's just begin with asking: Who is Arrow?.  I don't really think of him as a person, the way he looks and acts is more in the way of a symbol, an archetypal image. He hides his face, he hides his entire identity, he becomes an anonymous and faceless creature performing a function and a mission: to bring justice and order to a corrupted world. He thus becomes a force for good in a world of evil.

Next: why Arrow? Why can't Oliver himself become such a power for good as the person that he is? Why does he need to adopt this anonymous character in order to do what he - apparently- is compelled to do?

These are questions that are quite significant for the character building, but at this time I cannot answer them. The answers -if available at all- are hopefully found in the series, and I cannot go into that that right now. So, for the first try-out I will focus on a few keywords and see what happens when working with these. ARCHETYPE, FORCE FOR GOOD, ANONYMOUS, HIDDEN, MISSION, FACELESS, are among the words that I let run through my mind like a mantra as I put on the costume, clasp on the quiver, apply the make-up and finally lower my hood. And what happens then will be in part 3.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Becoming 'Arrow' 1: The 'cos' in Cosplay

The 2013 edition of FedCon brought us actor John Barrowman who, in turn, brought me into contact with his current work on a TV series, Arrow. The London Film and Comic Con later that year showed me the fun of cosplay, which is basically a combination of creating a scifi or fantasy costume and 'roleplaying' the corresponding character. So, after all that, I sat down and started watching the Arrow series, first season, which turned out to be one of the more amazing shows of our time. Arrow is the story of Oliver Queen, an engaging rich boy, who falls victim to what later turns out to be a conspiracy and is shipwrecked and needs to master various survival skills  in order to ultimately get back to his own city which is ripe with corruption and deprivation. He then picks up the persona of "Arrow": a hooded vigilante archer in order to cleanse and purify his world. The series follows Oliver in both time frames, both when learning his skills and while using them for the greater good.

Half way through the first season, I started to feel a growing need to 'do' something connected to this show, moreover as I became acquainted with leading actor Stephen Amell through his Facebook activities. He struck me as a person who by virtue of his work is on a ride towards a bit of self-discovery and that sparked my interest even more. And then in my mind, these two ideas came together and thus the idea was born: to ‘become’ Arrow. So first of all, a costume needed to be acquired. So let’s start with the ‘cos’ in cosplay!

I quite quickly abandoned the idea of making a ‘screen correct’ (i.e., looking exactly like what you see on the show) costume which is the objective of many cosplayers. In this case I foresaw an endless search for the ‘right’ materials as well as a thick, warm and uncomfortable costume, as that is usually the tendency of ‘Hollywood costumes’. I instead set out to capture the essence of his costume and the various accessories as well as possible and do the rest by roleplaying. Besides, there is not one exact ‘look’ of ‘Arrow’ as he is often seen in the shades where all colours are blurred. Upon study I noticed his jacket and hood had various shades of green and green-brown, depending on the picture and the lighting. I then searched the Internet for materials and fabrics that I could use, and a dear archer friend provided me with some used arrows to be used in the costume.

Then I made a costume design, transferred that into patterns for the jacket and the hood, and decided to deal with the pants later. And then disaster struck; as I was happily sewing all parts together, my –quite old- sewing machine gave up on me and refused to sew another stitch. I was thus forced to complete the costume by hand; I almost gave up at that point but somehow found the patience to complete the work. Looking back, this may actually have been a blessing since in this way I was able to ‘empower’ the costume with an energy that would later be able to help me with the roleplaying part.

The result is a not-screen accurate costume that I am quite happy with as it captures some of Arrow’s essential character qualities: stealth, secretiveness and the ability to hide in the shadows, much more than a dark green costume would do. Adding a fitting pair of pants, a LARP bow (for safety) and a quiver with some painted arrows completed the costume.

I have now worn this several times and cosplayed the character (with some surprising results, and I’ll talk about those when discussing the ‘play’ in cosplay!) and there are some thing I am going to change: the hood is too large now, and the quiver needs a better and more stable ‘harness’ to be worn comfortably. That will be ready before the next occasion I’ll bring him out: The London Film and Comic Con.

Stephen Amell as Arrow (autographed)

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Ron's Mini Bio, deel 2: Mijn huwelijk en spiritualiteit!

In 1995 ging ik voor het eerst naar Gay Pride in San Francisco, twee weken lang me onderdompelen in dat enorme feest en tegelijkertijd die weergaloze stad en zijn omgeving goed leren kennen. En het jaar erop was het raak: toen ontmoette ik in mijn hotel degene die een paar jaar later mijn man zou worden. Daardoor is mijn leven volkomen veranderd. Eerst natuurlijk een jaar vol spanning van de lange-afstandsrelatie. We hadden toen torenhoge telefoonrekeningen en er stond niks op de bank van al het heen en weer vliegen naar de USA en terug. Eigenlijk al heel snel wisten we dat het menens was en uiteindelijk kwam Bill naar Nederland. Hij vond eigenlijk al snel werk in de internationale omgeving van Den Haag, en een paar jaar later zijn we dan ook in de “Haaglanden” gaan wonen. In Vlaardingen zijn we eerst in 1998 “gepartnerschapt” en later in Rijswijk getrouwd op 31 oktober 2002 (Samhain, voor degenen die dat iets zegt).

Bill heeft me in contact gebracht met drie zaken die in mijn verdere leven bijzonder belangrijk geworden zijn. Laat ik gewoon eens beginnen met datgene waarvan ik gemerkt heb dat sommigen dat vreemd, raar en zelfs wel een beetje eng vinden: mijn spiritualiteit. Bill bracht me in contact met “paganisme”; een moderne vorm van voorchristelijke op de natuur gebaseerde spiritualiteit. Wat hij me erover vertelde en wat ik erover las sprak me erg aan en voor ik het eigenlijk wist was ik daar ook volop mee in de weer: achtmaal per jaar een seizoensfeest vieren en na verloop van tijd ook stilstaan bij de betekenis van de volle maan.

Dat doe je dus via meditaties en rituelen, en dat is, als je daar helemaal niet mee bekend bent, vreemd en misschien ook wel wat ‘griezelig’. Ik heb in die jaren veel geleerd over mijzelf en vooral over hoe ik in deze wereld sta. Dat is tussen haakjes voor mij ook het belangrijkste doel van “spiritualiteit”: mezelf ontwikkelen tot een volledig mens in harmonie met zijn omgeving.
Na een jaartje of tien kwam ik zoetjesaan op een ander pad terecht, dat bekend staat als de Westerse Mysterietraditie, ook wel genoemd de “Yoga van het Westen”, maar dan “Yoga” in de zin van een geestelijke discipline. Dat pad bleek naar onvermoede diepten en hoogten te leiden en na enig aarzelen ben ik zo’n zes jaar geleden toch met ferme pas dat pad opgegaan. En ik ben er tot op de dag van vandaag dankbaar voor dat ik die stap heb gezet, want wat dat ‘werk’ me heeft opgeleverd is met geen pen te beschrijven. Dit is echt een enorm belangrijk onderdeel van mijn leven en het is precies dit wat bij velen tot onbegrip en onrust leidt, want “hij zal toch niet in een sekte zitten?”. Ik kan ieder gerust stellen: dat is niet het geval. Het gaat allemaal nog steeds om wat ik al schreef: mijn ontwikkeling als mens. En die is voorlopig nog lang niet klaar!

Volgende keer wat luchtiger zaken: hoe ik in de SciFi scene terecht ben gekomen, en hoe ik karateka geworden ben.