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)