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Alena Van Arendonk: A Queen of Cosplay

posted Feb 25, 2019, 4:32 PM by Grace Bridges   [ updated Feb 25, 2019, 5:20 PM ]
Alena, you’re massively involved in cosplay. Tell us how it all began for you!
Back around the turn of the millennium, I was fairly active in the burgeoning anime fandom. I had attended fan events before, but at that time casual or “hall” cosplay was much more common at anime conventions than at comic or sci-fi cons, so I hadn’t been exposed to much fan costuming until joining that community.

In 2002, I learned about a small anime convention happening in my home town and decided to put together my first cosplay costume. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know the first thing about sewing; I used duct tape and safety pins to hold together a recognizable (if not particularly good) costume. I had fun, and when we decided to attend another convention a few months later, I assembled another costume—this time tacking it together using a free motel button-repair kit, which was the only needle and thread I owned. Eventually I wanted to make more elaborate costumes, and that was motivation to learn new skills… including, well, how to sew.
Skip ahead a decade and a half, and now I own two sewing machines, a serger, an embroidery machine, a laser cutter, a collection of power tools, and over 100 wigs. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but I don’t regret any of it. (Except perhaps the lack of closet space.)

What are some of your favourite characters and costumes, and what is it that makes them special for you?
As gratifying as it is to be stopped for photos while wearing an impressive costume, I find I really have the most fun interacting with other fans in character. Even though they’re relatively simple costumes, I cosplay Captain Jack Harkness (Doctor Who/Torchwood) and River Song (Doctor Who) quite frequently, because they are very sassy, playful characters who can always find something appropriate (or inappropriate, in Jack’s case!) to add to a conversation.
There are also some characters I just really like or feel a personal connection to: Peggy Carter (Agent Carter), Fay D. Fluorite (Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE), Kaitou Kid (Detective Conan/Magic Kaito), and Lucrezia Noin (Gundam Wing) are characters I love and keep coming back to, often making multiple costume variants. (I’ve made seven different costumes so far for Fay!)

What’s it like working with your sister in the group?
Laura and I have different skill sets when it comes to costume construction, so we actually make a pretty good team! The hardest part is just scheduling—both of us travel a lot and have very full schedules, so finding time to work on projects together can be difficult.

So about how many cosplays would you say you’ve done so far?
I have over a hundred costumes documented online. I also do a lot of one-off costumes for special events, movie premieres, parties, etc. that don’t make it onto that list, so I’d say… somewhere around 150? I’m not really sure!

What was the quickest time that you ever put together a costume, and how did that work out?
I’ve assembled complete costumes in less than five minutes, just putting together pieces from the closet! But as far as actually constructing something new, I once made a Starfleet maroon uniform from scratch, including drafting the patterns and making all the buckles and insignia, in about nine hours. It looked great from ten feet away; much closer, and the rush job started to show! But I was wearing it on stage (a local theatre was screening The Wrath of Khan and asked me to do a pre-show presentation), so fortunately it didn’t need to hold up to close scrutiny.

What new cosplays have you got in the works for yourself and your group, or what would you like to do one day?
Our current group project is a set of fantasy costumes from a Chinese TV series. The production designer for that series also designed for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, so as you can imagine, they’re quite elaborate. My costume has a ridiculous amount of embroidery and embellishment, and it’s a bit intimidating because I only really started doing embroidery last year, and don’t consider myself very skilled at it yet! But I learn best when I challenge myself, so hopefully this costume will help me improve.
I’m also slated to do a Clockwork Droid (Doctor Who) for a judges’ group at Chicago TARDIS later this year, and I have several perpetual WIPs that I’d like to finish at some point. There’s always a pile of half-completed costumes in the corner of the sewing room.

Storytime! What’s the funniest or strangest thing that ever happened to you while in costume?
I do a lot of crossplay (playing male characters) and I’ve gotten pretty good at making myself look masculine using body modification, makeup design, even glued-on stubble. I’ve occasionally been mistaken for a guy by other congoers (I always declare, “I’m a girl!” when entering a public restroom to avoid startling anyone), but one experience tops them all: I was dressed as Nathan Drake (Uncharted), and happened to be standing beside my sister. Our mother spotted us, came over and asked Laura, “Where’s your sister? I haven’t seen her all day.” I started laughing, and Mom just stared at me blankly. It took several seconds for the penny to drop, and when it did, it was a slow, “Oh… my… gosh. I thought you were a man.”
I guess if I can fool my own mother, I’m doing something right!

Photo Characters:
River Song from Doctor Who
Captain Jack Harkness from Doctor Who/Torchwood
Percy and Marguerite from The Scarlet Pimpernel (with Laura)
Shi Seiran from Saiunkoku Monogatari
Zelgadiss from SlayersChianti from Detective Conan
Paine from Final Fantasy X-2
Methos from Highlander: The Series