Kayla Tétreau has spent dozens of hours making complex costumes in order to turn herself into gender-bending versions of Darth Maul of Star Wars, Skeletor of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and Zangief of Street Fighter.
But the 23-year-old East Vancouver resident, better known as Kayla Rose in the cosplay community, knows that whether she dresses up as a male or female character—such as Daenerys of Game of Thrones or Panne of the Fire Emblem video games—she’s going to get mixed reviews when she goes out in public.
“Either people think it’s really neat, or people think you’re a big, big nerd and they laugh at you downtown a lot,” Tétreau told the Georgia Straight during an interview at the Copley Community Orchard near Nanaimo Station. “I try to avoid, if I’m coming home from a convention, going through Granville [Street], because there’s just a lot of people who think it’s really funny. They’ll just yell things at you.”
Tétreau will be a featured guest at the second annual Northwest Fan Fest, running May 29 to 31 this year. Cosplay (short for “costume play”), a kind of performance art in which participants don costumes and portray fictional characters, will be celebrated at the three-day convention alongside anime, comics, pop culture, and games.
According to Brian Hughes, show director for NWFF 2015, last year’s fest was a combination of three local geek-culture events—Anime Evolution, Cos & Effect, and the Vancouver Gaming Expo—and drew 3,600 attendees to the University of British Columbia’s Point Grey campus. He told the Straight he anticipates 5,000 people will come out to this year’s convention, which is being organized by the West Coast Fan Society. Passes are $20 for one day and $50 for all three.
“It’s a celebration of fandom,” Hughes said at Gamedeals Video Games in New Westminster. “It’s a convention where the entire fandom community got together and is celebrating everything. So it’s not just an anime con or just a gaming event or just celebrities, autographs, and stuff. It’s a community effort to put all of those things together under one umbrella.”
Asked which guests he’s excited about, Hughes mentioned actors from the TV series Once Upon a Time; cartoon animator Tom Cook; the Doubleclicks, a nerd-folk band; and filmmaker Uwe Boll. Geekenders will perform Portal 2: The (Unauthorized) Musical, and Scorpion’s Heart Overnight Creations will put on The ReBooted Interactive Musical Show. There’ll be an artist alley, fan-fiction readings, gaming tournaments, a vendor hall, workshops, and more.
Fighting Dreamers is a cosplay group that films improv skits and music videos, does photo shoots, and gives tutorials. Its YouTube channel has amassed over 114,000 subscribers and 24 million views.
When the Straight met Fighting Dreamers members Jenna Oliver and Jessica MacGaul at Big Pete’s Collectibles in Lower Lonsdale, they were dressed as Hannah and Betty, respectively, from the Rat Queens comics. Oliver, known as Nova Vandorwolf in the cosplay world, pointed out that, while they wear costumes at other times, they typically only act in character when making videos and posing for photos.
Fighting Dreamers’ most-watched video, “Trying to Kill Sasuke”, features characters from the ninja-themed Naruto anime and manga franchise. The three-minute clip has been seen more than 1.8 million times.
“It’s not so much our cosplays that they like,” said Oliver, who lives in North Vancouver. “It’s just the fact that they can tell we’re having fun. I think a lot of people gravitate towards FDP because they like seeing us make fun of ourselves. They feel like we’re approachable.”
Having been into cosplay for over a decade, MacGaul, aka Mavi Chaos, observed that it’s grown in popularity and become “more socially acceptable” over the years. Fighting Dreamers doesn’t profit from its videos, but Oliver noted some people are getting into cosplay to make money or get famous.
“When I started, people were always using their real hair,” said MacGaul, who lives in Surrey. “They were just modifying clothing and things like that, whereas nowadays cosplay is almost always started from scratch. You wear wigs and contacts. It’s so much of a higher tier than it was 15 years ago.”
According to Oliver and MacGaul, Vancouver has a large cosplay community compared to other cities in North America.
“Major cities in the States will only have one convention a year, whereas we have six, including the mini ones,” Oliver said. “So cosplay is a really big thing in Vancouver, I think.”
At NWFF, Fighting Dreamers will host panels on how to form a cosplay group, wig-styling, and other topics. Meanwhile, Tétreau will give a workshop on makeup basics.
In January, Tétreau won the best-in-show award in a cosplay contest at an Anime Revolution convention in Vancouver. In between events, she shares her creations with the world via Facebook and Instagram.
Tétreau noted her passion for cosplay has led her to learn how to sew, make armour, and do special-effects makeup.
“The community has given me a lot over the years, in terms of confidence in myself, body positivity, meeting people, making friends,” she said. “I think it’s one of the most positive things that I’ve ever had come into my life, and it’s made me a better person through it. I’ve sort of become addicted to that.”
Northwest Fan Fest takes place Friday to Sunday (May 29 to 31) at the Anvil Centre (777 Columbia Street) in New Westminster.