WHEN MICA POINTER was in high school in Spokane, Wash., he ran across an ad that read, “Auditions for the Spokane Renaissance Faire.” Little did he know, seeing that ad would change his life’s trajectory. In the 10 years since that first audition, Pointer has been actively involved in historical reenactments.

“I have taken part in historical reenactments and living history interpretations in multiple states,” Pointer said. “I fight on battlefields with the Washington Civil War Association. I work with the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture to bring a Victorian mansion to life for the holidays. I’ve even been to frontier Montana, shooting a silent film as stagecoach robbers are firing at each other.”

Mica Pointer as an 1890s cameraman during Bannack Days weekend of living history at Montana State Parks.

Mica Pointer as an 1890s cameraman during Bannack Days weekend of living history at Montana State Parks. Photo by Sandy Terry.

Pointer also works as a professional costume designer and dramaturg. He was costume designer for Aspire Community Theatre’s production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, dresser for the Spokane tour of Disney’s The Lion King, and dramaturg for Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull at Eastern Washington University’s Theatre and Film Department.

Pointer notes that dramaturgy and reenactment both use research “to breathe life into characters and stories.” He describes the role of the dramaturg as the “in-house critic, advocate for the playwright, historical consultant, literary manager, educational advisor, story doctor, or just all-around smarty-pants about the theatre and the play being produced.”

His work on The Seagull began six months ahead of rehearsals with a lot of research “and more research, and reading the script again … and again … and again, followed by more research.” He developed a dramaturgical packet or “playscript companion,” as Pointer prefers, containing a review of the play’s historical context, including trends of symbolism and realism in Russian theatre of that time. It also included letters from Chekhov chronicling his process of writing The Seagull (and the fiasco of the play’s original opening night) as well as a glossary of names cross-referenced with a Russian alphabet, sheet music for songs, and step-by-step details on how to take snuff.

Historical reenactments help Pointer train his dramaturgical skills through immersive and, according to Pointer, transformative experience. “When you’re in an environment like that doing long-form improv, which is what we’re doing when we’re in character all day without a script — being in the places that your character would have been, wearing the same things that your character would have worn, your head being filled with the same attitudes and ideas and repository of facts that your character would have known — when all those things come together, it feels as though you are the vessel through which these people of the past are being reincarnated. It toes a fine line between fact and fiction, truth and invention,” he said.

His 2015 studies at Shakespeare’s Globe inspired Pointer to pursue costuming through historical reenactments. While there, he attended the seminar “Dressing Shakespeare’s Actors” and got to try on some of the theatre’s costume pieces. As a bonus, his time in London turned out to be “the anniversary of almost everything: It was the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta, and the 500th anniversary of the building of Hampton Court Palace,” he said.

“As part of the celebrations, they had living history interpreters portraying various historical figures, including King Henry VIII, Queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare, James I. It was an incredible feeling to be in the same place as those figures, walking through the same galleries, passing the same gates, tripping on the same steps they probably tripped over. It gave me a new appreciation for who they were and what life was like for them.”

On Mica Pointer’s bookshelf

I hoard books. My favorite costuming books are those that base their patterns on analysis of museum pieces and extant garments from particular eras.

  • The Tudor Tailor, by Ninya Mikhaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies, the first volume I collected, has wonderful references for Tudor era (1485-1603) costumes.
  • Period Costume for Stage and Screen, by Jean Hunnisett, gives instructions for costumes from the Medieval era through 1909, in three volumes.
  • Patterns of Fashion, by Janet Arnold, includes patterns from extant garments in European museums, with photographic catalogs of garments and patterns, in four volumes that cover the Elizabethan era through the 1940s — including one on Elizabethan underwear.
  • 17th-Century Men’s Dress Patterns, by Susan North and Jenny Tiramani, is divine. It begins with techniques for constructing and wearing the garment pieces (from stitches to tailoring, to embroidering, to how to cross-garter your stockings) and goes into detailed, full-colored, step-by-step instructions on recreating pieces in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (doublets, gloves, a cape, stockings, a sword belt, and a comically tall hat), using close-up photographs and paintings.

Through the years, Pointer has found many mentors at the Spokane Renaissance Faire and historical reenactments. In turn, he now gives workshops for high school students interested in historical costume design and other stagecraft at the Washington State Thespian Festival, where he adjudicated Individual Events in costume design in March. Pointer has also presented at the Inland Northwest Theatre Arts Festival for the past five years.

“There are several other presentations focusing on design, so I tend to instruct uncommon skills such as historical dancing, like the Civil War dances Virginia Reel or Spanish Waltz, swordsmanship and stage combat, and narrative techniques for playwriting and script analysis.” A true Renaissance man, Pointer is also a playwright whose original plays have been produced in Washington, Texas, and elsewhere.

“For students who want to make their own costumes, I walk them through consulting primary sources, considering who their character is and how costumes reflect social position and personality, selecting a pattern, choosing the fabrics, techniques for construction, as well as practical considerations such as pouches, drinking vessels, footwear, headgear, and even methods for timekeeping,” he explained. “We will be in the costumes all day, like people would have been in the 16th century, so we have to be sure we have ourselves outfitted to survive.”

According to Pointer, “Reenactments are an immersive theatre experience, so not only are the actors surrounded by the audience but also the audience is surrounded by actors.” When you are acting a few inches from an audience member, details start to matter,” he said. “A zipper that might not read from onstage will stand out as an obvious anachronism. Some of our Renaissance Faire actors go all-out and hand-make all their costume pieces using authentic techniques … sometimes with a little help from a sewing machine.”

As Pointer has learned, you never know where eclectic skills can lead you. He knows a costumer who does bridal alterations, a scenic technician turned contractor for luxury homes, a hair and makeup specialist who works a day job as a mortician. “If she’s not putting makeup on someone who’s alive, then she’s putting it on someone who’s dead — not to mention she’s really good at creating wound effects, something you do a lot during the Civil War reenactments.”

Whatever your interests, Pointer advises thinking outside the (black) box when it comes to gaining experience and growing your theatre network. Look into local organizations. Attend workshops. And above all, “show incentive,” he said. “If you see a show and were inspired by the costumes or some technique, get in touch with the designer or technician so you can pick their brain. People are usually flattered to know their work is important to someone. Be persistent but be courteous, curious, and, most important of all, be genuine.”

Meanwhile, never stop practicing your craft. “If you’re into design, always be designing,” he said. “If you’re into sewing, always be sewing. Likewise if you’re into jewelry-making or millinery or wig-making.” Finally, keep a running portfolio and post progress pictures on social media. “You never know when a random sketch or craft project can become someone’s incentive to hire you.”

Meisha Mock in a She-Ra cosplay she made, inspired by the Netflix reboot She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
Meisha Mock in a She-Ra cosplay she made, inspired by the Netflix reboot She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. Photo by Alive Alf Photography.


Thespian alum Meisha Mock wore a tail to school every day in fifth grade. “I would find any excuse to dress weird and play pretend,” she recalled. As she got older, she thought she wanted to be an actor, but she discovered costuming instead.

“I found that making costumes and painting sets was where my heart was,” she explained. “After high school I found cosplay, and I fell deeply in love with it. It was the perfect mix of being able to make a costume with lots of different art skills and then wear it out in the world — but without the pressure of acting onstage.”

Mock said she was attracted to the challenge of mixed media art in cosplay, a textile-performance art that involves dressing up as characters from books, movies, or videogames. “It’s not just sewing but also a lot of armor, props, wig-styling, and even mold-making. I loved that it challenged me at all levels and allowed my skills from theatre to shine through — as a costumer and as a scenic painter.”

Mock found cosplay in 2014, when she began attending conventions such as WonderCon and Anime Expo. “Showing up in the first cosplay I made was exhilarating, and I knew this was something I wanted to pursue,” she said. Unlike historical reenactors, who engage in extended restagings of historical events or environments in a group setting, the cosplayer focuses more on embodying one recognizable character and interacting with fans at conventions than on replaying any narrative. The word “cosplay” can be used to describe the industry, the action of participating, and individual costumes.

Not only did Mock pursue cosplay, but she has also made it a career. She works at conventions as a featured cosplay guest and has a booth to sell prints and merchandise. Additionally, she makes costumes for other cosplayers, works for companies building cosplays for their characters, and connects to fans through Patreon, a subscription content service that helps artists build relationships with their subscribers who sign up for monthly art rewards and exclusive experiences.

“When I started cosplaying, it was rare to make it a career, but it exploded in the past few years, and things like Patreon changed the game for making income,” Mock said. “My first jobs were commissions I picked up to make costumes for other cosplayers. The first company I worked for was Ruin Story, where I built a character from their game and modeled it at Fanime and Anime Expo.”

For students who want to explore cosplay, Mock said the best thing is simply to “jump in and just keep trying new things,” adding that “there are many people in the community who are happy to become mentors to students.”


Middle school theatre teacher and cosplayer Rachel Hibler as Ariel from The Little Mermaid.

Middle school theatre teacher and cosplayer Rachel Hibler as Ariel from The Little Mermaid. Photo courtesy of Rachel Hibler.

Rachel Hibler, a middle school theatre teacher and forensics coach at Computech Middle School in Fresno, Calif., remembers going to Renaissance fairs every year as a child. When she was 10, she told her mother she wanted a Juliet costume from the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli film Romeo and Juliet. Her mom helped her pick material, then announced it was time for Hibler to sew the costume by herself. “It was the first time I made my own costume, and it was very special, because my mom let me make lots of mistakes as she helped me through the process,” Hibler said. She then wore the Juliet costume everywhere, including trick-or-treating.

Hibler acts in a local community theatre, Good Company Players, but she spends a lot of her time outside the classroom on cosplay. One of her favorite characters is Harley Quinn, but she also cosplays Ariel from The Little Mermaid and Zelda from The Legend of Zelda.

She has even brought her cosplay to school. “I created my own Sith character, and I wore that costume to school this Halloween. My friend Charles Salanitro, the music teacher at Computech, is also a Star Wars fan. He created an original Jedi character, and we choreographed a lightsaber battle onstage during lunch for the students.”

In her stagecraft class, she teaches costuming and makeup, but she takes a cosplay approach. “I’ve had students go to conventions in their own costumes,” Hibler said. “We did a unit last year in which I taught them how to build armor. One group built a bunch of Star Wars Mandalorian costumes for a convention.”

Hibler finds incredible value in cosplay, especially for students who may have enough interest in theatre to pursue it in college. “If you are a cosplayer at a convention, it’s performance,” she said. “You are not yourself, you are this character. I change my voice and my attitude when I’m Harley, so it is professional work. You can get paid as a cosplayer. My students are able to put on their résumés that they cosplayed at this convention as this character. It opens some great conversations.”

Hibler also uses her interest in costuming to help students learn other subjects, including American history. She created a Civil War Day project for eighth-graders, during which they do a reenactment and have professional reenactors talk to them. “All of my second-year, advanced acting kids said, ‘We want to do that! We want to learn how to do that,’ because they know I reenact, they know I cosplay,” Hibler said.

Inspired by her students, Hibler wrote a play based on letters from nurses and soldiers in the Civil War. The students were assigned characters, then she and her students wore costumes to play their characters during a class trip to Fresno State’s theatre department, where the high schoolers interacted with other students in petticoats, gloves, and bonnets. Hibler also taught dances and speaking patterns of the period. Watching them with their friends, not as themselves but as characters “is just magic, absolute magic,” Hibler said.

Rachel Hibler's eighth-grade students in costume for their Civil War Day historical reenactment.
Rachel Hibler's eighth-grade students in costume for their Civil War Day historical reenactment. Photo courtesy of Rachel Hibler.

For students interested in costume design, she thinks the primary skill to learn is research. “Everything starts with research,” Hibler explained. “You need to find the character you want to be — even if it’s someone you create, someone totally fictional — and ground it in reality, especially if you are reenacting. There are more rules in reenacting than in cosplay, particularly if you’re a member of a guild.”

Hibler advises students to deconstruct the costume to decide what pieces they need. “I find patterns at Jo-Ann Stores — easy-to-use patterns from Simplicity and Butterick — for a lot of period costumes,” she explains. “You don’t have to find an entire costume pattern. Find patterns for pieces. For example, dresses are bodices, skirts, and sleeves — all in straight stitches. Pants are just two legs, again, in straight stitches. So, you can find easy patterns and then watch YouTube videos, if you don’t have formal training. I didn’t have any formal training. I just did it until it worked.”

She finds that creating costumes provides students with “a great productive struggle in making mistakes and going back to ask ‘What did I do wrong?’” She explains, “In the cosplay world, you get more respect if you make it yourself. There’s a certain pride in making things yourself, having learned from your mistakes.”

Hibler continued, “The skills you learn change lives. Theatre changes lives. It fundamentally changes who we are as people. Many people tend to be impatient, to want answers now. We theatre people are not like that. We solve the problem. We won’t allow problems to stay unresolved. We’re not afraid of failing, since failure doesn’t mean the end. It means another challenge that will make us better.”

Hibler tells her students, “Just because you put something in front of an audience, that doesn’t mean it’s done. It could always be better. At some point, though, it has to be in front of an audience, and you have to hope you’ve done everything you need to make it perfect. That’s what we aim for: perfection.”

She loves teaching students about costuming, because “it makes students accountable, it makes them responsible, and it gives them pride in a job well done. It helps students learn how to take criticism. It’s not that you didn’t do a good job, it’s not about your talent, it’s about doing better, making it better — and that is a great lesson for students.”

This story appeared in the April 2019 print issue of Dramatics. Subscribe today to our print magazine.

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