Anime Expo 2007 – New Cosplay Event – Midnight Tea


This year, there was a new cosplay event at AX, the Midnight Tea.  It immediately caught my attention – the contestants were to decorate a small area and transform themselves into human dioramas.  How cool!  These life-size Lolita/Aristocrat tea party dioramas were to be on display at the Westin, on the Terrace Balcony.  Though the setting felt rather cramped, the creative energy shown by the contestants was truly amazing.  I’m looking forward to seeing the event grow and the cosplayers stretching the limits of their creativity.

Laura Chase, Cosplay Department Lead Coordinator for Anime Expo 2007, agreed to spend some time answering questions that I had about the event.  Laura and her assistant Christie Wong, Assistant Coordinator for Midnight Tea, worked tirelessly promoting this event, dealing with location changes and hotel restrictions on the contestants sharing their tea and snacks with the Midnight Tea observers.  Laura’s thoughtful responses made me realize how much work goes into an event like this.   

Laura was extremely busy during this year’s AX.  In addition to overseeing the Midnight Tea, she was also Masquerade Ball Coordinator,  the Masquerade Junior Coordinator (Ami Mar was the Senior Coordinator), and she also ran the International Cosplay Panel. That’s a lot of hats to juggle!

Who came up with the idea for the Midnight Tea?: I came up with the concept behind the event and Christie not only encouraged me to push it because she thought it was an awesome idea, but added her thoughts in and helped me expand my event to what it is now.

Please describe the idea behind the Midnight Tea?: Life size Lolita/Aristocrat tea party diorama.

How did the idea come about?: I’ve been to quite a few smaller conventions that have a tea party event for Lolita enthusiasts. AX even had an unofficial gathering in 2006. I didn’t want to just have a tea party like everyone else though. I wanted to do something different, and then I thought "why not make this a competition?" Christie and I developed the event from there.

How did you get involved with it?: Since I came up with the event idea and submitted the proposal, I was labeled the event coordinator, and made Christie (staffer, assistant, and best friend) the Assistant Coordinator due to her love of the Lolita fashion and culture .

Please describe the event: I’ll actually quote this from my original draft of the rules –

This is a competitive and non-competitive event. Please only sign up if you are competing. For competition, this is a life-size diorama contest for enthusiasts of the Lolita culture. This event gives contestants a chance to create and design a themed tea party by decorating tea sets, tables, cushions, and most importantly show craftsmanship at creating a Lolita or Aristocratic garment that matches the theme chosen. Each entry has an area to decorate. Each entry, including costume and accessory set up, needs to have the same theme. For example, a group can pick a Pokemon theme, and each person in the group can wear a different Pokemon Lolita costume. The tea set would also need to be of the same theme, at a minimum.

The other purpose of the event was to be able to have all attendees come in and enjoy the tea that each group brought in order to serve them and for everyone to take pictures and chat. I wanted it to be a social event for everyone as well as have the competitive aspect.

What was the primary motivation behind creating the event? An appreciation of cosplay? The challenge of taking cosplay to a new level?: My primary motivation for creating new events is to give the attendees something new and interesting to do. As the convention gets larger and we have more cosplay enthusiasts, we need to have a broader array of events for their tastes. Being a cosplayer myself I always ask "what would I want to compete in? What do I think would be fun for me and others?" I do appreciate cosplay and all of the work that goes into it and want to challenge cosplayers out there with the new events. Christie who also has also been cosplaying for about 7 years like myself, has wanted to see something new as well besides the normal events such as the ever popular Masquerade. She thinks that the Lolita culture as well as cosplay is a lifestyle and there has to be something more creative for Lolita enthusiasts other than just standing around and having their picture taken. Midnight Tea was one of those events. Not only did the contestants have to create themed Lolita costumes but the table set up and everything that went on it. In the event I had one group that decided not to compete in the Masquerade because they wanted to compete in Midnight Tea because of the challenge and how fun they thought it would be.

How hard was it to get the event added to the schedule?: Since I had planned for this to be a late night event, there were no scheduling issues because I didn’t really have anything to compete with. The only issue that came up was the loss of my original site of the event. I wanted to have it outdoors in the Rainbow Pavilion but was notified a couple of months before Anime Expo that it may not be available. That is why it was on the balcony at the Westin.

Were the organizers receptive to the idea?: I originally presented the idea to the Cosplay Events Manager and he thought it was a wonderful idea since we haven’t had an official Lolita-based event. Pop Shock has Lolita/Aristocratic elements, but mostly appeals to the J-Rock crowd. My next step was to create a proposal to be looked at by the programming directors. They also liked the idea (especially since it was a low cost event) and it was approved.

In general, how popular are the cosplay events at AX?: Quite popular. Masquerade is a time-honored tradition at AX and hugely popular to watch and participate. We have recently added smaller cosplay events over the years like Midnight Tea to give the attendees a wider range of events to enter (especially since the space for Masquerade is limited).

In general, do you find more girls cosplaying than boys?: If you had asked me that question a few years ago, I might have said yes but cosplay is getting to be such a large part of the anime convention experience that I see both girls and guys participating equally.

How has the response been to the Midnight Tea?: There has been a huge positive response from the cosplaying community. Since things got up on the website a bit late this year, not everyone could prepare for the event so I’ve even had people ask me about next year so they can start to prepare now. We did have an issue with the SoCal Lolita group. They wanted to enter but none of them sew and they wanted to enter with professional store-bought Lolita attire which is against the rules in any AX cosplay event. In the future we wish to offer these people an exhibition place in the event as well as anyone else that wants to set up an area for tea, but since it was the first year and we had limited space, we sadly could not. Next year!

How creative have the entries been? Has the level of response met your expectations?: The entries were beautiful and some of them were astounding with the amount of work that went into them. For a first year event, the amount of entries, the quality, and how many people were waiting to get into our event completely blew our expectations out of the water.

Do you cosplay yourself?  I’m big into competition and used to enter in the Anime Expo Masquerade every year until I started staffing in 2006. I’ve also cosplayed in Japan as part of the US Team for the World Cosplay Summit in 2005.

How many years have you been cosplaying?: I have been cosplaying for 7 years. I mostly cosplay at California based cons.

Who are you favorite characters? My favorite character I have cosplayed as is Haruko from FLCL and I really enjoy cosplaying lesser known characters, especially video game characters. I’m doing more video game costumes based on sprites that don’t have official artwork because then I get creative license on how I want to make the costume. More design aspect to them that way. I also like to make Lolita attire myself. I made the costume I was wearing for Midnight Tea.

How did you get interested in cosplay? I actually got interested in cosplay in 1999. I had been going to AX since 1996 and saw more and more people making costumes over the years. I had always wanted to sew and make costumes since I was small and started to talk about making something with a good friend of mine. She made hers first and I wanted to join her so in 2000 I had my first costume ready for the stage, and created my group Ayashii to compete in Masquerades with.

How did you get involved with the convention?: I had known the Cosplay Events Manager for a while (we used to compete against each other at AX). We used to talk on the phone and at con and he knew my work. After AX2004 he wanted me on staff due to the fact that I had some ideas about how to run events and get the department going (he was new that year and needed more staff). He wanted someone that he could rely on and that was organized (i.e. he knew I was going to school to be a teacher and had experience with organizing band events). He also knew that I was looking at staffing, so I made a deal with him. I told him I would retire for competing if I won an award in 2005. I did, so I kept my end of the bargain.

Tell me what it’s like to get ready for an event like this?: I don’t know how many hours of work went into this before the convention. It was a year in the making between conception, proposals, rule drafts, paperwork, handling contestant entries and questions, getting prizes (other than what our sponsor gave us), location scouting, meetings, getting judges…it’s a lot of work, and we were happy the event went over so well.

What have been the biggest hurdles to overcome to get ready for the show?: The biggest hurdle for any event is the pre-con registration and paperwork as well as event planning (location, how many entries, table sizes, etc). And from there, keeping up with the contestants and answering all of their questions so they can be prepared and I can be prepared for any issues coming up. Prizes were also a big hurdle and I thank Christie for the excellent job she did getting them together. We received some prizes from a sponsor, but we didn’t think they were enough considering how many people we had for our event. Christie ran around looking for items we thought would be appropriate to give as prizes ( teas, tea cups, tea sets and pocky!) in addition to what we were given. She even made more Lolita headpieces at home just so we would have enough goodies to give to our participants.

How has it been dealing with the hotel staff?: Concerning Midnight Tea, I only saw hotel staff briefly, but there were a lot of hoops we had to jump through to make the event successful. Also our contestants weren’t able to share the tea treats they had brought with the attendees, and we ordered hot water service, but no one came by to give us more hot water after we had run out. We had to be creative and dump the cold water in the pitchers into the dispenser to heat it.

How many people are on the Midnight Tea staff?: The major force in the event was Christie and myself as far as coordinating the event. I also got two judges from outside the department to critique the entries, and I also had a few other staffers patrolling the event and manning the door.

What impression do you want people who participate or attend the event to leave the con with?: We want the participants to feel that they participated in something new and special and that their creative endeavors were appreciated. We also want the attendees to be in awe of their talents, enjoy the social aspect of the event, get exposed to Lolita culture, and interest more people into competing and being a larger part of this aspect of cosplay. We also want them to have fun!

What are your plans for next year?: We have a new event venue next year, so I’ll have to see how everything goes as the year goes on. I hope to add exhibition entries to the event and to get a larger space to house the event. As far as the department goes, I’m hoping to add another new event. We’re taking a break for a while, and then we’ll dive back in to prepare. We’re keeping our fingers crossed!

Here is a list of the winners:  

Best Individual Craftsmanship: Mandi  as the Mad Hatter (alias Teca) from CO’s Alice in Wonderland
Best Group Craftsmanship: CO’s Alice in Wonderland – Mandi  (Teca), Emily (Dahlia), Peter  (Xee), Christine  (Lilacwire)
Best Theme: Lolis in Sanrioland – Lin Bocash (Bunny Ichigo), Jessica Keys (Mewbot), Elisa Brydum (Miss Elisa)
3rd Place: Lolis in Sanrioland – Lin Bocash (Bunny Ichigo), Jessica Keys (Mewbot), Elisa Brydum (Miss Elisa)
2nd Place: Alice in Wonderland – Lorraine Yee (Lain), Pete Viri (Jinra), Jennifer Illenberger (Jan), Denise Baker-Tan (Yami)
1st Place: CO’s Alice in Wonderland – Mandi  (Teca), Emily (Dahlia), Peter (Xee), Christine  (Lilacwire)

I want to thank Laura and Christie for taking the time to answer my questions.  I know how hard they worked on the cosplay events.  Thanks, guys!

06/15/08 – Edited to delete last names per request of participant.