I’ve always enjoyed dressing up in costume. As long as I can remember, my imaginary play with my sister involved intricate costumes from our prized costume trunk. Little did I know, dressing up would become a common theme in my professional experience! I’ve been working with kids for over a decade, experiencing many different environments and scales. Most programs are theme-oriented to help the organizers zero in on a topic and to give the children an expectation and mindset to adopt for the day. Working at a Summer Camp gave me no shortage of opportunities with each week being a different theme. When I left the summer camp world, I thought I was saying goodbye to the whimsical nature of costuming but when I started working at The Franklin Institute, costumes would not only be involved, but be one of the most fun parts of my job.
Working Science After Hours is one of my favorite events to participate in for many reasons, but the main reason being there’s always a themed-costume opportunity abound. While I’m busy preparing my science-based activity, I’m also thinking about how I can immerse myself and our audience on a deeper level by adopting a character. Who thought science and costumes went together? Certainly not me!
As a science communicator and proud millennial, the advent of social media, specifically Instagram, has been a growing space for all types of content. I quickly found the #scicomm community and within it, a small page called @cosplayforscience. On the surface, it’s a bunch of nerds that dress up as scifi characters, famous science influencers, or even dinosaurs! This is when I first really started to think about the connection and how getting in costume can help to complete a full narrative for our programs. Here’s a collection of some of my favorite moments from the last five years.
Prohibition is one of our most successful Science After Hours themes. Year after year we sell out faster than most other events. For three years, I went dressed as a flapper, teaching anything from booze-smuggling in the 20’s to the psychology of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. This past year I felt like I had run my flapper outfit into the ground and beaten the dead horse. Thinking outside the box, I created a character named Bugsy Brunelli, the quick-witted mob boss who ran an elite circuit of speakeasies with her twin, Baby Face Brunelli. The whole idea came from finding this amazing trench coat at my favorite costume source, Philly Aids Thrift. I’ve always loved the trope of someone opening a jacket to reveal lots of merchandise, watches, jewelry, or the like. I pinned bags of candy to the inside of my coat to serve as prizes for the game I was running about the Prisoner’s Dilemma psychology.
My favorite topic to talk about in science is definitely space, so I knew I had a great opportunity for Cosmos After Hours. Just like Bugsy Brunelli, this costume was based on one single item. I found a bunch of dancing ribbons and was immediately thinking of ways it could represent the life cycle of a star. They say it couldn’t be done! They said I was crazy! But, low and behold, Anne Dramada, Fitness Instructor to the Stars was born. This made my very physically involved activity more natural and comfortable, and gave guests the expectation that they would be participating! Each guest had a ribbon, and under my direction they would start all huddled together moving their ribbons quickly, slowly expanding to represent a growing star. All the while I was able to narrate the actual timeline of a star to the onlookers.
8-Bit After Hours had our team excited to relive the nostalgic video games of our past. When one of our coworkers settled on dressing up as Pac-Man, we jokingly wanted to chase him around as ghosts. Sometimes, these joking hypotheticals can be the basis for a great cosplay! The head piece pictured was modified by Adam Piazza from an umbrella hat found on Amazon. We each chose which ghost we wanted to be (Did you know they were all named with personalities? I didn’t!) and he painted over the classic rainbow umbrella with a solid color and attached a matching fringe to the bottom and eyes to the top. The fringe allowed us to still see everything that was going on, but gave us the swaying movement we imagined they’d have outside of their pellet maze. Of course, the umbrella itself did not satisfy me, so I found a fabulous Pac Man dress online to complete the look.
If you’re a fan of The Franklin Institute, then you have heard and seen lots about the Philadelphia Science Festival. To commemorate Marvel, our current traveling exhibit, we all became science super heroes. Thinking first about our favorite demonstrations and building a character around it, I transformed into Catalyst: Chemical Overreaction Woman! Also pictured with me is Combustabilly, The Sidekick, aka another Science Interpreter Stephen Hock. As members of the Franklin League of Superheroes, we banded together to try and defeat Dr. Demise with raucous, loud, and flashy science experiments.
Hands down, the cosplay I’m most proud of was for our Game of Thrones themed After Hours. This was the rare occasion where I donned a costume that was store bought as opposed to hand made or thrifted. We wanted to focus on the changing nature of the throne. There would often be changes of royalty depending on who had conquered and won the throne, so we hosted competitions for “the key to my heart and a seat in the Iron Throne.” Facilitated by Paul Taylor, our Creativity Coach, I stood by stoic watching competitions like Stark-Pong (Trash Can beer pong played with Ned Stark’s head), on the spot haiku writing, and random guessing games. This was by far the hardest and most uncomfortable character to stay in, as she should be holier-than-thou and wearing a gown made of pleather. I am a very bubbly and smiley person, so I was fighting a silly grin the whole night.