Tag Archives: costuming

Queen of the Nerds

January 27, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Amanda Fehlner has some opinions about superheroes wearing spandex.

“You’re about to go into battle, and what are you going to put on? A spandex suit? That’s not going to help you at all. So, I made the Rogue [costume] out of leather,” says the Omaha costume designer, explaining how she constructed a bodysuit for the X-Men character.

Fehlner says it was one of her earliest forays into the increasingly popular world of cosplay.

“First of all, cosplay is just a combination of two words. It’s costume-play. So it’s really any opportunity that you as a person get to dress up as someone that you’re not, and you get to play while you’re in that [costume] and have fun with it,” she explains.

amandafehlner3Fehlner is more than a hobbyist. She’s an associate costume designer at the Omaha Community Playhouse. Skills useful for her day job benefit her hobby, while the reverse is also true. For instance, a cosplayer might work with plastic to fabricate armor—techniques that translate to theater.

Cosplayers are typically spotted in places that celebrate nerd culture, such as comic book or sci-fi conventions. Fehlner explains that cosplay is similar to attending Renaissance fairs in costume or dressing in genre-inspired outfits such as goth or steampunk, but that cosplayers tend to portray specific characters in movies, comic books, cartoons, or Japanese anime.

On Facebook, where she goes by the name “Ezmeralda Von Katz,” there are photos of Fehlner’s diverse creations including an elaborate Ursula costume from Disney’s The Little Mermaid and the computer game character Carmen Sandiego. Because of her theater background, Fehlner explains that she sometimes enjoys getting into character when she’s in costume, but it isn’t required.

Her passion for constructing costumes started early. While growing up in Tabor, Iowa, she learned to sew Halloween costumes to meet her exacting specifications and participated in theater at Fremont-Mills High School.

“It started with Halloween. It was my very favorite holiday, still is my very favorite holiday, but as a kid that was my big thing,” she says.

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Before heading off to study theater and anthropology at the University of South Dakota, Fehlner was cast in a Mills Masquers community theater production of  Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. She begged them to let her make the coat.

“Of course being in theater now, I’m sure they were like, ‘Some person just wants to do this, and we don’t have to handle it. Done, done, and done!’”  Fehlner says with a laugh.

She likes a good challenge; her latest cosplay projects include an elaborate ball gown for a character from the anime series Vampire Hunter D and a hand-stitched Sally costume from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Not to mention the spring productions at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

“I’ll be working on The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, so I’ll get to do some fun Western stuff,” Fehlner says. “Of course, our closer is Beauty and the Beast. It’s exciting and a little terrifying at the same time.”

Fortunately for the playhouse team, Fehlner says she has already been experimenting with a Beast costume thanks to her cosplay side projects.

Visit omahaplayhouse.com for more information.

The Play’s the Thing

October 2, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Laci Neal needs several commas to answer the question, “What do you do?”

“I’m a cosplay enthusiast, performer, and historical costumer,” says the artist, actor, burlesque performer, lecturer/presenter, inaugural Miss World Steampunk, and self-described “big nerd.”

Neal’s various ventures come down to one simple fact: “I just love to play dress-up,” she says.

Growing up in the under-350-person town of Kimballton, Iowa, Neal lacked outlets for her burgeoning creativity and often felt stifled.

“I didn’t have many friends,” she says. “I read a lot and stayed up late watching Turner Classic Movies.”

Yearning for more possibility, diversity, and connections with like-minded people, 18-year-old Neal moved to Omaha in 2002 to study theater at Iowa Western Community College—where she says she learned not only the art of theater, but also the art of self-confidence.

“Confidence is huge,” she says. “I think of myself in high school—bullied and never speaking up—and I would never let that fly now.”

Sitting tall, with bright eyes, a kind smile, and a pretty yellow flower tucked behind her ear, Neal explains what drew her to performing.

“Well, I like attention,” she says with a sweet, yet sly, laugh. “But it’s not just that. I had dreams when I was young of being a movie star, but when I started performing theater my perspective on the entire thing changed. I love how all these individuals come together to create one beautiful thing—spending months on a project for just a few moments of being onstage and presenting the work.”

As for burlesque, Neal says that while it takes bravery, it lets her display all aspects of her costumes.

“With a Victorian dress there are layers upon layers upon layers, and how else can I show off all those layers unless I show off all those layers,” she says.

Cosplay, a combination of the words “costume” and “play,” is a performance art typically centered around pop culture characters common in the sci-fi/comic/geek convention culture. Think Star Wars, Doctor Who, Lord of the Rings…it’s all-ages dress-up at venues like O Comic Con and others nationwide.

“I’ve always played dress-up and kind of been in my own little world, but didn’t discover there were others who did it until 2004 while researching a costume,” she says of stumbling onto the cosplay and steampunk communities.

“I’ve always loved the Victorian aesthetic—corsetry, making historical gowns and garments—so it was fun to discover that there are thousands of people who do this, it has a name, and I’m not just weird in liking to wear full Victorian garb every now and then,” she says.

As for her many loves and commas, Neal says, “They all kind of go together.”

“It’s all performance,” she says. “Ways of having some kind of role to play—whether it’s a role in a play or burlesque or a badass superhero. I can be whoever I want, any day of the week.”

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