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.
Fehlner 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.
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.