Costume designer, cosplay queen wears heart for many fandoms on her sleeve

This week’s Geek Goddess interview is an exciting one because we’re featuring our very first serious cosplayer, Sara Parrott, who is also a professional costume designer.

For those of us who have never attempted it but have witnessed elaborate and exotic geek creations at conventions and other events, cosplay can be something of a mystery, but Sara expertly lifts the veil on the inspirations and techniques involved in this endlessly entertaining art form.

When she cosplayed as Mother of Dragons Daenerys Targaryen at Anime Expo, her handmade costume had fellow “Game of Thrones” fans pledging their loyalty to her. 

Raised by writers, a theater kid since the third grade, Sara vibrantly expresses her passion for a dazzling array of fandoms, including “Game of Thrones,” “Harry Potter,” “Doctor Who,” Marvel, DC, Disney, and Star Trek. She’s also quite the playgoer and bookworm (Pssst, jealousy alert: She’s got tickets to “Hamilton.”).

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see her dream of becoming a professional cosplayer come true. 

Sara Parrott as Daenerys from “Game of Thrones” in a cosplay design of her own making.

You are an experienced cosplayer and a professional costume designer. How did you first become interested in the art of costuming and what drew you to cosplay?

My parents tell the story that I’ve always been interested in costuming — I’d come home from preschool and, when asked about my day, would detail what everyone was wearing.

I started costuming because of my love for Halloween.  My first homemade Halloween costume was 2006 when I was in sixth grade; I was a hanged colonial girl. My freshman year of high school, I met my mentor, Sarah Mgeni, and started seriously considering costuming as a career, and have been working steadily since then.

What are some of your cosplay highlights over the years? Tell us about some of the characters you’ve transformed yourself into.

My first cosplay was Misa Misa from the anime “Death Note” at San Diego Comic-Con in 2007.  I hadn’t even seen the series yet, but several friends told me I looked like her, so I put together a cosplay just from things I had in my closet.

My first cosplay when I started taking it very seriously was “Age of X” Dazzler for Stan Lee’s Comikaze (now Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con) in 2009.  She’s an X-Men from the comics, and I picked her costume from the “Age of X” series mostly because of her striking eye tattoo.

One of my proudest cosplays is definitely Daenerys Targaryen from season three of “Game of Thrones” for Anime Expo 2014. With the help of my mentor, I patterned her tunic, sewed a mock-up, and sewed the real thing. I also weathered the leggings, styled the wig, and hand-sewed the web pattern on the bust of the tunic. A lot of work went into her, and I’m very proud of how she turned out.

Sara’s brother and frequent cosplay partner, Sean, as Splicer from “Bioshock.”

You often cosplay with your brother. Do you guys tend to bond over geeky interests?

Since about 2010, I’ve cosplayed with my brother. His name is Sean, he’s four years younger than me, and about a foot taller than me. We’ve always been close, and we both love Halloween, so having him cosplay with me seemed totally logical. His first cosplay was a Hunter zombie from the “Left 4 Dead” video game franchise, and he hasn’t looked back since.

He’s a huge nerd, and proudly so, and we’ve been able to bond over a variety of fandoms. We got into “Harry Potter” at the same time, he tolerated my “Twilight” love, and we were both raised on “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” Disney, and “The Twilight Zone.”

Where have you cosplayed? Do you have any favorite or special memories from your cosplay experiences?

I’ve cosplayed mostly in the Los Angeles area, but I did get to cosplay at two conventions in the Washington D.C. area while I was going to school out there.

I’ve attended San Diego Comic-Con (I can’t wait to go back one day!), Anime Expo, Stan Lee’s Comikaze, WonderCon, D23, and Anime Los Angeles, as well as AwesomeCon and MAGFest.  And I recommend all of these conventions! I’ve had such wonderful experiences at all of them.

One of my fondest cosplay memories is having other “Game of Thrones” characters pledge to me whenever I wear Daenerys. I was not expecting such a personal reaction to her, and it was so cool to see people react to the character so deeply.

To those of us who aren’t good at this sort of thing, designing and making your own costume sounds very daunting. Could you walk us through the process of creating a cosplay outfit, from conception to execution?

The first step is what I consider the least reliable: inspiration. Sometimes, I’ll watch a TV series or a film and like a character’s look and want to cosplay them. Other times, I’m inspired by a specific piece of art work — official or unofficial — of a character and will want to cosplay in a certain look or style.

The second step is planning.  This is compiling research images, sketching, studying various patterns and fabrics, and ultimately making my shopping and to-do lists.

The third step is building, which is the sewing, re-sewing, hemming, painting, gluing, all the messy stuff that somehow ends up happening the night before you’re supposed to wear the costume. It’s also the place where I lose time every single project — I don’t mind sewing for several hours straight until three in the morning, but my to-do list and sleep schedule would like to object.

And the final step is the most important: wearing the cosplay and having fun! As much as cosplay can seem like a competitive and elitist hierarchy (a perception the community is working to change), it’s just a bunch of nerds dressing up like their favorite characters and having a good time.

You’re a “Harry Potter” fan. How did your interest in J.K. Rowling’s novels come about? How does this interest manifest itself in your life?

I actually don’t remember where or when exactly I got my first “Harry Potter” novel.  I remember starting to read the series in second grade (2002-2003). While I didn’t attend any book events for “Harry Potter,” I did see almost every movie its opening weekend.

I’ve made many friends because of my love for the franchise.  I am absolutely one of those people who takes sorting characters from other franchises into their Hogwarts houses very seriously.

What Hogwarts house are you?

Slytherin!

I have heard you are also quite the Disney fan. Do you go to the park a lot?

I do! I grew up with an Annual Pass, and I finally have one again after going to college out of state. While I was in college, I even participated in the Disney College Program, which meant I worked full-time at Disney California Adventure for eight months and took two classes for college credit.

Sara designed this original costume themed after Star Trek’s Chekov.

What other fandoms are you passionate about?

Oh, boy.  It’s a pretty lengthy list.  The major ones are Disney, Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Star Trek, “Harry Potter,” “Twilight,” “Doctor Who,” and “Game of Thrones.”  I also love the whole “Law and Order family.” I’m a fan of an assortment of animes, mainly “Sailor Moon,” “Fruits Basket,” “Soul Eater,” and “Fairy Tail.”

I read a ton, so picking my favorite books is like picking my favorite children, but easily in the top are: the “Shiver” series by Maggie Stiefvater, “Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side” by Beth Fantaskey, “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell, “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, and the “Beautiful Creatures” series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

Did your geeky inclinations originate from childhood? Both your parents are writers. Did that have something to do with it?

My parents are both huge geeks as well, and I was raised on some major fandoms: Star Wars, Star Trek, the original “Twilight Zone.” I also read a lot, which is why I was introduced to “Harry Potter” so young, and then I was a huge “Twilight” fan.  They raised me to have a critical eye for good stories, and they fostered a love for well-written characters in me that continues to show in which fandoms I participate in now.

Were you a theater kid? What were some of your formative theater experiences?

I’ve been a theater kid since I was in third grade. At my church, during weekly Wednesday evening services during Lent, we do skits that have evolved into full “television episodes” that include parody songs, all enforcing the Lenten reading for that week. I started being involved in those in the third grade, and I started doing school musicals in fifth grade.

A lot of how I do and view theater has been influenced by three men: Tom Gerhold, my middle school music director; Mark Tennyson, my middle school director; and Michael Balsley, my high school director. I’ve been in a wide variety of shows, and every time I was supported but also told to test just how far I can go. I was never allowed to stay in my small comfort zone, which means I’ve long since conquered my stage fright. And these lessons have come in incredibly handy with my cosplay work, as people want to interact with the character instead of me, sometimes.

The first musical I participated in was “Godspell, Jr.” in fifth grade. I had to be off-book, learn choreography, and know harmonies. It was a huge test of how well I could perform, even as an ensemble member.

My favorite middle school theater experience was definitely “Checked Out.” It was my first experience with an original work, and I continue to love working with original scripts. It was definitely frustrating at times, remembering to learn new lines as changes went into the script, and one performance we did an entire scene completely out of order, but it was so much fun being the first people to perform a play.

My favorite high school theater experience was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” It’s my favorite Shakespeare play, and being able to be an actor (I was Snug the Joiner) and an assistant designer in such a wonderful, magical, colorful world was an incredible learning experience for 16-year-old me.

You participated in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in high school. Tell me about that adventure.

I’ve done the Edinburgh Fringe Festival twice now, and I’ve loved it immensely both times. I went with my high school, one as a student and once as an alum, and we spent a few days in London before taking the train up to Edinburgh. In between rehearsing and performing, we were allowed to go see other shows, and we also organized a few group outings like to the Edinburgh Castle. Being able to walk down the street and exchange flyers for your show with flyers for someone else’s is such an incredible experience.  You couldn’t walk anywhere in the city without seeing a flyer or someone in costume.

Do you go to a lot of plays or shows? What are some of your favorites?

I try and see as many shows as I can.  I go to all the shows at my high school and now I go to all the shows at my brother’s college.  My family also has season passes to the Pantages, which has been so enjoyable.

I’m a fan of a lot of the classic movie musicals like “Oklahoma” and “The Music Man.” I’m a huge Sondheim fan, and I also love “Waitress” and “Dear Evan Hansen.” My favorite play right now is “Gruesome Playground Injuries” by Rajiv Joseph.

Are you a “Hamilton” junkie, like the rest of us?

Absolutely.  I probably know every word in the show by this point, and I’m so excited that I have tickets to see it next month.

Sara as Punk Bucky, a costume inspired by the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

You attended George Mason University specifically so you could major in costuming. Why did you decide you wanted to pursue that?

I chose George Mason specifically because I was able to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Technical Theater and Design with an emphasis in Costume Design. Most other universities don’t have an option to major in theater design, so I’d have to major in general theater and take one or two design classes.

I’m very happy that I chose to get a four-year degree.  It not only gave me four years in a classroom environment to learn as much as I can about design, as well as participate in four years of productions, but I also met so many amazing people, learned about my love for horror films because of a class I took, and minored in mass communication.

Do you work as a costume designer now? What would your ideal career look like?

I work as a costume designer now that I’m back in Los Angeles, yes! I’m so excited to be able to say I’m a working designer as opposed to an aspiring one.

I’m not quite sure what my ideal career looks like right now, because I’m still exploring what I like the most. I’ve worked on middle school and high school theater, and TV movies, but I’m still curious about how much I’d like working on a television series.

I’ve read that your dream is to be a professional cosplayer? Would that be difficult to achieve? What would you enjoy about it?

My absolute dream is to be a professional cosplayer, yes.

It’s difficult because it’s hard work.  It’s constant social media presence, cranking out new content on a monthly and sometimes weekly basis, and making convention appearances ideally every weekend during the convention season.

I think I would really enjoy it.  Conventions and costumes are two of my absolute favorite things in the world, so being paid to do both, and to encourage people to do both as well, would be a dream.

You have your own IMDb page, which most of us can only dream about. How does that feel?

I actually didn’t know I had an IMDb page! That’s so cool! It really solidifies to me that I’m a working professional.

Oh my goodness … were you actually a wardrobe assistant on the “Princess Rap Battle” video?

I was! My mentor, Sarah Mgeni, has been the costume designer for several of them, and she got me on-set for the “Maleficent vs. Daenerys” video as her assistant. It was such an incredible experience. Everyone was so sweet and we all had so much fun with the whole process.

As a cosplayer, I’m sure you’ve had a chance to really observe geek and convention culture. As a woman, is there anything you would like to see change about that world?

I’m fortunate enough that I’ve seen some changes in geek and convention culture in my time attending.  There’s been a real shift to include amateurs and families in the convention scene, as well as an acceptance of geek culture in mainstream culture as a whole.

I’m hoping that one day I’ll stop seeing warnings posted on social media about creepy and inappropriate men attending conventions. The horror stories I’ve heard of photographers keeping secret up-skirt cameras rolling, or men making lewd comments at cosplayers, is enough to make me uncomfortable trying to attend conventions without companions.

What’s the next big release or event (movies, TV, books, theater, etc.) you’re looking forward to?

I really need to start keeping a separate calendar for all the releases I’m looking forward to!

“Thor: Ragnarok” (11/2/17), “Black Panther” (2/16/18), “Justice League” (11/17/17), and “Aquaman” (12/21/18), obviously. I’m also very excited for “Professor Martson & the Wonder Women” (10/13/17). I’m happy Halloween is almost here, so “Happy Death Day” (10/13/17) and “The Snowman” (10/20/17) are very exciting releases.  And I’m a Disney kid, so I’m counting down the days to “Coco” (11/22/17).

I’m very bad at keeping up with television, so I’m not counting down to any releases. My DVR and Netflix queue are both testaments to how much television I have to catch up on.

The only book releases I’m keeping an eye on — because, again, my bookshelf and library list will both tell you how far behind I am — are “Dear Evan Hansen: Through the Window” by Steven Levenson, Benjy Pasek, and Justin Paul (11/21/17) and “Killer Fashion: Poisonous Petticoats, Strangulating Scarves, and Other Deadly Garments Throughout History” by Jennifer Wright (11/21/17).

Who is your favorite Doctor?

Eleven was my first — my first episode was actually the 2010 Christmas special “A Christmas Carol” — but Nine is my absolute favorite.

And just for fun, what is one iconic costume you wish you had designed?

It’s a tie between Scarlet O’Hara’s green dress in “Gone With the Wind,” Lydia Deetz’s red wedding dress in “Beetlejuice,” and Mary Poppins’ red and white dress in “Mary Poppins.”

About the Geek Goddess Interviews:

No Man’s Land chats weekly with a “Geek Goddess” whose devotion to her fandoms manifests itself in unique and inspiring ways. We’re always looking for interview subjects, so if you know someone who might be ideal, please respond via the comments, private message, or email, lavendervroman@gmail.com.

Welcome to No Man’s Land

Something happened to me in June.

I’m sure certain people will scoff when I say that in June a movie changed my life. Or maybe it didn’t quite change my life, but it changed the way I saw the world and it changed the way I saw myself.

In June, I saw Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman.”

After decades in development limbo, DC’s long-awaited comic book adaptation arrived exactly when I needed it most, after months of demoralizing political and social setbacks for feminism and female wellbeing in general.

Despite what James Cameron says, “Wonder Woman” is a feat of female representation the likes of which Hollywood never seemed capable of delivering before. The fact that it also became the biggest hit of the summer, breaking records left and right, was just icing on the cake.

Left to right, Gal Gadot, director Patty Jenkins, and Chris Pine on the set of “Wonder Woman.”

Sure, “Wonder Woman” is a deftly written, wildly entertaining, gracefully executed, slickly produced big-budget comic book movie. It’s also so much more.

As star Gal Gadot charged into battle, bullets pinging off her silver gauntlets while soldiers cowered in the trenches, for perhaps the first time, little girls did not have to stretch their imaginations far to put themselves in her place. They were finally granted the same delight boys have long enjoyed, watching Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, Batman, or any other epic hero on a hero’s journey to save the world.

For grown women, the experience was even more profound.

Starved for female cinematic role models of power, strength, courage, compassion, intelligence, and heroism, the sight of Gadot’s Amazon warrior presiding over kick-ass action, not as a sidekick or sexual object, but as a three-dimensional hero who reflects back to us all that is best about our own humanity, was revelatory and unexpectedly cathartic.

There were tears. I assure you, they were tears of joy.

Gal Gadot greets a young Wonder Woman fan at a signing.

That said, it would be foolish to assume “Wonder Woman” changes everything.

For all we know, Hollywood will  jump on the female-led action movie bandwagon for a couple years before going back to business as usual. The worlds of science fiction, fantasy, videogames, comic books, cosplay, and TV and movie fandoms will likely remain minefields for women to navigate. Girls and women will still have to fight for their voices to be heard, in fictional worlds as well as the real world.

What has changed then?

Personally, I’m feeling more hopeful about the potential for women to step up and take their place at the forefront of geek culture, to blaze trails and envision ourselves in roles we thought we might never assume.

This hope has inspired a new project, a blog dedicated to the voices of women who are passionate about fandoms of all kinds. It’s no coincidence I’m launching this endeavor the day before “Wonder Woman” is released in digital HD.

The title of the blog? No Man’s Land.  Because this project is very much in the spirit of Wonder Woman but is by no means limited to the subject of Wonder Woman.

My intention is that No Man’s Land would be an outlet for the resources and skills I’ve honed during a more than 15-year career as an entertainment editor, film critic, blogger, and freelance writer.

Most of all, though, I want to have fun, and I want you to have fun too. This will most often take the form of shameless and enthusiastic discussion of all our favorite geeky things.

So we’ll be talking about Game of Thrones, and Doctor Who, and Harry Potter, and Stranger Things, and comic books, and anime, and comic book movies, and conventions, and television shows, and books, and collectibles, and cosplay, and whatever other nerdy thing we happen to be obsessed with at the moment.

And Star Wars. Lots of Star Wars. Because it’s Star Wars!

No Man’s Land will also endeavor to highlight the stories of women who are passionate about various fandoms and express this in fascinating ways, in pioneering careers, creative pursuits, unusual hobbies, family activities, and many other avenues.

We won’t shy away from talking about feminism, politics, social issues and perhaps even subjects that are painful, complex, or controversial.

Guys, despite the blog title, this is a space where you are welcome. We’d love your thoughts and contributions because we know so many of you are on our side.

Readers, I’d love it if you would function as my lasso of truth by offering your comments, feedback, suggestions, content ideas, pitches for guest posts, or whatever is on your mind.

Let’s get out of the trenches. I’ll see you on the battlefield.

Photos: Heroic Hollywood, YouTube, CBR, DC Comics.