She was enchanted by the performance. Like the other students in her theater department, Denise Gigliotti, then a college student majoring in English, was amazed by Shakespeare’s “The Comedy of Errors,” the first play she had ever seen.
“We were all very influenced by it,” Gigliotti, now a Chinese professor at the University of Oregon, remembers. “You could see in that year and the next year, people liked to do very colorful costumes and abstract, but colorful, set design.”
Although Gigliotti did not pursue a career in theater, she has found a way to incorporate performance into her teaching and colorful costumes into her life through her hobby of cosplay — creating costumes and dressing up to imitate characters of Japanese anime.
“I like fantasy and I like performing, so it’s all related,” Gigliotti said. “In cosplay, you can become a different character. It’s part theater and part escapism.”
Growing up in Taiwan, Gigliotti had little interest in Japanese culture. Due to the history of wars in the 1930s and 1940s between Japan and China, Gigliotti was raised in an environment with a dislike for Japan.
“For the next generation that wasn’t really involved in the wars, it didn’t really matter to us,” Gigliotti said. “But your parents told you that, and so you hated (Japan) for no reason.”
However, Gigliotti developed an interest in Japanese culture in 2005 when her younger brother and her students introduced her to Japanese anime.
By 2009, with some convincing by her former students, Gigliotti was preparing for her first anime convention. Accompanied by her younger brother and a group of former students, Gigliotti attended the 2010 convention in Seattle.
Gigliotti has attended two to three conventions per year since her first. For her, the incentive is the opportunity to meet the voice actors she admires.
“I’m more interested in the creative and production force of the industry when I go to anime conventions, so I enjoyed meeting the original comic artists, directors, producers, art designers and the Japanese voice actors of various shows,” Gigliotti said. “I’ve definitely become more interested and learned a lot more about Japanese culture … since I became interested in Japanese manga, anime and cosplaying.”
Just like cosplay, teaching is something of a performance for Gigliotti, and it’s a performance into which she has incorporated her own unique style. According to Chinese 102 student Meghan Long, during final exams Gigliotti came to class in costume, and arrived dressed as a witch the day before Halloween. Although Long’s initial reaction was confusion, she said Gigliotti’s personality helps make class more interesting.
“She brings as much life and energy to the lectures as possible,” Long said.
According to Gigliotti, this is her way of engaging her students with her performance as a professor.
“It’s still my performance,” she said, laughing. “But it’s more of a small theater where the audience has to get involved too.”
For Gigliotti, theater, cosplay and teaching are all connected.
“I think any performer can tell you that when the audience is responsive, the performance would be more lively, too… ” Gigliotti said. “So when my classes become more interactive, I think the whole class experience is more energetic and productive, too.”
Cosplay fun facts:
— The term “cosplay” is a combination of the words “costume” and “play.” It was coined by a Japanese man named Nobuyuki Takahashi in 1984 after he attended Worldcon in Los Angeles.
— Most people create their own costumes, and therefore many are judged based on the difficulty of the costume.
— Because of this, many cosplayers are skilled in face paint, woodworking, sculpting and even fashion design.
— Many have been known to use hair dye and contact lenses to change their appearances.
— Some of the most popular conventions include Comiket in Japan, the London MCM Expo in England and, of course, Comic-Con International in San Diego.
— “Crossplay” is when women dress as male characters and vice versa.
— People often compete with their costumes. One of the biggest competitions is the World Cosplay Summit in Nagoya, Japan.