Since 2009, Fairview Heights resident Rachel Wildermuth has been experiencing life through the eyes of some very famous characters; Loki (from The Avengers), Ursula (from The Little Mermaid); Elphaba (from Wicked)-and even the Pink Power Ranger.
In fact, the School District 105 monitor and mentor wears many hats-and wigs and colored contact lenses, gowns and adornments.
This is because Rachel is a cosplayer.
Cosplay (short for costume play) is the wildly popular role-playing movement in which fans don the costumes and personas of their favorite fictional characters (usually derived from anime, video game, sci-fi/fantasy, and comic books).
The burgeoning subculture has gained international participation since its fledgling beginnings in the early 1990s, moving past the traditional COMICON conventions and evolving into online communities, reality TV and a multimillion dollar industry.
When I was in high school, I heard friends talk about it and I didnt know what cosplay was, she said. My friends took me to [a convention] and I grabbed one of my brothers tailgating wigs, found a black shirt and a pair of pants, and I was a character.
Much has changed since attending that first cosplay event-now Rachel designs, crafts, hand-threads, hot-glues, sews and improvises costumes for not only herself, but for friends and family alike.
Although most local conventions happen in Collinsville, at a St. Louis event Rachel took home the Kawa Kon Masquerade award for her craftsmanship and role play as the DC Comics character Mr. Freeze.
Her costumes can take as long as an entire month to prepare, from sourcing fabric to hand-sewing intricate arrangements and designs. For her Merida cosplay (from Disney/Pixars Brave), Rachel even had to employ a certain amount of ingenuity and exploration to get one of the accessories just right.
I went through two bow and arrows until I found this technique using PVC Piping, she explained. I used a hair dryer to melt the plastic to make it flexible and I also used clay. My dad is a firefighter so he helped me cut it.
Having had several knee surgeries, Rachel said cosplay has also helped in her mental and emotional post-surgical recovery.
I was kind of depressed because I wasnt allowed to do anything, she said. So I would bring out my sewing machine and it gave me a hobby and just kept me from being so mopey.
When asked about her favorite part of being a cosplayer, Rachels face immediately beams with an almost uncontainable excitement.
I love being in character all the time, she said. Personally I like being the villain, being the person whos causing mischief. And people really get into it with you. I just love looking out and see people smiling.
Rachels infectious laughter and magnetic charisma seem almost antithetical to the notion that this bright, upbeat young lady could play the part of the villain. But according to Rachel, thats the beauty of the art form.
Cosplay is another side of me that most people dont see, she said. I go to work and Im friendly happy Rachel, but when I play the villain, Im gonna be mean and stare you down and just have fun with it.
Having been raised in a home where fantasy and inspiration are the norm (the familys living space is awash in delightful little knick-knacks and character renderings), Rachels ambition is as broad and imaginative as the costumes she fabricates.
Although she thrives here at home in the local cosplay scene, the 23 year-old has her sights set on an even bigger stage.
It would be a dream to work at Disney, she beamed. I have always been a fan and I would love to be a character, help with the costume department; anything would be an honor.
If the nearly 10 costumes she has created for herself--as well as the dialectal accents, props and personages she concocts--are any indication, Rachel is sure to realize that dream in short order.
After all, Disney is in the magic-making business and Rachel is already leading a magical life in her own right.
Its all about imagination when you go to these things, she said. Its all about having fun and being that character and you putting your own creation into it.