When I attended “10 Things You Really Shouldn’t Do with Puppets” during the KC Fringe festival this summer, I was very bummed to see I had missed the last performance of “Fangirls: An Improbable Cosplay” just the day before. How could I miss a play about fangirls?? So I reached out the playwright to learn more about the production. Read on to find how Planet Comicon plays a part (pun intended).
Please introduce yourself.
I am Jessie Salsbury. I write plays every free moment outside of work and family obligations. I have written plays seriously since 2014. I am an associate of the Dramatists Guild and 365 Women a Year Playwriting Group. My plays are also listed on the National New Play Network Exchange.
When did you get into acting and playwriting and what do you love about it?
I attended Knox College, graduating in 1999 with a Theatre Major. I primarily worked on set construction and set design, but I did write plays and take acting classes during college. I am a little terrified of acting, so I prefer to tell my stories and let actors tell them.
I love playwriting because I get to tell a story and watch others put their imprint on them. I can have an idea, but an actor’s voice, personality, and their embodiment will make it different. Also, theatre is a group event and very social. I cannot finish a play by myself. I can write, but I need workshops and readings to get the voice right. The social part of it is what I love about it.
You wrote “Fangirls” based on your own experience, and others’. Tell us about it – and why it’s improbable.
That play has been in my mind for a while, and I’m not done with it. It was improbable because the three girls in the play, with their male friend that they drug along, dressed up to stage a protest in the middle of a comic con.
I wrote a large chunk of it sitting at Planet Comicon in May 2016 in Kansas City. I wrote about what I saw. Women being talked over by men in cosplay panels, “cosplay is not consent” posters, the debates about women wearing skimpier cosplay costumes, black women being harassed because ‘Captain America was a white guy,’ or ‘you’re too fat to be wearing that outfit.’ All of it is based on the real experiences all types of women face when they enter fan spaces or cosplay culture. It is still a boys’ world.
There is also a debate I have currently with friends that it is getting better, that there are now more female role models than there have ever been before, but there is still so much more room to grow.
What made you want to write the play? Why do you think the story is important to tell?
Women go through different challenges than men. A woman can get dressed up for a comic con, and she has to worry about being touched and photographed without her permission. A woman has to risk being made fun of for being too heavy or not being the right skin color and having her photo all over the internet.
I also wanted to write it because it is a small picture of what women have to go through in our everyday lives. We are harassed at work, talked over at work, and looked at only for what we wear. The underlying issue is equality. The underlying sexism boys and men are the only ones who enjoy geek culture, and that everything is geared towards men at a comic con is a mini picture how everything in ‘real life’ is also geared that way.
The big inspiration was when Guardians of the Galaxy came out. That’s what started it. Gamora was the co-lead. She was left off of T-Shirts! No toys of her were anywhere! I started looking at toy shelves and realized even when girls made it to be the leads in sci-fi or male-centric genres, they were still being erased. That is what started the idea.
Tell us about a memorable moment from one of the rehearsals or performances.
The best part was when each actor put their own stamp on the production. Each of them made it better. I am a green director; I have no idea what to tell actors to do or how to move, I admit. Everything they did that was awesome was the co-director, Sarah Neary (Bex) or the actors’ ideas themselves. It was awesome watching them put their own spin or their own flair on the character dialogue and actions.
Sarah Neary (Bex) had this idea to basically slap Manu Ajmani (Otto) on his chest with a program to convey disgust and drag him around. It was a hilarious gesture. They also had a scene where they waited in line and played with her sonic screwdriver.
What has been the response to your play?
I am floored by the positive support. I had a woman come up and thank me after the last show and tell me she was so happy to see it, and how important it was that those stories were told. I had another friend of a cosplay friend that said she absolutely loved it and she died laughing during it. The women who cosplay and in geek fandoms ‘got it’ and enjoyed it the most.
How have you connected with local cosplayers?
I live with one. My husband, Donald, is a Jedi with the 501st. Those women in that group are amazing. They cosplay whoever they want, and the local group is extremely active and does so much for charities in the area.
I have connected online with female cosplayers who have voiced their own struggles with acceptance and consent issues. I connected with and met a lot of female cosplayers through the process as I advised them they were inspirations for my play. Our theme song, with their permission, was “Nothing to Prove” by the Doubleclicks which has some great cameos. You have to listen to it.
An inspiration for the play was Kiss a Frog Cosplay. She is a plus-sized black girl who rocks everything, and just listening to her stories, she inspired the writing of Sophie a lot. I named my character Sophie after Sophii from Ultra Girls Cosplay.
I am a member of the CosLadies community and the stories and online harassment are unbelievable. I kept joking throughout the whole process, “The Story Writes Itself!” It was absolutely ridiculous.
What future plans lay ahead for the play?
For “Fangirls,” I’m letting it sit for a little while, then I’m re-writing the longer version and submitting it. We’ve discussed a web series with the original cast.
Where can someone find more information about the play and any forthcoming works?
What’s something you love about Kansas City?
In theatre, I love how nice everyone is. Even the bigger names are super nice. I love that we have a big Fringe Festival and you can put a play up and not break the bank. Spinning Tree and The Unicorn theaters are my two favorites, but there is so much.
EDITOR’S NOTE: What do you think? How have you experienced sexism at comic cons or in the geek community? Share your experience with a comment below!
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