Fun with Costumes!

I've written about my Crusades activity before and power of costumes but seriously, they are great and it's worth writing about again!

Disneyland was designed as a place for people to live out the movies they were seeing on the big screen. Part of that was including the characters from those movies. Of course, including a two-dimensional, animated mouse would require some pretty fancy technology. Disney did the next best thing. They made costumes! Even today in our advanced modern world where kids have the technology literally in the palms of their hands to see and do almost anything they still line up and wait to meet someone dressed in a Mulan costume!

On a recent trip to Disneyland I was way in the back of the park near the entrance to Toontown. There’s a popcorn kiosk there and not a whole lot else. There is, however, apparently a door that leads to the backstage area. You can’t even see it until you are walking away from Toontown as it is tucked into a little corner. I only noticed it this time because there was a crowd of guests lined up there. Being curious I had to see what the excitement was. At the front of the line was a young woman with long, red, curly hair wearing a blue-green, medieval style dress. It was Merida from the movie Brave. Well, technically it was a cast member wearing a costume and a wig made to look like Merida from Brave - but you wouldn’t have known that from the people meeting her. And surely, it was people meeting her - not just kids. There were plenty of twenty-somethings waiting in line to take their picture with her as well. After about twenty minutes the line had not dwindled at all. Merida announced in her Scottish accent that she had received a message that a few of her brothers were in trouble and she had to go help them. She scurried behind the “Cast Members Only” door, much to the disappointment of those still waiting in line. All for a young woman in a costume!

On any given trip you can see this happening all over both parks. Some characters are so popular that they have been given their own personal meeting areas. Mickey is always in his house in Toontown - along with a “Your wait to meet Mickey is X minutes” sign at the entrance. Ana and Elsa are available nearly all day long in their version of Arendelle inside of the Animation building in California Adventure. Tinkerbell and her friends await in Pixie Hollow and a menagerie of princesses can be found in the Fantasy Faire. Do not underestimate the power of a costume!

My costumes tend to be historical outfits to match the time period. I don’t wear many but when I do it makes quite an impact. I’ve dressed as a Roman senator for our Julius Caesar investigation, a monk for our Crusades experience, George Washington (complete with ridiculous wig) for our Constitutional Convention simulation and even as a plague doctor with a creepy bird mask for our Black Death mystery. None of them were particularly expensive. Most were purchased at Kmart in their after Halloween sales at a deep discount. It certainly takes effort to put them together and wear them all day but the gain in fun is well worth it.

Seeing how the students react when I open the door and greet them in full costume is always fun. Even the most jaded teenager laughs! Even better, wearing a costume really helps them drop their guard and play along with the activity. In the Crusade activity we travel around the school on our journey completing tasks along the way. Students bring a sword (their pencil), shield (notebook) and map (worksheet) with them. They are told to defend me, the monk, from any barbarians (students from other classes) along the way. Kids are usually way to cool to act like kids hold up their pencils and binders and form a circle around me when approached - and I don’t even have to ask. I've even had them start a chant of "liar, liar, liar!" without prompting when it is revealed that all the promised riches of the church aren't actually coming! The costume is fun and it gives them permission to be silly and have fun too. The adults at Disneyland know that young woman isn’t Merida - but who cares? She plays it real so they feel they have permission to do so as well. When we wear a costume it does the same. We’re willing to be vulnerable and silly so they join on in.

Sometimes you don’t even need the full costume - just a hat will do! My FeudalSIM activity involves students and myself playing the roles of various players in a feudal kingdom. From the beginning when I started doing this lab over a decade ago I had a dollar store crown that I had the monarch wear during the activity. In the days and weeks following the students would rush to get to class just to wear the crown for a few minutes. It was silly but it was fun. Years later I came across a ridiculous wool knit cap online that was made to look like a Viking helmet complete with wool horns. What really put it over the top was the inclusion of a yarn beard with braids sewn into the bottom of the cap. I started putting it on just before I attacked the castles in the simulation. The roars of laughter when I popped up from under my desk in this ridiculous costume were deafening. A few years ago I added one more hat. For most of the simulation I play the role of Pope so I bought an oversized miter to wear. I didn’t need a full costume. Just greeting them at the door with that giant thing on my head was plenty to bring in the fun.

So, now is the time to get on the costume train. Stores are stocked and clearance won't be far behind. Go teach with magic!