Cosplay festival to bring fun and learning from the past and future to Kewaunee
KEWAUNEE – It could be a kind of Renaissance fair. Or a celebration of the Victorian era. Or a chance to learn a little history. Or a weekend to geek out at a sci-fi fantasy or comic book convention.
At next weekend's Times of Future Past, all of the above are correct. And more. Even at the same time, in some cases.
The event is Kewaunee County's first-ever cosplay festival, it's happening June 26 and 27 at Winter Park in Kewaunee, and it covers all periods of the past and future, perhaps making it the only such festival in the country.
For those who aren't familiar, cosplay is shorthand for "costumed play," and it's just like what that sounds — people dress in costumes, usually to depict a specific character, and engage with other cosplayers and the public on social media and at related festivals and gatherings.
The common perception of cosplay generally is of younger adults dressed up as characters from comic books, superhero movies, animated series and popular fantasy series like "Game of Thrones" or the Harry Potter books and movies.
But event founder and co-producer Lynne Melssen said cosplay can cover any period in time, whether past, current or future. So, when visitors enter the festival, they have the chance to come across roguish Shakespearean character Sir John Falstaff, presidents Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, "Star Wars" Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi, "Batman" villainess Harley Quinn and Link from the "Legends of Zelda" video games, among others.
Because of that breadth of time being covered, Melssen believes it's the only festival of its kind in the United States.
"When people come through the gate, there will be some people from history, some people from fantasy," Melssen said. "If you're a history nerd like me, you're going to be interested in coming out and seeing how all this works … It can be timed to any place, any time in the past or future. You have that historical aspect, but then you have the fantasy aspect of it."
And, the characters aren't constrained to their eras in time. Some of the historical actors will give stage shows where they talk, in character, about their lives and the issues of their day, but all will stroll the grounds to mingle with guests and each other. Thus, there's a chance to catch some crossover in time.
"When we did the event the first two years in Iowa, we had Abraham Lincoln chatting with Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mark Twain chatting with (medieval English king) Richard the Lionheart," Melssen said. "They're strolling around the festival, not just appearing on a stage … It's just a fun mix-up of any time, (of) what is historically accurate and what is science fiction."
Festival guests also are welcome and encouraged to costume up themselves. A costume contest will be held each day (limited to 50 entrants, first-come, first-served) with prizes awarded for first through third places in two categories: Historic/Steampunk (the latter a mash-up of period-correct outfits, often Victorian, with modern flair and technology) and Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Anime. Contestants will get to strut their stuff on stage for 30 seconds and show the judges why their costume is special, whether it's accuracy and attention to detail — Melssen said a winner in one of her previous festivals not only made her own Victorian dress but hand-stitched all the flourishes on it — or creativity.
If that sounds like an event targeted mainly at young adults, Melssen is quick to point out that the festival is meant to be a family-style event that will have something for everybody.
"Cosplay is getting bigger and bigger," Melssen said. "Adults in their 20s, 30s and 40s are the most into it, but I'm in my 60s and I love cosplay."
Guests will have photo ops with the costumed characters, too. A "Snapshots in Time" stage will have the actors on hand and in character to pose with attendees.
Among other attractions and activities planned for the festival, guests also can watch several demonstrations of historical technology from the late 19th century. Jorg Rochlitzer will portray inventor Thomas Edison and create Edison Cylinder Recordings by hand-cranking a wax cylinder to put sound grooves in it, and Dave Rambow of Wisconsin Dells will demonstrate tintype photography.
"If you go to a museum, you can see a tintype, but you won't see how it works," Melssen said.
Visitors also can learn to play quidditch, the goal-scoring game created in the "Harry Potter" series and since brought to life, without the flying broomsticks, by clubs across the country; the Chicago Youth Quidditch club will give demonstrations and teach newcomers. Other activities festival goers can take part in are the increasingly popular sport of axe throwing and escape rooms (for an additional charge).
Entertaining on the Main Stage will be the previously mentioned Falstaff and members of Studio 12, a music and theater studio from Green Bay. The characters of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt will take turns on the History Stage.
Meanwhile, strolling the grounds will be entertainers such as Crooner Windsong (Iowa musician Jeffrey Bunce portraying a 1960s-'70s flower child and playing music from that time); suffragette Lady Amelia, played by veteran cosplayer Molly Hruska Ketchum (she also is hosting a Suffragette Tea each afternoon of the festival); Arthur, King of the Britons and Wicked, Bad and Naughty Zoot (familiar to "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" buffs) and other musicians and cosplay characters.
Plus, more than 40 vendors will be on hand with wares from heath and body care items to clothing and goods related to the cosplay/history theme. Those include concessions from a booth manned by Fox Valley chapter of Desert Veterans of Wisconsin — a portion of the proceeds from the festival go to this organization — and other food and drink options (including mead).
Cosplay in Kewaunee
So, why bring such a festival to a small, rural community like Kewaunee?
"There are people in Kewaunee County who know what cosplay is," Melssen said. "It's really big in Milwaukee and it's huge in Chicago."
Melssen said the opportunity to bring it to Kewaunee came through her past work with co-festival producer April Roy.
Melssen is a native of Dubuque, Iowa, and as a self-described history nerd, she got involved in Renaissance fairs. She said she spent about 20 years with Have Court, Will Travel, an Iowa-based troupe portraying an Arthurian royal court that plays numerous Renaissance fairs (including the Door Renaissance Faire north of Sturgeon Bay) and worked with the long-running Minnesota Renaissance Festival.
In Dubuque, she was asked to produce a fundraiser, which led to other fundraisers, which led to Renaissance fairs in that city. Then one day she was walking through the city's historic Masonic Temple, which has a variety of different spaces such as a billiards room, theater, ladies salon and a dance hall, and that variety gave her an idea.
"As I toured the Masonic Temple, I thought, 'Oh, it would be so cool to have these rooms where people could go into them and meet all these historical characters," Melssen said.
That led to producing the first two Times of Future Past festivals in Des Moines in 2015 and '16. Melssen said the events were successful, drawing about 2,000 people over the two days each year, but she wasn't able to use the festival grounds after that and couldn't find another suitable location in the Des Moines area, so the festival wasn't scheduled.
But the idea was still alive when Roy, who worked on the Des Moines festivals with Melssen, moved to the Green Bay area about a year ago.
"(Roy) contacted me last fall and said she thought (Times of Future Past) would be a great event to put on in Green Bay or one of the smaller towns nearby," Melssen said.
Melssen said Roy checked around and found Winter Park might make a suitable new location with its mix of open and wooded spaces, amenities and buildings. Ray even shot some video of the park and sent it to Melssen, and they worked with county officials to have the festival make its return in Kewaunee.
Melssen hopes to draw 500 to 800 people each day and use that to build toward next year's festival (they signed a two-year contract with the county). She thinks the event will be an attraction for all because of visitors can learn more about and experience a wide range of periods in time in a family-friendly environment, and especially because it's one of the area's first opportunities to attend a festival-type of gathering after dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic for the past 14 months.
"I think people are really hungry to get out and do something fun after a year of COVID," Melssen said. "It's really different. You can bring the kids, you can bring the grandkids. We're welcoming of any age, any persona."
The Times of Future Past cosplay festival takes place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 26 and 27 at Winter Park, N3787 Ransom Moore Lane (off County F), Kewaunee. Daily admission is $12 for ages 13 and older, $6 ages 5 to 12, $8 service members and veterans (must purchase tickets at the door with ID); an adult two-day pass is $20. A Suffragette Tea will be held at 2 p.m. each day in the Ransom Asa Moore Cabin; tickets are an additional $7 and seating is limited, so advance purchases are recommended. A portion of the proceeds go to the Fox Valley chapter of Desert Veterans of Wisconsin. No pets or animals can be brought into the festival.
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected].
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This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Cosplay festival to bring fun and learning from the past and future to Kewaunee