Based the book ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ by T.S. Elliot, and with music composed by the legendary Andrew Lloyd Webber, the musical Cats first premiered in the New London Theatre on 11th May 1981. It has since gone on to become one of the most popular musicals of all time, and one of the longest running musicals both in London’s West End, as well as on America’s Broadway. The story of the musical is based around a tribe of cats, called the Jellicle Cats, and introduces the main characters – along with an actual plot – by means of some very catchy songs (with ‘Memory’ arguably being the most famous song from the show). Aside from the main characters who each have their own introductory songs in the musical, there are also many other feline characters that make up the Jellicle Cats clan. Every cat in the performance also has their own individual personality and look. It can be argued that it is this aspect – along with a very helpful and close-knit community of existing Cats cosplayers – which has made Cats an increasingly popular theme of cosplay at conventions and similar events.
I actually first started off cosplaying from Cats at a London convention in May 2013. I had seen quite a few Cats cosplayers at previous events and was quickly inspired to join in as Cats is still one of my favourite musicals that I have seen to date. With Rum Tum Tugger being my favourite character since I was a child, he was immediately the first choice of character for me to cosplay. Having a friend who I discovered was a Cats cosplayer, I found it easy to make enquiries and receive recommendations towards commissioners. My Rum Tum Tugger cosplay was made for me by two of my now good friends, who also helped introduce me to their other Cats friends when I first wore the completed cosplay at a convention. Although, due to my confidence issues, I was somewhat shy at first, the kindness and activeness of the group soon brought me out of my shell and I was joining in with the fun and frolics. To this day, I have always found Cats cosplayers as very welcoming people towards newcomers and keen on integrating them into the group.
So where exactly does one start when considering a Cats cosplay?
First of all, it is probably best to start by picking a character. For me, Rum Tum Tugger had always been my favourite character – his rebellious, slightly crazy style and the ability to be a highly popular cat with the other characters was probably what did it for me. That and he sports a fabulous mane which I absolutely adore.
There are many different characters that make up the Cats cast – and, as mentioned earlier in this article, each of them has their own individual personalities and flairs. So, theoretically speaking, it should not be too hard to pick out one that you particularly like. Most, if not all, Cats cosplayers like to try and stay as in character as possible. For me, that meant a great deal of hip thrusting, mane shaking and lots of ‘derp’ faces whenever the chance came about. However, do not let this put you off. There are also some very timid characters from the musical as well. Arguably, the best thing to do when picking out a character is to watch the musical – either on DVD or stream a video of the performance. This way, you can also gain the gist of any poses and specific movements that your preferred character makes so that you can mimic them for photos or videos at conventions and events.
The next step would be making, buying or commissioning the costume. With the wonders of technology, there are now many forums and communities on the internet with tutorials on how to make certain parts of the costumes; from leotards to the elaborate, cat-like wigs. So, if you are feeling creatively up to the challenge, you should be able to dive straight into things. And if you are ever in doubt over the progress of your costume, it never hurts to ask said online community as they seem always willing to give both advice and tips.
If you have intentions of buying a pre-made costume, I personally, have not seen too many of these around the internet. Sites such as EBay and Etsy have been known to list pieces separately (e.g: a wig on its own, or just the arm warmers), but very rarely have entire sets been on sale. Do have a look though as you never know when you may get lucky!
If buying does not yield much hope, the next step is to look for a commissioner to make your costume. The Cats community is so close knit that it should not post much of a problem to find a good commissioner that will be willing to make most – if not all – of your costume. Do remember that making costumes from scratch can be quite time consuming, so make your enquiries with plenty of time to spare before you decide to debut it at a convention or event. [If you are commissioning a costume for the first time, you may find it beneficial to read a previous Renegade Revolution article with tips on buying and commissioning cosplays here: www.Renegade-Revolution.com/buying-and-commissioning-cosplays-tips/ ] Sometimes, if a commissioner may not be able to make the entire cosplay themselves, they may offer to make whatever parts of it that they are can and recommend you somebody else to make the remaining part – or parts – for you. My Tugger cosplay was actually made by two separate commissioners (I’m looking at you two; Nanayena and Belle!). Again, stressing on the fact that generally, Cats cosplayers are quite closely knit, I received the entire cosplay from both Belle and Nanayena in good time and everything came together perfectly.
Whichever method you decide to choose to make or obtain your costume, I cannot stress enough how important it is to give yourself – and others, if they are making your costume – as much time as possible before the convention or event that you plan to wear your new cosplay to. As with pretty much any and all cosplays, the last thing you want to do is to stress yourself out and panic because things are not ready!
Staying on topic with the theme of the costume, the next thing to discuss would be the makeup. Why did I mention this after talking about the actual costume? The answer is simply because you may quite possibly need to colour match your makeup to your wig / costume leotard. If possible, bring either a scrap of your costume or your actual costume with you when you go shopping for makeup for colour-matching purposes. There are different types of facial paints that can be used for your makeup however do consider that if you have sensitive skin, some oil-based paints may not be best for you. Personally, I tend to purchase my theatrical paints from Charles Fox’s in Covent Garden – mainly because they tend to stock a wide variety of products and the staff are always happy to help with any queries and even give tips for choosing which items are the best for your needs, as well as application tips. Obviously, this may not be an option for people that live outside of London / the UK, but I am sure that there are similar shops around, as well as the online possibility if you already know which brand and kind of paints you require.
Definitely consider purchasing a variety of application sponges and brushes. Also think about a finishing product to help set the makeup, as well as stopping it from smudging or running (especially during the warmer times of the year). Give yourself lots of times to practice applying your character’s makeup. Remember that there will always be variations regarding the details so if you see one particular character portrayed differently, it may just be that they have decided to follow a certain version of the character – or even given their Cat a certain personal twist. For me, it took several tries of Tugger before I was even remotely happy with the result – and even more attempts when I decided to do a Cats-esque take on Scar from Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ movie. Do not be afraid to ask a friend to help you out if you get stuck putting certain parts of your makeup on: The makeup for some of the characters can be complicated and daunting if you have not had much experience with this sort of theatrical makeup before. Hopefully, in the not so far future, I will be bringing Cats-style make up tutorials to Renegade Revolution with the special guest help help of Nanayena from SBOC Entertainment so stay tuned!
As mentioned before, some Cats cosplayers have even gone as far as to transform some non-Cats characters into Cats-esque costumes. Thus far, I have only ever seen this done with Ena’s take on Harley-Quinn from DC’s Batman series and my own take on Scar from The Lion King. Personally, I really enjoy seeing the creativity spread beyond just the Cats characters – plus, I think it’s always nice to see unique versions of characters portrayed. So, if you ever have any ideas of doing something similar, I would definitely encourage it!
As with any kind of cosplay, the most important aspect is having fun – and cosplaying as a curious, playful and mischievous character, like most of the Cats characters are, is no exception. If you are thinking of – or have ever cosplayed as a Cat – drop a comment and a link to a picture at the bottom of this article to share the love!
Photos © Jojo Yap and Scott Sanderson