Monday, March 24, 2014

April's Peculiar Person of the Month: Lolita and Playwright Charles Battersby

David Rondinelli
(Chartles Battersby in costume)
I had the opportunity to cover an article at the Japan Society on the Lolita community that congregates in New York City, a community that can only be described as...thriving. You may be wondering what I mean by Lolita, but I assure that it is an all ages and most important, legal, event that caters to a subculture of people known for wearing Victorian dresses and garments. At the center, I was surrounded by an array of colorfully dressed girls in cotton candy wigs, covered head to toe in Bo Peep fashion and lace. While brushing elbows and petticoats, I had the chance to meet playwright and Lolita Charles Battersby.

Battersby lives with his wife and two cats in Williamsburg and has been doing so for twelve years. As a professional writer, he has covered a host of genres such as playwriting, theatre criticism, and video game journalism. If the phrase- “do what you love and the money will follow”- means anything, it has certainly proved true for Battersby. He spoke about how lucky he feels to be able to combine his hobbies as his full time profession. A graduate from the New School for Social Research he achieved a degree in drama, which can be seen in his costume choice and personas that he has created.
Battersby is currently working on several new plays each with fun concepts on romance and humor. Range seems to be a word that best describes Battersby as I met not only the man, but the Lolita. Read more below as Battersby opens up about being a male Lolita, what the community is like, and what all goes into crafting a look to be a Lolita. Read on as Charles Battersby is April’s Peculiar Person of the Month.

This Peculiar Life NYC: How did you first hear about the Lolita community?

Charles Battersby: I learned about it as an extension of goth culture. I think the old term was "Elegant Gothic Lolita."  I used to work in a costume store in the 90's and we had a huge gang of goths that hung around the store so we were immersed in the Goth/ Lolita / Victorian communities.

TPL NYC: What do you feel the Lolita community offers you that other communities don’t?

CB: A lot of fashion subcultures are centered around noisy nightclubs or crowded conventions, but Lolita has a quiet and polite nature to it, usually based around tea parties, picnics and fashion shows. Lolitas are also whimsical and playful, it's a break from the constant attitude of "I'm a very serious adult doing terribly serious grown-up things."
TPL NYC: What do you feel makes the Lolita community different than other forms of costumes play?

CB: Lolita isn't necessarily a costume, and that's what separates it from cosplay.  Some "Lifestyle Lolitas" dress in Lolita clothing every day. Other people might just wear a single item as an accessory to an otherwise ordinary outfit.  It isn't necessarily about wearing a costume and role playing.
TPL NYC: How active is this community in New York City?

There are smaller meet ups almost every week, and a larger gathering about once a month. Lolitas can also be found at any major Anime/ Cosplay/ Manga event.  Recently most Japanese cultural events like Japan Day in Central Park, or Sakura Matsuri in Brooklyn will have Lolitas and other forms of "Street Fashion" present.
TPL NYC: Take me through what it is like being in the Lolita world? Where do you guys meet and what do you talk about? What are tea parties like?

CB: The tea parties can range from just a handful of friends getting together for lunch, up to mini-conventions with over a hundred people. New York has quite a few restaurants that specialize in tea parties. 

TPL NYC: How do you go about putting a costume together? What catches your eye when you see an outfit?

CB: As an actor / cosplayer I have a wardrobe packed with outfits accumulated over decades. I tend to buy pieces individually then put them together when an event approaches.  With Lolita it's not hard to make an outfit since almost everything is pink, white or black.

As a relatively older Lolita I try to be as elegant and streamlined as possible to avoid looking like I'm wearing a costume. The "Sweet Lolita" style of being covered in pink ruffles and glitter from head-to-toe is better suited to younger people.

TPL NYC: Is it hard finding the clothes for your body since you are a guy?

CB: Yes. Most Lolitas are young women, and the most popular brands are from Japan, so the clothing is tiny. Almost everything I wear is either custom-made, or extensively modified by me for the right fit. I'm small when compared to the typical American man, and I wear corsets that bring my waist down to about 22 inches, but I still have a hard time finding dresses and blouses that fit my shoulders. 

Are there many men that participate in the Lolita fashion?

CB: Not many, but there are a few. They usually dress in period men's outfits when they join their female friends at Lolita gatherings.

(Defying convenstion even amonsgt the unconventional)

TPL NYC: You seem to play with the gender roles in this community, which is interesting. Do the women ever wear masculine fashion in the community?

CB: There's a subculture called "Brolita" and there are usually a couple of boy wearing Lolita clothes at any large Lolita gathering. It's also very common to see girls dressed in clothing that would have been intended for men in the 19th Century. The men's styles back then were very feminine by today's standards.

TPL NYC: What do you like most about the Lolita community, and what is the most fun part?

CB: The food!  Any Lolita gathering is awash with cookies and cupcakes!

Have you faced any challenges by being a part of the community? Is there any discrimination from inside or outside this community?

CB: Inside the community, no.  The people I meet at Lolita events are usually happy to meet another person who shares their interests. I've never had the sense that I'm unwelcome.

From outside the community it's a different story. Looking different will always draw attention, and some of that attention will be hostile.  

What does your family and friends think of you being a Lolita?

CB: Most of my friends are actors, cosplayers, or creative types so they're fine with me throwing on a victorian ballgown every now and then.  They're accustomed to seeing me dressed in all sorts of outfits when I'm acting in a show or cosplaying, so Lolita is just part for the course. 

(The famous Lolita Captain America)
TPL NYC: Aside from this community, are there any other types of costume play communities that you are a part of (i.e. cosplay, drag, maid costumes, things like that.)

CB: I've been cosplaying since before we had the term cosplay, and a few of my costumes have had Lolita influences.  I'm well-known for my "Lolita Captain America" costume which was one of the stock images used by news agencies to cover the New York Comic Con. 
I was also rather infamous in the mid 90's because I was thrown out of a major convention by DC Comics because of my Catwoman costume. Times have changed…
TPL NYC: What other hobbies or interests do you have outside Lolita? I know you are a theatre critic, do you act as well?

CB: I act, I write plays, I direct and produce (Sometimes all at once, Ed Wood style!) In the past I performed in lots of Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway shows, and did bit parts in movies and TV shows, but the last few years I prefer to perform in projects that I write and produce myself. I'll usually write in a role that I intend to play.
I also spend countless hours playing video games and writing about them.  I view video games as a narrative art form, and when I review one I analyze it with the same degree of respect that I would have when reviewing a play.

I'm currently writing the "Fallout Lore" webseries for, and I have a play reading at the Penny Arcade Expo in Boston in April. The play is a romantic comedy about a married couple trapped in a bomb shelter built for one. It's called "That Cute Radioactive Couple".

I'm also planning a production of a new play called "The Astonishing Adventures of All-American Girl & The Scarlet Skunk" for later this year.

(Defeating the Red Skull)
TPL NYC: What is the most peculiar thing you have experienced in the Lolita community?
CB: I've been in a room with dozens of girls doing the CaramellDansen.

(Which you can see below.)


What is the most peculiar thing you have ever been a part of or seen?
CB: Eating at the McDonald's next to the convention center where they hold Comic Con. Nothing is more surreal than having dinner with the Justice League, the Sailor Scouts and the Avengers.

(A dapper Charles as himself)

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