Find your inner ghoul
Chase Hardy embodies the spirit of Wally Munk, chieftain of the troll clans, in the Theatricus production of "Little Necromancer."

What are you gonna be for Halloween? Sure, you can go out and buy one of those cheap costumes and play the fool for the evening, but where's the art in that?

If you're planning to enter a costume contest or want to be the life of the party, a little creativity can be rewarding.

The key to making your costume memorable is using your imagination to create a character. Donning the costume isn't enough. Use the acting trick of creating a back story to become one with the costume. According to several members of the local theater community, it helps to ask, Who is this person (or creature)? What does he or she want?

"When we get into character here, we usually start with research," says John Rampage, Diamond Head Theatre artistic director and also a veteran actor, director and choreographer. It doesn't matter whether you're going out as a historical figure or a fictional one, he explains; you want to know as much about the person (or life form) as possible. Go to the library, check out some relevant videos or DVDs or go online. Then lock in on a specific character -- or create one.

For instance, suppose you're going to be a vampire. Are you Dracula? If so, are you the Dracula that Bram Stoker described in his 1897 novel, Dracula as portrayed by Bela Lugosi in the classic 1931 film or Dracula as played by Jack Palance or Gary Oldham? Or are you the vampire Lestat from Anne Rice's "Vampire Chronicles" series?

"You always look for those little nuances, those little character (traits) that set that person apart," Rampage says.

What you don't want to do is stumble around as a generic vampire with no reason to exist.

"If you can be a little more specific with yourself about what your character is -- vs. a generic one -- it is much easier to sustain (the character) over a period of time," Rampage said. "A costume helps, but you've got to have something going on in your brain."

Actor Joey Caldarone says you can also find inspiration in the people around you. "When you're walking down Kalakaua by Angles, you see all those bitchy drag queens, and I have friends who are bitchy drag queens, and (so) I just picked that persona and tried to embody it -- it's like acting," he explains.

Caldarone partied last Halloween as a "bitchy drag queen" as a sort of final take on his Po'okela Award-winning performance as Mary Sunshine in DHT's season-opening production of "Chicago" last fall. The role required him to perform in drag, and Caldarone says he maintained a separate persona as long as he was in costume.

"It's not just the outside, it's being your costume. All night (last Halloween), I wasn't acting like Joey, I was acting like this bitchy drag queen -- I became that person at that point. Even when I was doing 'Chicago,' people said I was much nicer after the show because (during the show) I was acting kind of diva-ish. I had this big solo in drag, and I was acting diva-esque even though I'm not like that at all."

Similarly -- although we're certainly not recommending that anybody try this home -- Caldarone says that Nicolas Cage "went on a two-week drinking binge" to get into character for his role in "Leaving Las Vegas."

"It's about putting yourself into the character, and doing things that you think they would do, and then really getting to know the character. It's like getting to know a person," Caldarone says.

Gina Kan gets into the spirit of her 1920s flapper costume at Bailey's Antiques and Aloha Shirts on Kapahulu Avenue, one of many local sources for Halloween costume ideas.

CHOOSING A COSTUME is only the beginning, says actress Sherry Chock Wong, who had a small part in "Chicago" but more recently did a stellar job playing teenager Shelley Parker in Manoa Valley Theatre's dark but hilarious "Batboy: The Musical."

"If you're going to carry off a costume, you have to do so with confidence," she said. "You have to make the costume a part of you instead of something you're wearing as an appendage to yourself. It has to be like you're wearing your own skin. Otherwise it doesn't work at all.

She added that she "gets into character" on a daily basis as she plays the different real-life roles of wife and mother, teacher, wedding singer and entertainer.

"In every situation, my philosophy is always to act 'as if,' and there are times that I try to act like Joey, (who has) a very outgoing personality naturally. I grew up very shy, your typical Chinese Asian girl, and I've had to break out of that in many different areas of my life. Like, when you're a teacher you have to act 'as if,' even if you don't feel comfortable. I'm not saying my whole life is an act, but there are different roles we play in every situation.

"In doing a character, I try to feel what they're feeling and relate it to something in my own life. We're all very different people, but I think we experience a lot of the same things."

NOT INTO ALL that homework? A dedicated costume designer can help create the right mood. Renee Jensen-Oliveira, of Sanctuary Salon, has a basic inventory of "about 25 crates" of costumes that cover eras and locales ranging from the Garden of Eden (Adam and Eve) to the Vietnam War ("Apocalypse Now").

"We get the idea of what they want, and then we research it so we can either make it as close to the real thing as possible or fantasize it or camp it up, if that's what they want," Jensen-Oliveira says.

"We've had girls that wanted to be cats, so we put them into micro G-strings with little boob covers, airbrushed their entire bodies and then created these huge manes for them out of their hair and added hairpieces. One woman wanted to be a cobra, and we airbrushed her entire body like a cobra. We do a lot of stuff that a lot of places don't do, and (those costume designs) are amazing-looking."

Not into near nudity as your costume? Jensen-Oliveira says that "Pirates of the Caribbean" is one of this year's popular themes, and so she's been reviewing all those classic Errol Flynn swashbuckler films as well as the recent hit starring Johnny Depp, who created his own take on the pirate by envisioning him as a rock 'n' roll rebel and antihero, as embodied by Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards.

(Working up your own pirate character? Don't overlook Wallace Beery's portrayal of Long John Silver in the original "Treasure Island," Captain Hook in Disney's original take on "Peter Pan" and all the pirates who populated Geena Davis' otherwise disastrous vanity piece, "Cutthroat Island.")

"People are kind of burned out on the old-school version (of classic characters), so they want to do something that's a little cooler or updated. Young people have different things that they relate to, so we usually go for something more updated," Jensen-Oliveira said, adding that "maybe 30 percent" of her business comes from people who are planning to enter a costume contest. The other 70 percent are looking for a one-of-a-kind costume.

"They don't want to go in (to a party) and be the same as somebody else. Or if they're going to a specific party -- like the Wave is doing 'Matrix,' and we have a couple of people who are going as the guys with the white dreads -- they want to have something unique."

His-and-her looks created at Sanctuary Salon often rely more on airbrushing and makeup than actual costumes, as with this Adam and Eve pair.

SLAPPING ON A conventional mask may sound like a lot less work, but makeup design ace Greg Howell suggests you think twice.

"I hate costumes that are uncomfortable to wear, and a lot of the masks you can buy look great, but once you put them on you can't breathe (and) you sweat like crazy. That's no fun," he says.

Howell, staff makeup artist at Paul Brown Salon, designed masks while he was living on Maui several years ago but says that hair and makeup are his thing. After working on "probably, conservatively, over 100 shows" in New York, elsewhere on the mainland and in Honolulu, the most recent entry on his resume is last month's production of MVT's "Batboy: The Musical" -- and, most notably, the combination of makeup, wig, fangs and pointy "bat ears" he used to transform Shannon Kaleo Loo into the bat boy.

Howell suggests either a "cut-out mask" designed to provide a clear field of vision and allow unimpeded eating and drinking, or creating a character with hair and makeup.

"(People) just do basic black and have a face painting, and maybe some glue-on things like the ears I did for the bat boy, and they suddenly just take on this whole new (character)."

"It's amazing what can happen when you put those first few strokes of makeup on. All of them start to transform into (the character). A few strokes around the eyes, and they really start to dig it," Howell says, adding that he can draw on his professional contacts at DHT, MVT and elsewhere to get unusual and hard-to-find items to enhance his creations.

"If people are at a loss (for ideas) but don't want to do the same old thing, I will look at their face and their hair and come up with something that they can pull off. Or if they want to look completely different from themselves, we can design something that will completely alter their persona just with the makeup."

HALLOWEEN IS ONE of the biggest nights of the year on the club scene, and Honolulu's major nightclubs have offered big money to draw the crowds. While a majority of people out on Halloween night just want to have fun, a significant number are in it for the money.

The Wave Waikiki and Hula's Bar & Lei Stand are again offering top prize money of $1,000 cash for winners of their themed costume contests. The Wave's theme is "Enter the Matrix," while Hula's is celebrating the golden age of comic book characters with "Hulaween: Comics are the Best."

"It never ceases to amaze me what people come up with each year," says Flash Hansen, who oversees promotions and public relations for both clubs.

"I think the Wave's reputation of being on the edge doesn't hurt, but the energy, effort, money and, most importantly, the creativity that goes into the costumes is mind-boggling, and the sheer number of people with great costumes that enter is stunning. Last year, we had almost 100 contestants at the Wave, and at Hula's almost 100 percent of the customers are dressed up. I can't wait to see what this year brings."


Catch the spirit,
get the look

Then see our Halloween calendar for a list of costume contests.

Bailey's Antiques and Aloha Shirts: Thousands of costumes from around the world, or handmade by co-owner Bari-Ellen Bailey. Find Carmen Miranda and genie getups, flapper dresses, pimp daddy suits and more, for sale or rent, from $20. At 517 Kapahulu Ave. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Call 734-7628.

Diamond Head Theatre costume shop: Opens today, specializing in costumes custom-designed on the spot, whether you want to be Velma or Roxy from "Chicago," a princess, pirate or nun. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays through Nov. 1. No children's costumes. Proceeds support theater productions and classes. At 520 Makapuu Ave. Call 733-0277, ext. 2.

Party City: If you really have no time to plan, this place is full of guises for everyone from toddlers on up, whether you want to be a pea pod, "Wizard of Oz" or "Matrix" character. At Waikele Center. Call 671-3133.

Paul Brown Salon & Day Spa: Get into character with makeup and hair. At Ward Centre. Call 591-1881 for appointments.

Prosperity Corner: Ghoul central in Kaimuki, offering makeup, costumes, Hollywood-style scars and bloody prosthetics. At 1151 12th Ave. Call 732-8870.

Sanctuary Salon: A make-up only costume runs about $75; a full costume, with makeup, can run as high as $200. A full body-paint "costume" is around $125. At 415 Kapahulu Ave. Call 735-4247.

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