Hero Behind the Mask: Batman of Winnipeg

This weeks interview is doing so much good for Winnipeg it is hard to show it all in one interview! And it shows how amazing a lot of the Batman fans are! I have talked with a lot of CAUSEPlayers since starting this blog and I am always amazed at the dedication of those who wear the Batman mask. I hope you are inspired by this weeks interview! –Mala
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Name: Darren R S Marrese

Location: Winnipeg, MB, Canada

What got you into CAUSEplaying?
I kinda fell into cosplay/CAUSEplay by accident. I spent a year looking for a Batman suit and accessories. At the time my only purpose was to wear it at Halloween with my kids and at conventions. But while I was doing my research I met a lot of guys and gals with amazing costumes who were actively involved in charitable events, mostly hospital visits. In my city the hospitals won’t let us in the door in costume but there’s no shortage of other worthy causes to support. My suit and accessories (cowl, cape, etc) weren’t cheap so I look for any reason to wear it in public. But I take the summer off. The suit is hot enough as it is at room temperature. Wearing it on a hot sunny day is unbearable and dangerous. But once the temperature starts to decline in the fall, the Dark Knight of Winnipeg returns!

What keeps you CAUSEplaying?
The people keep me playing Batman. When I walk into a room or school the people treat me like a rock star. Seriously! The adults get just as excited to see Batman in the flesh as the kids do. And that’s a great feeling. I’m just another face in the crowd when I’m not in character. But as soon as I put on the suit I get swarmed for photo ops and autographs. That’s a pretty cool feeling, knowing you made a kid’s day; being invited to special events; being interviewed by the media; seeing pix of me posing with “fans” or other cosplayers all over social media. It’s great to be Batman.
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What was your first CAUSEplay event?
I did a pancake breakfast with two radio stations in Feb. 2014 to help raise money for the Movement Centre of Manitoba, a non-profit organization that is committed to improving the physical health of children and adults with physical disabilities. After the media ran the story on the news I started to get a lot more requests from other charities, mainly because I don’t charge non-profits. Those organizations work their asses off to raise awareness and funds for something they believe in, to improve the quality of life for kids and adults alike. I’m not in it for the money. I just want to make a difference and have some fun.
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What is your favorite costume to wear while CAUSEplaying, and Why?
I only do Batman from the Dark Knight trilogy. Why Batman? First, I’m a big fan. Always have been since I was a kid. Originally I wanted to play Darth Vader but I’m lacking in height and I couldn’t wear a full-face mask without having to take it off every few minutes to defog the lenses and catch my breath. Playing Batman is as close to playing Vader as it gets. They both wear black armoured suits and know how to rock a cape. Capes are useless in reality, but they look awesome billowing in the wind. Two, Batman is one of the most recognizable, iconic characters in pop culture. There’s no mistaking who I am when I’m in my suit. Finally, Batman can be a powerful role model. Sure I have my bad habits, but when I’m in character I feel like I have a responsibility to lead by example. I tell kids they don’t need powers or a cool costume to be a hero. Everyone can be a hero by always doing the right thing, helping others, respecting people/classmates and most important of all, NEVER be a bully.

Most memorable CAUSEplay moment:
My most memorable moment was walking in the Santa Claus Parade last season with my fellow costumers from the Costume Alliance in support of the Salvation Army. It was the coldest day of the year but thousands of people lined the streets for the parade. It was another rock star moment for me because kids and parents were screaming and cheering when they saw me. It was incredible. I’ll remember that day for the rest of my life.
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What is your favorite cause to support?
I don’t really have a favourite cause because all of them are unique and special in their own way. But if I had to pick one I would say mental health awareness tops the list. It’s an emerging issue all over the world, especially when you consider billions of people globally suffer from some sort of depression, anxiety or other mood disorder. Too many young people committing suicide. It’s heartbreaking. We need to end the stigma. The only way to do that is by talking about it and get involved in related awareness campaigns.

The silliest/strangest thing you have done for a cause?
Aye, that’s a tough one… I think dancing on stage while a DJ played in the background is probably the most un-Batman thing I’ve done while in character. The suit limits my mobility so dancing was quite a spectacle.

Who inspires you?
My Mom and Dad have always been there for me. They taught me a lot of valuable lessons when I was a kid that I still adhere to today. Lessons that I have passed down to my two daughters, whom I hope will one day pass down to their kids.
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Advice for CAUSEplaying:
You gotta network and get your name out there if you want to be invited to charitable events. You can’t just ‘show up’ at a charity picnic without permission from the organizers, passing out business cards to kids and parents even if your intentions are good. It’s disrespectful to the organizers and the other ‘mascots’ who have paid or made a corporate donation to be a part of the event. Also, in this day and age, a lot of people get worried when they see costumers wandering around, especially ones who have scary or dangerous looking props. If you’re not careful you could find yourself swarmed by police. Even heroes like Batman or Spiderman in authentic, mind-blowing costumes can find themselves being mistaken for a panhandler or worse – a thief in disguise.

I also advise people to be selective about how many events they do. It’s great to help out a worthy cause, but you can’t get carried away or else you’ll burn out, get bored or frustrated. Then suddenly helping others becomes a job. I try to participate in as many events as time permits. But I have to be careful to avoid stretching myself too thin. It’s wonderful helping others, but not at the expense of family and friends. Sometimes you have to charge organizers, though I don’t like to, because in my experience, once word gets out that you do all these great things for FREE, suddenly everyone is lining up to get you to endorse their event.
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What CAUSEplay events do you have coming up?
I take the summers off, but starting in September I will be back in the cape and cowl. It’s a busy month.
Free the Spirit Festival 2014 in support of St. Amant Centre (https://youtu.be/VVyL5qBHXzQ)
Childhood Cancer Awareness Superhero 5K walk/run (in memory of Madox)
Empty Bowls Gala Dinner in Support of Winnipeg Harvest

Do you prefer to be called a cosplayer or costumer?
I’m definitely a costumer. Cosplayers have numerous costumes and most of them craft them using their own skills and materials. I’d love to build my own costumes but I don’t have the time or skill, much less the patience to do it.

What was your first costume/cosplay?
Going waaaaaay back, I used to play The Crow when I was younger.

In your own words what is the purpose and goal of (the Winnipeg Harvest) project? Click here to see the video made for this project.
One of the Producers does contract video production for Winnipeg Harvest. I think four years now. She came up with the superhero idea and thought it would be a hit with Harvest executives and everyday people like you and me, kids and adults alike. The purpose of the video is to draw awareness to the staggering number of food Harvest donates to needy families each year with the goal of inspiring more people to donate their time or money because it’s such and important cause. It’s horrible thinking about the number of hungry kids in our city.

Brenner conceded she didn’t realize the vast role Harvest filled until her mom started working there four years ago. Over that time, Abraxas has made several videos for the food bank, but Brenner thought this unconventional project would hit home with everyone from kids to adults.

“The majority of charity videos tell the sad story of the statistics, which is good for everyone to know, but I thought incorporating something that’s a little entertaining as well would appeal to a wider demographic of all ages,” she said.

“As we started doing more and more videos for them, we started meeting more people who have used their services, and these are people from all walks of life. There are some incredible stories there.

“If there was any way we could help to get more and more people of different ages to donate their time or money, it’s such an important cause.”

The cast didn’t only donate their time. They insisted the 113 pounds of food they brought for props were donated to the food bank.
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How do you think it helped with the getting people involved for a cause such as Winnipeg Harvest?
Superhero culture is huge today; it really appeals to kids and adults. But we have a lot of worthy charities in the city all competing for donations and volunteers. Our community is very generous, but still the need for donations is required. Harvest now has a very slick video they can show to schools and children’s groups to encourage donations and raise funds, something they’ve never had before.

And we had an amazing cast with amazing costumes and really big hearts. We participate in fundraising events by making appearances, but for me anyway, I had never participated in a video like this before. I’ve never even acted! It also helps that Winnipeg’s popular new Mayor Bowman was eager to be a part of it.

If anyone in your area is interested in contributing how can they reach out to Winnipeg Harvest?
It’s simple to donate to Winnipeg Harvest. There are many businesses and organizations that collect food all year round. Their current slogan is “bring a tin for the bin.” But if they require more information they can always contact Harvest directly by going to their website at: www. http://winnipegharvest.org/

As a producer, and now actor, what advice do you have anyone who wants to take on a project like this?
This type of project took over a year to make between writing, casting, shooting, editing and voice work. We all volunteered our time. For me, playing the lead role was an honour and a bit scary. I’ve never acted before so there was definitely some stage fright. But I’m proud of the final result. It will be fun to show my family and future grandchildren when I eventually retire the cowl.
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Tell me about the “Be the Hero” presentation.
The “Be the Hero” mission began in response to the growing epidemics of drugs, bullying and broken homes. This is a mission to reach the hearts of the youth so that we may inspire them to be everything that they can, overcome anything that they may have to endure and teach them to help others do both of those things. It is about empowering our youth to be leaders.

The “Be The Hero” message has reached over 70,000 children, been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, National Enquirer, Women’s World Magazine, The Huffington Post, and countless other news agencies and publications. My fellow Batmen in the USA have been honored to assist in the burial of 3 children who have fallen to Cancer at the request of their families. The founder, John Buckland, alone averages 40-50 event appearances per month.

What inspired this and what do you want to accomplish with it?
When I saw how effective John’s program was I reached out to him for advice and permission to use his “Be The Hero” program when I make school appearances. I consider John my mentor in this respect. I’m currently the only Batman in Canada who is teaching the Be the Hero mission to schools. The purpose is to show kids that anyone can be a hero if they follow 4 simple things:

1) NEVER GIVE UP: TOUGH TIMES MAKE YOU STRONGER AND GREATER. Empowering children to overcome their tough times by changing the way they view and react to them.

2) ALWAYS DO THE RIGHT THING: Don’t be persuaded by others to do something that could get you into trouble or worse.

3) HELP OTHER PEOPLE: The more good things you do for others, the more good things that happen in your life.

4) NEVER BE A BULLY-If you want to be great, you must treat people good.
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You seem to have a lot of different things going on in your community beyond charity events! What is your favorite project you have been involved with and why?
The Salvation Army Santa Claus Parade and the Heroes for Harvest awareness campaign have been the most exciting projects I’ve done as Batman. But I’m looking forward to working with local shelters and clinics to help raise awareness for mental health issues, specifically depression and substance abuse problems. I can do all this as a “civilian” but you can get far more attention as the Caped Crusader.

What is your day job (a.k.a. how I pay for my expensive hobby)?
I’m a Marketing Communications Specialist, but my area of expertise is video production and digital media. I worked for a Minnesota-based safety company for 10 years doing safety training and product marketing videos before I was recruited for a similar position by a Calgary company. The Calgary company was run by complete idiots so I left last December to start my own business, Marrese Visual Productions/MVP Digital Media.
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If you could have any job what would it be and why?
I like being creative, and I love technology so I really enjoy my current job. But I would love to work on documentaries, a TV series or film one day. Once I get my business up and running and financially stable I’m going to start doing more story-driven productions instead of sales-driven marketing videos.
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Star Wars or Star Trek: I’ve always been a Star Wars fan. I have a healthy collection of vintage Star Wars toys along with an ever-growing collection of new stuff as they keep making new movies and shows. I can’t stand the original Star Trek franchises, but I really enjoyed what JJ Abrams did with the franchise. I really hope he completes the trilogy.

Marvel or DC:I prefer the independent publishers more than Marvel or DC. Both companies are ruining their publications and alienating fans with all the massive changes they are making to core characters. They’re trying to shake things up too much to get people talking but it backfired and is having a negative effect on their sales and the industry in general. But growing up I was always a Marvel fan.

Favorite Comic Series:Current: The Walking Dead, Batman (New 52) Classic: Ghost Rider, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Punisher War Journal, Star Wars

Favorite Comic Character:Uhm, Batman? Haha! I also love Ghost Rider but Hollywood totally buggered up the character, which is a shame.

Least favorite comic character and why?
Deadpool. I’ve never understood – and still don’t understand – the appeal of this character. He looks cool but he’s an idiot.

Favorite Book: Lord of the Rings

Favorite Video Game: I don’t have one. I don’t own a video game system or play online games.

Favorite Convention: San Diego ComiCon, though I haven’t gone in over a decade.

Affiliations (clubs or groups): Costume Alliance

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/batmanofwinnipeg

Twitter: @wpg_batman

Instagram: wpg_batman

Additional links you may want to check out: News article

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