Hero Behind the Mask: Joe Mignano

There are a lot of great people out there and I recently got to meet one of those great people through becoming a leader in Outer Rim Brigade. Joe describes himself as a man with many hats. And he is that! If he isn’t helping fellow Star Wars nerds in varying capacities he is working on a Star Wars podcast! Get to know this great man and show some support. Joe, thank you for your positive attitude and inspiration! –Mala
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Name: Joe Mignano

Location: Southern California

What got you into CAUSEplaying?
That’s a long story! Basically, after my wife passed away a little over a decade ago, I embraced a lot of the things I enjoyed most in life, as a sort of means of coping with the loss. I immersed myself in Star Wars, whereas before I was a fan but didn’t have many Star Wars things. I started collecting books, autographs, etc. Then, thanks to social media (which at the time was pretty much Myspace), I learned about conventions like Comic Con in San Diego, and groups of costumers that not only wore Star Wars attire, but also used their costumes for charitable purposes. I never knew at the time that there were such things, and I immediately wanted to be a part of it. It’s a part of my life to this day.

What keeps you CAUSEplaying?
Getting to be the Star Wars figure that I always wanted to be as a kid, and being able to use that live action figure for a good cause, especially when it involves doing something positive in the lives of children, really keeps me motivated to contribute all I can, as much as I can, as often as I can, even if I’m not often able to.

What was your first CAUSEplay event?
I really don’t remember! I think, technically, it was at Comic Con in San Diego, in either 2007 or 2008. I had a silly little campy YouTube show at the time called “The Dark Side Chats,” in which I’d often wear a custom Sith get-up, and of course talk about Star Wars. It was my first foray into podcasting, which over the years would also
become a favorite pastime of mine. Star Wars podcasting, of course.

What is your favorite costume to wear while CAUSEplaying, and Why?
I only have two outfits, believe it or not. I have a custom Sith and a Darth Sidious (prequel era, before Palpy got scarred for life by that traitor Mace Windu). Of those, I’d have to say I love my custom Sith, since it’s very non-restricting, breathes easily, and is rather comfortable. Plus, it’s something I concocted on my own, which gives the costume its own sort of uniqueness.

Most memorab photo Mark Edwards photography 189697341_zpstrydwoas.jpgle CAUSEplay moment(s): There are so many. But I’d have to say that one of my most favorites was while I was wearing my custom Sith, and I was working a table for The Dark Empire at an event, which is something I don’t really do anymore (I’m more involved with the 501st Legion these days). I had started something up called HoloNet Audio Dramas, one of a few Star Wars podcasts that I do, in which I narrate well-written short family-friendly Star Wars fanfiction, and set it to music and sound effects – the idea being not just to have a fan audio presentation (sort of like fanfilms, but audio only), but to also target that media toward fans that may be blind, have difficulty reading, etc.

On this particular occasion, a blind woman was led to the table I was at, and her hand was gently guided along that props that were on display. Without any hesitation or guesswork on her part, she knew what a lightsaber hilt was and what a Sith holocron was. I described the outfit I was wearing to her, and let her feel the material. I was amazed at the expression her face made as she took in the details of the display pieces and costume fabric with her fingertips.

I then offered her a free audio disc of HoloNet Audio Dramas material; it had about ten stories on it, and I used to give them away regularly. She later told me that she thoroughly enjoyed listening to the stories, and “seeing” what we had on display; she really experienced Star Wars in a way that she hadn’t before. That did it for me! I’ve never forgotten that, and I’ve given out close to 1,000 audio discs since, before retiring disc distribution last year. I still give free ones out on rare occasion, and I always think of that particular encounter with a blind Star Wars fan when I do.

What is your favorite cause to support and what have you done for them?
Hillsides children’s group home (an orphanage), is a cause that I’ve supported since 2011, having organized a Star Wars Day event for the kids there each year, now twice a year. I actually wrote a blog about it on the Star Wars website (link: http://www.starwars.com/news/celebrating-5-years-of-star-wars-at-hillsides-child-care-facility) , and it was mentioned in the Bantha Tracks section of the January 2015 issue of Star Wars Insider. Organizing an event like that for kids that depend on so much from volunteers means a lot to me, and I think it’s the reason why volunteers like us volunteer to do what we photo 1398881_10151840662688241_1116444032_o_zpsifute0zi.jpg do.

The silliest/strangest thing you have done for a cause?
The silliest thing I’ve ever done was probably be Santa Sith one Sithmas, a long time ago…

Who inspires you in life or cosplay?
I’m inspired by all of the people that volunteer their time and efforts into not only enjoying w
hat they do, but using it to give back, as well. The story of Albin Johnson, his late daughter Katie, and a baby girl once known as Princess Leah when she was alive were and still my biggest inspirations.

Advice for CAUSEplaying: Always be professional, but also have fun! If you aren’t having fun, then you’re doing something wrong.

What CAUSEplay events do you have coming up?
Hillsides every August is the single-most event that I look forward to, and also in December.

Do you prefer to be called a cosplayer or costumer?
Costumer. I think “cosplayer” is a term best describing a person that wears a costume for playful purposes, whereas a “costumer” doesn’t just wear a costume, they make it themselves and use it for a purpose beyond play.

What was your first costume/cosplay?
My custom Sith, or a very primitive version thereof.

What is your dream cosplay?
I’d like to do one or two more of the many fun outfits that are worn in the 501st Legion, and I’d really like to make some type of bounty hunter outfit at some point. The Royal Guard costume is really calling to me, but I’m also not sure if I want to demote myself from Emperor just yet. photo BrutalOne_zpsbvxlvdrm.jpg

How do you feel you have influenced the cosplay community?
Ironically enough, I think through podcasting. Although Dark Empire Radio is now its own entity, it once was the official podcast of The Dark Empire costume club, and I served as it’s main voice for a number of years, as well as the first PR Officer of that particular club. I’m now happily involved co-hosting and post-producing the 501stCast, the official podcast of the 501st Legion.

What is your day job (a.k.a. how I pay for my expensive hobby)?
I wear many hats. Security guard, park ranger, voice over guy. I guess it all depends on which hat I’m wearing at the time.

If you could have any job what would it be and why?
If “philanthropist” were an occupation, I’d love to list my everyday job as that. I dream of being able to freely give as much as possible, without the hindrance of having to work hard to be able to.

Tell us something random about yourself: I love cheesecake. Immensely. Some say too much; I say hardly enough.

Star Wars or Star Trek: I love both, but it’s the Wars that inspired me to do what I do. It’s all about the Wars!

Marvel or DC: I loved Super Friends as a kid, so DC when it comes to old school comics. But, Marvel all the way otherwise!

Favorite Comic Series: Dark Empire, the FIRST “expanded universe” or Legends comic from Dark Horse!

Favorite Comic Character: Darth Talon. I’m a Sith. A male Sith. It was only inevitable.

Least favorite comic character and why? The rabbit fellow in the old Marvel Star Wars comics. I can’t remember his name, and probably for good reason.

Favorite Book: Star Wars Galactic Phrase Book & Travel Guide, by Ben Burtt, with illustrations by Sergio Aragones. Think Mad Magazine and Star Wars together, and learn a bit of Huttese in the process. Major win!

 photo Joe Mignano 73 Front_zpss4ughjsa.pngFavorite Video Game: Battlefront II from 2004. Nothing comes close.

Favorite Convention: Celebration 6 in Orlando, Florida in 2012 was perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had at a con. I’ve also enjoyed going to ConNooga in Tennessee, and San Diego Comic Con in years past. Alas, I’m conventioned-out anymore!

Affiliations (clubs or groups): 501st Legion, Saber Guild, The Dark Empire, Outer Rim Brigade

Facebook: facebook.com/lordbruticus

Twitter: @mignanojoe

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How to get into CAUSEplay

How to get into CAUSEplay

Written by Adventures With Mala
Edited by Harleys Vintage Kisses

There are many options to get into CAUSEplay. This will have some recommendations, but please keep in mind there are many ways to use your costumes to give back to the community.   Hopefully this will get the wheels turning and inspire you!

You may be asking why you should listen to me. At the risk of sounding conceited, there are several reasons. First, while living in Utah I participated with H.E.R.O.I.C., Inc. for nearly two years. Second, before joining this organization, I volunteered, in my community without costume, in several aspects. Third, I am currently finding ways to CAUSEplay in my new community. In other words, I am living what I am writing about. Finally, I have a Master’s in Public Administration where I studied nonprofit organizations.

So, how can you get involved? The first, and easiest, way to get involved is to see what groups may be in your area. Each group will have its own acceptance process and policies. I highly recommend contacting the group to find out their process AND the requirements to keep your status with the group. For example, how many events must you attend to maintain your status with the group? What are their expectations? Does their overall mission and purpose fit with your goals? What are their costume requirements? Once you know the expectations evaluate if this fits your life and individual expectations. If everything says green light, then congratulations, you are now involved in CAUSEplaying!

There are many organizations out there that participate in a CAUSEplaying capacity. All of the Star Wars costuming clubs do fundraising and other forms of CAUSEplay, though they do not call it this. There may be a superhero or Disney princess group in your area, Harry Potter club, Ghostbusters, Resident Evil Hives, Star Trek (though I have not heard of this group being active in a CAUSEplay capacity), and so many more! Please note I will be compiling a list and information of various groups, their locations, and websites to publish on this site at a later date. If you have one to bring to my attention please let me know because I know there are many I am not aware of!

If no group exists in your area you can create your own. This can be a very time consuming and frustrating process. In essence you will be creating a small business. If you want to take donations directly I recommend that you file for a nonprofit organization 501(c)3 status in order to have a Tax ID people can donate to. This will protect you legally and add legitimacy to your cause. Otherwise you will have to partner with an organization with an established Tax ID for taking donations on their behalf. Before you take on a feat like establishing an organization or group make sure you are up for the challenge and have a good support system. Find people with a similar interest and passion to carry the load with you. This will make managing events easier and can attract new people to your group. If you are not sure where to start with this look for books on starting a nonprofit organization and reach out to other groups to find out how they created their groups. As mentioned above each group has different policies. You can always review the policies and decide what works best for you.

If the idea of a group does not work for you, or you do not want to start one, then you will have to create opportunities yourself. As we speak I am doing just this by creating a toy drive for a local homeless shelter. Something like this can be done with a community partner (a.k.a. a local business). For example, a comic book, hobby, or toy store. H.E.R.O.I.C., Inc. in Utah allies with Hastur Games & Comics each year to help Toys for Tots. I have allied myself with a local toy store that I frequent. I recommend that you establish a relationship with the company before you approach them with this idea. It will increase the likelihood of them agreeing, because they know you. If you do not know anyone personally maybe a friend does who would be willing to act as a reference and facilitate this conversation. Keep in mind that drives are not limited to toys. You can arrange a food, clothing, or school supply drive. The purpose of the drive should focus on the needs of the charity you are assisting.

With Christmas just around the corner the bell ringers will also be out. You can volunteer your time to help them out, as well. Just make sure they are aware you will be doing this in costume and that they are okay with this since you will be representing their organization. People will notice the costumes and ask what you are doing. Also, getting their picture with a hero increases the likelihood of donations.

If a drive or bell ringing do not seem like the perfect fit you can always approach an organization you care about to find out what fundraising efforts, festivals, walks, or events they have coming up and if your services might be useful. Sometimes organizations have a super hero themed event where having people in costume would add to the experience. One of my favorite annual events as a member of H.E.R.O.I.C., Inc. was with a local library’s program for children with disabilities. Each year they have a super hero themed event where we interacted with the children. They had various activities that helped increase dexterity, cognitive, and social skills. The kids were learning and practicing skills, without even realizing it, while hanging out with their favorite heroes!

Some people will argue that showing up to an event does not count as a charity, I would like to remind you of the story I just shared and how we helped the children get involved at the library event. It is important to remember that most nonprofits utilize volunteers to meet the missions because this reduces the need for staff and the overhead costs. By volunteering your time you ARE helping the organization! If you help provide a fun environment at a walk or other event then participants are more likely to attend again, increasing the rate of donations and volunteerism for that organization.

Other methods of CAUSEplay can be bringing attention to a cause or organization. This is something that can be helpful for a nonprofit organization. A great example of this is Cosplayers for a Cure in Canada who use the convention environment to bring attention to Breast Cancer. Just by talking and advertising for an issue you are helping an organization and a cause. Recall the attention Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) received from the viral videos of the ice bucket challenge. Though not necessarily a CAUSEplay event, I participated in costume and challenged my costume friends to do this in costume as well. Even if people didn’t donate the nation was talking about this chronic disease and learning that it is not called Lou Gehrig’s disease and that there is more to it. How many of you googled to see what exactly ALS was when you first saw the videos?

There are even simpler ways to CAUSEplay. If you make props you can always see if Make-A-Wish has a need for something you make. For example, MKF Props made a Star Wars Mandalorian bucket (helmet) and donated it to make a kid’s wish come true. You can always see if your local children’s hospital or Make-A-Wish chapter would be interested in your assistance. Keep in mind that organizations like this are very picky about who they involve due to the sensitive nature of who they serve. You may have to submit for a background check before you can fully work with them. You may also be asked to not wear your mask on the hospital property. It never hurts to ask and find out how to be involved!   Some of my friend’s favorite, or proudest CAUSEplay moments, involve a terminally ill child. Though it tugs at their heart strings they have never regretting giving up an afternoon to put a smile on that kid’s face.

Due to things in my life and having to make real adult life a priority, starting my own costume charity organization has been very slow going. But, I still want to give back to my community while I figure this out. Because of this desire I have decided to start selling prints with a percentage of the proceeds being donated to a charity. I plan to change who benefits from this every three months, once I get it up and going. You can do something like this or donate a portion of your profits from prop making. Another option is donating costumes or services to an organization to auction of as a fundraising effort.

Get creative! There is so much more you can do! Go to a library and see if you can read a story to kids in your costume or help teach them to read. There are nonprofits that focus on education of preschool kids that may also be interested in something like this. You can even get involved as you!

Let me know how you are getting involved! I want to hear your stories!! Or tell me about a CAUSEplayer or a group you think are making a difference! Email AdventuresWithMala@gmail.com with your stories! If sending info on an individual person please let them know you have done so, to reduce the creep factor of a stranger contacting them for a potential interview.

CAUSEplay: Cosplay for a Cause, True Heroes of Cosplay

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Most people have heard of cosplay but fewer have heard or understand CAUSEplay. If you are reading this chances are you know what cosplay is. In case you don’t, this is short for costume play and involves wearing a costume while acting like that character. More frequently it is just dressing as a character or in an inspired fashion. With the recent increase in popularity of geek culture this hobby has increased with it. CAUSEplay is a break off of cosplay where people use costumes for charity. This is also gaining popularity as costume clubs and 501c3 nonprofit organizations pop up all over the world. Even individual CAUSEplayers are even making a difference in their immediate communities.

Star Wars Costume Clubs like Rebel Legion and 501st Legion are some of the oldest organizations around involved in CAUSEplay, in fact they were doing it long before this phrase caught on. Just so you understand the structure of these groups these are international clubs divided regionally into garrisons for ease of management and accountability, this is very important because they represent Lucas Films. This also makes the level of their costume quality and expectations higher than a local group might have. If you are new to costuming and interested in joining one of these clubs make sure you review the costume requirements before making your costume to save yourself time and money. Each club has a strong charity aspect to it doing a variety of good for their communities. You can search for your local chapter’s Facebook page to see what they are doing.

Though the Star Wars clubs are among the oldest costume organizations there has been an influx in comic book focused groups such as Arizona Avengers and Comic Book Character for Causes, a 501c3 organization in Washington State. Some groups even accept Disney Princesses, movie characters, and video game characters like H.E.R.O.I.C., Inc., a 501c3 organization in Utah. But the groups do not stop here. The Resident Evil games and movies also have chapters, or Hives as they call them, that do the same type of charity work. There are organizations dedicated to Harry Potter, Ghostbusters, mermaids, pirates, and the list can go on and on. You think of a costume and chances are there is a charity organization or club out there!

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Examples of fundraising include the Alpine Garrison (Utah’s 501st) raising $2,878.57 during Salt Lake Comic Con 2014 for the Peter Mayhew Foundation (petermayhewfoundation.org) to assist with medical costs for families that need assistance. At this same convention the Mandalorian Mercs’ Utah Chapter, Krayt Clan, worked with H.E.R.O.I.C., Inc. and Rogue Base (Utah’s Rebel Legion) to raise money for Make-A-Wish. I couldn’t find a total for all the groups involved in this but they did reach over $2,000 for the numbers I could collect. These same groups also fundraised during the Salt Lake City FanX 2014 convention for kids with the Utah Muscular Dystrophy Association to attend their summer camp. And during Rose City Comic Con the Cloud City Garrison (Oregon 501st) also raised money for Make-A-Wish. These are just some examples but there are many out there.

You may be wondering how they raise this money. It is simple, get your picture taken with your heroes and donate a few bucks! The 501st also does blast a trooper to raise funds. You have to have better aim than those stormtroopers after all. While raising money and awareness to a cause these dedicate individuals also bring a fun atmosphere!

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This fun atmosphere can assist in other charitable ways by bringing awareness to a cause; especially since nonprofits have limited resources for advertising and having “attractions” to bring people to their events. These types of events include local fundraising walks; after school, youth, or at risk programs; programs for children with disabilities like summer camp, festivals, or day programs; scouting activities, award ceremonies, or leadership training; library activities; toy drives, food drives or clothing drive; or anything that a nonprofit organization can think of to raise money, items, or awareness to their causes!

Recognized organizations like those listed above also have the amazing opportunity to help Make-A-Wish with requests. Seeing these kids smile and have a great time is one reason many CAUSEplayers site as to why they do this. If you are interested in working with Make-A-Wish please note that they prefer working with established and reputable groups due to the sensitive nature of what they do. It never hurts to reach out to your local Make-A-Wish and see if there is something you can do though!

You don’t have to be a big group to make a difference though. The Northwest Mutant Academy Costume Club of Washington is a small group of friends who does a lot of the same things listed above. They do it for their love of costumes and for the fun of it. One thing this group does on their own is a food drive to help out local people but they are always open considering an event if they are approached.

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You don’t have to be part of a group to CAUSEplay or make a difference in your community. Individuals can make a difference to. Last Christmas a CAUSEplayer reached out to the cosplay community to send Christmas cards to a terminally ill man with a disability because he loved super heroes. The response was over whelming as people from everywhere sent cards, pictures, and gift to this man. Though a brief moment in his life it brought him joy and showed the world how amazing the cosplay community can be. And this showed how something very simple can make a huge difference.

If you want to make a difference in your community you can! Create your own food or toy drive with the holiday season just around the corner. Homeless shelters and foster organizations are always in need of clothing, shoes, socks, coats, ext. and can use help in collecting these. Talk to your local library if they have any events you can help out with. Another thing you can make arrangements with nursing homes to visit the elderly. Or make a prop to donate for a Make-A-Wish request. Many nonprofit organizations have small budgets and are already running on budgets that do not allow them meet the needs of the population they serve. If there is a cause you are passionate about simple email or call the organization to see what they need help with. You don’t have to CAUSEplay to make a difference. You can be a hero without dressing like one, after all real heroes are inside us all.

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As you can see the groups that CAUSEplay are as varied as the ways they can assist their communities. The reasons people CAUSEplay are just as varied. Some do it to see the joy in kids eyes when they see a favorite character, to know they made a difference is someone’s life even if it was for a moment, others as a reminder that there is good in the world, some to make amends for mistakes they feel they have made, and others simply for the fun of it. There is no wrong reason to CAUSEplay but if you don’t do this, or something like it, maybe you should ask yourself why?

Look around and see how you can be a real hero in your community! If you are interested in more info on this stay tuned for my next post on how you can get involved in your community.

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