You’ve chosen your character, you’ve assembled your costume, you’ve joined a crew of fellow costumed Samaritans to volunteer with. Now comes the exciting but sometimes scary part: diving into character to brighten the day of a child less fortunate. It’s intimidating as you suit up for your first hospital visit or charity benefit, I won’t lie. Once you cross that first hurdle though, you’ll find a heartwarming experience like none other waiting for you on the other side.
“Know your limits, Master Wayne.”
First, for the love of Talos, familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations of the event or venue your visit will be conducted at. Some events will have strict preference on the kinds of characters they prefer to attend. A common apprehension for event planners is the reaction children would have to villainous characters. Sure, plenty of kids love Darth Vader and the Joker as much as they love Luke Skywalker and Batman, but some hospital and event staff prefer only the ‘good guys’ attend. Anti-heroes walk a weird line for situation, but see my discussion of villains in part one for more on that.
A very important rule for hospitals in particular is to never ask the children about their sickness or injury. Most set a strict rule against it for entertainment visitors. If they bring it up in conversation, that’s another thing, but don’t be the one to initiate the topic.
Think of it like this though: kids look to superheroes and princesses for an escape from their real lives, and nowhere is that escapism more important than when they are experiencing surgeries, pains, and debilitation. They want their favorite characters to inspire them, not remind them why they’re there.
One more legality to consider is photo permissions. I don’t blame you for wanting to catch heartwarming moments, but you can take just a picture any time while at a charity event or hospital visit. If your group wants to invite a photographer along, first check with the organizers. Many hospitals ban photography entirely outside of personal requests from the patients themselves. Other events permit photography, but a parent may object to a photo of their child publicly posted online.
When in doubt, ask the organizer. If they cannot be found, play it safe and skip photography. Sure, that means there won’t be cool pictures to post online afterward, but remember, this is about the kids, not looking cool on social media.
Handling the Younglings
If you’re not a parent or don’t have a career working with children, interacting with kids can seem daunting. Their life experiences are extremely limited compared to an adults. Even if you share some common interests, their knowledge of superheroes or Star Wars pales in comparison to yours. Here’s the thing: Kids aren’t bizarre extraterrestrial creatures that some day metamorphose into adults. They’re people.
Connecting with children requires respect, and I’m not just talking about being nice to them. Respect their intelligence and don’t talk down to them. You may have to use a less robust vocabulary, but they’re not stupid. It’s also helpful to literally not talk down to them. Squatting or kneeling down when speaking with them puts you on their level, instead of just another adult staring down from above.
Finding common interests is key for interacting with kids at hospitals or charity events. After all, many fictional characters become popular in the first place because their audiences relate to them in some way. Ask them about their hobbies or interests, then connect them with your own and share in return. You’d be surprised how quickly a conversation can spring up.
This final tip may seem minor, but it can be one of the most pivotal moments for a visit: Never be the first to let go of a hug with a child. You never know how long they need it, and that alone can be the best part of the visit for them.
Play the Part
Looking like the character is only half the battle. After all, it’s supposed to be a fanciful meeting with heroes and princesses, not a parade of random people modeling costumes. It’s easy to envision how Batman would act in the heat of battle, but reference material for how he would act towards a bedridden child is scarce. This requires a little more research into the character’s history, movies, comics, television shows, and any other media they star in. There is most likely not an exact equivalent story, but you can observe how they act in similar situations.
Character acting can be taken to the next level when you utilize your group. Charity cosplay is like a performance already, so why not utilize your whole cast? Kids love it when you partially reenact scenes and dialogue from movies with your fellow cosplayers. Don’t forget to incorporate them, too. A group of Marvel characters could ask the children if they would like to join the Avengers, or princesses could lead a singalong. Playing off of one another strengthens the ‘illusion’ of the visit. This is important because inevitably, your performance will be ‘challenged.’
Older children, typically age seven and up, see right past the suits and skits. Some play along and just enjoy the costumes and performance, while others feel the need to point out you’re not really that character. When this happens, just stay in character and play off their questions. If they say, “You’re just a person in a costume,” reply, “Of course I’m a person in a costume, a superhero has to hide their secret identity!” If they demand you use your ‘powers,’ a Spider-Man could say they ran out of web, or Elsa could claim she promised not to use her ice powers in the hospital.
Get creative and stay in your head space. Don’t let one skeptic to ruin the visit for everyone else.
“Go get ’em, Tiger.”
Sure, that’s a lot of stuff to think about, especially heading into your visit. Don’t stress it though. Use your group for support. Go with the flow and react as things happen. If you’re having fun, the kids will have fun. The costume and performance don’t need to be 100% accurate if you have the spirit of the character, backed up by a caring heart. Brightening a child’s day is the only thing that truly matters.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this series as much as I have enjoyed writing it. Charity cosplay is one of the most fulfilling things in my life, and it can be the same thing for you. If you want to get involved, refer back to part three for ways to find a charity group and opportunities to volunteer. Your first adventure could be sooner than you think.
Suit up, get out there, and be someone’s hero.
Thanks to members of The Excelsior League for photo permissions and input on this article.