Last in my lineup of characters I’ve played over the years the Tennessee Renaissance Festival is Awani, the deer faerie. The theme for that year (2012) concerned the colonization of Virginia by England. But we had a real treat this year as one of our cast members was playing, to my knowledge, our first ever Native American character (and she actually is Native American). She and I were partners-in-crime in 2011 when we both played foreign European noblewomen, so I thought it only fitting we should be again. So while she played a Croatan ambassadress to England, I played Awani, the North American white-tailed deer faerie who follows her over; a sort of spirit guide, if you will. (Which was a fun bit to play as I got to dig into my own Cherokee roots (well, that little 1/16th of my ethnic makeup. Eh, numbers). Now, onto the really fun part – the costume!
Here was my initial design of the character…
Since the general costume theme of the troupe of faeries at TNRF was animals and plants found on a nature trail, I tried to think of what thing in nature I could pull off and what would play to my strong suits. I settled on the deer due to my love of earthy elements, specifically the colour brown. I have dark dark brown eyes that come out black in most pictures. That coupled with having been described as having “big doe eyes” I figured, why not a doe? Thus Awani, the deer faerie was born.
Unfortunately the patrons that come through the TNRF gates aren’t always that bright. Some are truly lovely, but most of the time, you have to kinda smack them upside the head with your design. So I kept all that in mind while I sketched out this faerie. Now I’ll admit, I took liberties with the design as does only have small antlers and no spots. But the easiest way to communicate “deer” to someone is the antlers.
Ideally I want to have a decent-sized rack of antlers (depending on how much weight I can balance successfully on top of my head). That way anyone, even if they’re um….slightly or not-so-slightly inebriated (which they will be at faire, unfortunately) they can still tell I’m a deer. I was inspired by Kato of Steampunk Couture deer outfit. It had a structured, yet unkempt appearance that I really like. There is structure present, but at the same time, it has the feel of running through the woods with hair getting caught in the wind. Very organic.
The trick was making a lightweight, but realistic looking rack of antlers that I could attach to my head without causing neck strain, be too top heavy, and/or attached securely enough that if I decided to get animated – as I do – they wouldnt go tumbling. Alas, this plan didn’t quite work out as, at the time, I wasn’t well-versed in materials. So I ended up going with an actual pair of antlers, that my wig stylist epoxy glued to the wig she made.
The wig was made by the illustrious Aria Durso (who, sadly, is no longer in business). It’s actually a blend of 4 different wigs (as evidence by the different colours). However, the very dark hair is actually mine. I would pull out pieces to tease and then blend into the wig around the antlers. Though goodness me, did I learn about wig pain….I had to make sure to take Aleve every day and secure it with about 50 bobbypins!
I used the faun ears from my friends over at Aradani Studios.
The makeup was fairly simple in terms of colouring as I wanted to keep it natural looking. But we added in heavy black eyeliner (as deers have), false eyelashes (so my own lashes didn’t get lost in all the black), white spots, and a black nose. After looking at many deer makeup looks online, I opted for just painting the bottom of my nose black as I felt that wasn’t as cartoony looking as painting the entire nose black.
The dress was custom made out of layers of cotton and flannel. The outer part was dyed with RIT dye to give it a skin-like colour with the middle part left undyed to give the effect of a fuzzy underbelly. In keeping with the rest of the faire’s cast, we opted for a corset underneath, thus grommets were put in for a tighter structure. Matching bracers were made and tied with silk ribbon.
Oh the tights….all members of cast were required to wear tights. I wanted to do a two-toned pair to mimic deer legs. (as they’re lighter on the inside. It also works wonder for the illusion of having smaller legs!) So I bought a pair of cotton tights to dye. Oh that did not go well….the dye didn’t take (and certainly not in the fashion we were hoping). But I couldn’t come up with a solution by the time faire started, so I went with what I had (and had to put up with the “dirty legs” comments all season).
I opted for a pair of brown woven flats with cushioning for both prancing about and for the airyness of them. The only addition was sewing in a pair of strings to bind my feet in so the shoes wouldn’t go flying off.
These were made by the faerie director of TNRF and myself out of wire wrapped in brown floral tape with silk fabric attached that we hand painting to match the dress (spots included), along with two wire extensions off the top too mimic antlers.
Sometimes the faeries can be completely oblivious of the Troll (King Ik) behind them…
Faeries….you can’t take them anywhere.
Photographs: David Merritt, Steampunk Couture, Derek Deweese, Kirk Hughes, Wild Canary