Mr. Clever Evermore: Staying Relevant and Inspired during Lockdown.

This week is usually jam packed with preparation, as many of us get ready to attend Arisia, my 7thtime at that con. One of main reasons I look forward to this con, aside from having fun with friends, the running of the Doctors, and various other silly yearly traditions, it also marks the anniversary of when I started conlife as Mr. Clever. 

Arisia 2017

Around this time, I also usually start to reflect back on the previous year and make notes of all the good things that happened. But as we all know, 2020 did not have many redeeming qualities to write home about.

My struggles weren’t unlike many cosplayers and other creatives. How do you stay motivated and inspired in the midst of a global crisis?  How do we stay relevant, without being able to make new content as readily as before?

One thing that became abundantly clear was that everything was going virtual.  Virtual events, virtual cons, virtual panels, you name it.  At first I hopped right on that bandwagon, eager to support local events.  I tuned in to panels and Tweet Alongs, but as much as I tried, I learned that virtual events don’t hold much appeal to me.  For me the fun of conlife is putting the costume on and running around the venue all day.  

But then I discovered TikTok. I had set up an account (AdventuresOfClever on TikTok) a while ago but never used it. As you may remember I have a real hard time with video. What in the world would someone like me be doing there? But during lockdown, the masses swarmed there, and one thing that I found out right from the start was that this Whovian community was incredibly supportive, and gasp even knew who I was supposed to be!

(Activate Claptrap voice) Check me out. I’m Dancing. I’M DANCING!

In April, at the beginning of lockdown, the Pass the Brush challenges were trending everywhere I looked. So I decided that Whovians needed a Pass the Sonic version. That was the first time I had put together anything like that, and I am incredibly proud with how it turned out. I worked with 13 other cosplayers (around the world) to pass the sonic to all 14 doctors. It was a big deal for me.

The Pass the Sonic lead to another variation – Pass the Mask, but this time with local performers and personalities from Salem. Borah, The Addams Family and even our own Mayor, Kim Driscoll took part to help spread awareness about mask safety.

After doing those two videos, I decided to keep trying new things with video. It was a big step for someone that could count on one hand the number of videos they had been in before this. So I invested in some more video equipment like a ring light and tripod with a remote control. After some testing I even found a spot in my house that had a fun geeky background. That was also hard because our house doesn’t get a lot of natural light.

One of the few photos I have without a cat butt in the frame!

Then I did my very first live stream, as well as a few tutorials on how I made my NIS-Borderlands mash up. I even became involved in a fun fan-made Doctor Who project with a new friend entitled, “Versions Who.” This involved an almost RPG format that was both running lines in character and acting out new scenes via Facetime. 

These were all big milestones for me. They kept me going even while the world around us was falling apart. I could do them even if though I couldn’t wear the costume outside. I was being creative in a way that I had never been able to do before.

Creatives in 2020 had to, for lack of a better phrase, get creative. Not just to make ends meet and stay relevant but to stay interested and stimulated against the constant tide of doomscrolling.

While perusing Instagram, I found a page that was encouraging Whovians to make lockdown cosplay videos. I attempted to do a little scene from Nightmare in Silver but they didn’t want voice-overs, and that might have been too much for me. I tried doing it, but I’m still very self-conscious of sounding too feminine and being misgendered. I panicked, whispered, tried auto tuning it, and failed miserably.  I honestly thought that would be the end of all of this for me.  If I can’t even speak, what in the world am I even doing?

So I tried posting the failed video I had, but with Matt’s voice over mine.  Add some flashy fonts. Some Doctor Who music, and I was good to go.  I was met with a surprising amount of support, and even got invited to join some wonderful Discord chats filled with other Whovians and cosplayers that were just there to be positive and get through this the best they could. 

Another highlight for me was getting a message from the BBC via Twitter asking if they could use one of my videos. I had to sign releases saying the video belonged to them now, and that was an incredible feeling.

Have I mentioned I have 7 cats? 

For the most part, they leave me alone, but my newest one, Dandelion, insists on having her entire face or her butt in the frame.  And while this makes for some great AWWWW moments, she has a tendency to knock stuff down. And by stuff, I mean my chess set. I can’t tell you how many time I’ve rescued a pawn from the dark corners of my room, only to have it swatted again a few seconds later.  And needless to say, locking up them all up isn’t easy either.

How can I resist this face?

A few months ago we even got a new door installed to separate the first and second floors so they can have the run of the top floor and leave me alone down below. Literally bought a new door to help mitigate the problem doing videos with 7 cats.

Aside from my feline overlords, the other hurdle that I have is the amount of time spent putting on and taking off the costume itself.  I would love to be able to do duets on a whim with people, but I don’t always have the 4-5 hours a day. Its 90min – 2 hours just to get it on. Another 30 min to 60min of set up and car wrangling. And then take the video.  And then another hour of taking it off again.

I did make a Cyberplanner on a stick for those nights that I read through lines with my new friend.  But I’m not comfortable with it and haven’t even used it yet. Both logistically (I have to hold it so I only have one hand, plus it actually blocks my sight) and emotionally (because I’m just not comfortable with not actually having a cyberplanner on my face while being filmed).

This was a lot of fun to make.

The biggest obstacle however, is that I am visually impaired to the point of not being able to see my phone screen while in costume. I can’t see the buttons. I can’t see if people are commenting on live streams. I can’t see other videos well enough to duet or comment easily. I can’t see well enough to set up my little area without some help. Doing my make-up takes a little longer and longer each time as it gets harder and harder to see my face. 

It is a STRUGGLE.

And, as I reread this, I keep thinking to myself, “Good Lord, is any of this even worth it?” 

Yes. To me, that’s a resounding yes. Yes, because of the friends I’ve made and keep making. Yes, because a year ago this would have defeated me. Yes, because Clever has made me a better person, a stronger person.

I could touch on so much more from the past year. The other challenges all of us experienced. The politics and fear, but as I reflect on 2020 I am focusing on the one thing that helped me get through it.

A year ago I would have found a reason to quit doing video, a reason why it didn’t matter. But in 2020 I really didn’t have a choice. Call it stubbornness or my resolve to continue being Clever. Call it that I wouldn’t accept defeat, or that I just needed something positive to do with my time. But as I approach my seven-year anniversary in conlife, I can honestly say that I have overcome more than a pre-Clever me would have ever thought possible, and I know I am not done yet.