Left, from left: Caitlin Kagawa, Rick Kagawa, Debbie Kagawa and Sarah Breskman Battis at the 2005 National Jamboree. Right: Cosplay of Poe Dameron from Star Wars, made and worn by Caitlin Kagawa. (Poe Dameron photo by Salina Conlan)

Some people watch their favorite characters on screen. Others become them.

A former Venturer from Southern California is giving back to the program by starting a cosplay Venturing crew, blending her self-proclaimed “nerdery” with her professional experience in costume design at Disneyland and beyond.

Caitlin Kagawa grew up in Scouting — at first watching her older brother enjoy the program and then joining Venturing as soon as she turned 14. She was elected crew president, served on staff at the 2005 National Jamboree and earned the Venturing Silver Award (the program’s highest honor until the Summit Award debuted in 2014). She also was a member of Sea Scouts and was her ship’s boatswain.

“I had a great time in Scouting as a youth and have been thinking about coming back as an adult volunteer for years,” Kagawa says. “I even used cosplay back then to complete requirements and teach in Scouting.”

Cosplay, a blending of the words “costume” and “play,” involves fans dressing as their favorite characters from pop culture.

At the San Diego Comic-Con, for example, you’ll see cosplayers dressed as Harry Potter, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and a range of both well-known and deep-cut characters from movies, TV shows, comic books and videogames. These aren’t prepackaged costumes sold for $39.99 at Halloween shops; they’re fan-made works of art that showcase their creators’ passionate geekdom.

Left: Cosplay of Ronin from Marvel Comics, made and worn by Kagawa. (Photo from CBR.com) Right: Cosplay of Udur from The Wicked + The Divine, made and worn by Kagawa. (Photo by Richard Perry)
Left: Cosplay of Ronin from Marvel Comics, made and worn by Kagawa. (Photo from CBR.com) Right: Cosplay of Udur from The Wicked + The Divine comic book, made and worn by Kagawa. (Photo by Richard Perry)

Meet Caitlin Kagawa

Kagawa is a cosplayer and professional costume designer. After earning a degree from UC Berkeley and making costumes for Disneyland in California, she began working full-time in film and television. Her credits include HBO’s Westworld and the upcoming Marvel film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Like other Scouters with interesting jobs, Kagawa plans to bring her professional skills to a volunteer role.

“I’ve been trying to think of ways to give back to Scouting for all my great experiences as a youth, and I’ve been trying to figure out a way to teach cosplay to the next generation,” Kagawa says. “The idea was a perfect chance for me to be the helping hand that I was so eager to have as a kid.”

Kagawa designed the costume for UCLA's production of Medea, directed by Sylvia Blush. Seen here is a photo from the show by Michael Lamont and Kagawa's costume illustration.
Kagawa designed the costumes for UCLA’s production of Medea, directed by Sylvia Blush. Seen here is a photo from the show by Michael Lamont and Kagawa’s costume illustration.

How it started

The idea for the cosplay crew began to form soon after Kagawa’s dad, a longtime Scouting volunteer named Rick Kagawa, introduced his daughter to Josh Gilliland, Western Region vice president for high adventure and career programs.

As “fellow geeks who also love Scouting,” Kagawa and Gilliland became fast friends.

“Josh had the brilliant idea to try and bring our geeky convention world into Venturing with this crew,” Kagawa says. “All he had to do was mention it to me and I was in.”

The crew is just getting started and will soon hold a virtual open house to find interested young people.

“The big goal of the crew is to create a Venturing community of cosplayers who are learning how to express their passion through creating costuming and participating in their communities in a positive way,” Kagawa says.

Sure, that means discussing how to make a costume, but it’s not just about learning how to sew armor plating onto a jacket.

“It’s about coming together and being yourself,” she says. “These are the next generation who will be a part of the larger geek community. We just want to provide them with the tools provided by Venturing to be great members of their community and thus enrich the cosplay and geek community at large.”

The road ahead

Once the crew is up and running, Kagawa will let the crew’s youth leaders do all the planning. (Venturing crews, like Scouts BSA troops and Sea Scout ships, are run by the youth.)

She expects they’ll hold cosplay events, plan group cosplay work parties, conduct workshops and participate in photo shoots.

“The sky’s the limit,” Kagawa says. “We also hope to create great opportunities for the crew to give back to their communities with costuming, helping create Halloween costumes for those who need help, sewing projects for those in need and whatever the youth can imagine.”

Kagawa encourages other Scouting volunteers with unusual interests to consider channeling those passions into Scouting.

Offer to do a “show and tell” at a den meeting. Become a merit badge counselor. Start a crew.

“If you’re passionate about something, chances are you’re not alone,” Kagawa says. “The best way for you to serve your community is to share your talent, passion or skill with the next generation.”

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