Combat Con’s Poster Child: Chad Light as Don Pedro Menedez de Aviles

What: Combat Con 3
Where: Riviera Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NV
When: June 13-15, 2014
How Much: $65 4-Day Fan Admission – $200 4-Day Warrior Admission
Website: combatcon.com

When speaking with Combat Con and ISMAC founder Jared Kirby before Combat Con 2012, he mentioned that science fiction author Neal Stephenson could be considered a poster child for Combat Con. In his own literary career Stephenson brings the world of real life Western Martial Arts which he practices at least weekly into his widely-praised depictions of combat in his works like Snow Crash and The Baroque Cycle. Stephenson hopes to bring more realistic depictions of WMA fighting into the video game world as well and promoted the Kickstarter-funded CLANG at Combat Con. However I believe I may have found a better poster child for Combat Con in the form of Chad Light.

Chad Light re-enactor of Don Pedro Menedez de Aviles at Combat Con with bullwhip around neck in costumeLight, 49, is probably more familiar to St. Augustine’s residents and visitors as Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. Until a year ago, Light made his living as a re-enactor at the Fountain of Youth Archaeoloical Park. When describing his vocation, Light called himself “an actor who’s a re-enactor or a re-enactor who’s an actor.” What caught my eye when first meeting Light was his sword, which I recognized as a David Baker-forged recreation from its distinctive hilt. Many St. Augustine residents recognize the weapon when Light wears it, having seen another version of it displayed outside the St. Augustine City Hall.

Steel sword showing pommel and intricate flowing hilt designed by David Baker

Chad Light’s Distinctive Reproduction Sword Hilt

A veteran re-enactor of over 30 years, the original 2011 Combat Con was instrumental in changing Light’s re-enactment practices. One of the workshops he attended that year was Jack Dagger’s class on throwing knives and hatchets. Light already had a familiarity and skill in throwing weapons, but had not incorporated them into his role as Don Pedro. That all changed when Light returned to Florida. He began each tour with a silent demonstration, first throwing knives or hatchets into a round of wood and retrieving them. Then he would throw the weapons backhanded as the crowd quieted down. By the time he was throwing hatchets and knives between his legs, he had his audience captivated and spellbound. Using the theatrical and martial skills enhanced by Combat Con 2011, Light went from a full time employee at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park to a salaried full time employee and was quick to attribute Combat Con as a critical step in his employment elevation.

Light didn’t make as much of Combat Con 2011 as he would have liked owing to an injury sustained while doing a horse stunt at Drake’s Raid in Florida, resulting in a broken collarbone. Nevertheless he attended the inaugural Combat Con and the whip class taught by Anthony De Longis, but wasn’t able to participate fully in the motions. He did buy De Longis’s DVD on whips, watching it over 30 times, and building up his fundamentals. Light had his bull whip when I spoke with him and later attended De Longis’s class that afternoon. He was quite pleased when I caught up with him later explaining that De Longis had corrected a few minor movements and techniques that he hadn’t mastered yet. When I asked De Longis about Light’s improvements, he agreed and praised him as an excellent student.

The Dedication and Background of a Re-Enactor

Re-enactor Chad Light at Combat Con in Las Vegas in Fancy Dress

Light Showing Off Another Side of Don Pedro

Discipline and research are important to Light, a former Army Special Forces officer who served in Panama, Desert Storm/Shield, and Somalia. He doesn’t have a TV or a telephone and only uses a computer for research. As part of their contracts, Light requires the other re-enactors to spend at least three hours a week practicing their swordplay. When questioned about possibly living at the park, Light said that he would if he could. Light is pursuing his doctorate in ethnography, specializing in palaeography. His undergraduate degrees are in psychology and history and he has a Masters in Behavioral Psychology. Yet his studies are much more practical and mundane as well, as Light, like many cosplayers or re-enactors, does much of his own sewing himself. While his external garb was historically accurate, he also doesn’t turn his nose up to machine-sewed undergarments, but pointed out that for many re-enactors this modern compromise would be going too far.

You could say that re-enactment is in Light’s blood. His father is a professor of language at William and Mary and a member of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association, a black powder weapons group. Light’s mother grew up in Spain and Light lived there as well as a child, when not attending colonial events with a father “who could crack whips”. Light’s father also served as an advisor on the semi-historical films The Last of the Mohicans and The Patriot.

Playing Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and Others

Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés is Light’s main role and he leads the re-enactment troupe the Men of Menedez. Light has respect for Menéndez de Avilés and studiously researches the Spaniard. When asked whether he would have liked Menéndez de Avilés in his own period, Light responded that, “Those around him thought he was charismatic and capable of anything. That would be hard not to like if you were around someone like that when your life was on the line.” Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés was also wise in his own way, writing to the Spanish crown that, “There is gold and silver in Florida, but you can’t dig it. You need to grow it.”

Light also participates in the re-enactment of the sacking of Ft. Caroline named after the French king Charles IX. Fort Caroline had been settled by the Hugenots, Protestants fleeing France, but they were set upon by their Spanish neighbors in 1565. The French defenders of the fort were mostly massacred as heretics, establishing a bloody reputation for Don Pedro, especially among civilians. This was only furthered by his slaughter of bound Frenchmen who had been captured in their attempt to capture St. Augustine. Towards the native tribes Menéndez de Avilés was more gracious, writing edicts to protect them from Spanish settlers. A favorite of Phillip II, Menéndez de Avilés was made captain-general and governor of Florida. His downfall was curiously on account of some insects, the cochinille beetles, used to make red dyes. When Don Pedro sailed into a port he failed to declare the cochinille beetles and was prosecuted for it, his reputation slightly marred and his hopes of returning to live in Florida dashed. He caught typhus and died in Spain in 1574. Light travels to Spain multiple times a year, and has close ties with Spanish researchers and re-enactors as he conducts further research into the transatlantic leader.

One of Light’s other roles has actually been on-screen. Light is one quarter Native American and played a full-blooded Huron in Michael Mann’s 1992 Last of the Mohicans, serving as an extra. He participated in the field massacre of the English column and can be seen leaving Fort William Henry during its surrender. Additionally he doesn’t confine himself to the 16th Century for re-enactment; Light is part of the Historical Florida Militia American Civil War regiment. Besides re-enacting as Ponce de Leon, Light has also played the role of Navaraiz, a captain of Hernan Cortez’s. The 16th century was a brutal time: Navaraiz had one of his eyes put out by a pike. Light also plays another Don Pedro. Don Pedro Menéndez de Marqués was the nephew of Don Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and a subsequent governor of Cuba first and then Florida.

St. Augustine’s Attractions

The small town of St. Augustine hosts many re-enactment events with others close by. Light participates each year in the “School of the 16th Century” put on by the tourist development board in February. Re-enactors, primarily men, bring their families to enjoy a vacation on the Atlantic coast with their wives and children. Many children and wives join in the education with the children doing what their 16th century counterparts would have done. Many women participate in the combat-side of things, which is where perhaps the re-enactment ends. In another of Light’s activities, the monthly tercio of St. Augustine, there are at least 30 female college students out of a group of 150 re-enactors, Light estimates.

Drake’s Raid, which is one of the largest re-enactments that Light helps organize, is held annually in the first week of June. It commemorates Sir Francis Drake’s raid of 1586 in which the famed British captain sacked St. Augustine. Drake’s Raid attracts over 3,000 visitors annually. In September there is much pageantry surrounding the re-enactment of Don Pedro’s first landing in St. Augustine, which also draws thousands of spectators and participants. Another attraction is the Castillo de San Marcos, a stonework fort with firing cannon. For Light and others, the Castillo de San Marcos is also a bastion against Florida’s hurricanes. In an emergency Light plans to take shelter there.

Light Can be Seen As Don Pedro in Bruce Merwin’s Youtube Video of the Landing Re-Enactment

The Combat Con Connection

Anthony De Longis’s whips classes and Jack Dagger’s knife-throwing aren’t the only appeal of Combat Con for Light. He also attended Maestro Ramon Martinez’s sword class, pointing to him as the best Spanish sword master in the United States. Both Maestro Jennete Acosta Martinez (the wife of Maestro Ramon Martinez and a maestro in her own right) and John Lennox have come to the St. Augustine area for events, confirming that the world of WMA is indeed a fairly small one.

When Gaming and Re-Enacting Collide

Though Light was quick to point out that he is not a tabletop gamer (and certainly not a video gamer) and has never LARPed, he has played Wizards of the Coast’s cardstock Pirates of the Spanish Main game and got his “ass kicked” by his son. He spoke with pride about how the computer game Sid Meier’s Pirates helped his son with a presentation at school wherein his son drew an accurate map of the Carribean, labeling the chief ports, all learned through playing Pirates. Battle gaming or SCA fighting doesn’t interest Light, though he has had many LARPers join him as re-enactors who decide to “put the foam away and put on heavy metal”. In miniature wargaming oftentimes only the first rank or the first two ranks of a military unit are neccessary to fully detail; in re-enactment it is much the same with more detailed costumes like Light’s going into the first ranks and those with less historically accurate costumes able to fill out the rear ranks.

So Much Eye Candy: Cool Mini or Not at Gen Con 2012

While I didn’t get to see Cool Mini or Not at Adepticon 2013, I certainly saw CMON back at Gen Con in 2012.

Every time I stopped by the stretching Cool Mini or Not booth areas at Gen Con, I found a very packed, interested gaming crowd taking in all of the eye candy CMON had on display. Alongside Privateer Press, CMON seemed to have a tremendously successful Gen Con. Attendees new to miniature gaming could be excused for thinking that they were seeing multiple companies’ booths, but the unifying connection in every one of CMON’s 18 booth areas was the high quality and stunning visual displays.

CMON’s Display and Demo Boards

While the Wrath of Kings’ demo boards CMON had brought were functional and better than a simple flocked board, they were not as spectacular as some of their other offerings, but did put the focus squarely on the expressive sculpts of the miniatures. Players had the opportunity to battle as the thin warriors of House Nasier or the porcine warriors of House Teknes.

Piglike Teknes miniatures for Wrath of Kings battle against thin Nasier on desert demo board

Wrath of Kings Desert Demo Board: House Teknes vs. House Nasier

Realistic 28mm scale orange lava flowing over miniature terrain board for Confrontation at 2012 Gen Con

Confrontation Lava Demo Board

Cool Mini or Not kept Confrontation fans’ appetites whetted with a lava demo board of the game. I could have easily missed further Confrontation offerings because there really was so much to take in throughout CMON’s booth space.

There were also demo tables for players to try out Sedition Wars, Relic Knights, and Zombicide, but aside from the two Dark Age boards and Rum and Bones, the most impressive tables were reserved specifically for display purposes.

The Wrath of Kings Display Board

What a sight! The Wrath of Kings Castle was the definition of amazing and probably the envy of rival gaming companies. Designed and built by Rob Hawkins, the table took over 200 hours from start to finish. The Goritsi forces spilling out of the grey stonework buildings really put it over the top. The Goritsi definitely have a darkness to them and are comprised of the lupine Skorza, the female Blood Dancers, and would seem to be led by the red-clad Herald of Blood. Bearing such close resemblance to Confrontation’s Wolfen, the Skorza pose an interesting problem for brand recognition and differentiation, but since they are now released by the same company, the similarities should not matter. The Goritsi also boast the monstrous Ucuzo, which looks like a lab experiment gone awry (or perhaps deliberately concocted).

Pig warriors Union Workers miniatures from Wrath of Kings battle Skorza lupines and monster Ucuzo

A Monstruous Ucuzo Defends the Goritsi City Against the Invading Teknes

Arrayed against the onslaught of the Goritsi are the pig warriors of House Teknes. The rank and file of Teknes appear to be the Teknes Union Workers who wield massive swords. The Ironward is the figure reminiscent of Mad Max’s Master Blaster with a slave-driver on top of a pig warrior/Union Worker.

Beautiful stunning diorama of 32mm Wrath of Kings miniatures clashing at a castle or village

Woodland Scenics Armatures Used as Dead Trees in the Foreground of Hawkins’ Stunning Diorama

In his blog, Rob Hawkins refers to the diorama as a Goritsi City and details its construction in five blog entries, beginning with constructing the hillside foundation followed by the the construction of the buildings’ basic shapes. To enable faster gluing using super glues Hawkins uses Liquid Nails to coat the pink foam in the same way that latex paint is used to protect styrofoam from destructive aerosol spray paint.

Tentacled octopus Zalaak miniatures battles slender female Blood Dancers in Wrath of Kings diorama

Two Tentacled Zalaak Face Off Against Blood Dancers In and Near a Foamcore Building

The city’s buildings are constructed out of pink foam with thick art board used for the roof tiles. Hawkins estimates that over 1,000 separate roof tiles are on the diorama! The one detail that has puzzled me about the diorama since Gen Con is the seemingly unfinished black and white area. This is, in fact, an elemental’s head with white circles for eyes.

Wrath of Kings miniatures fight over a superb Goritsi city at Gen Con 2012 in front of stone buildings with red tiled roofs

The Black Cylinder and Dome is an Elemental’s Head! With White Eyes

Super Dungeon Explore: Von Drakk Manor

Soda Pop Miniatures Chibi Super Dungeon Explore miniatures display castle at Cool Mini or Not Booth

Super Details from Rob Hawkins: Von Drakk Manor

Von Drakk Manor was easily in the Top 5 of all terrain pieces throughout Gen Con for sheer quality and artistry. It also highlighted the expansion forces to CMON’s joint venture with Soda Pop Miniatures. The castle is just as stylized as Soda Pop’s distinctive, chibi figures and was also built by terrain genius Rob Hawkins. He has many more pictures of the stunning layout on his website. The fiery monsters were from the Caverns of Roxor expansion that CMON/Soda Pop released in limited quantities to Gen Con attendees, before they went on sale to the public in October.

Three Cartoonish Dungeon Explorer Miniatures in Cool Mini's Super Dungeon Explore castle with fire elementals at gen con 2012

Von Drakk Manor Plays Home to Caverns of Roxor Denizens at Gen Con 2012

Ron and Bones – Rum and Bones

CMON was also previewing another of its newly-acquired licenses, Rum and Bones. Originally titled Ron and Bones by TaleofWar, the game is a pirate-themed miniatures skirmish game with highly stylized figures. In a booth filled with so many other goodies, the pirate ship did stand out for its quality construction. Little has subsequently been said about Rum and Bones (that I have seen), though Table Top Hell is impressed by the game’s miniatures.

Gorgeous miniature 28mm pirate ship for Rum and Bones at Gen Con 2012 in the Cool Mini or Not Booth

Rum & Bones: Skirmish Pirate Game, Palm Trees from Pegasus Hobbies

From all that I could see of Rum and Bones, each model is a unique personality. The character Teruk’te wears a Sharkskin and will appeal to any gamer who has ever wanted a miniature that wears an entire shark as a costume! Tale of War Miniatures still has information in English available on the game including a downloadable PDF that explains the game’s mechanics, as well as displays the entire range of finely detailed miniatures.

Inside a miniature pirate ship for Ron and Bones at Cool Mini or Not booth at Gen Con with cannons

The View Below Decks Of the Pirate Ship’s Impressive Armament

One of the neater things about the Rum and Bones demo table is that it has been carefully constructed to match the miniatures’ base size and prevent them from slipping or sliding out of position.

Top down view of miniature model pirate ship for skirmish wargame Rum and Bones at Gen Con 2012

The Savage Teruk’te Alongside Pier Del Mocho in Aft Castle High Above the Sloot Gunner

Dark Age Industrial Shop Board

One of CMON’s original brands is Dark Age, of course. Even though I had seen them at the GAMA Trade Show, I still marveled over both of the Dark Age demo boards. Having played on the board with the rock outcroppings, most of my attention was taken by the industrial garage board. The details really bring the board to life with rigging over the top, bike chains used as industrial belts, vats of liquid, and multiple elevations to play on.

Post-Apocalyptic futuristic miniature game Dark Age industrial garage terrain at Gen Con 2012

Did I mention the working lighting? By varying the textures on the board, it creates depth and detail and adds a sense of realism. The diamond-plating used on some of the floor panels is particularly effective. It really does look like a place the mutant Skarrd would have taken over or would be in the process of raiding.

Closer look at industrial garage Dark Age demo board for miniatures at Gen Con 2012

Marie-Claude Bourbonnais as Rin Farrah from Relic Knights

Another attraction in the CMON booths was cosplayer and glamor model Marie-Claude Bourbonnais from Canada as Rin Farrah, one of the chief protagonists of Relic Knights. Bourbonnais posed for pictures with fans and gamers in her self-made costume and later explained that it was her first time attending Gen Con, let alone any tabletop gaming convention. For Bourbonnais it was different than comic and anime conventions, but still “a lot of fun” and reminded her of her high school’s tabletop games organization. At Gen Con Bourbonnais only appeared as Rin Farrah, but she has cosplayed as another Relic Knights character, Candy, in the past. As of early October (2012) she still had yet to play Relic Knights herself, but looked forward to receiving her complete game to try it for herself, but did say that she has watched demos of the game.

Busty Cosplayer Marie-Claude Bourbonnais at Gen Con playing Rin Farrah with miniature her costume is based on

Two Versions of Relic Knights’ Rin Farrah: Cosplay and Miniature

Watching others game is nothing new to Bourbonnais who spent part of her teenage years watching friends paint armies and play Warhammer 40k. While she never got into the hobby herself, for Relic Knights Bourbonnais will be playing Rin Farrah’s faction. Usually though she is quite busy working on her next costume. As a former fashion designer, she’s been sewing costumes and prom dresses since she was 19. Rin Farrah’s leather outfit was a first for Bourbonnais, who makes all of her costumes and props herself.

Yellow tinted glasses and yellow and black spandex on busty Hornet played by Marie-Claude Bourbonnais at Gen Con 2012

MC Bourbonnais as Canadian Superheroine Hornet

On Thursday Marie-Claude Bourbonnais initially appeared as the black-and-yellow spandex-clad Hornet, her character in the Canadian web-series Heroes of the North. Filmed in Bourbonnais’ home city of Montreal, the series is in English, available to view for free online, and follows the adventures of Canadian superheroes. The character of Hornet only appears at the tail end of the first season of the series, but becomes more prominent in its second season, says Bourbonnais. While she came to Gen Con to promote Relic Knights, another company specializing in 3D body scans had also contacted Bourbonnais about capturing her 3D image in the Hornet costume.

Blonde busty anime woman in green swimsuit on Pool location for card game Tentacle BentoBourbonnais also has the distinction of having modeled for a card in Soda Pop Miniatures’ Tentacle Bento card game and has subsequently cosplayed as that character, essentially doing a cosplay of herself. Bourbonnais was also the basis for one of two promotional pewter miniatures in support of Tentacle Bento’s abortive Kickstarter run.

And the Display Cases

Gamers could have also easily missed all of the wonderfully painted miniatures packed into the glass display cases at the back of the Cool Mini or Not booth areas given all there was to see elsewhere. Here and there though gamers’ faces pressed up against the glass that stretched yard after yard. Sedition Wars, Dark Age, Relic Knights, Wrath of Kings, and Confrontation all vied for visitors’ attention, but were safely locked away, like heroin just out of reach of a junkie. There may have been little puddles of drool on the carpet. As one would expect from the home of cool miniatures on the internet, almost every miniature was beautifully painted. The exceptions were the gray master sculpts on display in the cases.

Anime-influenced miniatures for the Relic Knights game with power familiars on display at the 2012 Gen Con

Anime-Infused Miniatures from Relic Knights with Chibi Power Familiars

On top of the display cases though, within reach of any eager gamer was the impressive winged form of the Titan Dragon for Confrontation. Fashioned out of resin, the figure is a true status symbol among miniature gamers with a hefty price tag of $300.

Red, black, grey, and white massive Titan Dragon miniature for Confrontation at Gen Con 2012

The Massive Titan Dragon for Confrontation Lives Up To Its Name: Free from a Display Case

Ravage Magazine

Cover of Ravage Issue 7 Advertising Zombicide Toxic City MallWhile I would have liked to browse CMON’s wares a bit more, all I really had to time to do was to pick up the first three issues of Ravage Magazine. Ravage is an import, translated from French, and plays off of the gorgeous artwork CMON and its affiliates have access to. Like Harbinger Magazine of the early 2000s but with a much stronger visual focus and appeal, Ravage focuses on a wide range of miniatures with Cool Mini’s lines featuring prominently, but there have also been articles on MERCS, Infinity, Privateer Press, and even a look at 6th Edition Warhammer 40k. There are some translation artifacts in the articles that vary from interviews with designers, to game overviews, to painting and terrain tutorials, but despite the language difficulties, the magazine is off to a very strong start and is now in April on Issue 7.

Playing with Fire with Duel at Dusk Productions

One of the most impressive sights at Combat Con 2012 was the four-legged, 9-foot tall walker that graced the dance floor of the Time Traveller’s Ball. Called the Egress, the walker resembles one of the Land Striders from Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. The Egress was just one of several spectacles that Duel at Dusk Productions put on at Combat Con. Based in Las Vegas, DADP has been literally burning up the Mojave in their quest to provide the ultimate over the top experiences to their audiences. The troupe has grown in the last two years, moving on to larger and larger projects and from September 27 to 29 in the California desert Duel at Dusk will be staging their most ambitious and intensive performances yet at the post-apocalptic Wasteland Weekend.

JP Dostal in Costume as Buddy from Six String Samurai

Duel at Dusk Productions Founder JP Dostal in His Buddy Costume from Six-String Samurai

Dueling at Dusk: What They Do and Have Done

Duel at Dusk began in Lansing, Michigan in 1999 where founder and director JP Dostal received his Master’s at Michigan State University. Dostal oversaw all of the Michigan Ren Faire’s six to eight week entertainment from 1999 to 2005. In its modern incarnation, Duel at Dusk Productions is the “Premier Company for Stage Combat Choreography & Over the Top Productions” in Las Vegas. While Dostal, who is only 32, works as the Food and Beverage Director for Trump International, most of his creative energy goes into stage combat with Dostal consulting on theatrical productions including recent work on the Las Vegas Shakespeare Company’s production of Hamlet which opens October 6 for a month-long run on the weekends. Dostal bills out such such work under the Duel at Dusk Productions moniker, but DADP is more of a theater company in its organization and operations, though that is changing as Duel at Dusk builds a reputation via unpaid events like Combat Con, Labyrinth of Jareth, and Wasteland Weekend. If nothing else, Dostal sees it as free marketing, while second-in-command Matt Sullins points out that DADP members would have gone to Wasteland Weekend and the Labyrinth of Jareth regardless of payment.

2012 Labyrinth of Jareth

Every year for the last 15 years, fans of Labyrinth gather in Southern California for the Labyrinth of Jareth, a costuming spectacle and masquerade put on by Sypher Art Studio. The members of Duel at Dusk Productions were initially going to the Labyrinth as a mini-vacation, but decided to up the ante with something they had already been planning for some time. They went to the steampunk ball the first evening, but on the second night they brought out the Egress walker. It was literally a big hit, barely squeezing through the entranceways. Manning the Egress was 135-pound Matt Sullins who adds a skill in stilt-walking to Duel at Dusk’s repertoire. Walking on all fours is hard work with Sullins needing ten minutes of rest for every fifteen spent moving around in the Egress. He also needs at least one handler and simply getting into the costume takes 15 minutes on its own. Sullins appearance as the Egress was so striking that Sasha Travis who plays the Queen of the Night addressed him in his costume, saying “Land Strider, it’s been so long since I’ve seen you; you’ve grown.” Dostal describes the costuming on the show’s Saturday night as “just the most elaborate and ridiculous thing” with many Hollywood costume designers creating some of them. While the Labyrinth of Jareth event has a storyline adhered to by its organizers, not every costumed guest has a character and even if one does, the attendee may not stay in character for the whole event. When DADP members went they stayed in character the whole time and possibly as a consequence Duel at Dusk Productions have been invited back for the 2013 Labyrinth of Jareth.

Cowboy hat wearing Wasteland Weekend character holds knife to throat of burlesque dancer Angel

Matt Sullins as Gentleman Johnny with Angel Spezza; Egress Costume is to the Right

The Egress, which is a play on PT Barnum’s mythical Egress, or exit, made its second appearance at the second Combat Con in Las Vegas at the Time Traveller’s Ball. The night before the DADP members put on a fiery show in the Tuscany Suites’ parking lot. When not entertaining at Combat Con, the cast members were attending the cosplay and gaming panels, as well as some of the combat classes and the tournaments. DADP has also made an appearance in an upcoming documentary on the life of Gregory Popovich, the Russian circus performer, whose dog and cat show is currently running at Planet Hollywood on the Las Vegas Strip. Duel at Dusk’s most recent public appearance leading into Wasteland Weekend also served as a public run through for some of their upcoming material when they performed at a charity event to raise money for Paws LV, helping to raise over $12,000.

The Nuclear Bombshells

Bare-chested Kevin Matthews poses with toy guns in booty shorts, a cast member of the burlesque troupe the Nuclear Bombshells

Male Nuclear Bombshell Kevin Matthews

Many of the female members of Duel at Dusk Productions also perform in a subgroup, the Nuclear Bombsells, a post-apocalyptic burlesque group headed by Yevette Shinn. For Shinn, 21 , burlesque is about women and men being tastefully “seductive and sexy”. Shinn finds it empowering, while post-apocalyptic burlesque to Shinn is simply “badass” in that she can wear chains, dismembered (fake) body parts, and “still make it look good.” Shinn collaborated with Matt Sullins two years ago on their idea for Nuclear Bombshells, performing their first stage show in 2010 at the gothic industrial club Muse owned by JP Dostal. Since then the Nuclear Bombshells have performed at bars, charity shows, and theaters. Shinn estimates that maybe only one out of five burlesque troupes have male dancers. For Shinn, including male dancers is based in a desire for equality, in giving equal treatment to the male body, for female (and male) fans. The Nuclear Bombshells currently boast two male dancers, one of whom, Kevin Matthews, will be stripping down out of his cowboy costume to his bandana, booty shorts, and gun holster at Wasteland Weekend. Matthews will also be twirling fire and says that he is new to burlesque dancing, admitting that he’s “not that good of a dancer,” but adding that he’s “a most excellent grinder.”

Girl in bunny costume and tights has tail checked by "Bunny" character for Wasteland Weekend

Costume Check: Nuclear Bombshells Becca and Yevette in Wasteland Weekend Wear

Wasteland Weekend Preparations

Preparations for Wasteland Weekend began when the Talent Director of Wasteland Weekend, Jared, contacted Duel at Dusk about participating. As he puts it, he “knew right away that this was a group that had a great feel for the whole post-apocalyptic theme we wanted to create. I was confident that their experience with live entertainment, and with fire combat in particular, would help us put on a great show.” The totally immersive event takes its inspiration from the Mad Max films with liberal doses of Fallout tossed in. The entire theme of Duel at Dusk’s camp however comes from the cult 90s film Six String Samurai which follows the katana-in-guitar wielding Buddy across the wasteland on his way to Vegas to become its new king after Elvis’ death, battling gangs and Death himself along the way. For the last four to five months, Duel at Dusk has been busy preparing for the event which is expected to draw 1,200 costumed attendees.

Flaming Hula Hoop Hoop of Death in Angel Spezza's Hands

Angel Spezza with Unlit Hoop of Death

Duel at Dusk Productions will be the only theatrical troupe entertaining every day at Wasteland Weekend; other performers from other groups and acts will be entertaining one or two of the days or evenings with more limited schedules. Wasteland wanderers can expect to encounter choreographed fights pitting Buddy against Death, a psychopathic Bowler, and a Wasteland Samurai with flaming butterfly swords, katanas, Sun and Moon Wheels, and and hook swords, all of which will be on fire. Wasteland Weekend also marks the return of Yevtte Shinn’s flaming whip. One new fiery attraction that DADP members are especially excited to introduce is the Hoop of Death, a flaming hula hoop which will be spun by cast member Angel Spezza, who will be dancing to Lita Ford’s “Playing with Fire”. Like many of their other flaming weapons, kevlar is used as the wick for the Coleman camping fuel on the Hoop of Death, which was ordered from the company Home of Poi in New Zealand and only arrived September 12. What’s it like to stand inside a flaming ring, besides hot? Angel says, “It’s like you’re inside a fire tornado, there’s a lot of noise, and you can’t see past it.” The danger and thrills continue with the Sword Staircase, also to be performed by Angel, incorporating Lion-O’s sword from Thunder Cats, the Eye of Thunderra, as well as several mundane blades and a Klingon batliff blade. Michigan DADP cast members Jay Davis and Matthew Highley will play as the Loverly Brothers, a post-apoc vaudeville act a la Charlie Chaplin in a series of three pieces during Duel at Dusk’s Saturday main stage performance all concerning interactions in Bartertown.

DADP has also partnered with Hollywood prop master David Baker and will be putting on shows inside his Dark and Dagger Circus at the End of the World area. Wasteland Weekend is split into “tribes” or encampments (as is typical for Ren Faires). In the Circus at the End of the World DADP cast member Edward Tyndall will be performing a psychic surgery and Matt Sullins will be doing a strait jacket escape. Duel at Dusk Productions’ and the Nuclear Bombshells’ entire presence at Wasteland Weekend will be as the Fabulous Lost Vegas tribe and much planning and detail has gone into the construction of the encampment which will adjoin a functioning casino run by a different tribe. Initially Dostal had planned on providing several children’s pools to allow Wasteland Weekenders to cool off during the day as part of the Fabulous Lost Vegas day club, but the exact specifics have been evolving over the last month.

Bandana wearing Raven working on a tent in preparation for Wasteland Weekend

DADP Builder Lee “Raven” Buckley Working on Wasteland Weekend Tent

Not all of Duel at Dusk’s offerings will be seen on Wasteland Weekend’s stage or at the Circus at the End of the World, as DADP cast members will be wandering throughout the three full days performing and entertaining as their characters. For instance, Dostal’s girlfriend and DADP costumer Maggie Reese will play as Catherine Pratt, the Martha Stewart of the Apocalypse, dressed in pink burlap. Edward Tyndall will be wandering the tents as the darkly comedic Mr. Cross with his golf bag of torturous implements (which will probably be equally matched by torturous punchlines). Aiding him will be his caddy Max Gardener played by DADP script writer Nick Scalzo. Matt Sullins will be out of the Egress costume and MCing most of DADP’s stage shows, but also wandering as Gentleman Johnny with his hunting dog “Bunny” played by Yevette Shinn. Kevin Matthews will be the Cowboy, offering tours of the Fabulous Lost Vegas camp besides his burlesque run on Saturday night. Many of the Nuclear Bombshells will also be serving as cocktail waitresses at the adjoining casino throughout Wasteland Weekend, including Vera Rayner who will be playing Little Red Riding Hood in her burlesque number. Rayner will also be serving up her blood as Edward Tyndall’s psychic surgery patient.

Matt Sullins in costume as Gentleman Johnny with Cowboy hat while Fur Wearing Bunny Yevette Shinn waits behind

Wasteland Weekenders Gentleman Johnny with His “Bunny”: Matt Sullins and Yevette Shin

One Nuclear Bombshell performance will be Olivia Rose’s self-bondage routine, where she will tie herself onto a spit and be carted offstage, blending elements of the bondage and post-apocalptic cannibalism. Like the other DADP cast members, this will be Rose’s first year at Wasteland Weekend, but she’s no stranger to Burning Man in northern Nevada, where she runs Spanky’s Wine Bar. In her fifth year of attendance at Burning Man, Rose’s “village” or camp numbers 200 there, out of 52,000 festival goers. She’s also used to Burning Man’s epic fourteen day runs held over Labor Day weekends, so Wasteland Weekend will be easy by comparison.

The Importance of Safety

Vicious bladed implements and weapons on a garage wall at Duel at Dusk Productions

Just a Tiny Fraction of the Deadly Weapons DADP Has

Besides taking his opponent’s blade to his chin, Dostal has other firsthand experience with the dangers of stage and sport combat. In a Michigan production of “Peter Pan” Dostal served as the fight director, but had to leave town during rehearsal and suspended practices. The play’s director had other ideas though and that’s when one of the actors lost his eye, his fellow actor’s foil taking it out with a mistimed thrust. The one-eyed actor now has a glass eye and sued the director, but it’s such mishaps that Dostal seeks to avoid. Dostal himself has skewered his opponent’s shoulder while fencing when his blade broke; his opponent looked down because of the pain, but only passed out when he saw the blood because he was a hemophobe. Dostal’s garage, where much of the preparation for events like Wasteland Weekend has gone on, is festooned with weapons of all makes and sizes with most of them being very sharp and not modified for stage combat. While I never witnessed any explicit instruction to be safe when handling weapons, most cast members simply do not pick up or even swing unfamiliar weapons and they all seem to have a respect for the lethality of their surroundings.

Wasteland Medic Crow Wielding Gardening Tool

Wasteland Medic and Real Life Firefighter Crow

This also extends into fire safety. Cast members seem to stick to their own flaming weapons, but when it comes to fire, Dostal has been much more explicit and obvious in his preparations. Like the rest of the kevlar-based fire weapons, Angel Spezza’s Hoop of Death was soaked in Coleman cooking fuel and then burnt off; the first burn removes chemicals used to process it and fuzz from manufacturing the kevlar and usually lasts longer than subsequent burns, which will tend to be more consistent. When it came time for Angel to actually step into the ring though for an actual run through all joking died down and specific instructions on who would or would not be moving in to help her were given. Fire blankets were prepared with the hula hoop posing the additional problem of possibly endangering Angel were she to try to jump over it assuming she were lit on fire. Everything went off without a hitch though, but it all came through careful planning. The real key to DADP’s fire safety is paying attention to the fibers in clothing with synthetic fibers posing the hazard of melting when ablaze. It is not uncommon at DADP practices for a cast member to show a new costume piece and quickly explain what fabric is involved, even if the cast member will not be performing with fire. Dostal also has some help in the form of cast member Crow who brings real world firefighting skills as a Fire Protection Journeyman in the Air Force and as a student of Fire Science. Crow serves as DADP’s medic and was set to play a Wasteland Medic at Wasteland Weekend until his request for leave to attend the event was denied.

And the Importance of Fun and Games

Multicolored Sarina Gast giving the thumbs up with spray paint in hand

Occasional M:TG Player Sarina Gast

Duel at Dusk Productions members also know the importance of having a good time and besides general interests in costuming, comics, science fiction, and fantasy, most members are also gamers. Whip-wielder Yvette Shinn plays both pen and paper RPGs as well as regularly participating in SCA-style guilds and events, even heading her own breakaway “house” focusing on torture. Her aunt introduced her to Ren Faires when she was 5 years old, promising Shinn that one day she could be her squire. She joined when she was 12 and picked up a sword, switching over to a whip at the the request of her guild’s queen to serve as her Torture Mistress. Shinn has even taught Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops about medieval torture and has based one of her Wasteland Weekend characters off of her role-playing game character, Safety Pin, a faceless assassin-tank from Apocalypse World. Her boyfriend Matt Sullins is also no stranger to putting on a costume and swinging a blade, but usually played theater-style LARPs on the East Coast at conventions like MarCon and the now defunct Psi-Con in Connecticut, besides playing in a number of White Wolf World of Darkness LARPs. Sullins played Apocalypse Worlds in person at a Vegas Game Day, but usually plays online in a wiki-based game. While cast member Joshua “Crow” Dietrich is an avid Halo fan and working to finish his own $600 Spartan Suit, he also dabbled as a teenager in Dragonlance, using his father’s own rule set, as well as playing standard Dungeons & Dragons and participating in forum-based online RPGs. DADP Set Builder Lee “Raven” Buckley is an avid player of both tabletop and video game RPGs, pointing to Call of Cthulu and D&D 3.5 as his favorite RPGs. He also LARPed throughout his teenage years in New Hampshire playing Realms, where he developed an assassin character.

Vera Rayner Out of Her Little Red Riding Hood Costume

Ren Faire Fan Vera Rayner

Kevin Matthews, who will be playing the Cowboy and burlesque dancing at Wasteland Weekend, also played Dungeons & Dragons in high school, but never was a “fanatic”. He is a World War II buff though and a fan of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, though he is not a wargamer at all. Vera Rayner on the other hand has never played tabletop games, but does play Guild Wars and Forsaken World on the PC. As a teenager Rayner LARPed in a Vampire: The Masquerade game and she also regularly participates in Ren Faires. At 18, Sarina Gast is both the youngest member of DADP and also the newest. A huge Zelda fan, she also used to play Magic: The Gathering and had a mean zombie deck. Her real passion though is fine art, but she intends to study graphic design in college. Angel Spezza is a Star Wars fan and a D&D player, but spends most of role-playing energy playing a Twi’lek Sith in a Star Wars Facebook RPG. Angel actually met her boyfriend and fellow cast member Crow on the Facebook role-play, moving out to Las Vegas after she fell in love with the man in the Mandalorian armor and eventually joined Duel at Dusk as well. While Crow uses pictures of himself in his Mandalorian armor for his Facebook character’s avatar, Angel prefers to draw her own character. As for DADP founder JP Dostal himself, he played sorcerors in his D&D games in college, already having his fill of melee combat in real life. When he taught fencing in Lansing many of his students were LARPers in Kanar (Knights, Nobles, Rogues), and was convinced to join his students in their quests and schemes, but has not LARPed since. Dostal and Sullins are in the process of setting up their own Duel at Dusk Productions game knight, in addition to their many other plans.

Blazing Forward with Duel at Dusk

Furry Bunny Yevette Shinn with Gas Mask for Wasteland Weekend

Corpser Yevette Shinn in Her “Bunny” Costume

JP Dostal and Company are already at work on other plans for after Wasteland Weekend with the 2013 Labyrinth of Jareth looming large as well as other events which are more pressing, such as a possible show in Las Vegas in December featuring many of the acts from Wasteland Weekend. For the next Labyrinth of Jareth, Duel at Dusk will be comprising the Court of Purgatory for the Queen of the Night. When the real world Shawn Strider and Sasha Travis got engaged and they brought their character counterparts together for Labyrinth of Jericho a rift developed with the Queen of the Night’s followers unhappy with the move, splitting off to form their own court. Without a court of her own, the Queen of the Night turned to Duel at Dusk Productions and now will boast some very elaborate protection to rival the Goblin Court, her Fey Court, and Lord Strider’s own court. Fight scenes will be choreographed between the rival courts and JP Dostal expects several trips to Los Angeles beforehand to fully prepare for the intricate action that will greet the Labyrinth’s visitors next June. In all JP Dostal estimates that DADP will be spending three to four months on their Court of Purgatory with costumes like the Skeleton Corpsers returning, as well as many new characters and costumes including Egress 2.0, a gigantic Hellhound, the Lord of Purgatory, Lady Purgatory, and a very special rolling surprise.

Another project that Dostal has been pursuing and developing for some time is with the City of Henderson, which is to the immediate southeast of Las Vegas. Southern Nevada will be getting a new Renaissance Faire in the Henderson Pavilion venue. Dostal has developed a format that includes an evening play during the Ren Faire’s run with DADP script writer Nick Scalzo about 70% done with his own original Robin Hood script which, while humorous, will tend towards the 1990 Kevin Costner end of things and not so much Robin Hood Men in Tights. Dostal cites the recent loss of 30,000 Ren Faire attendees at the Las Vegas Renaissance Faire due in part to a relocation of the outdoor venue as one of contributing factors leading towards the Henderson Renaissance Festival. Another reason for the new Ren Fair according to Dostal, is that the Las Vegas Ren Fair is not historically accurate, encompassing Roman legionaries to pirates in costumes from the 1600s. Coming from Michigan and Maryland, Dostal and Sullins are also used to much longer 6-8 week Ren Faires, unlike Las Vegas’s 3-day span. Current plans for the Henderson Ren Fair are for a three weekend run possibly as early as March/April 2013.

As for Las Vegas itself, Dostal has been developing an interactive theater project for the Las Vegas Strip and shopping it around to the casinos. Because the choreographed show is still in development there’s not much he can announce about it at present. He can say a bit more though about his efforts in producing a sequel to Six String Samurai and has been pursuing the rights from the movie’s creator Lance Mungia. Dostal plans to make use of some of the existing props and costumes developed for Wasteland Weekend and to film in Rhyolite, Nevada which is where the original film was recorded.

Shirtless and tan male burlesque dancer Kevin Matthews with pistol and fire on asphalt behind him

Kevin Matthews Giving a Taste of Wasteland Weekend’s Saturday Evening Entertainment

To get involved with Duel at Dusk Productions, Matt Sullins suggests contacting the group via their website and points out that, “It doesn’t matter if you have a skill set, if it’s something that you really, really want to do, we’ll find something we can train you to do.”