Ahead of this year’s NYCC, which comes to town 3rd – 6th October and is set to fill midtown with cosplayers, The Queer Review’s James Kleinmann sat down with Akira AK, creator of the LGBTQ+ cabaret event We The Heroes Ball to tell us more…
James Kleinmann: We The Heroes Ball is in its fourth year, what can you tell us about the event?
Akira AK: “The event in a nutshell is a nerdy cabaret-style fundraiser for an LGBTQ+ organization in need. The performers, myself included, do nerd-themed numbers taken from cartoons, anime, video games, comics, etc. one after another. All of the money raised on the night goes to the organization. Last year, I took the show to my home state of Connecticut, and now do two shows a year – one with NYCC in New York, and the other in New Haven, Connecticut. As of right now the We The Heroes Ball has raised more than $3,400 over the years.”
“The event started out as a simple idea to perform at an NYCC related event. As it turns out, around that time, ReedPOP, the folks who put on NYCC, had put out a call on social media and their website for fans to suggest any programming they would like to see or help create. I submitted the idea of doing a cabaret style show and received an email back the next day or so saying they wanted to have me lead this initiative – so the We The Heroes Ball was born!”
Why did you want to start it!?
“I’ve loved going to New York Comic Con for years and I’ve loved cartoons, anime, video games and comic books, ever since college and wanted to find a way to incorporate my music and love of performing with those things. The We The Heroes Ball was born from this because I simply wanted to find a way I can express all facets of myself – particularly my queerness – in the nerd and con community. With most of the shows I am associated with I want there to be a major charitable aspect to it. I want to live up to the putting the word ‘Heroes’ in the title and really have the event be a leader in charity-based shows. It’s as simple as that.”
Tell us about the charity you’re supporting, why did you select it?
“For my shows with NYCC, I have always chosen to give to the Trinity Place Shelter because after doing my research on who I would give to, I really gravitated towards the on-the-ground work they do for LGBTQ+ homeless youth, in not only helping them, but also giving them the opportunities and platforms to succeed. Personally, being kicked out and becoming homeless was one of my biggest fears when I came out to my family, and luckily I had an accepting family, but I know that what I experienced is not the reality for many others and to do nothing with my privilege would be a waste of it. One of the things that I love so much about the Trinity Place Shelter, is that on their website they list what each donation affords the center and its residents. That kind of breakdown really speaks to how they are all about their residents and not just a large public platform. I think all charity is good charity, but donations can sometimes get lost in bureaucracy with larger organizations, which is why I was impressed with how transparent Trinity Place was with their breakdown of contributions.”
You’ll be performing, what can you tell us about your style as a performer?
“My style as a performer has evolved over time. I started performing in college doing dance-pop songs and being incredibly energetic, to the point where I would wear my voice and body out, however as I’ve gotten older I want my performances to reflect the more refined content in my songwriting and sound, and do more intimate performances. What I think about a lot is how the performance will be remembered after the fact, so I like to add some theatrical elements in the way I stand, move and hold the mic, and to be conscious of the photographs and videos being taken.”
Who else will be performing?
“The other performers for the show are:
Megami – Drag Queen, Miss Nerd NY 2019, hostess for the night▪ Fox Squire – Drag King, Mr. Nerd NY 2019▪ Adrianna Trenta – Drag Queen, Miss’d America 2019▪ Crimson Kitty – Drag Queen, Miss Nerd NY 2018▪ Hazel Tart – Drag Queen (performer from the very first show), Miss Nerd 2017▪ Esmerelda May – Burlesque Performer”
What does NYCC mean to you?
“A sense of community. I have made friends from all over the country through cons, primarily at Geeks Out’s “Flame Con” – a queer comic con in NYC and NYCC, and found that this community is so passionate and accepting of all walks of life because of the common love for pop culture we share. Also it’s a vibrant arts community that cross-pollenates to create some truly exciting events and pieces. For me, cons are all about the shopping! I love seeing all the different independent artists and what they have been up to for the past year or longer and being able to support them. All the work that I have in my home is from independent artists because that is where the best one-of-a-kind pieces are. From time to time I will get inspired by some art I see on the floor or at the artist alleys, and get an idea for a song from it. A lot of the time however, I’ll be seeking out unique pieces of clothing and jewellery to use in a future performance. I love being able to take what I buy at cons and incorporate it into my music.”
Are you into cosplay? If so? What costumes have you worn in the past?
“I am so into cosplay, though I unfortunately do not have the time to devote to those over the top outfits with moving parts and all that! What I tend to do is more ‘casual cosplay’ basically just using the color palette of a character I like to portray, and finding pieces that match those colors for the character to create a very simplified version of that character. How you’d see the character dress if they were to ship at H&M or Old Navy! My go-to’s are Steven from Steven Universe, Bro-Shiro from Netflix’s rebooted Voltron: Legendary Defender and a gender bent Scarlet Witch from Marvel.”
Do you encourage cosplay at The We The Heroes Ball?
“Of course! What kind of NYCC event would this be if cosplay wasn’t encouraged?! One of the biggest things I want to encourage even in the photos I take with people and post on my own social media is cosplay of all shapes and sizes, because that is exactly what copslay and fans come in all shapes and sizes.”
How can people purchase tickets?
“You can learn more and purchase tickets by going to the Facebook event page here or the direct ticket site here. If you get your ticket online, which is encouraged, it’s at a discounted rate of $7, but if you come along on the day without a ticket the cover is $10. With all money raised from the show going to the Trinity Place Shelter, so buying tickets, raffle tickets, tipping, and donating to the GoFundMe if you can’t make it is encouraged!”
How LGBTQ+ friendly is NYC Comic-con generally? Is there a sense of a queer community at comic con and just generally online and in the real world?
“I would say that NYCC is incredibly queer friendly. I have definitely felt a sense of community and safety within the NYCC walls because being queer has always been the second thought of people there, everyone’s main question is always along the lines of “what’s your fandom?” which is always a loaded question in it of itself! What helps bring queerness to the forefront at NYCC are all the different queer vendors like Geeks Out and LGBTHQ as well as all the panels that address queer issues and topics specifically. Also the artists definitely make the con more queer-friendly with many queer artists and writers taking up space. Two that come to mind are Luciano Vecchio, the artist who created the WTHB poster, and Steve Orlando, a writer with DC comics and others. The community online is rich and exciting, but what makes NYCC nice is that everyone comes together in person, so meeting those who you have just been talking with online, or solely following on Instagram become real connections that you can take with you from the con. One of my dreams for my We The Heroes Ball show is that it also becomes that point where queer people can congregate before the con and form relationships that they can take from there into the world. Also to expand the show to partner with other cons in different cities would be huge and bring a greater awareness to all the other great LGBTQ+ organizations doing the most for their home communities.”