Science fiction draws crowd, stormtroopers, to miSci in Schenectady

Costume groups invade museum
James Roberts, 4, of West Sand Lake greets a storm trooper at the Schenectady Museum of Innovation and Science on Saturday.
James Roberts, 4, of West Sand Lake greets a storm trooper at the Schenectady Museum of Innovation and Science on Saturday.

SCHENECTADY — Daniella Grabbe, 6, dipped the square-shaped, bubble-blowing wand into the bubble mixture at the “Sci-Fi @ miSci” event Saturday and created bubbles as round as the Princess Leia hair-buns on her head.

The purpose of the interactive display at the Museum of Innovation and Science (miSci), is illustrating how the concept of surface tension causes water molecules to group into spheres whenever a bubble is made.

Even if young children can’t explain the science behind the bubble display it still teaches children the principle in a tactile way, and Daniella picked up on it right away. 

“It’s round because all bubbles are spheres, even though you start with a different shape — they gotta-be spheres,” she said, matter-of-factly. 

Jeremy Grabbe, a cognitive science professor at SUNY Plattsburgh, brought his 6-year-old triplet daughters —  Daniella, Alex and Regina — to the event. Alex was dressed as a Mandalorian bounty hunter, and Regina chose not to participate in the cosplay. 

Grabbe said that last year he stayed home working on a home improvement project during the first Sci-Fi @ miSci Family Day event, but his wife took the girls and kept sending him cellphone pictures. He decided he wasn’t going to miss the event two years in a row.

“We always love coming to science museums. It’s a lot of fun. You can let the kids roam free, and enjoy. That’s the best part about it,” he said.

Part of the fun at the annual event are the nearly screen-accurate costumes worn by the Disney and Lucasfilm-preferred costuming groups: “501st Legion,” the “Echo Base Rebel Legion,” and the “Mandalorian Mercs.”

Dan Beck, miSci director of special events and membership, said the museum puts on family friendly-themed events about “every other month” as a means of attracting new members to the museum. It showcases its collection of science history items, as well as hands-on displays. Beck said he wasn’t sure of the total attendance Saturday, although there appeared to be a robust crowd. He said a Harry Potter-themed miSci family day drew a crowd of 1,500 earlier this year, and the science fiction crowd appeared to be nearly as strong. 

“The costume groups are nonprofits that donate their time to appear at museums like ours, or at hospitals or schools,” Beck said. “They are a big draw. A lot of people are here specifically to see them, have their pictures taken with them, because little kids love to hang out with characters they see in the movies.”

Rochester resident Nicky Blum, one of the leaders of the upstate New York “Garrison Excelsior” of the 501st Legion, led her imperial forces into the science museum Saturday. With her were storm troopers, both in Hoth weather gear and the regular kind, as well as Darth Vader, a team of somewhat oversized Jawas and other “Star Wars” bad guys. She said her group has 60 members and is part of a 14,000-member strong international club of volunteers who make their own costumes, adhering to guidelines from the Walt Disney Company [owner of Star Wars].

“We have a community of craftsmen, some of whom know how to make the storm trooper armor, some know how to make Vader’s helmet,” she said. “There is an approval process. All of our costumes need to look like they walked right off the screen, because we are asked by Disney, on occasion, to do events.” 

The costumes aren’t cheap. She said creating a storm trooper costume can cost $1,000, and making a screen-accurate Darth Vader suit can cost as much as $5,000. She said members own their own suits.

It was a good thing Daniella dressed as Princess Leia, because the Imperial forces outnumbered the Rebel Legion by about a dozen to three. She was up for the challenge.

“I love Star Wars!” Daniella exclaimed.

Rebel Commander Joe Booth said the “good guy” outfits for Star Wars are almost always less expensive, maybe $200 for a good Luke Skywalker costume. 

The Star Wars costumes, with three volunteer groups attending at the event, outnumbered all of the other science fiction franchises present, including Ghostbusters, Star Trek, Dr. Who and Back to the Future. 

Kenneth Bell said the Mandalorian Mercs are the costume group for people who want to play Star Wars bounty hunters. He said part of the appeal is the “kitbash” nature of the bounty hunter costumes, which have looser guidelines from Disney, allowing Mercs to create their own characters. 

Tara Sobel, a member of the “Hudson Valley Ghostbusters,” said looser restrictions on costumes from the Ghostbusters franchise are part of the appeal of her group. She said the Hudson Valley Ghostbusters normally charge $3 per cup for “slime” created by them, similar to the “Slimer” ghost from the 80s movie franchise, but on Saturday they waived the fee.

The only major rule, the group can’t make a profit, but other than that they’re OK to behave as they choose. 

“We can eat in these costumes. I bet you’ve never seen a storm trooper eat lunch,” she quipped.

Dave Loffredo and his wife, Krista, attended the event with their daughter Emma, 16, a Shaker High School student. 

Dave and Krista attended the event wearing a red Star Trek original series engineers costume and a “Cage episode” gold commander’s outfit with its unique collar. Krista was the starfleet captain, although neither were affiliated with an official group.

Dave said he loves both Star Wars and Star Trek, but Star Trek helped inspire him to pursue a career in computer software.

“When Star Wars came out in 1977 I was a huge fan, but over time I returned to Star Trek because mostly, for me, Star Trek has something more to say about society. Star Wars is fun, but Star Trek is interesting,” he said. 

Krista made the command decision to stay out of the Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate. Both said they love visiting the science museum because of its exhibits, many related to objects from General Electric’s long history of science research in the Capital Region.  

Emma said she’s part of the robotics club at her high school, but intends to pursue a career in biology. She didn’t wear a costume. 

Beck said miSci has planned an “after-dark” adult event, with alcoholic beverages, for people who want to check out the museum without any children around, on Sept. 13. The next family day event will be Halloween-themed on Oct. 12. 

Family memberships at miSci cost $100 annually for two adults plus children, and include passes to the museum every day and half-off price on family day events. The pass also grants access to 350 science-themed museums all over the U.S.  



Categories: News, Schenectady County


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