Beyond The Woods
Editor: R. Bail
BayCon 2004 - Or, A Beginner's Guide to Conventions
I was introduced to the experience of conventions last year by my friend Jim Milligan, a fellow Elfwoodite. Before I went to Baycon 2003 I only had the vaguest of ideas of what a convention was about - I really didn't know what one entailed, other than a bunch of sci-fi and fantasy fans gathering up in one place. Did I ever learn! It went by in a whirlwind of experiences, so this year for my second convention, BayCon 2004, I approached it with a questioning eye to give WoodWorks readers a good idea of what happens during a convention - and why going to one can be a lot of fun.
What's a convention, anyway?
A convention is a formal gathering of people in a certain group. You've probably heard of conventions for businesses, political parties, religions, perhaps even for certain TV shows - but the sort of convention I'm talking about, and the one I went to, is specifically for sci-fi and fantasy fans!
Klingons relaxing by the poolside at BayCon '04.
Before I first attended a convention, I wondered why, exactly, all of these people would want to meet up. There's the social aspect of meeting other people in your fandom, of course, but there's a lot more than even that - conventions have authors, artists, and other such people as guests, for fans to meet, get autographs from, and even hear the guests speak on many different subjects.
But aren't conventions for, well, weirdos?
Many people associate "conventions" with scary fanatics who are over 40 and live in their mom's basement and can't talk about anything other than their chosen fandom. Now, I won't lie to you - there are some people that are best avoided at conventions - but the vast majority of folks are good people, and some are probably just like you! The sci-fi/fantasy fandom encompasses all age and social groups, and you may be downright surprised at who you might run into there, in costume no less. You don't have to be fanatical about any particular fandom, or sci-fi/fantasy in general to have fun at a convention - all you really need is a sense of humor and enough money to buy yourself a membership so that you can do all of the fun stuff.
What is there to do at a convention?
So there's thousands of sci-fi and fantasy geeks gathered in one hotel for a weekend - what do they do? The answer is quite a lot!
There's so much to do! How do I survive?
- Socialize. Conventions are a great place to meet other people in the sci-fi and fantasy fandom you've met or heard about online. For instance, last year I met Stephanie Law face-to-face for the first time. Often you can find 'birds-of-a-feather' (or BOF) gatherings, where you can meet others from various specific fandoms or communities - I saw a LiveJournal BOF on the schedual for this year's convention. Conventions are also a great place to meet authors, artists, and musicians - last year's BayCon had author Greg Bear as their guest author, and this year they had Michael Swanwick. Not only are interviews held with the guests of honor, but often they even are a part of panels!
- Panels. Speaking of panels, these make up a large part of a convention's activity. What on earth is a panel? I didn't really know until this year, when I attended some, that a panel is a group of people gathered to discuss an issue - and in conventioning terms, this can be a huge variety of things. BayCon '04 saw everything from panels on how to handle various subjects in writing, to how to make a living as an artist or writer, to panels on costuming, to political and environmental subjects.
- Costuming. Dress up, and/or watch other people dressed up. Costuming is a big part of a sci-fi/fantasy convention, and a great way to participate. You'll see costumes of all skill levels and of a variety of subjects and fandoms. Don't be surprised if you see Klingons having a drink with 17th century pirates! If you arrive in costume, you can also enter the Masquerade, which is an event where people in costume enter in whatever categories they qualify for, and then do a walkthrough to show off their costume. A tendancy towards extroversion and an ability to ham it up for an audience really helps here. You can also watch from the sidelines, which is just as fun. If you come in costume, don't be surprised if random people ask to take your picture!
- Dealer's Room. Jewelry, leather crafts, clothes, books, and other assorted odds and ends are for sale in the Dealer's Room. There's quite a lot here - bring cash as well as a credit card, as not everyone can take plastic. You never know when that miniature plush Cthulhu or top hat is going to jump out adn grab your attention.
- Art Show. The art show is where artists of all skill levels show off their artwork. And I do mean all skill levels - fan artwork will often reside right across from big names like Nene Thomas and Ruth Thompson (both of whom had artwork in the Baycon '04 art show). Much of this artwork has a price, and anything marked for immediate sale can be bought, if you acquire a buyer's number. All other artwork is sold at the Art Auction. Even if you aren't buying, you may well discover a new favorite artist. If you want to enter artwork in the Art Show, you must do so before the convention, well in advance.
- Workshops. It seems there are usually at least a few of these at every convention. This convention featured some on costuming (like how to make your own corset), as well as one on how to make your own lightsaber.
- Events. Dances, demonstrations, and boffer wars galore! At BayCon, the main dance is open to all ages, as is the bellydance demonstration and dance, but there is also one other dance that starts later and is only open to people age 21 and over. While they often have better music, the crowd can be obnoxiously drunk. Besides, at the main dances, you may get to see 20 Jedi doing the Macarena - truly a sight to behold.
- Parties. Some have age limits, but many are all-ages events, and can be a great way to meet folks or just nab some free food. At BayCon, most of these happened on Saturday night.
- Gaming. Whether your thing is Magic: The Gathering, AD&D, or Diablo II, you can find someone to game with in the Gaming Room. Many different games are going on at any given time - see if you can jump in, or if you have one you'd like to start, ask aroudn to gather up players, and start your own!
- Art Alley. Ok, so I have no idea what the official name for this is, but it's one hallway taken over by tables of artists and craftspeople, selling their stuff. You can often catch somone making a work in progress here - and at BayCon, it, with the Gaming Room, is one of the few events a person who hasn't purchased a membership can get into.
There is so much to do, it's impossible to do everything. Fortunately, when you purchase your membership (which gives you the badge you need to get into the various convention events), you get a handy book detailing all of the various events, their times, and locations, so you can plan accordingly.
You've got to plan out your time carefully. You will invariably find that two panels you want to attend happen at the same time - unfortuantely, this is a part of conventioning. Remember when you plan what you'll attend to plan for meals and sleeping time - this may seem obvious, but it's easy to get wrapped up in the fun. At least two meals and six hours (or 3/4 your normal amount) or sleep are recommended. Also recommended is one shower per day - a clean fan is one who still has friends at the end of the convention.
Personal Convention Experiences
Besides being in costume with my friends, I saw a number of great costumes on other people. There were three different Captain Jack Sparrows that made any impression on me, but only one really got the pop-eyed stare and drunken swagger down perfectly. I also spotted The Bride from Kill Bill, Leeloo and The Diva from The Fifth Element, and my personal favorite (because the books are so close to my heart), Ozma of Oz.
From left to right: Elfwoodites and temporary pirates Natalie Paquette, James Milligan, and Ren Bail.
I attended three panels during BayCon '04: The Essence of Massage, Historical Fracture Points, and King Arthur. Essence of Massage was a demonstration on beginning massage therapies we could use on ourselves or willing friends, and the gentleman doing the demonstration showed two techniques of special interest to anyone on the computer frequently - a hand massage, and a way to relieve shoulder tension.
Historical Fracture Points was a gather of authors, historians, and an anthropologist discussing key moments in history, and what might have happened if a different decision had been made or things had happened slightly differently. They focused mainly on less commonly written about possibilities for fracture points, ones that take a somewhat deeper knowledge of history to know about. They also agreeed that many of the commonly used fracture points - various battles, like Gettysburg for instance - being won by a different side would not necessarily have had much of a change in history, due to the force of the events leading up to them!
King Arthur was a discussion on the upcoming movie King Arthur by the swordmaster for the movie, Mark Ryan. This was the most fun panel of the three - Mr. Ryan was quite amusing, starting out with an anecdote about how, when he went through Customs with his baggage full of swords, he caught two of the officials play-fighting with them! He then went on to share tidbits about how the movie was made and how the actors did with the training. I was surprised to find out Guenivere was originally not intended to have such an active role in the movie, but because of Kiera Knightly's willingness to try the training and how well she took to it - quickly moving through the light practice bows - that they re-wrote her part to give her an active role in battles.
I only attended one 'event', and that was the Trailer Park. No, not that sort of trailer park - this was an event where trailers for a wide variety of upcoming sci-fi and fantasy movies were shown. Between trailers, the moderator of the event would ask questions of the audience about the movies, and whoever got them right would be able to pick from various related merchandise. More important were the trailers, however - Spiderman 2, Aliens vs. Predator, King Arthur, Catwoman, Prisoner of Azkaban, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and many others I'm doubtlessly forgetting were shown. A few of them garnered boos (Catwoman, for instance), many others gathered cheers, and one - Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow - was a making-of preview that was having its first showing at BayCon '04. In that preview, we got to see that in Sky Captain, most of the acting shots were shot bluescreen, and a combination of props, drawings, photographs, and CG were used for th!
e setting. It was just amazing to see how they made the movie - the technique was art in itself.
The Dealer's Room was full of great stuff this year, and it was there I scored a Slytherin iron-on patch, a couple of boxes of chocoalte covered cherries, and a bunch of paperbacks for $1 a piece. Had I actually had as much money as I wanted, I could have easily walked out with about half of the room - there were top hats and tricorns, pirate coats, velvet dresses, pouches, wallets, and journals in fine leather, swords, books galore, t-shirts, jewelry, and a variety of crafts.
The only dance I got to attend much of was the BellyJam - a variety of bellydancers strutting their stuff to an audience, and between sets the audience gets to participate! The dancers were beautiful and very skilled, and I was rather sad I was too low on energy to join in the dancing.
I was surprised, last year, to find out just how much there was to do at a convention and what the people there were really like. I'm an introverted, quiet person by nature, but even so, meeting new people in the sci-fi/fantasy fandom and being able to see and do so much was a wonderful experience, one I was happy to repeat again this year. Going with friends made a huge difference, as it's just not nearly as fun to go to dances and parties by myself, but at the same time it was important that I had the courage to strike out on my own and attend the events I preferred.
I highly recommend going to a convention to anyone who has an interest in sci-fi and/or fantasy. Even if you don't care to socialize, seeing artwork by artists you may not be familiar with, hearing professional writers and artists speak about their craft, and participating in discussions about a variety of topics is quite worth it.
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