When this interview was originally conducted, Edwin Peregrina was the the acting coordinator for Otakon’s Masquerade. Mr. Peregrina graciously took some time out of his busy schedule to offer insights on how anime conventions work, behind the curtain.
Note: this interview was originally performed on July 2, 2011 as part of an article series for Anime Dream. All communications were conducted via e-mail.
Anime Herald: What types of challenges does a person in Masquerade staff face? What responsibilities and duties come with the position?
Edwin Peregrina: Most of the challenges occur at the convention itself. Before the con, you have a good bit of time to carefully craft your plan of attack, so to speak. Once the con rolls around, it’s pretty much time for you to put that plan to use. There’s very little time to rework things, so you have to be prepared. You really deal with a lot of everything because of the sheer number of skits, which means a lot of information, a lot of people, a lot of audio, and a lot of juggling microphones, among others. There’s a lot going on that you won’t see from the audience.
Anime Herald: Are there any aspects of your position that you particularly enjoy? Any downsides?
Edwin Peregrina: I particularly enjoy the logistical challenge. The amount of information you have to handle is pretty impressive, and you have to mold it into ways your staff, emcee, and other supporting crew can use it. I’ve learned way too much about building databases in the process of finding ways to keep a handle on it all. When you get to the con, the process of getting from checking in skits to the show itself is actually quite fast. We really don’t have a very good idea of what the final show will look like until a few hours before the show itself. So you have to keep things organized, efficient, and reasonable for the time frame you’re working within. I don’t enjoy saying no to people at all. It still has to be done to keep things fair though. Some people think I get a kick out striking down stuff. I really don’t. Those e-mails I have to write tend to linger with me, and then it becomes a huge mental debate about how, why, and what to do in the future. I also really don’t like stepping out on-stage during the show itself. I think it’s bad luck, and besides, it’s not about me, it’s about the participants.
Anime Herald: In an event like an anime con, Murphy’s Law is bound to rear its ugly head. What would you say is your most memorable instance of something going awry, and how did you work around or with the situation to keep your event running smoothly?
Edwin Peregrina: In 2005, we had a performance consisting of about 3 musical instruments. Back in the days of the Baltimore Convention Center stage, we had microphones all over the stage, but our backstage crew decided to go with individual mics to sweeten the sound. Everything went well during rehearsal, but come showtime, one of the mics didn’t get turned on. We didn’t totally lose that one instrument thanks to other the stage mics. Their performance went well and they had one of the loudest applause of the night. Their dad, hanging out backstage, wasn’t happy about the missing mic, however, and wanted the skit done over. I asked our stage manager to convince him otherwise, but he wasn’t budging. So I had to go have one of the most ominous talks a coordinator could have: a talk with a participant’s parent. I honestly feel for them. I couldn’t even imagine how a parent would feel when things don’t go their kid’s way. So I slowly make the walk over, bracing myself for the worst. Thankfully, the dad was very calm. He explained to me how he understood everything, and politely asked again for the do-over. I explained to him how putting them on the stage for a second time wouldn’t be fair to them and how “it wouldn’t be the same the second time around.” The applause really showed anything but a technically troubled skit, and I let him know that they should be very proud of their performance. To my surprise, he agreed. He said his thanks and we parted ways. A few minutes later, our stage manager informs me that the same dad would like to talk to me again. Once again I make the walk over. He asks, “what you said to me, can you go and say it to my kids?” So I made the walk over and spent a few minutes with them. I told them how they should be proud of what they accomplished, and thanked them for being a great part of the show. It seemed to cheer them up. As I walked back, the dad gave me a thumbs up. He looked like a proud dad, and rightfully so.
Anime Herald: One can imagine that working an anime convention is an interesting gig. Have you ever encountered any unusual or outstanding situations that you would like to share?
Edwin Peregrina: A prospective participant asked me if she could bring a pole, as in pole dancing, insisting that it would be content-appropriate. Funny enough, I was more concerned about the logistics of bringing a pole on-stage. It turns out there are free-standing poles, so it would have worked. She never registered for the show, however, leaving us to wonder what could have been.
Anime Herald: The day to day life of convention staff seems to be quite busy. Is there anything that you do to keep your section running, while also keeping the stress under control?
Edwin Peregrina: I’m fortunate that the nature of Masquerade lends itself to not being constantly busy throughout the year. There are the busy times, such as when the flurry of skit registration begins, and the couple of months leading up to the con. But I make sure I give myself time throughout the year where I can relax without feeling guilty for letting the masquerade slip from my mind for a bit. Come convention time, you have to accept the fact that you can’t be everywhere. The quicker you accept that fact, the quicker you won’t become completely overwhelmed with everything. I’ve been fortunate to work with a very talented group of people over the years, and I’ve been able to lean on them more and more, and it’s only made the show even better.
Anime Herald: How did you get your start at Otakon? Were you there from the beginning?
Edwin Peregrina: I’m pretty sure I hadn’t even heard of Otakon until after the first con, among others, was long said and done. I made my way onto Otakon staff by way of the anime society at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. A friend and a couple other members were already staff, and I tagged along to one of the meetings. Being a video person, I wanted to do something along the same vein, but I was told I was needed elsewhere. After being read a list of departments, masquerade was actually the only one I remembered in the list. So after talking to the department head Donna, I joined masquerade in 2002. I don’t think I could’ve said no at the point — I would have felt pretty darn guilty. The rest is history. I haven’t stepped away from the department since joining.
Anime Herald: How have your duties changed between now and when you first began?
Edwin Peregrina: Probably the most significant thing that’s changed is that the hall costume contest became a separate department after 2005. Moving our event to the 1st Mariner Arena would have made it very difficult for one group of people to be responsible for both the masquerade and hall costume contest. In reality, it’s made both events better, and it’s made my job a lot less daunting. Aside from that, we’ve become more refined as time has passed. We’re fortunate to hold the show in a great arena that not only seats a ton of people, but gives us some pretty fantastic facilities for our participants. They get to have their own viewing room, changing rooms, and a huge hallway with screens everywhere.
Anime Herald: Do you have any advice for people who are interested in helping out at a convention?
Edwin Peregrina: Don’t be shy. If you have the opportunity to contribute to a convention, you should give it a shot. You will meet some great people, who are wonderfully talented and very passionate about what they do. It’s a great way to do something different from time to time, and you’ll feel a nice sense of accomplishment.
Anime Herald: Do you have any advice for people who are entering the same position as you?
Edwin Peregrina: The masquerade is such a unique event with challenges everywhere. It’s very easy to underestimate this event, because all the work involved should be transparent to those who watch the show. Take advantage of the time, weeks and months before your con, because the day of the big show will go by in the blink of an eye. And remember, it’s about the participants!
Anime Herald: Finally, do you have anything to say to our readers?
Edwin Peregrina: Masquerade is a true embodiment of “by fans, for fans.” We’re fortunate to have the opportunity to organize such a unique event, but it’s ultimately successful because of fans like you.