Lyndsey Luther is a woman of many talents, having held numerous positions at Connecticon for the from 2008 to 2010, including Main Events and Music Video Coordinator. In addition, she has assisted with cosplay events. At Anime Boston, she is jokingly referred to as the “undercover cosplay events staff.”
Ms. Luther graciously took some time out of her busy schedule to provide some input on how anime conventions work behind the scenes.
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 cosplay staff face? What about the Music Video coordination staff?
Lyndsey Luther: For cosplay event staffing such as Cosplay Chess and Dating Games, the hardest thing is getting all your participants organized and on the same page. This past year I was heavily involved with the planning of Anime Boston’s Cosplay Chess match – I wrote the scipt and coordinated with the 60+ participants on attacks, moves and other issues via email, as well as acting in-character as one of the two chess players directing the match. We had a few participants drop out at the last moment, requiring re-writes of the script and special attacks. Trying to decide who will participate in these events is a tricky business as well – you need to take into account the popularity of the character the person is portraying as well their reliability and acting abilities. For cosplay chess, we had an audience of around a thousand people – it can be very harrowing to be on-stage in front of so many people, and some actors simply can’t do it, or fall victim to stage fright. It is often stressful even for experienced actors to be in completely improvisational events such as the Dating Games – you never know what will happen, and have to adjust your answers accordingly. You have to know your character inside and out, and be able to interact with the other players AND the audience in-character, and try to gauge which responses are likely to get a better reaction.
As far as the Music Video Contest, the biggest challenges are technical. The videos I receive are from pretty much every conceivable video format (AVI, MP4, MOV, WMV) and sometimes converting these to DVD-compatible formats can be a challenge. I also do the majority of the judging for the contest, which takes up a great deal of time. I generally use a “points” system to judge the videos, granting and removing points on things like video quality, concept, editing skill, and other factors. In the case of ties, I will call in a panel of trusted editors and “laymen” to determine which videos will make the finals, and which will not. This particular year, it seems like the biggest challenge is getting my contributors to even read the rules, as I’ve had several submissions incorporating prohibited footage. Heh.
Anime Herald: Are there any aspects of the position that you particularly enjoy? Any downsides?
Lyndsey Luther: I suppose the downside is that you usually wind up missing out on things at the convention itself, because you’re too busy running around like the proverbial chicken with it’s head cut off. :) If there’s a guest you really want to see, or a panel you’d love to go to, and these things conflict with staffing duties, you’re pretty much SOL. However, the pros far outweigh the cons (forgive the pun). As a seasoned performer, one of my greatest joys in life is entertaining an audience. Seeing an audience going crazy for a great music video, or laughing about a well-scripted joke just makes my day.
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?
Lyndsey Luther: Oh god. Murphy’s law is pretty much a constant at any convention. I haven’t had any major issues with the Music Video Contest yet (knock on wood) but I have several contingency plans set up in case of a technological error – I always bring 3 copies of the Contest DVD with me in case one gets scratched or something, and I also have my laptop at the convention to run the videos in case of a worst-case scenario.
For Anime Boston’s Cosplay events, this past year’s Cosplay Chess had a few fun snafus. First of all, we had several last minute cancelations, which required a re-write of the last 1/8th of the script – backstage, in about 15 minutes, while the audience was being seated. I wound up running out front to do my job with the chess board balanced on one hand and the pieces all in a jumble. Then, the other chess player and I accidently jostled the board about halfway through the match, resulting in many of the pieces falling over. It got to the point that we no longer knew which pieces belonged where, and had to work completely off of the script. This became an issue at the very end when a piece on the stage was not where they should have been according to the script – and since we didn’t have a board in front of us, improvising the rest of the match proved to be impossible. Thankfully Ada (the Cosplay Chess Coordinator, who also acts as the Emcee on-stage) resolved the issue by “putting the King in Checkmate” herself, much to the amusement of the audience – Ada’s on-stage persona, K-San, is rather beloved at AnimeBoston.
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?
Lyndsey Luther: (laughs) I have a few, yes, one concerning a special guest, but… I don’t think I really want to share that one. One of the funnier ones was having to tie up a bunch of actors backstage and leave them there for about an hour during one of the dating games, so they could be “rescued” halfway through the game.
Anime Herald: As someone who’s worked numerous positions at various conventions, what would you say your favorite role is? Why is that?
Lyndsey Luther: Wow. That’s a really good question. I really enjoy the cosplay events at Anime Boston the most, I think. I’m a very organized person and I’m also a writer, so coming up with plots and scripts is very enjoyable for me. I also like coordinating with all the other perticipants and hearing their wonderful ideas for things – sometimes they come up with stuff we’d never dream of!
Anime Herald: The day to day life of convention staff seems to be busy
Lyndsey Luther: Sure is. :) I often spend most of the day running from place to place with only a break or two for food.
Anime Herald: How did you get your start at your convention? Were you there from the beginning?
Lyndsey Luther: Well, for Anime Boston, I have been attending since the very first one, in 2003. It was my very first convention! I’ve been a participant in the masquerade and the AMV contest for almost every single year. I guess it made sense that eventually I would begin to befriend the staffers, since I was spending a great deal of time in contact with them. I began participating in the cosplay events in 2005. For ConnectiCon, where I am a Main Events Staffer, I applied for the position in order to bring the contest to a new level of professionalism. The convention is growing larger, and the previous MV coordinator was stepping down. I cited my experience volunteering with the Anime Boston staff and got the position, and do a lot of work helping out my friends who run the rest of the Main Events (for example, right now I am on gmail chat with the cosplay event coordinator brainstorming ideas for Dating Game participants, hah!).
Anime Herald: How have your duties changed between now and when you first began?
Lyndsey Luther: For the Music Video Contest, they haven’t changed. I run my contest pretty much autonomously (with the help of my one assistant, Sal).
Anime Herald: Do you have any advice for people who are interested in helping out at a convention?
1. Begin by volunteering. Go to the convention’s website months before the con, and apply to be a volunteer. Make sure you have a resume of some sort, even if they don’t ask. Not only will you gain valuable experience with the convention, you might also be eligible for free admission or crash space, depending on how many hours you volunteer.
2. Be prepared to miss some things you might want to see as a result of your staffing duties.
3. Spend a lot of time on the forums. This is where you’ll hear a lot of feedback from the average con-goer, and feedback is good!
4. Always strive to make your event or department better for the next year. Perfection is impossible to attain, but striving for it should always be your goal.
5. If you’re staffing, keep in contact with people! Check your email often, and don’t let your attendees, volunteers or fellow staffers go for too long without a response.
6. Be organized!
7. Remember that the attendees are paying good money for their tickets and deserve your respect. No one likes someone on a power trip.
8. I have one convention I go to a year where I do NO events, volunteering or staffing at all. I call it my “relaxation con.” (It happens to be Otakon in Baltimore.) Having this one con I get to go to and just enjoy, with no stress or responsibilities, really helps me to stay in touch with the average convention goer. I see problems this con may have from a con-goer’s perspective (lines, poor tech, etc) and remember to make sure not to let these things happen during my own events.
Anime Herald: Do you have any advice for people who are entering the same position as you?
Lyndsey Luther: For Music Video Contests:
1. Know your codecs.
2. Get TMPEGenc (the newest version available) and DVD Lab. Learn them. Love them.
3. Keep your finger on the “pulse” of the fandoms. Know what is popular and what is not. Keep this in mind and try to balance popular vs. not in your contest.
4. “Artsy” videos are awesome for those in the know, but the general audience will usually not “get” them.
5. If you don’t know Excel, learn it, and use it to keep track of the videos you receive and your participants’ contact information.
6. Keep an eye on your audio levels. Nothing is worse to an audience than than the high-pitched shriek of bad audio.
Anime Herald: Finally, do you have anything to say to our readers?
Lyndsey Luther: If you’re a convention attendee, remember that the staff are all volunteers. We don’t get paid for the time we put into the convention. We often miss out on really cool things we’d love to see because of our duties. Please remember and respect that if we seem a little stressed out or impatient while dealing with you. We’re all doing the best that we can, but we usually have a complex set of plates spinning on sticks on every hand and are concentrating on 50 different things at once. (smile)