It’s a proven fact that humans are social creatures. It’s also well-known that anime fans love to party. And, really, in a hobby where we discuss the minutiae of Evangelion, or the subtle realism of moé shows, who wouldn’t? Anime conventions are our Burning Man, our PAX, our Lollapalooza, only without the rampant drug use, sex, and nudity. However, much like the others, many people don’t understand how these events come together.
In the last edition, I spoke with a few members of the convention community, in order to hopefully unearth a better understanding of the hard-working folks that make your favorite events possible. Stories were told, and insights shared, and hopefully, a few people learned a bit more about the world behind the curtain. Of course, when dealing with a scene that hosts over eighty events each year, there is ample room for a second look. This time around, I am diving deeper, as I take one more swing at a convention chair and a pair of Masquerade masters.
- I’d argue that Man-Faye and Sailor Man have the mental scarring more than covered.
- Rule #1 of Anime Con Fight Club. Don’t talk about Anime Con Fight Club… Oh, crud,
Convention Chair: Back in Black
The convention chair is an establishment in the anime convention community. Without a chair, there’s no con. Therefore, one cannot pay enough attention to the position, or the duties it entails. Certainly, chair seems to be the most enviable position to hold, when an event is going well. “On the very best days, when all the cogs are working right and the wheels are greased, my job is to look pretty,” quips Otakon chairman Sean Chiochankitmun, adding, “which does not happen for more than a moment.”
Convention chairs are faced with tasks and duties that would be deemed anywhere form “daunting” to “batshit insane” by those on the outside. “Challenges that we face have best been likened to herding cats,” notes Chiochankitmun. As an example of the absolute worst case, he cited an incident involving a nameless boy band:
“…One of the boy pop bands who, at the last minute (read: the day before their concert), were unhappy with the flooring material on the stage. Having one of my OSS… Karl Monroe locate flooring… late at night, and having the problem settled by morning, was the best decision ever made.”
The moral of the tale, according to Chiochankitmun, is that “knowing and trusting your staff helps make life a heck of a lot saner.” In addition, he adds that “flexibility and the ability to remember who is best, decent, and passable at doing any specific task. And delegating,” are vital traits in the role of a chair.
The job isn’t all bitchy boy bands and disasters, though. As Chiochankitmun fondly notes, “that I can call some of major people in the animation industry friends is something that I will particularly treasure for years to come.”
Cosplay Events: Seen and Always Heard
Cosplay events are always a huge draw at conventions, be they family favorites like Cosplay Chess, or racier affairs, like the Cosplay Dating Game. “The hardest thing is getting all your participants organized and on the same page,” notes veteran cosplay staffer Lyndsey Luther. She continued, stating that “trying to decide who will participate in these events is a tricky business.” The events require a large degree of judgment and foresight, to ensure both a successful run and a favorable reception. Luther notes that “you need to take into account the popularity of the character the person is portraying as well their reliability and acting abilities.” To elaborate, Luther recalled her experiences with this year’s Cosplay Chess at Anime Boston. ” I wrote the scipt and coordinated with the 60-plus 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.” In addition, a cosplay coordinator must be ready for the worst-case scanrio. Luther recalls that the event “had a few participants drop out at the last moment, requiring re-writes of the script and special attacks.”
At the same time, cosplay staff are tasked with ensuring that the participants are up to the task of appearing in front of a crowd. According to Luther, roughly one thousand attendees gathered to watch Cosplay Chess at Anime Boston. “It can be very harrowing to be on-stage in front of so many people,” she notes, “and some actors simply can’t do it or fall victim to stage fright.” Events that focus on spontaneity provide a completely different level of challenges. According to Luther, “It is often stressful even for experienced actors to be in completely improvisational events such as the Dating Games.” The only real path to success in these events is “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.”
The position comes with both rewards and disadvantages. “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,” muses Luther. She continues, remarking that “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.” The position does have a large silver lining, though. “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.”
Masquerade: Bright Lights, Big Challenges
Without a doubt, one of the most popular events at any anime convention is the masquerade. Long lines and quick room fills are the norm when the visions of elaborate costumes and spectacular sights begin dancing through the mind. To make such an event, with dozens of amateurs and limited staff, go off without a hitch requires a special kind of talent. Edwin Peregrina, Masquerade Coordinator for Otakon, notes that “before the con, you have a good bit of time to carefully craft your plan of attack, so to speak.” Once the gates open, it’s showtime. “There’s very little time to rework things, so you have to be prepared,” according to Peregrina. Few would argue this much, as the show cards are always full, and there are always groups that don’t make the cut. This doesn’t even begin to take into account various external factors, such as managing information, dealing with potential mishaps before they occur, and ensuring that everything goes exactly as it should. Peregrina describes the situation as a “logistical challenge,” and explains that “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.”
A Masquerade coordinator must be ready to deal with both the exciting and the disappointing. “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,” explains Peregrina. Indeed, the logistical challenges ensure that the event is a work-in-progress until the very last minute. It is only natural that one should expect that a good coordinator has to “keep things organized, efficient, and reasonable for the time frame you’re working within.”
Unfortunately, being in a position that interacts with hundreds of passionate fans means that, every so often, one has to play the role of the bad guy. ” I don’t enjoy saying no to people at all,” laments Peregrina, who also notes that that “it still has to be done to keep things fair.” Fairness or not, being the guy that has to say “no” puts a person right in the line of fire for backlash. ” Some people think I get a kick out striking down stuff,” he says despite admitting to the contrary. Peregrina also notes that he doesn’t “like stepping out on-stage during the show itself.” Quite the opposite, he points out that he thinks “it’s bad luck, and besides, it’s not about me, it’s about the participants.”
When Stuff Hits the Fan: Dealing With Those Little Disasters
With hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of attendees and numerous guests, it’s not difficult to imagine that some things don’t run as smoothly as they should. “Murphy’s law is pretty much a constant at any convention,” remarks Lyndsey Luther, who coordinates music video contests and cosplay events (among other things) for Connecticon and Anime Boston. She continues, stating that she hasn’t “had any major issues with the anime music video contest yet… but I have several contingency plans set up in case of a technological error.” Sean Chiochankitmun, who chairs Otakon, offered similar advice, explaining that “knowing and trusting your staff helps make life a heck of a lot saner.”
Still, despite the number of precautions one takes, an incident, no matter how small, is sure to arise. Edwin Peregrina (Masquerade Coordinator at Otakon) recounts a particular situation on the Masquerade beat:
In 2005, we had a performance consisting of about three musical instruments. …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… wasn’t happy about the missing mic, however, and wanted the skit done over… So I had to go have one of the most ominous talks a coordinator could have: a talk with a participant’s parent… 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… 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… A few minutes later… 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… As I walked back, the dad gave me a thumbs up. He looked like a proud dad, and rightfully so.
Chiochankitmun recounts his own experience, in which his administrative mettle was put to the test. “I think it was with one of the boy pop bands who at the last minute… were unhappy with the flooring material on the stage,” he recalls.”Having one of my OSS (…Otakon Senior Staff…) Karl Monroe locate flooring at 11PM late at night and having the problem settled by morning was the best decision ever made.”
Words of Appreciation
While the positions may be different, every member of the convention holds an equally important role. Without the unsung heroes of the convention circuit, the events many of us enjoy every year simply wouldn’t exist. “If you’re a convention attendee, remember that the staff are all volunteers,” explains Luther, “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.” However, these individuals are all performing their duties as a labor of love. “We’re fortunate to have the opportunity to organize such an unique event, but it’s ultimately successful because of fans like you,” quips Peregrina. And, while we may not all say it at once, or at all, just as many fans appreciate the stress, the work, and the outright craziness that these individuals endure to deliver the greatest entertainment experience they can.
For this article, I would like to thank Lyndsey Luther, media staffer and Anime Boston cosplay ninja. Also, I’d like to extend my deepest thanks to both Sean Chiochankitmun and Edwin Peregrina of Otakon. Your input was vital to this project, and I appreciate your time and patience during the writing and editing process.
Note: This article was originally published at Anime Dream on July 2, 2011.