The Con Is On: Behind the Scenes at (Re)Generation Who 4

❉ An organiser’s eye-view of the con hosting Peter Capaldi’s first interview since his departure from Doctor Who.

Onezumi Events chair Oni Hartstein once said that when you run an event, you always have to bring an octopus crane with you because you never know whether a hotel will have an octopus. And, frankly, that’s the best way I’ve ever heard event preparation described.

I’ve spent literally half my life (more, as of my birthday last month) in the convention world. I’ve been an attendee, staff, panelist, guest, and interviewer. (Re)Generation Who is, with no slight meant to any other convention I’ve been privileged to work with, probably my favorite. I’m a massive Doctor Who fan, of course, and my recent work means I’m delving more into it professionally, so there’s that. But even if it were for a demographic or franchise I had no personal investment in, there would be a lot there to love.

The staff, more than 100 members strong, is made up of professionals in a variety of fields who bring their expertise to event-running. The size and organization makes it big enough to survive, but small enough for people like me to navigate and enjoy themselves. And the extra care put into making sure the guests have a good time means that we’re now sought out among the creatives in the community. All that together means it’s just a Good Feeling to enter that space and work there.

Running an event will always have imponderables, though. And it will always involve work – lots of work – no matter how fun it may be. I’ve talked at length about the financial aspects, guest contracts, and other often misunderstood things that attendees tend to be curious about. But for this week – with us just shy of our fourth (Re)Gen – I was asked to talk a little bit about what in particular makes this con tick. The train has left the station and we’ll be descending on Baltimore soon, but I do have a few moments to lift the curtain a bit.

A Year Before: What’s Next?

One of the many things that sets (Re)Gen apart is our ‘So, How Did We Do?’ panel that closes out the event. We put a microphone at the front of the Large Events room, and the senior staff put themselves on the firing line. The good, the bad, and the weird – we’re there for it. And we listen to everything.

We’re fortunate to have attendees (and guests!) who give us excellent feedback. And those go straight into planning next year’s event. If a guest is particularly popular and asked for, we pursue a potential contract with them. If we find that a new idea didn’t go over as well as we thought, or an old one could use some sprucing up, we take them back to the drawing board.

We also meet privately with several of our recurring guests who give us the straight talk: what worked, what didn’t, what did they notice, and how can we continue to keep things hopping in a way that works for all of us.

Many of our staffers – myself as Community Manager included – work year-round on planning and organizing. Not only that, we want to build a community. So our social media never truly folds, even during the ‘off season.’ Our social media is an opportunity to help boost our guests’ other projects!

Inviting the Guests

There’s a peculiar mentality when it comes to outside sources deciding why a convention invites certain guests and not others. The idea that a guest isn’t there because the convention doesn’t want them, or that the mere desire for a guest to be in attendance will get them there, is (for better or for worse) a flawed one.

The truth is, if the world worked the way we wanted, we’d just invite everyone all the time. But real-world schedules – both filming and personal – get in the way. Sometimes, as a smaller event, we can’t afford an asking price; and since we want the guests to do well in their work, we don’t pressure them for free or cheap appearances.

The best way to let us, or any event, know that you’d like to see someone is to send a request to their contact or suggestion form. This makes sure the request gets seen rather than forgotten. Not only that, it shows that attendees have the interest and drive to pursue a request, which is taken a lot more seriously than a casual ‘When are you getting my fave?’ question.

Guests are announced as soon as all the contracts are signed and completed to everyone’s satisfaction. Generally we aren’t sitting on an announcement unless we tease one.

The Home Stretch

Right now is really when the most work goes into a con, even if we’re year-round employees of the event. Programming schedules are established, shirts and other merchandise roll in from the print shop, and the last round of advertising goes out. Pre-sales end and we gear up to take registration at-door for people who find out about us on the weekend of the event.

This is also, unfortunately, when anything that can break will break. But that’s why you have a prepared team.

What have I encountered at various cons in the past? Not just at (Re)Gen, but all over the map, we’ve had burst pipes, surprise construction, snowstorms that shut down public transit (and keep local attendees from making it in), overbooked venues that aren’t sorted out until all three parties are there and staring awkwardly at each other, fire alarms, airlines losing guests’ luggage… you name it, it’s happened.

That’s why, no matter how capable a staff is and how well you’ve planned, you’ve gotta bring your octopus crane. There’s no way to plan for every possible eventuality, but there are ways to plan to have the flexibility to solve any problem.

If you go to an event that runs flawlessly, I have a secret for you: something has happened. The art is not in keeping things from going wrong, but in keeping the things that do go wrong from causing an issue. A ‘flawless’ event is worth admiration in that, whatever happened that day, you will never find out what it was.

All for the Best

And in the end, no matter how stressful it all is, it’s magic. We’ve done some amazing things at (Re)Gen in past years. We introduced Terry Molloy and Paul Magrs, allowing them to team up to write and illustrate a delightful children’s book. We’ve brought together companions and family to reminisce about Doctors past. And we hosted Tom Baker’s very first Skype interview, marking his first US interview in 20 years.

This year, we’re making history again: hosting Peter Capaldi’s first interview since his departure from Doctor Who. We couldn’t be more excited, both on behalf of our attendees and as fans of Mr. Capaldi’s work himself. And because of our smaller size and our careful planning, we can’t wait to help families make memories in Baltimore this weekend.

Kara Dennison is a writer, editor, and interviewer from Virginia. By day she is a journalist and features writer for Crunchyroll, Viewster, VRV, and many other geek entertainment venues. Her work can next be read in this summer’s Black Archive #21: Heaven Sent from Obverse Books, and the upcoming Seasons of War: Gallifrey, co-written with Paul Driscoll.

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