Reflection: Farpoint 2012

No review this week.  My brain is simply too fried to evaluate.  What I’ll write about instead is the thing that fried my brain, that thing being an event called Farpoint 2012.  Farpoint is a regional science fiction media convention.  “Regional” because it primarily draws its attendance from Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic area, although it occasionally pulls in members from as far away as Texas, California, Canada or even Germany.  It’s not a Dragon*Con or a San Diego ComicCon, which pull heavily from all over the U.S. and even the world.  It’s smaller, more laid back, and built to stay that way.

“Science fiction media” because those attendees come to Farpoint to celebrate the fandom which develops around TV shows and movies rooted in speculative fiction, fantasy and the supernatural.  We used to call them “Star Trek Conventions,” but that’s far too narrow a description for what Farpoint and many gatherings of its kind have become.

This was our nineteenth Farpoint.  I’ve been involved in some capacity for all of them.  This year I was co-operations manager with my wife Renee.  I think we worked a bit harder on the planning and execution that we intended or wanted to, but the result was a successful event that everyone seemed to enjoy.  Our attendance numbers aren’t in, but they hovered somewhere around 700 people.  That’s a good, healthy turnout for this convention.  A lot of well-intentioned friends frequently approach me with sentences that open, “You know, you could pull in a lot more people and make a lot more money if you…”  And I’m sure all the ideas which finish those sentences are wonderful.  The thing is, making more money would be nice, but growing much bigger isn’t really Farpoint’s goal.  Farpoint’s goal is to maximize people’s enjoyment, and part of the way it does it is by not being over-crowded.

It was nice, however, to see the convention reaching its peak attendance earlier.  Friday night the registration desk was mobbed with people picking up their pre-purchased memberships, and our opening ceremonies and Friday social were the best attended they’ve ever been.  I got the impression that people were just more excited to get to the con this year, resulting in them taking time off work and leaving earlier.  It was a nice atmosphere, and it made for an appreciative audience for the evening’s entertainment.  Gentleman Jim made a first-time appearance with us, performing (very well!) a mix of songs, including tributes to our celebrity guests for the weekend.  We presented the Volker-McChesney Award for service to fandom to a dear friend, Melissa James, who’s an integral part of Shore Leave, a summertime event similar to Farpoint.  We auctioned off donated items to raise funds for the Julien Fleming Fund and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and then my own Prometheus Radio Theatre hosted a variety show of music and comedy.

The Boogie Knights, Jonah Knight and Insane Ian provided the music, and I hope I’m not delusional when I say Prometheus provided the comedy.  My friends Renfield and June offered us a short adventure in the lives of two space-based hired guns and their trusty robot, and then we presented an episode of Waste of Space, a sitcom about evil geniuses that my son Ethan and I developed.  Kate Vernon from Battlestar Galactica and Kristen Bauer from True Blood were out special guests.  Sadly, Kate’s onscreen husband, Michael Hogan, missed his connecting flight and couldn’t be in the play, but the audience and the cast still had a blast.  Having your celebrity guest star (Kristen) miss a cue and tell the audience it’s because she’s having such a good time listening to you is not only funny, it’s very good for the egos of part-time actors.  I hope to have that show posted soon on the Prometheus Radio Theatre podcast feed.

While the Pack Ratz oversaw their annual Karaoke event, Vic’s Place, I threw a launch party for my latest book, Unfriendly Persuasion.  I sold a case of books, which doesn’t suck.  I understand our vendors in the dealers room also had a pretty successful evening of sales.  I know at least one said she’d made back the cost of her trip that first night.

Saturday I sat on four panels on New Media and authoring topics.  All were well-attended, which I was happy to see, as I was beginning to fear Farpoint needed to offer less programming.  The most successful panel seemed to be a discussion on self-publishing which included Aaron Rosenberg, Glenn Hauman and Marianne Petrino-Schaad, with some assists by Don Sakers.  We couldn’t possibly give a complete primer on how to self-publish a book in an hour (especially since we’re authors, and mostly want to talk about ourselves!) but we answered a lot of great questions from the audience, and I think we hit the high points.

Michael Hogan had arrived safely late Friday night, so all of our guest Q & A sessions and autographs went as expected.  More and more lately, our Farpoint actor guests are electing to make extra money by signing autographs and selling pictures throughout the day.  That means that there’s no scheduled “autograph session,” and thus no long lines.  It seems to be a pretty good system.
Saturday night’s cornerstone is always the Masquerade, where our costumers put together often screamingly funny presentations to feature their handiwork.  Sometimes there are duds, but not often.  These people are serious about their costuming, and serious about being funny.  I spent the time staffing the Con Hospitality Suite, and I’m told I missed one of the best shows in years.  Fortunately, there’s video.  I must see the Green Lantern entry put together by Don Sakers, Renfield and June and my son Ethan.

At Masqeurade half-time, Marty Gear auctioned off a meet-and-greet session with the lovely Kristen Bauer, again to benefit our charities.  Now Marty is our elder statesman.  His fandom career began in 1953 at WorldCon, where, just fifteen, he was taken under the wing of E.E. “Doc” Smith, and got to watch the Hugo Award ceremony from the balcony with John W. Campbell, Robert Heinlein, Sprague DeCamp and Isass Asimov.  Marty impresses the hell out of all of us.  He also loves vampires, has a very large library of bad vampire jokes, and can’t resist a pretty face.  The fact that Kristen’s pretty face so often is seen complete with fangs made Marty very enthusiastic about this meet and greet opportunity, as did his ceaseless devotion to raising money for our charities.  So Marty opened the bidding at a nice high figure himself, then waited.  Apparently, the audience, probably hit by our still-tough economy, didn’t bite.  So Marty dug into his supply of vampire jokes and decided to outlast them.  A frenzy erupted.  Audience members began passing a box to collect a matching donation.  Rumor has it Peter David threw his platinum card at the stage.  Kristen, meanwhile, made a grand performance, trying to figure out a way to hang herself from the chandelier to end her suffering.  The masquerade stage hands, dressed, traditionally, as ninjas, supplied a ladder.  Marty got his meet and greet, and our charities split over $700 for his and Kristen’s efforts.  (And that was only one of the items sold!)

Saturday ended with a Ten Forward dance, deejayed by the Pack Ratz.  They do a fantastic job picking the music mix, and the dance floor was packed.  I understand my son Christian impressed the crowd with his moves.  He certainly doesn’t get them from me!  Ten Forward is really loud, and I’m not really young anymore.  I spent a good deal of it sitting in another room, talking to Nobilis and Michael Jan Friedman about the merits of various publishing strategies.

Sunday is our most laid back day.  More Q & A, more autographs, more panels.  Attendance is usually a little less.  I was very happy to see more than a dozen podcasters show up for our podcasting roundtable, however.  New to our company were Jay Smith and Keith R.A. DeCandido, and we had some very good discussion about the changes the last year has brought to our endeavors.  Lauretta from Constellation Books was kind enough to add all of the Firebringer Press titles to her selection.  Constellation is an excellent, independent book store in Reisterstown, and Lauretta has begun working the local conventions.

We end every convention with a dead dog party, the name describing the state of the committee.  After the attendees have gone home, the committee, staff and some of the guests gather to eat, (the first time in three days some of us have done that sitting down!) wind down, and deconstruct the con.  There wasn’t actually a lot to deconstruct this year.  We talked about next year’s 20th anniversary event, and Peter David, T.A. Chafin and Bob Greenberger made plans for their next “Mystery Trekkie Theatre,” to be presented at Shore Leave.  I finished the evening chatting with my cousin Dave, Michael Hogan and two very nice young ladies, Alicia and Stephanie, who were big BSG fans and had flown in to see him.  (One also joined our staff, ably assisting with the huge amount of video that must be shot throughout the weekend.)

Not an objective review by any stretch of the imagination.  It’s my event, after all.  It was a weekend well-spent, however, if it did distract me a bit from being able to do an actual review this week.  This coming weekend, I’ll be attending MystiCon in Roanoake as an author/podcaster guest.  They’ve got me scheduled for quite a few panels, and I’m looking forward to it.  Let’s hope I can maintain my energy level for one more weekend of cons!

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