Friday, September 24, 2010

Convention Season, Part I

Since 2003, Labor Day weekend has meant only one thing for me: DragonCon, that glorious festival where we of the geek persuasion, we who love fantasy novels and science-fiction movies and comic books and cartoons, gather to celebrate the things we love and show off our sartorial splendor, everything from from elaborately tailored Ancien Regime gowns to barely-there leather tunics and halters. Adults playing dress-up! What could be more joyful and liberating?

Two weekends later, Anime Weekend Atlanta arrives, and again we gather, this time with a more focused enthusiasm. Again we dress up and proclaim our love for animation, storytelling, and daydreaming. It's not a question of setting the Inner Child free. It's about reminding the Outer Adult that the power to imagine, to fantasize, enriches human existence whether one is forty or eighty-five.

This past AWA, scholar and writer Helen McCarthy put into short, simple words why I look forward to these conventions every year: "It's like going to a big party with only people you like. You know you're going to like them; how can you not, when you all love the same stuff?" This quote may not be 100% accurate, but the gist is there.

So here's my tribute to Convention Season, my second-favorite season next to Christmas, and so sadly past for 2010.

What I Love About DragonCon:

1. Panels. DragonCon is organized into "Tracks" which give me the opportunity to discuss your favorite shows, writers, and myths with others who love them as much as I do. I can go to the "Young Adult" Track to find out what books worth reading have been published this year, and then hop over to the "British Media" Track to discuss Doctor Who, or H.G. Wells, or comic fantasist Terry Pratchett, or adaptations of Shakespeare. In the "Science Fiction/Fantasy Literature" Track I can listen to some of my favorite writers discuss how they create characters and plotlines, and I can participate in a debate about the boundaries of the genres. Courtesy of the "Animation" Track this year, I got to hear Spongebob's Tom Kenny, Futurama's John DiMaggio and Billy West, and Adult Swim's Dana Snyder, George Lowe and C. Martin Croker trade hilarious quips and impersonations, and I got to see a wondrous cartoon short based on a concept Walt Disney worked on with Salvador Dali. The Tracks cover just about every area of media entertainment I love most. And being in the same room with those who share the love is downright electric.

2. The Atlanta Radio Theatre Company. This unusual group performs radio drama just as it would have been performed before a studio audience circa 1940. When I first saw them perform at DragonCon 2003, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Since January 2004, I have been. Every DragonCon, ARTC performs both original and adapted science-fiction, fantasy, and/or horror scripts before an enthusiastic audience. I've been involved as an actress (my favorite role came in 2008, with William A. Ritch's script Doom of the Mummy) and as a writer (thus far I've had two scripts performed at D*C, The Challenges of Brave Ragnar in 2007 and The House Across the Way in 2010); to ARTC I owe some of my proudest hours. ARTC brings fantasy to life. So naturally, the crowd at DragonCon embraces us.
(A sister group of ARTC, the Mighty Rassilon Art Players, also deserves a mention here. Until recently, MRAP has delighted D*C audiences with such parodies as Buffy: Warrior Princess, Welcome Back Potter, and From TARDIS With Love. It was in the midst of rehearsals for The Return of the King and I in 2004 and Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter in 2005 that I got to know the man who would become my husband. Thanks beyond measure, MRAP.)

3. Costumes, costumes, costumes! I don't "cosplay" -- that is, dress up to resemble a specific character from science fiction or fantasy literature, movies, or TV. I just don my favorite Renaissance Festival garb and go, imagining myself into the shoes of any fantasy heroine I feel like at the moment. I know first-hand how costumes can enhance daydreams. And while I may prefer a more generic fantasy wardrobe, I do relish watching the march of people clad as Star Wars Stormtroopers, various Doctor Whos, superheroes, supervillains, warriors, and princesses. My favorite characters never fail to put in an appearance somewhere.

4. Dragon*Con TV. I'm not even going to attempt to describe it. But one simply has not been to D*C if one hasn't gotten a glimpse of advertisements featuring "The Most Interesting Man on Tatooine" or "Thinkin' Strips: Zombies Don't Know It's Not Brains."

5. Fire of Brazil, a Brazilian steakhouse within easy walking distance of the Con Hotels in downtown Atlanta. My husband and I have made a tradition of indulging in a meal there for the past several years. It's expensive, but one can actually eat enough food at such a place to make it worth the price. We never fail to run into some of our fellow Con-goers, but the restaurant is a haven of quiet and low lights, a brief respite from sensory overload.

6. Music. DragonCon invites plenty of musical guests, and I always enjoy getting to know some group I've never heard before. This year I discovered Pandora Celtica, an acoustic or a capella harmony group who entertained the crowd with such songs as "Danny Borg" (to the tune of "Danny Boy," of course) and "Do You Want to Date My Avatar?" Every year I also get to revisit old favorites like the Celtic folk-rock group Emerald Rose, who, for their DragonCon performances, mix their traditional favorites with Con-themed tunes like "His Majesty's Airship Corps," a tribute to Steampunk, and a warning to role-playing gamers called "Never Split the Party."

7. The Dealer's Room, home of hundreds of merchants of costumes, posters, books, comics, playing cards, T-shirts, and art, just waiting to separate DragonCon's herd of smart, imaginative fools from their money.

These are just a few things that make DragonCon an event I relish attending every year. Coming up next: What I Love About Anime Weekend Atlanta. Some things may carry over, but they're not quite the same. AWA deserves its own blog.