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Two Years Before the Con

Paul Oldroyd

Mention the word "professional" at the next convention you attend, and you can be guaranteed to clear the room, with anyone remaining in earshot groping frantically for the nearest Cross-shaped object. The word appears to conjure up vast fleets of metallic cars, three piece suits and high pressure salesmen, not to mention glossy fanzines and paid con-committee members. The collective anarchic mind of fandom shudders at the implications of such things.


Well, fandom at its best is a permanent rebellion against humdrum everyday life. Conventions are weekend-long parties, where you never have to look at your watch, or wonder what you're going to eat for tea. In short, anything goes, and, more importantly, you, or I, or anyone else has complete control over the amount of our own participation. Nothing is required of us. In such an atmosphere, the idea of slick organisation, and cons that run to time is strictly anathema: the old ramshackle approach to fixing up programme items on the spot (well, you know Langford will be there and he always says yes...) is the only way of ensuring that no central organisation comes into existence, with its attendant rules and regulations. The attitude is typified by a comment made by someone at a particularly interminable Seacon committee meeting, "You know, you could organise this con from scratch inside three months, with only one person working on it".

Well, yes, you could do that for any convention, but all you'll get is more of the same old things, regurgitated in a different form by the same old people. Because of this approach, cons are in severe danger of becoming boring and staid, ossified by the rule that says there must be no rules or organisation. Seacon 84 was a somewhat abortive attempt at pandering to this while trying to do something different; with a little more organisation in the initial phases, we might have had a very different convention that Easter. Organisation in this context has nothing to do with creating a formal structure for fandom, with membership dues and AGMs, but is all to do with having a committee that will provide an efficient service for fandom to use, or not, depending on one's predilections.

In order to be able to do this, a con committee has to have time to work in. If we are to keep registration rates reasonably low (Trek con registration can cost over 20 these days) and we want to attract innovative events and speakers, we run into immediate problems. Firstly, large, media events (such as a dance performance or a play) have to be negotiated months in advance, and then planned and rehearsed. They also cost a lot of money. Secondly, speakers who normally wouldn't come to a con have to be paid (at least expenses, and probably a speaker's fee). The only way of increasing income to meet expenditure without increasing registration fees is to obtain grants and sponsorship. This again takes time. Thirdly, and possibly most importantly in the short term, if we are to avoid the pitfalls of relying on one or two hotel chains for big conventions like the Eastercon, with the possibility of them getting together and stitching us up (as appears to have happened to Novacon, hence the move to Coventry), we have to get our bookings in with convention centres before such organisations as the NUT and NAS.

To do any of these things, we need to become less paranoid about professional organisation of conventions, in the right sense of the phrase. That is, we need to acknowledge that for us all to get more out of conventions, somebody has to put more in, both in length of time taken to organise them, and to some extent the amount of effort spent by the individual committee members. This doesn't mean that a fascist dictatorship of nasty convention organising fans is going to take over fandom or conventions - it would be patently impossible to do so; nothing can make anyone vote for a particular con, or attend it. What it does mean is that fandom would become more able to deal with nasty manipulative hotel managers, and be able to obtain good deals, and good programmes.

To attract the necessary grants and sponsorship, we not only have to appear professional and efficient to possible grant givers and sponsors, we have to allow them time to discuss our case - and this is after we've got events lined up for them to sponsor. A two year lead in gives a committee breathing space to do all of the above without suffering nervous breakdowns.


This page updated on 09 July 1999