Welcome to CONRUNNER 7, the convention runners' fanzine, coming from the tired but game-for-a-con Ian Sorensen, 304a Main St, High Blantyre, Glasgow G72 0DH. Telephone 0698 826207 (eve) or 041 637 1071 (work). This edition published in November 1987. For availability see the article on "The Future of CONRUNNER".
|Editorial 1 - News|
|Editorial 2 - Count Me Out|
|Editorial 3 - Who Runs Conventions?|
|Editorial 4 - The Future of CONRUNNER|
|Planning a First Convention||Mike Gould|
|The Beccon Games Room||Marcus L Rowland|
|The Future and Eastercons||Ian Sorensen|
The hottest news to hand is that there are now two bids for the 1990 Eastercon: Contravention has been joined by Eastcon, a bid from Lisanne Norman and Stuart Andrews which will be at an as yet un-named East Anglian coastal resort. Contravention have still not found a suitable site.
We still don't know if Conspiracy has broken even. The bills awaiting payment more or less equal the income still owed to us by advertisers. It will be a few months before final accounts can be produced but in the meantime the committee are looking for some big lads to help lean on aforementioned advertisers...
After many years of people saying that someone should organise a convention for convention organisers, someone has done just that. CONSCRIPTION, as it has been named, will be held in an as yet undecided location from 24-25 September 1988. Supporting membership of £2 is available from Henry Balen, Flat 4, 8 West Avenue, Walthamstow, London, E17 9QN (Phone: 01 509 2331 (eve) or 01 387 7050 ext 2092 (day)). The format of the convention will include workshops and discussions but it is hoped that there will be positive outcome in the form of a publication detailing the results of the discussions.
Another convention you might be interested in attending is CLONESPIRACY. It is primarily aimed at people who worked so much at Conspiracy that they missed most of the programme (like I did). Its programme will be a selection of the best talks, speeches and events of the Worldcon shown on video or played on audio tape. It will also have a number of original programme items: games such as "Pin the Brain on the Hotel Manager"! It will also provide an opportunity to look at each other's photos and examine the Press Clippings file. So if any of you are interested in seeing what you missed at Conspiracy then join Clonespiracy. It is in the Belmont Hotel, Leicester from the evening of Friday January 15th, 1988 till the evening of Sunday January 17th. Membership £5 to me at the editorial address (cheques payable to Clonespiracy) as soon as possible. Although I see it as a last gathering of Worldcon staff, I expect that there will be others who would like to come along and they will be most welcome. I'm counting on 50, but the hotel can take around 100.
There will also be a convention in February in Leeds. This will be run, not by the usual "Leeds Mafia" but by the members of the Leeds University SF Society. It is called LUCON and runs from 26-28 February 1988 at the University. Accommodation is said to be in pre-arranged crash space. Guests are Bob Shaw and Duncan Lunan. Attending membership costs £7 and is available by writing to LUCON c/o LUU SF Society, Leeds University Union, Leeds, LS1 1UH.
Lastly, the bad news is that the Glenbuck 16mm film library has just folded. Glenbuck had the bulk of the old Harris films so this may cause big problems unless their stock is taken over by those remaining (see page 7).
((This turned out to be false, only the US distributor of the same name had closed...: WebEd))
Count Me Out, I'm Out For The Count
I didn't enjoy Conspiracy. Firstly, I didn't enjoy missing all the programme and opportunities to meet foreign fans and, secondly, I didn't enjoy being exhausted for 8 days. I think I could honestly say it was one of the worst weeks I've ever had in my life - oh, sure, there were some good bits, the odd hour here and there but the stress and pressure to make sure it all worked were killing. I know some of the steering committee came close to packing their bags and going home at certain points, and I can appreciate that many staff and gophers must feel they were unreasonably overworked. Americans have a word for the condition: burnout. It is hard, even at a distance of 6 weeks, to be objective about it all. Obviously, I am proud to have been part of what was, for most members, a great convention and feel a little defensive about criticism of our efforts. However, I think it was obvious both to staff and attendees that there was serious understaffing from the word go, and that those who were available for work were not able to be co-ordinated in other than a haphazard fashion. Certain small teams worked fine throughout the convention, notably registration staff, but they still had the ubiquitous problems of too little manpower and poor communications. Things had settled down by late Friday when the gopher hole got organised (thanks largely to the efforts of John Mansfield of Canada and others whose names I never learned), but by then all pre-con staff rotas and policies had had to be junked and there was never time to re-design them and get them communicated. As far as I could tell the operational side of the convention ran on a "seat of the pants" basis for most of the time.
Still, it worked. Or rather, people worked. I know why I was willing to miss the convention to get the work done (simple fear of getting lynched), but I will never understand the incredible dedication shown by some of the volunteers and conscripts. Fandom has no adequate system of rewards for such as these - no Novas, Hugos or Nebulas. Perhaps we should invent the Wally awards for them? What I have done, for myself as much as them, is organise Clonespiracy. Most people who attend conventions are quite willing to help move the odd chair or fetch a projector bulb from the ops base when asked but I feel guilty at having asked so many people to help out for a few minutes at one particular task only to find them still doing it hours, even days, later. Due to the incredible workload which descended on the Conspiracy staff once the convention started it was a case of everyone manning the pumps in one location until the next crisis became too serious to leave alone, then they would rush round to deal with it. My own responsibility was publicity so the bulk of my work was completed before the con began. I expected a nice easy time, showing press and media round the convention, setting up interviews with writers and so on. The day it started, however, I had to leave two TV news crews to fend for themselves because I was stuck in the Brighton Centre Press Room with an endless stream of journalists who all wanted different pieces of information about who was here and what was happening, none of which I could provide as there was pandemonium at registrations and our operations communications channels were tied up. And when I finally got the Press Room organised and staffed by a team of gophers (bless their hearts) this simply meant I was available for pitching in with the latest crisis management effort.
By Friday night I found it difficult to walk as my feet were painfully blistered. I remembered how funny I'd thought it when Katie Hoare had announced that, in the guise of Pangolin Systems, she and Martin were going to sponsor cans of foot spray for the convention. I've visited many people who worked for Conspiracy since the event and, in nearly every case, they have one souvenir that they treasure: the can of footspray that got them through it all!
In the weeks since Conspiracy I've been asked many times about the rumour of a possible Scottish worldcon bid. All I can say is that, with under 100 members, Clonespiracy is about the level of convention effort I want to get involved in for the foreseeable future. Yes, it is true that Vince Docherty and Mark Meenan are keeping tabs on developments near the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre, but they have no definite plans to do anything as far as is known. I have spent a great many hours bending the ears of various fans with my opinions on the incompatibility of Worldcons and British fandom. Here, briefly, are my conclusions: a Worldcon requires a high degree of planning and organising over a great many years. British fandom does not take kindly to being organised. A small group of individuals may, perhaps, be able to work together for the length of time required, but once they need to expand the size of the organisation to cover all the jobs that need doing they discover that there is too small a pool of talented, committed fans available to help. Those who are recruited will either not be able to do the job they would ideally like to do, or will be faced with a large job requiring them to recruit help. At this point they encounter the same problems. Alternatively, they might be assigned the job they really wanted, and manage to recruit capable help. This was the situation with the Beccon people at Conspiracy: Caroline Mullan and Brian Ameringen volunteered to organise the green room for programme participants and recruited most of the rest of the Beccon regulars. They all did a splendid job - but it meant that a large number of the most capable conrunners in Britain spent 5 days serving drinks to panellists! (I do know that, as they were running the '87 Eastercon, they had all made it clear in advance that they would be unavailable for Conspiracy work, so we were lucky to get them at all.)
The point is, however, that an American Worldcon bid committee can tell you, four years in advance, who their committee and staff will be and what jobs they'll be doing because they tend to be put up by stable organisations of fans. The sort who have a local fan group of 100+ members, their own clubhouse and extensive experience of working for Worldcons in particular capacities. British fandom simply can't compete on equal terms with that sort of setup. In Conrunner 3 I wrote an editorial explaining why I didn't think Worldcons were a good thing, then in Conrunner 4 wrote another one to explain why I'd joined the steering committee for Conspiracy. The main reason against was the need for this gargantuan organisational effort to do an Worldcon "properly", the reason I joined was because I was persuaded that it could be run like a large - a very large - Eastercon. In the planning stages I suppose it can be looked at in that way, but operationally it is simply in a different universe. I think that everyone involved did an excellent job to the best of their not inconsiderable abilities, but there simply weren't enough of us. I think that there should have been more people in British fandom volunteering before the convention, but can well understand their reluctance to do so. The only way round the problem I can see is to hire professionals to do as much as possible of the operational work, leaving us free to take decisions or executive actions. In other words, hirelings take care of the mechanics and fans deal with people.
Before you get the impression that I think all Worldcons should be in America, let me say that one of the reasons I supported the Dutch bid for 1990 was because I was impressed by the high level of organisation they showed over the few years leading up to the bid. I expect they will continue to be very well organised, but will come up against the same problem we did: there are simply not enough talented, reliable fans to do the jobs that need doing. They do have professional help in the form of the Congress Centre staff who will do all their audio visual work and so on, but the Dutch have even fewer experienced conrunners than we have for the other jobs. At Conspiracy steering committee meetings we spent many hours discussing every aspect of the conventions, planned it in meticulous detail, built in margins for error and then some more. We even did some dry runs through the convention, from set-up to take-down. It was all planned out. Then we arrived in Brighton and it simply didn't work that way. The steering committee, instead of steering, spent days on end doing gopher level jobs because there was nobody else to do it. Certain staff members either turned up later than expected, or, in a few cases, failed to turn up at all, and there was nobody organised to cover for them: with so few workers available we couldn't afford the luxury of deputies for every post. Yes, we had anticipated this at steering committee level and had contingencies arranged for any committee member falling under a bus before the convention, but we had nothing arranged, for example, for providing our own security staff to cover secure areas when the uniformed guards arrived two hours later than expected. In every area of the convention we simply did not have the extra people needed to cover for emergencies and in some there were not enough for the routine work to be done without individuals doing very long shifts.
Many of the problems we experienced with the convention arose from the unreasonable attitude of the general manager of the Metropole Mr Hutchings. In the Con-munications pages later on I've printed extracts from some of the letters of complaint forwarded to me by angry fans who have made their feelings known to the Metropole Hotels Group, Brighton Council, newspapers etc. Brighton Council have made it known to us that they are desperately worried about the amount of business Brighton is losing because of the poor showing of the Metropole. It isn't only Conspiracy that has suffered at their hands and according to the Council nobody is making repeat bookings there. Most of the staff were fairly reasonable and apologised for having to implememnet the policy decisions that were passed down to them from on high: indeed, by the Monday evening the staff were to be seen queuing up to view the boards outside the fan room containing the choicest insults all directed at the hotel manager. It would seem that there is nothing anybody can do about Mr Hutchings as he owns half of the hotel and is thus firefroof. I only had one encounter with Mr Hutchings, but it illustrates well the sort of problem that was thrown at us without warning.
There had been a team of around 20 setting up on the Tuesday and Wednesday who had been relieved to discover that breakfasts in the Metropole had improved since Seacon '84. There was a serve yourself buffet with a choice of juices, cereals, fruit, croissants and pastries as well as the usual hot stuff. On the Thursday I was down for breakfast at 7.30 to prepare myself for the 8am committee meeting. At the entrance to the dining room I was greeted by the head waitress with the question "Are you with the convention?" I said that I was, but was already prepared for the next stage which was being guided to a table and told my breakfast would be brought shortly. No buffet, no choice. I was to get a juice and a plate of bacon sausage and egg with tea or coffee to wash it down. I went back to the head waitress and had this confirmed. I realised there was no point arguing with her and asked for the duty manager. It turned out that he was in conversation with Mr Hutchings at reception, so I went over to them, identified myself as one of the steering committee and asked for an explanation for the breakfast, or lack of it. The duty manager said that it was the English breakfast they always provided. I pointed out that I'd as I'd been there two days I knew that it wasn't anything like it, and could he immediately restore the choices. At this point Mr Hutchings broke in and said that he had 600 people staying in the hotel and it was simply impossible to have buffet breakfast for that number, the operational difficulties made it out of the question. I asked him what vegetarians were meant to have for breakfast. His reply was that that was their problem, he had a hotel to run. I informed him that I considered this attitude totally unprofessional and suggested that he at least get some cereals made available. He told me to stop wasting his time and walked off. I then again urged the duty manager to get something put out before the bulk of the members arrived and went to phone Katie Hoare, our hotel liaison person. By the time I'd explained it all to Katie it was time for me to go to the committee meeting and for her to start yet another titanic struggle against the forces of evil - the Metropole. By the Sunday breakfasts seemed to have returned to their proper state (so much for it being impossible), but it tied Katie up for a disproportionate length of time. That Thursday morning, by the way, was the nearest I got to having a breakfast for the next 4 days!
It may be that the problems with the hotel caused the rest of our problems, or they may simply have made them worse. Whatever the cause, the conclusion is inescapable: despite our best efforts at the planning stage, despite recruiting the best talent we could find, despite working like Trojans, we were simply overwhelmed by the workload imposed by the size and complexity of the event. American Worldcon organisers also have problems but are better able to respond to them because of their greater experience with Worldcons and their greater resources of manpower and money.
I'm sure that, now we've done it once, we could do it again much better. But I for one don't want to! It will require a demonstrably larger, more committed convention running fraternity to be in existence before I look at the question again seriously.
Who Runs Conventions?
Following on from my little whinge about the Worldcon, I'd like to look at the state of conrunning in Britain. When I entered fandom there were fewer conventions, and conrunners were not an identifiable group within it. I came in at the tail end of the heyday of the great British fanzine boom. It was easy to see that there was a small group of active fanzine fans who were in the centre of things, though I had never met them and had no interest in fanzines at that time. For someone entering fandom today the most easily spotted group of active fans are the conrunners: they sit at tables and talk to you! There are more and more people taking part in convention running - but are they the right people?
The sort of fan likely to become interested in fanzines and the one who becomes a conrunner are, I think, different in many respects: the fanzine fan is a loner, possibly more interested in egoboo and has some "artistic" leanings. The conrunner feels better as part of a team, is less likely to be interested in self promotion, and little "artistic" flair. In fact, the conrunner is a dull creature! Yes, I know that there are lots of people you can think of who are rugged individualists with a head the size of a planet and who are simply bursting with talent, but the run of the mill conrunner isn't like that at all. In my analysis of some of the problems facing the Eastercon later on in this issue I make the point that conventions are becoming very dull, and the organisers seem stuck in a rut: all conventions are beginning to look the same. Now, it could be that CONRUNNER is to blame for this as everyone is slavishly following the excellent advice contained herein but I suspect that it merely reflects a lack of flair on the part of convention organisers. Conrunning is now a respectable fannish activity and is accessible to the sort of fans who would never have made it in the fanzine world. It's nice that they can find a method of expression in the relatively friendly environment of convention running, but my fear is that the quality of conventions suffers as a result.
At one meeting for Albacon III we were discussing the choice of a fan guest of honour. It was agreed that a fan guest should be someone who had done something of note, was worth honouring, could be relied upon to participate in the programme in a useful manner and be someone new fans would enjoy meeting while enjoying meeting them. A number of names were tossed around but it turned out that few of the committee had ever heard of half of them because they never attended other conventions and weren't interested in fanzines. This led to a situation where a preliminary ballot produced a person for fan guest of honour who was well enough known to Glasgow fans but, as Mike Molloy pointed out, someone who had done considerably less in fandom than most of the people sitting round the table! The problem was simply that too many of the committee members did not have any breadth of experience in fandom; they ran Glasgow conventions and that was all they did. We need more informed conrunners.
I am not advocating a purge of deadheads nor am I suggesting forming an elite conrunning fraternity to boldly take cons where no cons have gone before. All I'm trying to do is to shake things up a bit and get everyone involved in conventions to question what they currently take for granted. As competition between conventions increases for the limited number of venues and times only the best, that is, the most imaginative will survive. Here endeth the sermon.
The Future of Conrunner
This issue marks the end of CONRUNNER's third year of publication. During the past year Conspiracy has been underwriting the cost of mailing CONRUNNER as Conspiracy Corner was seen as a useful method of keeping in touch with staff. However, with a mailing list of over 200, many overseas, I can't afford to keep sending them out to everyone. So, after this issue I will revert to distributing them at conventions, specifically Novacon and the Eastercon, and will only mail out to people who trade, contribute or who specifically ask for a copy. Reserve your copy of number 8 by writing me an article, loc or begging letter now! Alternatively, let me know if you see me at a con that you would still like to receive CONRUNNER and I'll keep you on the list.