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This weekend, Henry and I went to Constitution. It's a small con, but one I'm very fond of.  It has existed several times under various names.  It's a combined SF, filk, RPG convention.  As I like all three of these, and also like small cons set in universities (cheap accommodation and nice grounds to walk in), it's a winner all round.

The SF part is technically Unicon, and I think the gaming part is the British Roleplaying Society (or something like that) and the filk part is Harmuni.  Somehow, these three cons blend into one and gain several benefits thereby.

I was in for a fairly busy weekend.

[livejournal.com profile] ceb had asked me if I'd like to be on a couple of panels and I'd said yes.  Then, she asked if I'd like to help organise the backstage stuff for the cabaret that was part of one of the freeform games. I've always admired what [livejournal.com profile] clarence does when she takes on this job, so I said I'd like to give that a try as well.  Then I looked at the other freeforms and decided to try something new, so I signed up for the Ars Magica Second Tribunal game. 

Then, things got a little more interesting.  The holiday camp freeform game that the cabaret was to be part of was cancelled, as not enough people had signed up. [livejournal.com profile] crazyscot and I decided to carry on with the cabaret anyway. He would be doing the sound desk and I'd deal with the rest.  We only had three names for the cabaret at that point (including Alcuin and Cardinal Cox) and the third dropped out on hearing that the freeform game had been cancelled.

Lesser souls might have quailed at this point...

However, if there's one thing I've learnt from experience with Redemption and Orbital it is that a cabaret can succeed, but ONLY if you make it clear that you will run it come hell or high water.  If people believe that you really mean it and that you won't chicken out if you only get three acts, then they start to emerge from the woodwork.   

The second thing I've learnt is that it's no use waiting for them to volunteer, you have to go and ask them personally.  I emphasise that word personally.  If you issue a general request for volunteers, as I did in my LJ a week or so ago, you will be lucky if you get a single person.  If you sit down next to someone in the bar and get talking, you've a much better chance. 

Rule number three - never stop asking.  I asked Rafe for help, knowing full well that he would find some good filkers for me.  He did.  He persuaded 'Playing Rapunzel' and Christo (seriously good musicians and you can buy their CD's from their respective web pages).  I then asked more filkers myself after one of the filk sessions (which I was at anyway as I love good filk) and Nat and Tom volunteered.  Patrick and Owen actually put their names on the sign-up sheet without me asking them! (I suspect their dad talked them into it).  Peter, David and Roz were mugged by me in random corners of the convention and[personal profile] seph_hazard  got 'volunteered' by email just before the con as I know she can do a stonking version of some classic cabaret songs. 

Rule four - take material with you.  Several of my last minute volunteers had material that they either had on them or had memorised, but one of my Les Barker poems got used (Daschunds with Erections can't climb stairs), and my print out of "Three HaPence a Foot' was given a brilliant rendition by Roz (another Stanley Holloway fan).

Rule five - do something yourself.  I'd done a poi routine at Redemption, but I'd still not fully recovered from a really bad bout of flu a couple of months before.  I don't know how badly it showed to the audience, but I knew I'd made several bad mistakes and my son Kelvin watching from the tech desk confirmed my count.  So, I decided to do the same one again, which meant a LOT of practice as I'd gotten rusty.  Every spare ten mins when I wasn't in a programme item or chatting to friends, I nipped outside and ran through it, gradually committing it to memory and rehearsing the linking moves in particular.  It's easy (okay, for given values of 'easy') to do different moves in poi - the challenge is to work out how to keep the linking move smooth.  How do you get from a weave to a helicopter?  (In that particular case, it turns out to be much easier if you use a reverse weave)  I finally managed to run through without a mistake about an hour before the sound check began...

Rule six -  You want some really good acts, but don't forget that the cabaret is for all skill levels, so don't turn anyone away (besides, you can't always tell in advance who the good acts will be).  Our youngest performers, Patrick and Owen, looked pretty nervous, so I put them early in the running order so they could do their act and then relax.  The audience were supportive as a good fannish audience will be, and I hope the boys will be encouraged and go on to do more.

The sound check went like a charm. The half hour stagger of the evening meal, which was an annoyance in some regards, meant that people ate either early or later and arrived at intervals, so no one had to wait long for their turn.

I tried to keep a good mix of styles and so forth in the running order and ended with the poi as that needed all the mikes moved out of the way.  Conveniently, that was the only stage reset that we needed.

The actual cabaret itself went like a charm.  The performers were all there ten mins in advance, took up their reserved seats on the front row and went through their acts without a single hitch.  Not only that, there were some seriously good performances.  The audience stayed with us right to the end and, I manged the poi with no mistakes!  I had people afterwards (and even one person on the next day) telling me how much they'd enjoyed the show.  I can honestly say that it was one of the best convention cabarets I've been to.

Moral?  Never underestimate fannish talent.  (and be very grateful for people who are willing to spend time rehearsing pieces they've never done before)  Also, remember that fandom includes professional performers like Christo and Cardinal Cox (I tried to find a You Tube performace of the Cardinal's performances of his poetry, as reading the words doesn't really give you an idea of how good he is, but I failed.)


I enjoyed the whole thing enormously.  I like organising things, especially when they turn out really well!

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Judith Proctor

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