watervole: (Default)
 This is liable to be a short report as I picked up a post con bug and I'm still down with it...

It was a good con, but a bit disorienting for me.

It's the first time I've ever attended a con as a disabled fan (I have costochondritis and it means I suffer from chest pain and exhaustion)

All power to the access desk for telling me I was disabled and to stop waffling about not needing help.  I only used the access ribbon twice, but both times I really needed it.

I felt a bit alone the first day -I arrived on Friday as I had morris commitments on Thursday.  I'm not used to going around cons on my own.  I much prefer to share the experience with someone.  I kept passing friends heading in the opposite direction.

Hm, typing seems to be setting off the chest pain again...

Very brief. I ended up attending a lot of filk concerts which were excellent and I could enjoy even when pain made me a bit fuzzy.  I got to see 'Before the Dawn' which I greatly enjoyed.  I went to two Shakespeare items which were both hysterically funny (intentionally so).  I hit a few lit and science items and felt the overall programme was very good.

I liked the food in the boulevard -thought the prices very reasonable and a good variety too.

Some people were over-programmed. One rather haggard moderator said it was his sixth panel of the day!

I also enjoyed meeting Gillian Polack, hte Australian GUFF representative.  Very interesting conversation and I wish I could have afforded a copy of her book (I'll have to hope it comes out as an ebook).  I love writers who love research.
watervole: (Default)
 The Doc Weir Award is awarded every Eastercon.  It's an old tradition and a good one.  It's an award for unsung heroes, people who put in lots of hard work, but who are rarely in the public eye.

Although there are voting forms in every con pack, there's a very low % of people who actually vote.  The reason is very simple - unsung heroes are unsung because people don't know who they are.  It's hard for anyone who hadn't been to a load of Eastercons and been part of the convention team themselves to know who these people are.

The average member won't know the names of those who work every year to set up the art show, to run green room, to manage the gopher hole, to erect the stage lighting, to manage the accounts, to move chairs/deliver drinks/etc.  At least half the membership probably don't even think consciously about what goes on behind the scenes at all - and some first timers probably imagine it's all done by the hotel or by paid professionals.

If you don't know these people exist (and even if you do, you probably don't know their names), then how can you possibly vote for them?  Hence the low turnout.  Thus, the informal tradition of 'the fix'.  Most years, there's an informal agreement arises among the con-running circles to vote for a particular person and when the subject of Doc Weir comes up, the question usually asked is: "Who's the fix for this year?"

I got the word in the usual manner and was all set to vote, when I was approached by another fan (Jessica Yates) who isn't in the normal con-running circles and had a candidate of her own.  She asked me to vote for Smudge (a member of the tech team).  I said I was already voting for someone else, and wandered on, but several minutes later, I started thinking.  The original candidate was a great person who has done a lot for fandom,  but is also one of the visible people. They've often been up on that stage as part of the committee and have even been a fan guest of honour at an Eastercon - which is about as good as recognition and thanks get.

I know Smudge slightly - having a daughter as head of tech, it's almost inevitable that I get to know some of the regular perps.  The tech team generally arrive on Wednesday or Thursday before the con and work non-stop until about midday on Tuesday.  Some of them never go to any programme items at all.  Some of them move in other fannish circles and are thus known to the people who tend to kick-start Doc Weir nominations, but some, like Smudge and Boggis, really only do tech.  To the best of my knowledge, they've never been involved in fanzines or con-running, they just turn up every year to events like Eastercon/Redemption/Discworld and proceed to work their socks off.

So, I decided to start the 'Vote for Smudge' campaign.  Given that the original candidate would have a reasonable number of votes already, that meant I'd have to work pretty hard.  I talked to a lot of people - I'm like that.  If a job's worth doing, then it's worth doing well.  I like to think that I also did a lot to raise awareness of the Doc Weir award itself.  I became aware of two other candidates while I was campaigning - one was an excellent candidate who has been doing the newsletter for many years (and whom I wouldn't be surprised to see as a winner some year in the future) and the other was a person who hadn't really been doing the job long enough to qualify for Doc Weir (though very hard-working and talented - I'm told they were a bit embarrassed at being nominated and might have turned it down if they'd won).

In the end, we had a much higher voter turnout than normal.  Nearly 10% of the convention members voted for a candidate for the Doc Weir Award, which is really great.

In the closing ceremony, I was sitting not far behind Smudge (who was working the camera filming the stage), when the winner was announced.  It's almost always the case that a Doc Weir winner is totally surprised to win (or even to realise they'd been nominated at all) and Smudge was no exception.  Uttering the immortal words "I'll get someone for this", he went up and collected the cup.

It was one of my best moments in the whole weekend.  (Carrie spilled the beans on my campaign, so I collected a big hug later.)  Apparently he not only won, but won by a good margin.  Thank you, everyone who voted, no matter which candidate you voted for.

I took a few photos on the Tuesday, when I finally found where I'd packed my camera.  Here's what the main hall looks like at the tail end of tech cleardown.

And, here's the man so many of you voted for, so that you can know what he actually looks like:


And to end with the words that Mark read out on stage from one of the voting slips: "That tech guy who does Eastercon and Redemption and Discworld.  I think he's called Smudge."

watervole: (Default)
 Just back from Eastercon, probably a day later than most other folk.

Mine was a con of four parts.

1.  Morris

2.  LARP

3. Doc Weir

4.  Programme 

The morris, you probably anticipated:  I did the ceilidh workshop, two Border morris workshops and a longsword (which is nothing like the Scottish dance that half of you will now be visualising) workshop and all were well attended.  I was aided by an excellent group of musicians, which freed me to concentrate on teaching the dances without having to play at the same time.

People really got into the spirit of it and had a lot of fun.  It was great to see smiling faces - and the occasional laugh when the longsword groups got into a tangle.  Longsword is a bit like that - the dancers are in a linked ring and you go under and over various arches/swords without ever letting go your hands.  Turn the wrong way by mistake and you can get in a real tangle. 

Longsword is less physically demanding than morris, but a lot less  forgiving of mistakes as you can't just slip quickly back into place as you can after a mistake in morris.

I asked on Friday  if anyone would like to do a morris dance in the cabaret and got two volunteers.  Kethry and Sean (and a couple of the band) gave up a couple of hours of their time practising 'Cuckoo's Nest' with me on the fourth floor landing.  It's not the easiest of dances, as it has some tricky stepping on the chorus and a wide variety of stick moves, but they ended up giving an almost flawless performance in the cabaret and getting some enthusiastic applause from the audience.

I was absolutely delighted.  There's few so happy as a teacher whose pupils excel.

I'm looking forward to doing more dance workshops at Discworld.
watervole: (Anonymous Morris)
I had a good time at  Discworld!

The morris workshops went well.  In fact, they went so well that we did several extra practice sessions at the request of the dancers and they put on a polished performance in front of several hundred people to loud applause.

I now feel a lot more confident about teaching the two Border Morris dances that we'll be teaching to Anonymous Morris for their first session.

I also got to teach longsword dancing to the assassins who performed it with plastic daggers (as we hadn't got any proper dance swords).  I managed to successfully modify the dance to work with the shorter weapons (you have to cut out figures where people step over the swords, and slightly modify the nut as the daggers are too short to lock together well.  Modifying the nut actually led to a nice follow-on figure where all the daggers were pulled out together and flourished.  (longsword dancing is an English traditional dance from the Northumberland/Durham area and is usually done by around half a dozen dancers in a circle holding their wooden swords in a circle)

This clip isn't my dancers, but gives you a rough idea of what longsword dancing is like  (it uses fairly simple figures, but then I didn't have time to teach my group the more complex options).  The 'nut' is when they join all the swords together in a five or six pointed star.




The longsword team got a great audience reaction as well.  (they hadn't had quite as much practice time as their first workshop was a day later, but I was still very pleased by the result)

I didn't tell either workshop that I'd never previously danced the dances I was teaching them...  (Watched them, researched them, plotted them out on paper, danced single positions on the lounge floor - but never had the chance to perform them with a set of dancers)

I did other things as well, and they were fun, but the final morris performance was undoubtedly the high spot for me (and some of the dancers told me the morris dancing had been the best part of their weekend as well - they were a great group and really gelled together)

If anyone wants me to run workshops on North West Morris/Border Morris /Longsword/Rapper dancing at any convention, just ask!  (I need an excuse to buy my own set of longswords and rapper swords...)

(I don't yet feel competent to teach Cotswold morris - the footwork is more complex - but I'd love an excuse to have to go away and learn...)

watervole: (Default)
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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