HOW TO HOST A CONVENTION: CREATION ENTERTAINMENT'S FIRST HERCULES/XENA CONVENTION
By Catherine M. Wilson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Content © 1997 held by author
WHOOSH! edition © 1997 held by Whoosh!
First let me go on record that in my opinion Creation Entertainment did a wonderful job of organizing and running the first Hercules/Xena Convention (Burbank, January 11-12, 1997). I have never been to a Convention of this kind before, so I really have nothing to compare it to, but while there were things that could have been improved upon, I and most of the people I spoke with had a great time.
When it was announced that Creation had signed a contract with MCA to put on the Hercules/Xena Conventions, I heard (via the Internet) a lot of complaints about Creation's handling of the STAR TREK Conventions. So it is with great delight that I am able to report that Creation did an excellent job with the first Hercules/Xena Convention.
ABOUT CREATION ENTERTAINMENT
Creation Entertainment has been in business for 26 years. It is a privately held corporation owned by Adam Malin and Gary Berman. Creation is a small company, with only 27 employees, but they put on 60 conventions a year all over the country. Attendance at these conventions can range from 2,000 to 15,000 people. In addition to conventions, Creation does movie promotions, movie and TV development, and merchandising.
HOW THE CONVENTION WAS ORGANIZED
The convention was held in an auditorium attached to the Burbank Airport Hilton Hotel. The auditorium held just under 2,000 people. The lobby area was filled with vendors offering Hercules and Xena merchandise (photos, t-shirts, hats, mugs, the CD-ROM, the CDs, scripts, Hercules calendars, action figures, posters, and trading cards). There were also vendors selling weapons and costumes which, while not replicas of Hercules or Xena items, attracted quite a bit of attention from the fans of both shows. The Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor fan clubs also had tables in the lobby. Several television sets showed videos relating to the show. The new Hercules and Xena fan clubs, also run by Creation, were signing up people in the lobby as well.
In the auditorium itself, between 1PM and 6PM on Saturday and Sunday, presentations were given. (See the Schedules below.) Both actors and production people gave talks and presentations and answered the questions of fans. Autographs were handled by having the signers sit at tables next to the stage while the fans were lined up in the order in which they were seated. Considering how many fans wanted autographs, the procedure was reasonably efficient, although some fans complained of feeling treated shabbily by the volunteers who were trying to keep things moving.
1:00PM Robert Trebor -- "Salmoneus"
1:30 Hercules 'True or False' (a trivia challenge)
1:50 Preview of the Hercules and Xena animated feature
2:00 The Digital Magic of Hercules
2:30 Blooper reels
2:40 Bruce Campbell
3:20 Documentary presentation
3:50 Swordfighting demonstration
4:20 Rob Tapert
5:00 Charity Auction
5:15 Kevin Sorbo
6:00 Autographs with Kevin
12:30 Preview of the Hercules and Xena animated feature
12:40 Xena 'True or False' (a trivia challenge)
1:00 Liz Friedman and Steve Sears
1:40 The Xena Scrolls (preview)
2:10 The Computer FX of Xena
2:40 The Editing Process with Robert Field
3:40 Hudson Leick -- "Callisto"
4:00 Charity Auction
4:10 Ted Raimi -- "Joxer"
4:40 Costume competition
5:00 Swordfighting demonstration
5:20 Lucy Lawless
6:00 Autographs with Lucy, Ted and Hudson
On the whole, the events ran pretty much on time, a remarkable achievement.
TOO MANY FANS
The complaint I heard the most was that the venue was too small. The people in the back of the auditorium couldn't see. There weren't enough vendors or enough merchandise items to satisfy all the customers. On Sunday, many people who couldn't get into the Convention were left standing outside in the rain in hopes of being able to get in later. Clearly the turnout exceeded Creation's expectations.
Sharon Delaney, a Creation spokesperson, said: "The first time you run a con that is open to the general public for a new show (especially when you use TV advertising), there is no way you can judge beforehand how many people will show up. The size of the hall will grow along with the audiences."
The stars of Hercules and Xena signed at least 2,000 autographs at the convention. Lucy Lawless, Hudson Leick, and Ted Raimi signed for over 3 hours. Whether or not autographing will be done at future cons depends on the size of the crowd. Since future conventions will most likely be bigger than the first, it may not be possible for everyone to get an autograph. If autographs are given, they will probably by done row by row.
THE PRODUCTION STAFF
Aside from giving presentations (all of which were very well done) and answering fans' questions in the auditorium, Rob Tapert, Liz Friedman, Steve Sears, and Robert Field were available to fans both in the lobby of the convention center and in the hotel. They mingled with fans and were very gracious and happy to talk about the show.
A number of fans felt the food was overpriced and not particularly good, and there was nothing for vegetarian fans to eat. I ate at the hotel and others brought their own food. So make a mental note for next time.
PROFESSIONAL VS FAN-RUN CONVENTIONS
One of the most common complaints that I heard about the Convention was that it wasn't run like fan-run conventions. For instance, fan-run conventions often have rooms where sub-groups of fandom (fan fiction writers, online fans) can meet. Sharon's reply was: "We draw more of our audience from the general public and they are not interested in such things. We did, however, have writing workshops for our Trek cons and that might be a possibility for the future, but nothing like that is being discussed right now."
Fan-run conventions are also more participatory than are Creation cons. They tend to put on less of a show and instead promote interaction between the fans. There is certainly a place for both kinds of convention.
THE POWER OF THE INTERNET
For the first time, the folks at Creation were able to talk with a large number of fans by means of the Internet. Sharon Delaney is subscribed to several of the XENA and HERCULES mailing lists, and she also monitors alt.tv.xena and MCA's NetForum. She was able to answer questions and resolve problems quickly before the Convention weekend. After the Convention, she was online to hear complaints and respond to them. She was kind, patient, and informative, and, as a fan herself, took the concerns of the fans seriously.
Sharon also heard a great deal of praise and appreciation after the Convention from many happy attendees. It is rare that the public is able to interact so directly with businesses who are trying to serve them, and it is certainly in the best interests of both the fans and Creation to continue this kind of open communication.
THE NEXT CON
According to Sharon Delaney, "There are at least 2 more cons being worked on for this year, but no cities or dates have been set yet. Renee and Michael (as well as Kevin and Lucy) are on the list of people we would like to have as guests."
I would like to commend the people from Creation, who gave Hercules and Xena fans a truly memorable experience. We thank you!