Greetings, Fellow CON-Testants!
I had a couple of minor hiccups at HAL-CON last year, mainly centered around entitled dweebs armed with Warp Passes and well-meaning but militant volunteers trying to annex our free-play game tables. Neither of these niggling issues were enough to deter me from procuring a three-day weekend pass for this year.
In fact, these tiny glitches were nothing compared to the irritants which plagued some attendees at this year's event. If ticket-holders made the mistake of pressing "SNOOZE" on their alarm clock Saturday morning or if you kept tabs on HAL-CON 2013 in the media as a spectator, you probably already know what I'm on about. Personally, I can only comment on my own individual experience.
And I have to say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this was my favoritest HAL-CON evar!
"Stay awhile and listen and I shall regale thee of my tale of high adventure..."
Andrew picked me up at my place just smidge after noon. I had to get him to back-track up into Bayers Lake so that I could pick up a few new digital video tapes.
To future-quote Jewel Staite: "Tapes. Remember tapes, guys?"
Yep, I bought my video camera back in 2008, which might as well be the Mesozoic Era in technology terms. At that time, on-board digital storage and memory cards were still in their infancy. Ergo, I had to snag some extra tapes for my camcorder before heading down to the World Trade and Convention Center. Given the scarcity of the damned things this is becoming an increasingly-difficult prospect.
While I was waiting for my first mandatory event of the day, I spent some time roving around the convention floor. With my happily-fed video camera cranking away, I captured the panoply of sights, sounds and yes, smells of HAL-CON whilst casing the expansive vendor section for some choice acquisitions. As you can well imagine, the time just flew by and the next thing I knew it was time to meet up with a childhood hero.
Now, I've already ranted at length about how impactful Star Wars was to me as a kid, but let's face it, the adventures of Luke, Han and Leia were few and far between. The wait between 1977 and 1980 was a long and protracted one but mitigated considerably by the appearance of Battlestar Galactica in theaters here in Canada.
The brainchild of producer Glen Larson, Battlestar Galactica posited that the race of man first originated "amongst the stars". In some distant past, the human race has been engaged in a protracted struggle against the Cylons, a population of murderous automatons who've been trying to wipe out all organic life in the galaxy. When the Cylons extend an unexpected offer of peace, the twelve human colonies jump at the offer, anxious to bring an end to a thousand years of constant warfare.
The most vocal olive-branch skeptic is Adama (Lorne Greene), a decorated war-hero and the Commnader of the titular Battlestar. True to Adama's predictions, the Cylons shatter the temporary truce and during the resulting Pearl Harbor job the human race is all but extirpated. All that remains is a "rag-tag, fugitive fleet" led by the Galactica. Their goal: to find a planetary promised land known only as "Earth".
Lured in by the spectacular trailers on television I was one of the few kids lucky enough to see Battlestar Galactica in theaters in 1978 at the tender age of eight. I was completely blown away by the Viper ships, the Raiders, the Galactica, the Basestars, the insect-like Ovions and the creepy, mechanical Cylons. As amazing as all of this visual spectacle was, I was also engaged by the movie's human element.
Richard Hatch's Captain Apollo was at the core of the film's emotional heart. Despite losing his brother, his mom and his wife to the Cylons, Apollo's resolve never wavered and his moral compass was always set to "Paragon". As an idealistic young kid, he was definitely the character I identified with the most.
Needless to say, it was pretty cool meeting Richard Hatch. In addition to getting his autograph, Richard subjected himself to a guerilla-style interview, the results of which can be peeped right hur.
Well-spoken, affable, and relentlessly enthusiastic about his past and future endeavors, Richard was a delight to talk to. His infectious positive aura virtually assured that I'd be attending his Acting Workshop later that evening. Leaving Andrew to engage in a four-player game of Firefly, I stole away to the "Clockwork Room" and grabbed a seat in anticipation of Richard's arrival.
Immediately I was thankful that many of my fellow conventioneers decided to show up and there was a respectable amount of butts in seats. There's nothing more awkward then going to one of these workshops only to find yourself in what amount to a midnight screening of After Earth. That's just sad.
Then, from out of nowhere, local Hali-famous actor Rhys Bevan-John, plunked down into the seat next to me. I absolutely love this guy. Earlier that day, in a move perfectly in step with the rest of the costumed masses, Rhys was strutting around the convention hall in his "Best Of" cape and crown.
Shakespeare By The Sea's performance of Hamlet that past summer and he (along with the rest of the cast) were uniformly awesome.
When Richard arrived it looked as if he was dressed for winter, bundled up in no less then four different shirts and/or jackets. Can't say that I was surprised; during our interview he'd scoffed at my casual reference to the weather as "mild". In fact, I think he characterized the temps that day in Halifax as "Arctic-like".
It wasn't long before Richard started shedding some of those heavy layers of fabric. Dude's a very dynamic orator and if you ever get a chance to see him speak in any capacity I highly suggest you do so. Over the course of the next hour-and-a-half Richard offered up some tremendous insights into the business of acting, auditions, self-motivation, encouraging the creative spark, avoiding career pitfalls and parlaying personal experiences into effective performances.
The workshop concluded with a gloriously loopy improv session featuring a pair of brave aspiring actresses, one playing a put-upon hospital supervisor and the other posing as a drug-addled janitor (!). Things got even weirder when Rhys was thrown into the mix as a stern-but-inexplicably-merciful manager. Just as the scene started to come together we had to stop.
Honestly, I could have stayed there for another two or three hours but the room was booked for "Adventures with Vampires and Publishing". *Pffffttt*, as if there isn't already enough of that crap around!
On the way out I congratulated Rhys on his terrific showing in Hamlet and asked about his recent starring role in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. When Rhys gave me a quick demonstration of his transformation scene I promptly kicked myself for missing out on what was surely another bravura SBTS production. Go see more live theater, kids! It's a blast!
By the time I got back to the games room, Andrew had pulled out a win in Firefly and also played a few games of Mr. Jack Pocket with a friend from work named Fraser. The three of us then broke out the awesome co-operative game Hanabi and by the time that game was over it was definitely time to pack it in for the evening.
All told, it was a great first day. We'd gotten the lay of the land, Andrew had played a bunch of games, I'd met and then hung out with a childhood hero and the crowds were pretty sedate. Not too shabby.
But then there came:
I faced another early rise the next day but I really didn't care. I knew that it was going to be a crazy day and I wanted to get down there early. I pitched at the Starbucks on Barrington Street around 9 am and waited for Andrew and Mike to turn up like a pair or bad pennies. In a stroke of synchronicity, my friend Chad, his wife Jeanette and the rest of their enthusiastic clan stumbled in to get their caffeine fix. We discussed strategies for the day and then prepared to wade into the fray.
With Andrew and Mike delayed, I decided to hike up to the convention center in order to establish a beach-head in the games room. In retrospect, this was probably a good move since the place was already starting to fill up. One major reason for this was the fact that the vendor section was open to the public, which I think inspired a lot of people to buy day passes right there on the spot.
In fact, my own significant other, who is usually leery about attending crowded and sometimes, shall we say, aromatic events like this, even trolled through the merch section with me for awhile. She picked up a gorgeous, elaborate-looking, Steam-punky watch while I got a fabulous deal on two awesome board games.
That's when we ran into two more friends, Sabina and Mark. Although Sabina's HAL-CON attendance was never in doubt, Mark had declared days ago that he wasn't going because of the crowds. He changed his mind at the last second when Sabina managed to procure a free weekend pass through work. Although this awesome spate of good fortune proved to be irresistible to Mark, the shoulder-to-shoulder throngs of colorful humanity probably did nothing to cure his agoraphobia.
Seeing the crowds rise like the water line over the bow of the Titanic, Sabina, Mark and I decided to retreat to the gaming room on the third floor. We waited there until Mike and Andrew showed up and then promptly left them behind. I'd been so busy with writey-type stuff leading up to HAL-CON that I didn't even have a chance to look at the schedule. Having Sabina there was great because she knew exactly what, when and where things were transpiring.
As such, she urged us to get down to the Main Stage about an hour early to score a good vantage point for the Billy Dee Williams Q&A. This worked out great because I arrived at the perfect time to capture Richard Hatch's presentation which I wasn't even aware has going on at the time!
During the subsequent half hour and change, Richard shared his views on narrow-minded studio execs, the dearth of speculative fiction on television, and how current technology provides creative freedom. Oh, and he also gave the attentive crowd plenty of insight into both incarnations of Battlestar Galactica as well as his forthcoming web-series The Great War of Magellan.
"Even at my age at this stage in my life I'm pretty naive about a lot of things," he told the enthralled masses. "I was so protected as a kid growing up that I kind of found myself bumbling through life."
When the Q&A was over, I lost Sabina and Mark in the resulting tsunami of bodies. While inching my way through the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds I first began to hear fleeting references to "over capacity", "fire marshal" and "clearing the building". About around that same time I bumped into Chad who told me that his kids had left the convention center to get lunch and couldn't get back in. Although it pained them to do so, Chad and Jeanette left to collect them knowing that they weren't going to get back in. Needless to say, a day pass refund would be in their future!
I finally managed to claw my way to the escalator and get back to the Games Room on Level Three. I briefly re-united with Andrew and even managed to get in a fleeting game of Mr. Jack Pocket before I had to take flight.
I'm glad that I had the foresight to bring my own lunch with me. After our game was over I bypassed the concession stand on the same floor and then eked out a spot in the impromptu dining area where I wolfed down my home-made ham sammich, pausing occasionally to capture a few incredible costumes on video.
Oh, by the way, I despise the word "cosplay" with the fire of a million suns. Dressing up like an elf is goofy enough without giving it an infantile handle like "cosplay". Sounds like some sort of weird sexual fetish involving Cliff Huxtable and a Jello Pudding Pop. I actually had a great costume that I could have worn but if someone asked me what I was "cosplaying" as I probably would have beaten them to death with a plastic tricorder.
After scarfing down my lunch like a gluttonous anaconda, I scrambed down to the second floor, knowing that my window of opportunity to meet Billy Dee was drawing to a close. I jumped into the lineup and ended up having an extended yarn with the dude standing behind me who, in addition to being a Star Wars fan, was also a big horror nut. We both expressed our desire for a dedicated horror convention here in Halifax.
"Yeah, wouldn't that be great? Especially if they got someone like Bruce Campbell as a guest? God, I'd freak right the f#@k out!" he confessed.
"Oh my God, that would be so friggin' awesome," I gushed. "I'd be a complete mess if I ever met Bruce."
Like a couple of 'tween girls talking about One Direction, we spent some time affirming our mutual love for The Chin. Then, when he told me that he'd met Texas Chainsaw Massacre star Gunnar Hansen at "Summer Fear" in Tatamagouche a few years back I was nearly overcome with jealousy.
"Dude, there's only one Leatherface, and that's Gunnar Hansen!" I maintained, having just re-watched his performance for a recent blog entry.
Also in the lineup was an uber-dedicated Mom who was looking to get her son's Lando Calrissian action figure signed.
"So your son couldn't be here? Is he studying for exams or something?" I asked.
"Oh, no," she replied. "He's a software developer for Valve in Washington. But when he heard that Billy Dee Williams was going to be here in Halifax he wanted me to meet him and get his action figure signed!"
And the "Mom of the Year" award goes to...
That's the great thing about coming to events like this. Even if you find yourself waiting in a barely-moving lineup, you'll find no shortage of awesome people to talk to, the lion's share of whom have built-in interests in common with you.
Meeting Billy Dee Williams was a real treat. I swear, if I could hop into a time machine and go back to around 1981 and tell L'il Dave that I'd be meeting one of my cinematic idols I'd probably plotz.
I do have one minor gripe about the way his autograph booth was set up, however. I've been to enough of these signings by now to know the drill off by heart:
- You wait in a big-ass line-up.
- You eventually get to meet the person at the end of said lineup.
- You get to exchange some brief pleasantries with the person at the end of the lineup or heap some barely-comprehensible gushing praise on them.
- You hand over the crap your brought along so they can notarize it or get them to sign one of their free 8"x10" glossy photos laid out on the table in front of you.
- You get the f#@k out of the way post-haste for the other hojillion people nervously tapping their feet behind you.
"I think they're all up at the signing booth," she said, indicating a large wooden box set off to the side which resembled a low-fi filing cabinet.
So, naturally, when I got up to the table I started to flip through the box to find the photo I wanted to get signed. Suddenly Billy Dee's assistant turned towards me and offered the following admonishment:
"Okay, you don't touch that," he said sternly. "I can find it for you. Which one do you want?"
For a second there I almost expected him to produce a ruler and whack me on the knuckles. After making a concerted effort to wipe the glare off of my face I indicated which 8"x10" I wanted Billy Dee to sign. Even though I'd deliberately held off until the tail end of the signing in a vain effort to avoid the initial rush, it was still pretty damned busy. As a result I didn't a chance to talk to Billy Dee very much.
I started by giving him a gift. Knowing that he was still catching heat from Star Wars "fans" for Lando's "betrayal" of Han Solo, I'd made up some joke flash cards that he could just hand out to people instead of wasting his breath:
Wired in which he explained, in his own words, what Lando was up against. Cripes, even at the time as a ten year old kid I completely understood why Lando did what he did. After all this is Darth freakin' Vader we're talkin' about here!
The flash cards seemed to amuse him and I even got a chuckle out of his assistant. While Billy Dee signed the 8"x10" we had a chance to talk shop about art. I told him that my dad is a visual artist and how awesome it was to come home from school every day to see how his paintings had progressed. We also talked about his own formative arts-based education, a stark contrast to my crappy High School which cherished math and science above everything else.
But alas, a signature line-up waits for no one so I quickly thanked him, bid him farewell and then stumbled away with my newly-acquired treasure.
As I slowly beetled my way out of "The Cave of Wonder" (more like "The Cave of I Wonder How I Get The F#@k Outta Here?!?") I was lucky enough to bump into Sabina and Mark, who'd found another mutual pal Angela. After "Ooooo"-ing and "Awwww"-ing over our new acquisitions, Sabina jumped into the autograph line-up for J. August Richards. When she returned from that encounter she was positively beaming. By all accounts, he was one of the most approachable and genial guests of HAL-CON, something I came to realize myself later on that same evening.
I briefly returned to the Games Room where Andrew had gotten himself immersed in the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game and Mike was embroiled in a heated match of Battlestar Galactica. At an event as jam-packed as this year's HAL-CON there was certainly no rest for the nerdy. Up next was Jewel Staite's Q&A which was set to begin at 2:30 pm sharp. Again, to make sure that we got a decent seat, we went down about forty minutes prior to the big event.
And its a damned good thing we did. The halls were still completely choked with bodies and the air was rife with rumors about people being turned away in droves at the door. When Angela's boyfriend Matt left the premises to get his equipment for a demo with the Society for Creative Anachronism, his re-entry was in doubt for the longest time. It was really scary when scuttlebutt seemed to indicate that we'd all be evicted from the premises and the entire event might get shut down.
But there was no confirmation of this as I staked out some standing room in the Main Hall. Regardless of how many people were packed into that place, the audience became downright reverential as soon as Jewel Staite took to the stage. Winsome, smart, funny, candid and more then a tad cheeky, Jewel immediately captured the hearts of everyone within earshot.
She covered all the bases and then some, dishing about her work on Higher Ground, Firefly, The X-Files, The Killing, Stargate: Atlantis, The L.A. Complex and even talked about her preferred super-power, the rewarding world of food bloggery, the insane world of Nathan Fillion and the joys of cooking bacon in an oven.
It's a darned good thing that I'd left my bags with Sabina and Mark. Wisely, they'd ducked out just prior to the end of the Q&A, beating the resulting crush of humanity that followed. Since I was videotaping fairly close to the stage, extricating myself from the room proved to be a Herculean effort.
Mercifully, I found Sabina and Mark right off the bat. They'd expertly located the proper place to queue up for Jewel's autograph and I quickly joined them at the back of the budding line-up. During the subsequent wait, we had plenty of time to recant the many highlights from Jewel's entertaining Q&A and concluded that she'd be an absolute blast to have a drink and shoot the shit with.
And let me tell ya, folks, if you think that Jewel exudes scads of charisma on screen as Kaylee in Firefly or as Jennifer Keller in Stargate: Atlantis, well that ain't nothin' compared to meeting her in person. Knowing that she maintained an excellent food-related blog and had already patronized a few local eateries I opted to steer clear of any typical questions and go the foodie route.
As she signed an 8"x10" for me I couldn't help but needle her a little bit on the subject of haute cuisine.
"So, Jewel, y'know...there are people in this world who think that food is nothing more then something you stuff in your face to make hunger go away."
Upon hearing this she stopped what she was doing, lowered her pen and then fixed me with a steely glance.
"Those people are idiots," she said, half-joking and half dead-serious.
"Whoa, whoa!" I protested, holding my hands up to ward off her mock ire. "I totally agree with you! In fact, since you already mentioned The Bicycle Thief I have a few more suggestions for you!"
"Oooo! Wait! Hold up!" she said excitedly, reaching for a conveniently-located pad of paper. "Okay, shoot!"
"Alright, so right across from The Bicycle Thief in Bishop's Landing is Ristorante a Mano, another great place for Italian food."
"Ristorante a Mano. Okay, check, I got it."
"Now, I also know that you're a huge burger fan."
"Oh, yeah! Now we're talkin'...whattaya got?"
"You need to check out Ace Burger."
"Ooo! OooOooo! Where's that?"
"It's down on Agricola Street. Now, be warned, at face value the place can look a tad...divey."
"I don't mind," came her plaintiff and emphatic reply.
"It's in Gus's Pub. And let me tell you, it's to die for."
Jewel stopped scribbling for a moment.
"Can I walk there from here?" she asked. When I made the mistake of hesitating for a beat she promptly turned to her assistant asked the exact same question.
After assuring her that a cab ride would be well worth it, I thanked her and told her to enjoy the rest of the Con. She replied in kind and I strode away with yet another unique story and one shiny autograph.
I quickly located Sabina, Mark, Angela and Matt and collectively we all tried to puzzle out our next move.
Even though it was just shy of 5 pm we were all getting pretty pooped. I'd been on the go since 7 am so I almost packed it in when Sabina and Mark said that they were getting out of Dodge. But since Angela and Matt were sticking around, I decided to stay for the J. August Richard's Q&A at 6 pm. And, man, am I ever glad that I did.
As Richard Hatch mentioned during his talk, Cons can be pricey affairs where your wallet starts to hemorrhage money as soon as you pass over the threshold. You really need to pick and choose who you get autographs from and photos with and what to buy in the vendor section. It's a constant struggle.
I'm saying this as a prelude to the following statement: I gotta meet J. August Richards one of these days. During his stellar Q&A he answered a slew of audience questions about Angel, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Arrow, Gray's Anatomy and, hell, even Goodburger fer cryin' out loud. Somehow karaoke, Star Wars, board games and superhero stuff also crept into the mix. As you watch this video just take stock of how genuine, enthusiastic, warm and friendly this guy is.
One of these days I hope to meet the guy, if only to tell him that he delivered my all-time favorite line in all five seasons of Angel. It came during the second-season closer "There's No Place Like Plrtz Glrb" when Wesley and Gunn were facing certain death at the executioner's block:
Gunn: I got a plan.
Wesley: Oh, thank God! What is it?
Gunn: We die horribly and painfully, you go to Hell and I spend eternity in the arms of Baby Jesus!
This took us up to 7 pm; way past my anticipated check-out time. Even Andrew and Mike had retreated to play games in relative peace back at Chad's place. Although periodically I'd been forced to battle against the tide of humanity, I left that night feeling perfectly content about how things had gone down. In fact, it wasn't until I got home and popped onto Facebook when I realized just how bad things had gone for some people that afternoon.
Regardless, I got myself prepped for Day Three, hoping that it would be a much more casual affair that was chock-a-block with board gamey-goodness.
To paraphrase Emperor Palpatine: "everything transpired according to my desires" on Sunday. This time there was no mustering at Starbucks; I just made a bee-line for the first open gaming table I could find and pledged to sit there on my ass all day and play games. When Mike and Andrew joined me not long after I proceeded to fulfill the crap out of that humble goal.
As such, I played Jaipur, Forbidden Desert and something vaguely resembling Lost Legends. I also had a football-sized roast beef sandwich that I'm probably still digesting Sarlaac-style. I also took fleeting video of some awesome people in some very cool costumes.
And then I went home and I was sad.
EPIC EXPERIENCE My video love letter to this year's HAL-CON.
EPIC GUEST Going back to my point about J. August Richards, you really have to pick and choose who you want to meet at these things. Given a second chance I would have gone out of my way to meet the incredibly classy and selfless Peter Davison. I started to pick up on the man's indelible qualities when I was waiting in the lineup to see Billy Dee Williams. Even then Peter was going well-above and beyond the call of duty with everyone he encountered.
As a neophyte Dr. Who fan, my experience with the character is woefully limited to the current modern iteration of the show which kicked off in 2005. Well, no more. I'm going rectify this personal deficit and seek out every single episode featuring the fifth Doctor, Peter Davison.
When he heard that scores of cold and frustrated fans were unable to get inside, Peter took it upon himself to go out, mingle with them and take a bunch of photos. With so much money flying around at these sort of events it's pretty easy to get jaded but with amazing guests like Peter in attendance, you really can't go wrong.
P.S. Who fans old and new owe it to themselves to watch Peter's fantastic short film The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot. It's rife with awesome cameos, self-effacing humor and plenty of great in-jokes.
NERD RAGE FAIL Now, I know that a lot of folks had a very trying time of it this year, but I can only judge HAL-CON 2013 by my own experience and my own experience was nothing short of spectacular.
Having said that I can also sympathize with fans who were barred from entry on Saturday. I can only imagine how frustrating it would have been if I'd made the pilgrimage to Halifax from some remote corner of the Maritimes, rented a hotel, and got down to the convention center around noon after wrangling the kids only find out that my entry was barred.
Let's face it, selling day passes without a specific date on them wasn't very swift. Having said that, throwing the vendor section open to the public was actually a pretty smart move in theory if not in practice. I have a sneaking suspicion that when hordes of curious shoppers swarmed the first floor they probably thought: "Wow, this is awesome! Let's get a day pass and check out the costume contest!" The result: "Stern-Faced, Lantern-Jawed Fireman" quickly became the most popular costume at HAL-CON that day.
Having said that, I can only accompany people down Frustration Avenue only so far. When apoplectic displays of internet rage in the form of "legal action" or verbal and physical threats get bandied about, then I'm afraid you and I have to part ways. If you think that the organizers of HAL-CON deliberately wanted to over-sell the venue, incur the wrath of the Fire Marshall, piss off a bunch of fans and issue a metric shit-ton of refunds, then your Stormtrooper helmet's on waaaaay too tight.
By the contrary, the HAL-CON gurus have always seemed like a reasonable and well-intentioned bunch of dedicated volunteers. In fact, they've always taken the time to personally address and rectify every single issue I've ever publicly voiced via this blog over the past few years. I'm willing to wager dollars to 'droids that next year a finite amount of day passes will be earmarked for each day of the Con.
We need to view this for what it is: growing pains for an event that continues to expand by leaps and bounds every year. If attendance was dwindling, HAL-CON was on life support and the chances of it coming back next year were looking bleak, then I'd be worried.
PERSONAL FAIL Man, I really wanted to meet Monte Cook but there was JUST...TOO...MUCH...TO...DOOOO!!! Please come back, Monte!!! PLEASE!!!