Tuesday, August 5, 2014

In Which Jenn Goes to LeakyCon (Let's Geek Out!)

I’ve never gone to a convention before. I know, this may surprise you given my tendency to talk about fandom every and any chance that I get. When I heard that LeakyCon would be coming to Orlando for 2014, I knew that I had to attend it, if only to get the full and immersive “con experience.” What I discovered at the end of this convention was this: I love conventions. I love places that gather together hundreds or thousands of individuals. These are individuals from all across the country and the world. These are people who are all ages, ranging from teenagers to parents, ethnicities, religions, and personalities. And these are people who have one thing in common: they care about things deeply, personally, and passionately.

If I were to describe what it is like to be a part of a fandom, those are the words I would use, quite frankly. People who love and are invested in fandom are people who forge deeper connections with literature, television, music, and movies than average people. And though these individuals – these teenagers or young adults or adults – may feel like they are alone in their struggles and challenges and everyday lives, fandom is what they feel connected to. When people attend LeakyCon or any convention, it’s not just because they’re excited to see their favorite authors or actors. It’s partially because of that, but it’s because fandom makes people feel like they’re a part of something bigger than themselves – that they’re not alone. The feeling of isolation is terrifying and consuming. But the feelings of love and acceptance and equality are so much more powerful than the darkness.

Though I attended LeakyCon as press, I was able to see and feel those feelings – that love and warmth and complete and utter joy, as Dylan Saunders noted – that filled every crevice and corner of the Orange County Convention Center. It was beautiful and it was special and it was OURS. So, if you’ll indulge me, I would like to tell you all about what I experienced this weekend through panels and special events! Let’s geek out together. :)

Friday, August 1st:

I didn’t get the opportunity to spend the majority of Friday morning and afternoon at LeakyCon as I was attending a wedding. However, I made my way to the convention center afterward in order to peruse the marketplace (it was amazing and huge) and then attend “A Panel in Space and Time.” This was, as you may gather, a panel about Doctor Who. It featured James Moran who wrote “The Fire of Pompeii” as well as some Torchwood episodes, and both Ellie and Joseph Darcey-Alden (“The Snowmen”) as panelists. There was no moderator, so the panel began a bit shaky but once the fan question began, the panel turned out to be one of the most intimate and genuine ones. Here is what I learned during the panel, as well as some memorable quotes:

  • James Moran notes that his reaction upon Capaldi being cast was surprise. He noted that Capaldi is extremely talented and thought it funny that both he and Karen Gillan (also in “The Fires of Pompeii”) went on to be re-cast in Doctor Who. He joked that one of the other family members in the episode is likely to be the new companion.
  • As for the writing experience on Doctor Who, Moran mentioned that he was never given extreme specifics or guidelines: the other writers and producers would come up with a place, time, a few character, and then he got to construct the episode from there.
  • Ellie and Joseph discussed what it was like to work with Matt. Joseph described him as bouncing around the room and being really fun and welcoming. Ellie noted that during scenes where they were supposed to be crying, Matt liked to poke his head out from behind the curtains to try to make them laugh.
  • The panel discussed the reception of Doctor Who in America versus the U.K. Over there, they noted, the show is front-page news; everyone knows of it. It would be like The Big Bang Theory’s casting making front page news over here. All three panelists were surprised at how well-received and popular the series was over here.
  • Additionally, Moran noted that he finds that no matter how old or young people are, when they talk about Doctor Who “they all become six years old.”
After the panel, I happened to run into the most amazing Doctor Who cosplay group ever, which was super fitting and a great way to end my first day at the convention!

Saturday, August 2nd:

Saturday was a wonderful all-day affair at the convention center. I began the day bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ended it by smacking into a metaphorical wall of exhaustion. I suppose that’s what happens when you spend almost ten hours in the same place. Nevertheless, the day was jam-packed with amazing panels that were both hilarious and insightful, so here is what I did and what I learned:

At 10 AM, I headed to a panel featuring John Green and Maureen Johnson titled “Between Two Mandrakes” (they had little mandrakes in the fake potted plants). What I learned at this panel was two-fold: 1) John Green is a really good sport and a delight to listen to in person, 2) Maureen Johnson has some of the snarkiest, driest wit and humor ever and I instantly loved her for it. Maureen spent about an hour interviewing John and by “interviewing,” I mean asking questions and then interrupting with something sarcastic before he finished the answer. It was amazing and you could really tell how much these two were close friends with one another. Only truly great friends could banter like they did. Here are some gems that occurred at the panel:

  • Maureen discussed the recent movie version of The Fault in Our Stars and then asked John: “Why haven’t your other books been made into movies if you’re so important?”
  • John revealed that the movie version of Paper Towns is to be released next summer (exactly 362 days from when he was discussing it at the panel) and will star Nat Wolff.
  • Maureen and John discussed how attractive and awesome the cast of The Fault in Our Stars was. John also joked about the scene of his that was cut from the movie, claiming that it got cut because he was too good and it would have distracted from the rest of the movie.
  • John is in the process of writing another book. It’s happening, but he’s struggling through it.
  • Maureen played a game of “who’s taller?” with John, asking: “Who’s taller, you or Tom Cruise?” (The correct answer, according to Maureen, was Tom Cruise.)
  • John talked about being able to attend the Time 100 party and being extremely disappointed that though Benedict Cumberbatch was supposed to be there, he was not. “What’s even the point?”
  • John talked seriously about his trip to Ethiopia and the videos that he will be posting soon about the healthcare system. He discussed his admiration of the local women who volunteer there and work tirelessly and passionately without being paid.
  • Maureen made fun of John for being Hollywood and telling her that everyone famous he has met has been “amazing.” Maureen countered with her own take on meeting famous people: “I know you and it’s not that great.”
  • In honor of the impending Esther Day, John ended the panel by telling Maureen that he loved her.
After that hilarious panel, I was off to a fan-led discussion of Once Upon a Time. The panel was a shift in tone and structure from all of the others I had witness which usually hinged on a moderator or guest to conduct the “interview.” But I actually quite enjoyed it. It felt more informal, less like a panel and more like a room full of fifty people discussing the merits and drawbacks of a series. It felt, if I’m being honest, like the physical manifestation of live-tweeting. Here’s some of what was discussed:

  • It was mentioned that Henry is a very polarizing character, to which the entire room agreed.
  • Also, logics about Storybrooke were mentioned: though we see Henry in a classroom full of children in the first season, who do the children actually belong to if none of the fairy tale residents had them?
  • One of the panelists mentioned how “the whole Snow White and Prince Charming [constantly losing and finding each other] thing is like Ross and Rachel… except not fun.”
  • Captain Swan earned the loudest round of applause when favorite ships were discussed (as it should, in my opinion).
I snuck out of the Once Upon a Time discussion early in order to have a few minutes to myself in the press room to both decompress and eat a snack. This may surprise you all (especially those who have met me), but I am an introvert. It doesn’t mean – contrary to popular belief – that I hate being around people. I enjoy surrounding myself with people, but it drains me. Extroverts find life and energy by surrounding themselves with people, but I am not an extrovert. It was wonderful to be able to have a press room that was set aside solely for the purpose of conducting interviews, charging phones, or getting work done.

Suffice it to say, the room was a much-needed reprieve for me and I used it at least once every day I was at the convention. But after my quick break, I had to rush over to the main stage because I was desperate to see the first of my afternoon panels: “Leading as a Lady.”

The panel featured a slew of amazing women in television, film, and the web. On the panel were Mary Kate Wiles (The Lizzie Bennet Diaries), Joanna Sotomura (Emma Approved), Alaina Huffman (Supernatural), Scarlett Byrne (Falling Skies), and Amber Benson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). They discussed the portrayal of women in media, including a frank discussion about the term “strong female character.” They all also discussed topics like race and sexuality. Honestly, this was my favorite panel of the entire convention because of how intelligent, well-rounded, and insightful it was. Here are some of the best and most memorable moments:

  • Amber stated: “Women are REAL people” to a round of much-earned applause.
  • Alaina discussed not just how men are critical of women, but how women are often intensely critical of other women. In order for women to become more respected and treated as equals, we need to support each other instead of tearing each other apart. “We [as women] can be critical, but loving.”
  • The women all agreed that “strong female character” has become a Hollywood buzz word – something to throw in casting calls or press releases – but that it should be equated with a female character who has complex layers.
  • Joanna and Scarlett were asked about how they deal with a sense of identity and race within the industry and talked about finding your whole self and not being defined by whether you are half of a nationality or not. Alaina continued the conversation on identity by explaining that “if you don’t have an identity outside of your work – this goes for any career – you’ll be eaten up by it.”
  • Mary Kate Wiles gave an amazing discussion about how women in auditions and casting calls are often relegated into boxes (“the hot girl,” “the quirky girl,” etc.) and explained that “No one is ever JUST that.”
  • In continuing a discussion about the “strong female character” (driven by an audience question), Amber Benson made the statement: “We make a big mistake when we say that women being strong means they have to dominate everyone.” Mary Kate noted that “strong female” is often a phrase used to masquerade the ideal of either a) a woman who is written like a man, or b) a woman who is very sexy. She then asked: “Shouldn’t we see some, like, average-looking people kicking ass?” (Everyone applauded.)
  • In a discussion about feminism, Alaina noted that being a feminist doesn’t mean hating men: she considers herself one and loves men. She also noted that feminism doesn’t always have to be a fight or an argument, as so many make it out to be. It should merely be learning to live as equals.
  • Amber Benson hugged two young women who started crying at the microphone after telling her  how much Tara meant to them and helped them come to terms with their own sexuality.
I loved the female-driven nature of this panel. I loved the frank and honest discussion about women in media, both characters and actresses. I loved that the panel was diverse and that each woman brought something different to the discussion, whether experience or race or opinion. I sincerely hope that LeakyCon will make the “Leading as a Lady” an annual panel because it was so inspirational and enlightening.

After that panel ended, I high-tailed it back downstairs (my weekend was spent darting from conference room to conference room) to make it in time for a panel titled “The War Against YA.” I managed to get a front-row seat to a discussion featuring the moderator and participant Gayle Forman (whom I admire, as her book If I Stay is exceptional), Lev Grossman, Laurie Halse Anderson, Malinda Lo, and Stephanie Perkins. This is a panel that focused on the reception of young adult literature in our schools and in the canon of literature.

It’s a panel that could have easily lasted three hours because of how in-depth and complex the topic was. But here is what I learned in the hour or so that I was in the panel:

  • Laurie Halse Anderson made an astute statement: “[articles shaming YA] These articles say a lot more about the people writing them than our world.” Lev Grossman followed up Laure’s statement with one of his own, regarding shame, noting: “There’s a lot of shame in literary culture and it doesn’t belong there.” It was really interesting to hear about YA shaming from both authors of young adult literature and book critics like Lev.
  • Lev talked about how he was usually ignored and left to write his own pieces as a book critic, but as soon as he started placing young adult literature in the spotlight, people began to question him.
  • There was a lot of discussion about what can be done to stop both the censorship and the shaming of young adult literature. Laurie hilariously noted that: “Revolution starts with young people because old people are tired.”
  • There was also a lot of discussion about the placement of difficult subjects within the context of young adult novels. For example, the question of “if we show it [abuse was the topic in question], does it normalize it?” The authors agreed that it is important for young adults to be able to read about abuse and to know that it is a) not okay and b) they are not alone if they are experiencing it. Lev Grossman said: “I don’t think we should remove the books; I think we should educate the readers.”
  • Lev Grossman ended the panel with a complete mic drop moment. He noted that a lot of people often criticize genre novels (someone in the audience had noted that fantasy was often dismissed as part of literary canon in her university), and whenever someone tells him that fantasy novels aren’t as “high-brow” because they contain witches or magic or time travel, he simply says: “So does Shakespeare.”
As I said above, this panel could have easily gone one for hours because there is so much depth to be mined from the topic of young adult literature. Personally, I found it fascinating because of the generation that I am from: the Harry Potter generation. I grew up on those books, as did my friends. And now, I feel like literary culture is beginning to change and embrace young adult literature as part of canon, both literary and also educational. My roommate is a high school English teacher and we are from that generation. She uses novels like The Hunger Games and Paper Towns as models to teach from within her classroom. Her students understand those books. Moreover, they RELATE to those books and that allows her to not just connect with them but to also explore the deeper imagery and topics within those pages.

But – as expressed in the panel – a lot of people are still hesitant to accept anything branded with the words “young adult” as literature. It was great to see ways that we can create change, including preventing the censorship of books and accepting literature into contemporary canon.

After the young adult panel, I decided to take a break from the panels in the afternoon, grab some lunch and relax in the press room. While there, the lovely cast of Emma Approved stopped by (thank you all for responding to my tweets!) for an interview which I posted recently. They were all so gracious and so excited to discuss the series and their characters. As I briefly explained in my other post, it was such a different atmosphere, sitting around a table in a quiet room, as opposed to answering questions with a moderator on a panel. We talked for a half an hour about the series’ journey and it was so lovely to be able to have a more in-depth discussion of the adaptation. It was definitely one of the highlights of my weekend.

I missed a panel I had been toying with attending (“Geek to Screen,” which featured James Moran and was all about turning your passion for television into actual television), so decided to revisit the marketplace and de-thaw outside for a bit. The convention center was COLD. And by cold, I mean FREEZING.

At four, I re-met up with my friend Audrey for the final lit panel of the afternoon titled “The Lying Game.” It was hilarious, to be quite frank, and consisted of two teams of young adult authors. The game seems difficult when you read it, but it’s actually relatively simple: each author is given a card with a fact about themselves. It’s either a true fact or a false fact. The author then has to answer questions from the opposing team about their card, and it’s the author’s job to earn a point for THEIR team. You earn a point when the other team guesses incorrectly if the fact was true or false. So, as an author being questioned, if your fact was true, you might attempt to convince the other team it was false so that they could guess incorrectly (and vice versa).

The panel consisted of Gayle Forman, Lev Grossman, Stephanie Perkins, Maureen Johnson, Amber Benson, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Lauren Myracle, and Scott Westerfeld and it was hilarious. (Did I already mention that? It bears repeating.) Here is what we learned at the panel:

  • Scott Westerfeld wrote a Powerpuff Girls “choose your own adventure” book titled Blossom vs. the Blasteroid.
  • When Gayle Forman was about two or three years old, she went to the bathroom in a display toilet at Sears.
  • Stephanie Perkins assembles 1,000+ jigsaw puzzles in order to relax.
At the end of the game, all of the lit authors were brought up on stage to play another game where they were given the title and description of a book and each author had to write the first line of aforementioned book. Then, the REAL first line would be shuffled in with their answers and they all had to guess which was the true first line of the book. It was a lot of fun to watch all of the authors play together and it was certainly a humorous way to end my longest day at LeakyCon.

Sunday, August 3rd:

It’s hard to believe that I spent so few days at LeakyCon but did SO much within that timeframe. I kept lamenting the fact that I didn’t have a Time Turner in order to attend all of the panels I wanted to at the same time. Nevertheless, I headed to the final day of LeakyCon to celebrate Esther Day with everyone. The morning kicked off with a Team Starkid panel detailing some of the group’s favorite or memorable outtakes from the A Very Potter series, as well as their other shows. I love Team Starkid. I love how tight-knit they are as a group and that they are all hilarious as individuals, too. Here are some gems from the panel:

  • The group actually recorded a prologue for A Very Potter Musical and played it for the LeakyCon crowd. The prologue used the music from the Harry Potter movie series and had Bonnie Grueson giving a long-winded (British-narrated) summary of the events that occurred before A Very Potter Musical begins.
  • Brian Holden mentioned that “Joe [Walker] didn’t realize he was in a comedy until two weeks after we put the show up on YouTube.”
  • Colin Creevey originally had a singing part in “Get Back to Hogwarts.”
  • Seamus originally had more monologues, but they got cut. Apparently the backstory with Seamus was that he liked to tell really long-winded anecdotes and stories.
  • “Guys, Starkid is not a cult.” – Nick Lang, sans context.
Best cosplay ever or BEST COSPLAY EVER? (Spoiler alert: that wasn't even her baby. Someone just asked if their child could get into a picture with her.)

And then, before we knew it, the panel was over and I had one last bit of down time in the press room before the closing ceremonies. Here’s what happened at the notable (and final) LeakyCon 2014 event:

  • Maureen Johnson explained why she loves LeakyCon so much and why she feels that so many people attend it each year: “I think people come as much for each other as they do for the programming.”
  • LeakyCon Orlando 2014 had the largest number of attendees of any of the conventions.
  • Since it was Esther Day, Esther’s family and the head of the Harry Potter Alliance explained why the day was so important and how it should be used to spread love and peace and joy to others. They also spoke about how Harry Potter changed lives and how LeakyCon continues to be a place where people can express themselves and build friendships and relationships around their mutual love of the series. It was a beautiful moment that had me in tears.
  • The first annual LeakyCon CosPLAY winners were Mr. and Mrs. Wert who dressed like Mad Eye Moody and McGonagall and they were AMAZING.
Perhaps the biggest announcement at the closing ceremonies was this: LeakyCon – as it stands to refer to the convention featuring all sorts of fandoms – will, moving forward, be known as “GeekyCon.” LeakyCon will still exist; however, it will now be the name used to refer to Harry Potter only conventions that occur throughout the country. The rebranding of the convention doesn’t negate the emphasis on Harry Potter. As was stated, Harry Potter will always be at the core of the convention. But with the new name, the hope is that more and more fandoms of all varieties will begin to be represented. Those with a love of only Harry Potter will be able to still find joy and fun at the various LeakyCons in the future.

GeekyCon 2015 will be hosted back in Orlando, Florida from July 30th to August 2nd. Get excited, y’all, because if this year is any indication of the convention and its future, next year will be bigger, better, and jam-packed with fandoms  and events to call home for the weekend.

And I – personally – cannot wait. :)


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