Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Yulecon 2010 - a Review

Yulecon was a three day Anime Convention event here in the Dallas Fort Worth area from November 12th to 14th and included a great number of voice actors/actresses, Arc Attack, One Eyed Doll, Mega Ran, Brental Floss, Airship Isabella and Airship Neo Dulcimer, Anime Hell, the Renai Rangers, Anime Midstream, Repo Shadowcast, Axis Powers Hetalia, Sleeping Samurai,The Covenant of the Kraken Players (Kali's Hourglass is the local group), Circus Freaks, Saraswati Bodhisatva, Jennifer Hurley (from Blaming Grace), Greg Ayres, and a host of other performers too numerous to identify individually.  In addition they had an anime viewing room, a fairly extensive table top and role playing gaming setup in two rooms, and two more rooms that not only introduced attendees to new video games, but actually conducted fairly high money competitions with prize money up to $500 (and of course proportionate entry fees to raise said prize money).  What was new was that Sleeping Samurai, a group that taught, demonstrated, and made available an area to practice and compete with padded weapons, kept the area open for most of the convention, albeit for a modest additional price during times outside of their panels and workshops.

Another really new item worthy of mention was that Airship Isabella and Airship Neo Dulcimer brought out a new set of Characters they picked up as interdimensional hitchhikers that were the hit of the event.  The Mad Hatter (right out of the new release of the Johnny Depp Movie by that name) was far more "madder than a march hare" and absolutely hilarious!  Alongside were the Haberdasher (the red queens previous tailor who was replaced by the Mad Hatter as part of the escape plot during the film) and the Cheshire Cat from the same movie.  All of them were excellent and very funny!  The Cheshire Cat said very little, but was wonderfully creepy.  The Haberdasher did such a good job of acting like a very eccentric, mad, and shriveled little old man, I didn't recognize the actor for almost 5 minutes even though he is a personal friend of mine.  He even managed to give the appearance of being about 6 inches shorter with body language alone, just as the Mad Hatter seems to grow six inches, the same way (not counting the hat) by using posture, presence, and body language to give a very different appearance.  This sort of thing shows excellent use of body language and stage presence to produce special character effects on a high level.  Alongside of them was another character, whose identity was unclear that appeared to be accustomed to a very dark universe as he was wearing a mask and goggles that looked like they would cut out almost all light, yet he was able to function, at least when not behaving as if he was an extremely paranoid madmen off his medications.  (and no, I am certainly not being disrespectful to the mental health community of which I am personally a part, in more ways than one some days, but these are the characters they were attempting to portray and I am simply commenting on how well they pulled it off.)

One Eyed Doll was incredible!  It's really hard to describe, but highly entertaining.  It was a little like watching Little Orphan Annie doing a very intense imitation (complete with dangerous mosh pit) of Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols.  Kimberly Freeman was good on the guitar, Junior was "spot on" on the drums, the lyrics (the ones you could make out anyway) were very interesting, and the eccentric, uber narcissistic, extreme dark comedy performance and character itself of One Eyed Doll was literally one of the funniest performances I have ever seen!  It is like wandering into some sort of Ramstein or Mega-Death concert given by a beautiful girl that shifts suddenly from a lollita cupie doll with the speech patterns and mannerisms of an innocent playing with her dollies into a harsh dominatrix and then into the  most radical head banger super hair guitar rocker imaginable in a matter of seconds.  Classic moments ranged from a shot we got of her balancing one foot on one arm rest and the other on a different arm rest of stadium seating while playing the guitar and doing an extreme yoga back bend above the mosh pit

to when she talked about living in a universe far far away called "Oregon" where her boyfriend spent all his time at a local Nude bar, so she wrote a song about burning the place down in a very special way and amazingly enough it happened just that way!  The highlight though is when they come to the part where she says many fans get so sad they commit suicide, the last song.  As such she has to make the demand for an encore mandatory and gets her fans to rehearse clamoring for an encore while begging, pleading, and demanding sufficiently sufficiently to make it happen.

While the topics are dark, everyone was pretty clear that it was meant to be funny, and it was hilarious!  The mosh pit; however, can get a bit real, so I don't recommend getting into that area if you can't afford a few bruises the next day.

Arc Attack was fascinating!  They get two giant teslas coils to play music through the lightning somehow.  It was fascinating just to watch the 3 dimensional lighting crackling around and in front of us while they, and the robotic drum set, played.  The music was not to our taste, but heh, it was an anime festival, so anime theme songs, video game soundtracks etc. were the order of the day.  Really I don't think anyone was there because the thought it was great music.  They were there to see the giant Tesla coils doing amazing things.   My hats off to the Uber-geniuses that bring us this great ultra Steampunk Act!

On one note of caution though, if you carry as much brass, copper, and steel as we were packing that day, don't sit on the front row like we did!  We weren't harmed in any way, but I did get nervous enough to start disarming and hiding all the metal I could take off under my chair.  At one point my wife also reminded me we were supposed to meet friends elsewhere, but I (who am normally pretty fearless) was too nervous to leave early with a 3 foot long fencing foil while on the front row with lightning all around me.  Nuff said!  


As for Panels, they were many and reportedly of high quality.  I personally was able only to attend part of Greg Ayres "Host Club to Hospital", and the Steampunk Leather Working and Steampunk DIY workshops by Airships Isabella and Neo Dulcimer.  All were well handled and very informative.  Mr Ayres was personable, entertaining,  and insightful.  The leather working panel taught me a number of excellent tips and a few trade secrets even though I am not new to the topic.  The DIY workshop focused on the two most asked for topics which were making your own steampunk goggles and steampunk weapons with excellent advice given in spite of the constant efforts by the Mad Hatter and his friends to disrupt the entire panel constantly with his madness and hilarity.  Kudos to the crew members conducting and leading the panel for the first time in the absence of both Captains who were busy being insane at the time. I would also like to mention that the crew members that were attempting to serve as handlers to the mad hitchhikers did a very credible and well received performance as well.

Now for the hard part.  So what didn't go well at Yulecon?  Actually, most of what went wrong had more to do with an extremely limited website, until very late (when it was significantly upgraded), a lack of information on the online schedule, which was published only a couple of weeks before the event, and limited ability to contact staff during the planning and promotional phases.  While the staff were very friendly, very helpful, and very courteous at all times, they did not have detailed enough schedule information or contact information up on the web site to permit people to make good decisions about attending or when to attend if they could not come all 3 days. 

 The lack of mention of any of the Steampunk Events in the online schedule and the lack of any weapons policy information in the online weapons policy section of their site caused a lot of problems for some that were attending as well as those still undecided whether or not to go. At least one of the events, a comedy skit by Kali's Hourglass, was not even mentioned on the written program causing further confusion. Kali's Hourglass was doing a pirate comedy skit followed by singing by Jennifer Hurley with interpretive dance (also by Kali's Hourglass), but most people had no idea they were performing.  On the other hand, when they arrived and explained what sort of furniture they needed as props, the staff was extremely helpful and accommodating. (This is certainly not the case everywhere!) While some level of error in these types of things always occurs, this simply did not give enough ability for attendees to know what was available and to decide what and when to attend. 

Very few of the local Steampunk Community actually came to the event.  One of the most significant problems that contributed to this poor Steampunk turn out was that Airship Isabella and Airship Neo Dulcimer were advised of their panel order, days, and times, only after they arrived.  This caused a huge problem for the steampunk community in that we were unable to confirm for certain if they were even coming until a day or two before the event, and we still didn't know what day or time the panels would be.  As a result, their panels, especially the first two, received far less attention and attendance than they deserved. There was also some confusion about what one day fees would be causing a few that came just to say hi to Airship Isabella and Neo dulcimer and to see Kali's Hourglass perform to simply leave when they realized it would cost the full $30 each for a day pass even if they attended only a single performance.  That would be obvious to most of the Anime Community, but many of the Steampunk community are much less familiar with this type of event.  Naturally pre-registration prices were posted, but when pre-registration was closed there was apparently no information put up on the web site to replace it about what the door fees would cost.

These are all things that could be corrected for the next event and contribute to a much larger turn out, especially from the local Steampunk community, who were simply not familiar enough with the event to be able to decide about attending without more advance information.  James, (the event organizer) tells me he understood the problems with limited information availability on the web site and intends to get that corrected in time for the next event.  I and my contacts are also planning to try hard to get this information in advance and help disseminate information for them, through our own channels, as much as possible next year so as to greatly increase the Steampunk Community notice and attendance.

In spite of these communication problems, which always happen behind the scenes, (and sometimes in front of the scenes) it seemed that everyone had a great time, and really that is what matters most!  In fact, my 10 year old son even entered one of the big prize money Halo Reach competitions, and said he might have won if they had stuck to classic controls, but they were using some special setting that disabled many of the weapon types.   Regardless, he thoroughly enjoyed competing against adults on a mostly level playing field and the staff were very courteous, tolerant, and helpful with our child and the children of others who frequented this event.  They even had a sign in sheet, since that room was frequented by younger attendees, but had not fully worked out the sign out system, nor were they (understandably) willing to assume responsibility for tracking any of the children there.  I found the staff to be extremely child friendly and that made the entire event, for parents like us, more enjoyable.  We had trouble getting our child to come out of the console game room much, but he had a blast trying out new games, learning new tricks, and meeting new people there!

On the topic of the future of Yulecon, there is a rumor in the works that they are at least seriously considering setting the next Yulecon on the weekend of Dec. 30th through January 1st and making it a true Steampunk Convention and Steampunk New Years!  I say rumored as nothing is ever certain until the venue is selected and paid for and they may wait to make that decision until after they gauge interest level.  This would compete with Ikkicon Anime Convention nearby in Austin.  While the organizers are correct that the Texas Steampunk Community, as well as Oklahoma, Arkansas, etc, would be pretty sure to select their even over any anime convention if the choice were presented, some may already be committed, if they take too long to announce this, and the lack of good dissemination of information prior to this Yulecon caused the Steampunk Presence  from the community to be nearly non-existent in response to some of the finest Steampunk Entertainment around.  That is obviously a problem.

We would have to be certain of the event, the guests, the program, etc. very early in order to promote this enough to get a good turnout on a weekend when many other events are occurring simultaneously.  Many members of the  Steampunk Community, for instance, have children (or possibly even a spouse/girlfriend etc. that might prefer an anime convention, so we need to be very sure what will be presented at a new event in order to choose it above something else.  On the other hand, there are no actual true "Steampunk Events", aside from Marquis of Vaudville's "Winter Wonderland" Steampunk Mini-Con on January 22nd at the Curtain Club in Dallas, that are any closer than Austin or Oklahoma City, so a local event would be very welcome, and we will certainly do what we can to promote it through the Facebook North Texas Steampunks site and through the local chapter of the Steampunk Illumination Society.
The Covenant of the Kraken Players (Kali's Hourglass) will probably be performing again along with as many of the Carnivale of Creatures Performers as we can talk into doing so, and we should be able to offer a panel on use of relaxation, meditation, and self hypnosis techniques to perfect one's spontaneous method acting and/or character acting presence for Steampunk or any other type of character desired.  Hope to see you there in 2011!

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