Guide to Harry Potter Conventions
If you’ve been following the fandom news lately, you know that this summer there is going to be a host of Harry Potter cons happening. And some of you are doubtless con- going veterans, and already have everything planned out and so forth. But for those who are new to the con-going scene – attending your first con this summer, or still deciding whether to attend a con – I thought I’d write a helpful guide for you guys. I am far from the ultimate authority on cons, having only been to two thus far (Expeditious 2010 and Aeternitas 2011), but between my own experiences and those of my many con-going friends, I believe I can offer some advice on the matter.
Table of Contents
1.Should I go? Which con should I attend?
4.Planning! Do your homework!
5.At the Con…
6.Which event should I go to?
7.I want to give a presentation!
1. Should I go? Which con should I attend?
If some of you are still on the fence about whether to go to a con or not, I should tell you that you absolutely should go. It is a weekend of immersing yourself, completely and utterly, in the fandom. There’s really no substitute for living with other fans for the weekend and doing HP stuff the whole time. Aeternitas 2011 was the best weekend of my life, bar none, and Expeditious 2010 is definitely in the top ten.
The next question is which con to go to – especially with so many choices this summer. Different people have different preferences of course, but I would recommend a smaller con, especially for a first-timer. Expeditious 2010 had less than a hundred people, so it was the perfect first con for me – very low-key and intimate. Aeternitas had under three hundred people, and was considered by all attendees to be the best con they’ve been to. A small con has the advantage of being far more intimate, allowing you to get to know your fellow con-goers because you keep running into them. This is especially important if you don’t know a lot of people going, so you can make friends. You can then work your way up to the really huge cons thrown by HPEF (a con-organizing group that throws a huge con with thousands of people every other summer, like Infinitus 2010 and the upcoming Ascendio 2012, and have a reputation for throwing great cons).
There is also the issue of cost – smaller cons are WAY cheaper than the big ones. For example, Aeternitas cost me about $250 all told (not counting merch I bought there) – that includes registration, transportation, hotel room, costumes, keynote, etc. In comparison, the registration alone for HPEF and Leaky’s cons is over $200, and the money can add up really quickly to $1000 or more.
For this summer’s options, the cons I know of are Ascendio 2012 (thrown by HPEF), and LeakyCon 2012 (thrown by The Leaky Cauldron). Ascendio 2012 should be very good fun – I won’t attend because I don’t want to deal with the heat in Florida in July, but if that and cost aren’t an issue, I recommend it. LeakyCon is also huge, but it has a rather negative reputation among the New York City fandom. That one is in August in Chicago if you wish to go.
And mark all of your calendars for May 2013, because that will be MISTI-Con, and it will be the absolute best weekend ever. It is being thrown by The Group That Shall Not Be Named as a follow-up to Aeternitas 2011, and I hope to see all of you there.
One other question to consider is how old you should be before attending a con, since I know MuggleNet attracts a fairly young demographic. In theory, most cons let you attend if you’re thirteen with supervision. However, having been to cons, I can say it’s probably not a very good idea to go if you’re that young. Because almost all attendees of these cons will either be college students or adults… meaning there is an abundance of both alcohol and inappropriate humor at every turn. My first con was at 18, and if you’re younger than sixteen or seventeen, I’d advise waiting some time.
2. General Structure
Just a brief overview of what to expect at a standard four-day day (Thursday-Sunday). Of course, if it’s shorter (3-day) or longer (if only it was!), things either get condensed or there’s even more to do. But here’s a template, and I’ll go into more detail on most of the events later.
Most people arrive in the middle of Day 1, so Day 1 is mostly hanging out and settling in. It’s also the perfect time to meet new people, and to go to the merchandise sellers (armed with quite a bit of money, because there is some fantastic stuff to be bought – I think I parted ways with almost $200 at Aeternitas). It’s also a good time to have one last decent meal (more on that later), or to do some photo shoots if you’re in a scenic location. There may be a major event at the end of the day like a Fashion Show, or everyone will just hang out at a pool party or something (all cons have a pool party, count on it).
Days 2 and 3 you go to programming, formal or otherwise, to discuss HP and do HP- related stuff, during the morning and afternoon. One of these days will have the Keynote Speakers. There will then be a dinner break. Day 2 will have a major event in the evening, most likely an epic wizard rock concert, and then people will just hang out or have movie screenings. Day 3 will have the Ball in the evening instead, and after it ends people party all night. At a three-day con, you will likely have wrock at the Ball. Day 4 will just have a Farewell Brunch, which is a sad affair generally. Exchange phone
numbers and emails with your new friends at this time. Then say your good-byes and head home. Be prepared for tears.
Needless to say, no one walks around cons dressed as Muggles! At the very least, you should have Harry Potter shirts on at all times, representing your favorite wizard rock band or Quidditch team. But you should strive to at least have some student garb on – house ties, and if you can get them, robes.
However, most people at cons will walk around dressed in costumes. If you want to make an impression and be in on all the fun, you should too. The good thing about the HP fandom is that people are not judgmental about costumes, so you don’t need to spend weeks sewing a costume that’s flawless. You can be creative! Do your own interpretation of a character. You can go by the movies (which I never do), or what’s described in the books (most of my outfits), or the A Very Potter Musical interpretation, or just come up with something new! And accessories are key – Lockhart wouldn’t be much fun without a copy of Magical Me, Trelawney should have a crystal ball and sherry bottles, and so on.
You could dress up as the popular characters, and have fun running around as an army of Bellatrixes. Characters (especially female ones) go in and out of style – for example, everyone was running around as Tonks in 2009, Bellatrix in 2010/2011, Snape in 2011, and lately I’ve seen a lot of Trelawneys. Or you could do a minor and obscure character and own it, because no one else has done it! Also, oddly enough, there is very rarely anyone dressed up as a member of the Trio – I’ve never seen a Ron in three years – so if you do that you’re bound to be the center of attention.
There are two types of cosplayers: those devoted to a single character, and those who cosplay everyone. The first kind have a favorite character (or two or three) that they consistently cosplay, with different outfits and interpretations, and become identified with that character. I am the second kind of cosplayer, who likes to dress up as many different characters, always coming up with new costumes. I have cosplayed over twenty different characters through the years, and you can see them here.
If you are an avid cosplayer, there is the question of how many costumes to bring. Some people just bring one or two costumes; my friends Clay and Jessica had fifteen or sixteen each at Aeternitas. While it certainly worked for them, I believe that is a tad extreme. Other than the fact that I missed half their outfits because I would blink and they’d be someone different, I feel that that involves too much time spent changing outfits. Keep in mind that changing takes time, as does going back to your room to do so, and you don’t want to spend half the con in your room.
As a general rule of thumb, two or three outfits per day should do it – one for the morning and afternoon (or change during lunch), and one for whatever major event is happening in the evening (concerts, balls, etc).
Last tip about costumes: nothing is quite as fabulous as group costumes. If you can coordinate this with a few friends, it will be epic. For example, at Expeditious 2010 there was a Weasley family of Molly, Bill, and Charlie, which was great. But this requires a LOT of planning and coordination. Which brings me to…
4. Planning! Do your homework!
If you’ve gone on vacation, you know there’s a lot of work to do beforehand – flights scheduled, hotels booked, etc. Well, a con is ten times more preparation. Every minute you have at a con is precious, so the last thing you want to do is lose precious time trying to figure out where to go or when something is.
Print out every schedule on the con’s website, sit down with a mug of butterbeer, and devote a good chunk of time to figuring out what you plan on doing. Most cons require the use of several timeturners to do everything – there will be three or four formal programming events going on at any point during the day. There will be wrock concerts that clash with pool parties, family feuds that clash with fanfiction, and so forth. Pick which event you will be doing at any given time… then pick a second choice in case your preferred event ends early or doesn’t hold your interest. It’s doubtful that you’ll have to resort to a third choice. Carry this schedule with you at all times, it’s way easier than trying to find out what’s happening on the spot.
Once you have all of that down, you then schedule things around the events happening. In particular, you should schedule your costume changes, and take into account how long the change will take. There’s nothing more annoying than realizing you’re still dressed as Snape when you have to be Trelawney at an event in five minutes, whereas the outfit takes half an hour to put on. Planning all of this stuff now will save you soooo much headache during the con. Even if it’s not perfect, it’s good to have a general idea of what’s happening when. At Aeternitas, I was dressed as McGonagall when I realized I had to give a presentation as Neville in fifteen minutes, so I had to run across the courtyard with my skirts streaming behind me, throwing away my fake boobs and taking off my wig as I ran. It was quite a sight, I assure you, but I’d rather change outfits at a more relaxed pace.
Also, make a checklist of things to bring. No, I’m not kidding, and I’m not OCD either – but when you’re packing eight outfits with several accessories each, it’s awfully easy to forget something. Think how annoyed you’ll be if you packed half a suitcase of Trelawney shawls and scarves, only to have forgotten the wig – or if you accidentally left your Hufflepuff socks at home and had to be Cedric with Ravenclaw socks. Other than costumes, here is a handy-dandy checklist of other stuff you need to bring.
•Money: Trust me, there will be so much cool stuff to buy at the con!
•Camera, Charger, Lots of Memory Cards: You are going to be taking hundreds of pictures at a con! Not to mention video of some cool moments! The absolute worst thing to forget is a camera. And you don’t want to be running around frantically looking for that holy grail of chargers that will match your battery, so bring your charger and charge your camera every night. Empty all of your memory cards and bring them! I didn’t have sufficient space, so I actually brought a USB drive and emptied my memory card periodically onto it, but this is a hassle.
•Wand: You know how in the Muggle world people don’t go anywhere without their keys? At a con, no one goes anywhere without a wand. Always have it with you, be it for games or photos or whatever else it’s needed for. If you don’t have a wand, you might be able to buy one at the con. Personally, I recommend Ollisvander’s wands most highly – they are cheap, durable (mine has survived blizzards, downpours, and deadly dancing), they look as wands should, and Ollivander’s will repair them if anything should happen!
•Pajamas: Easy to forget the Muggle side of clothing, but since no one at cons sleeps, you will be spending lots of time in your PJs!
•Swimwear and/or Costume to Swim In: Every single con has a pool party, and they range from pretty tame (a few people sitting in a hot tub) to absolute mayhem (chasing wrockers away with balls, Horcrux Holds, and more). In any event, you don’t want to miss out on the fun, so bring something to swim in. If you’re really ambitious, however, you can bring a costume for swimming in. I now have a perfect one for this – Viktor Krum – and at Aeternitas I went swimming as Morfin Gaunt. There’s really nothing quite like having a dementor in the pool throwing Hershey’s Kisses at you.
•Bags: Unless all of your costumes have extensive pockets, which is highly doubtful, you’ll need something to carry stuff in – the con program, your camera, wand, phone, etc. Bonus points if it’s an HP bag.
Among the less enjoyable tasks of preparation is figuring out how to get to the con and back, and where to stay once you’re there. Appeal to your friends to see if you can travel together, and keep in mind everyone is bringing lots of stuff! And definitely find roommates so the hotel stay is cheaper – you can probably find potential roomies on the con’s site (there should be a forum).
As far as selecting roommates, make sure you know them! I made the mistake last time of agreeing to room with a guy I just met who never showed up, so it was three of us in the room instead of four. Also, while this may seem counter-intuitive, aim for the less crazy roommates. Yes, it’s lots of fun to have energetic roommates that make the whole weekend a party… but it’s also exhausting, and at times, dramatic. Find the mellow people, and room with them – if you ever have a spare moment to sleep, you’ll be happy you did.
5. At the Con…
Befriend everyone! Every single attendee at the con is automatically your best friend, so talk to them all – you can meet some fascinating people at cons! And exchange contact info – you can make some really good friends at a con. But don’t stick to your friends like you’re attached at the hip. I know some people who spent an hour or two looking for each other all over Aeternitas… seems like a waste. Do what you want to do, and have faith you’ll run into your friends later.
Also, feel free to stop anyone and ask them for pictures, and don’t be surprised when people do the same to you! Never criticize someone’s costume (not that you would!). At the same time, don’t obsess with getting pictures of everything – rest assured, whatever wasn’t captured on your camera was surely photographed by a dozen others. A great way to combat withdrawal post-con is to comb the Internet for these pictures.
Also, you did your homework, you’re carrying your multi-colored schedule with you… but be flexible. Some of my best memories from cons are the ones that weren’t scheduled – impromptu pool parties, crazy seaside photo shoots, hilarious games of Twister… Do crazy things at cons, because why not? If there is one thing our fandom has learned, it’s not to judge people.
Be aware now, you will not really eat or sleep at these cons. At Aeternitas, I had one “proper meal” a day – a groggy breakfast of muffins, toast, and coffee. COFFEE!!! You will drink so much of it in a weekend, it’s astounding. Other than that, I had a decent lunch at the Keynote (which made it worth the money then and there!), and was reduced to grabbing an apple or French fry when I could. I was running on pure adrenaline.
There is also no sleep. At Aeternitas, which lasted Thursday to Sunday, I slept a total of five and a half hours – 1:15 the first night, 4:15 the second, and none on the third. Hence the coffee. You will be up late having fun with HP fans (who are all seemingly insomniacs), and be up around 8am to grab breakfast and start going to programming. Most people don’t sleep the last night, it’s tradition. The last night gets crazier than usual – pop tarts are drunkenly distributed, female independence is sassily asserted, Snarry songs are sung, and so forth. So get at least a bit of sleep the night before last in preparation, and be prepared to live solely on adrenaline.
When you throw a bunch of sleep-deprived people together, eventually someone snaps. And then the drama begins. This happens at every con (except Expeditious 2010, where the attendees were so astounded, it was dubbed “No-DramaCon”). Someone will get offended at something utterly stupid, misunderstandings will snowball, others will get involved trying to keep the peace and end up crying at the bar, and suddenly everything’s a hot mess. This’ll usually occur on the middle night.
This is paramount: do NOT get involved. Get all the juicy gossip afterwards if you are so inclined. But trust to the fact that it will all work out better with less people involved. When drama started up at Aeternitas, I asked one brave peace-keeper to tell me who was involved, so I would know to avoid them for a few hours, and then made sure to just not deal with the drama. And sure enough, everyone got a few hours of sleep, and by the next morning everyone was getting along swimmingly once more.
Lastly, I never thought I’d have to point this out, but don’t leave the con early! It’s more and more fun as time goes on and everyone gets to know each other better, and the final night is not to be missed! On the flip side, I strongly advise not to schedule anything for the day following the con – ditch school or work if you are at all able. Cons are exhausting, and once the adrenaline finally wears off, everyone crashes hard. I got home from Aeternitas and slept for seventeen hours (far and away a record for me). And the next day, upon waking up in the latter part of the day, all you will want to do is wallow, look at pictures from the con, and feel very sad about your return to the Muggle world.
6. Which event should I go to?
You look at the schedule, and your eyes widen. There are roughly five events going on at 3pm, and four of them cut into the two events at 3:30. Where’s a timeturner when you need one?
The simple truth is that there is no way to make it to everything, so you have to pick and choose. Don’t go where your friends are going if you’re interested in something else – if anything, exchange recaps afterwards. In fact, the most general advice I can give is to not do what you’re familiar with. If you play on a Quidditch team, why bother attending an “Intro to Quidditch” event? You can play any old time! If a wizard rocker is performing who is from your hometown, whom you see perform every month, you can go elsewhere and they won’t be offended.
Even if your friends are giving presentations, don’t feel contractually obligated to attend. I gave two presentations at Aeternitas, and each one had only three or four of my friends there because the others were off doing other things. While I would’ve liked to have them there, I didn’t begrudge it, because I can debate Snape with them any old day. This way, they can tell me what I missed while I was presenting!
Also, if there is an ungodly queue for something, ask yourself if it’s worth all the time you’ll lose standing in it? I’ve never had an issue with lines, but I hear there were an awful lot of them at LeakyCon 2011 and other big cons.
Generally, you want to attend the bigger events: more HP fans = more fun! Not to mention, if everyone is talking about Dueling Class and you missed it, you’ll be a bit bummed. Here are the major events that most cons have.
I. Keynote: This will be some big name fan coming to talk to you, likely one who has published a book or two in her time, and they’re usually fascinating. I’ve attended Keynotes with the speakers Melissa Anelli, Robyn Schneider, and Leanna Renee Hieber. All three ladies were excellent, and I have loved all of their books. The Keynote is also a good chance to relax, and possibly get a decent meal. It usually costs a bit extra, but is worth it.
II. Fashion Show: A relatively new addition to the tradition of cons, this is a chance for people to parade around in the most glorious cosplay outfits ever. If you like, you can be a model in the fashion show – I didn’t because I thought it was too much hassle, but I had a great time seeing everyone strut their stuff.
III. Pool Party: I’ve really said all there is to say about this. Lots of fun.
IV. Family Feud: Another new event, but MuggleNet’s own Keith Hawk is determined to make this a con tradition, and I certainly hope he will succeed. It’s based on a Harry Potter version of the popular game, but naturally, Harry Potter fans will make it crazy. Some teams will show up in costumes, put on a show, and it’s all very good fun. If there are other game shows like this, try to go.
V. Quidditch: If you don’t play Quidditch, here’s a great place to start! The IQA is making sure they have a presence at all cons, and Muggle Quidditch is great fun.
VI. Wizard Rock: Wizard rock, aka wrock, is music based on Harry Potter, and it’s incredible. There will usually be quite a bit of wrock throughout the con, which you should check out if you have the chance, but in the evening there will be one or two major wrock shows that will blow the roof off the Great Hall. The entire con gets together to dance their butts off! Wrockers really know how to put on a show! If you have a performer like Swish and Flick, Tonks and the Aurors, or The Whomping Willows, expect to be absolutely exhausted by the end. Actually, you’ll be exhausted from just about any wrocker!
VII. Formal Programming: One of the main parts of a con is the formal programming, where people get together to talk about all things Potter. There are classes, lectures, debates, and all other kinds of discussion. Most of these events are enlightening as well as entertaining, and the dedicated Potter fans will bring paper and pen to these events so they can take notes. I have many pages of notes from formal programming I’ve attended. Imagine the debate we have in the comments sections of my essays, and picture it happening in real life!
VIII. Screenings/Readings: Most cons will have screenings of the HP movies, and perhaps of other things as well (fan musicals, parody films, etc.). And there are usually fanfiction readings happening at some point throughout the weekend. I will admit, I never really saw the point in these, since I could always just read fanfiction or watch movies on my own time. But if that’s what you’re into, or if there’s nothing else going on, you can check this out.
7. I want to give a presentation!
Superb! You should give it! “Snape’s Anger” and “Neville and Luna” are both based on presentations I gave at Aeternitas. If you have an idea you want to share, or just want to talk about something Potter-related, this is perfect for you.
You do want to rehearse a bit – at the very least, give the presentation once or twice to those poor unfortunate souls who can’t go to the con. And do prepare things beforehand – one of my friends didn’t, and around 2am on Thursday once people started going to sleep, she had to stay up and work on her powerpoint. She wasn’t exactly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the next morning. (And by the way, you don’t need a powerpoint or anything, that’s just an option).
Don’t stress about the presentation, because you are among friends here and everyone is in a good mood. Engage your audience by talking with them. If worst comes to worst, yell “Snape is evil!” and your audience will occupy themselves debating that for an extended period of time.
Also, this is just my quirk, but I think it’s a good idea to film presentations, particularly the more lecture-like ones. Not only is it nice to have a record, but people who weren’t there can see what they missed. I know I certainly watched video of the programming I missed whenever it was made available.
Be sure to let people know about your upcoming presentation! Not everyone is as assiduous as you, and maybe they haven’t done their homework (shame on them). Find ways to insert into a conversation, “Yeah, I’m presenting about Dumbledore as a Machiavellian figure tomorrow at 11, in the Slytherin common room. Hope to see you there!”
8. The Ball The crux of any con is the ending Ball – named most appropriately at Aeternitas as the “Magic is Forever Ball.” This is a sacred tradition that no con is complete without. This is such a major event, you will actually have time to prepare for it! As a rule of thumb, there is nothing going on in the hour or two leading up to the ball, so everyone can shower (so as to avoid “confunk,” because otherwise no one has the time for showers!) and don their finest dress robes.
The ball is a chance to dress in your most formal and fancy costume, and even the biggest Muggles in attendance will show up in fancy dresses. Everyone will look absolutely stunning in their dress robes, so take lots of pictures. And save your most splendid outfit for this. Just make sure you can move in your outfit, and you won’t pass out from the heat!
The ball is the party to end all parties! There will be dancing all night long, and be sure to join in! HP fans generally have very good taste in music, and very diverse taste as well, so you’ll hear everything from *NSYNC to Ke$ha to Ministry of Magic. And make sure you dance to all of it! Expect craziness like flash mobs for Lady Gaga songs, an invasion by Death Eaters, or a dance battle between Lily and Voldemort. It’ll be a night to remember, and a glorious conclusion to one of the best weekends ever!
If you have read this far, pat yourself on the back! You are now completely prepared to go to a con. Of course, every single con is different and no two fans will have the same experience at a con, but I hope this guide will prove helpful in giving you a general idea of what to expect. And those of you who have been to cons, I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments. Let’s reminisce together!
And I hope to meet all of you at a con one day!