Nerdiquette: How to Properly Treat Your Con Staff and Volunteers

 

This weekend I had the great pleasure of working at my local convention, Albany Comic Con. It’s my 3rd or 4th show working with them, and I am always honored to be asked back. Albany Comic Con holds such a special place in my heart, because it was one of the first events I attended upon moving to the Capital Region two years ago. I was so nervous and excited to get my feet wet in this community of creativity, and I had a blast going to a smaller, homegrown show. Since then, I’ve since become friendly with other convention owners and have had the opportunity to work at many other shows.

But it’s my local shows, in particular, where I notice a trend. Perhaps it’s because I’m so involved and keep up with the local group on Facebook, but I notice people complaining or blaming staff for many things out of their control. As someone who volunteers much of her free time to help out with these shows, I do really take personal offense to this, as do many of my peers who also volunteer. It’s because of this that I decided to compile a list of responses to these grievances.

“It’s too hot/cold in this building.” Literally this could not have less to do with volunteers and staff members. The temperature is affected by so many things. If the convention space is particularly crowded, body temperature and closeness of others raises the temperature significantly. Not to mention — we don’t control the heat/AC — the convention space does. If you come up to us and yell about the heat/cold…there’s literally nothing we can do. Except agree with you — because if you’re feeling it, we’re probably feeling it too. The only difference is that you have the option to leave and we don’t.

“Why are tickets so expensive? You guys should make this more affordable/free for us! Don’t you care about your guests?” Yes, we do care about the guests. That’s why volunteers/staff work closely with convention owners to make sure you’re getting the best show possible. And, surprise! That costs money. If we gave you a free event, chances are, we wouldn’t have the cash to get in the comic guests, vendors, and other people you so love to see at these things. Money also goes to securing a venue, so unless you want to host the next convention in your backyard…but I digress. Sometimes the venue or space increases the rental price and the convention needs to charge more for admission in order to make up the cost. Trust me, the convention is likely not raising prices to pocket more of your money. Most owners will tell you that they barely make back their losses at the end of the convention.

“Why don’t you have more famous people?” Some shows, like Wizard World Cons, NYCC and SDCC, are run by corporations rather than small/local convention owners. It’s just like in the outside world, here. There are Mom and Pop shops, and there is Walmart. Comparing local shows to corporate run shows is like comparing apples to spaghetti. They’re two totally different things. While some small cons use their money to get in media guests, it’s not how every show runs things. Some cons prefer to have artists/vendors as the priority. It’s just the way it works.

“The Staff wasn’t smiling. It looked like they were all miserable.” This shit is hard work. We’re doing a ton of stuff all at once, for absolutely no pay. (I mean, maybe some people get paid? I’ve really never gotten paid while staffing a con. For guesting, yes. But not staffing.) I can recall one local show I worked, where a guest complained on a local group because the staff looked tired, one of the cosplay judges wasn’t even in cosplay, didn’t smile or high five her child. What this person didn’t know was that the day prior, almost all the staff was volunteering at another event, where we were outside all day and nearly all got sick afterward. Sometimes, for shows that are more than one day long, there are afterparties or after hours events that ALSO need staffing, so sometimes staff and volunteers are kept up late. Some shows run continuously for 24-48 hours. Guess what? The con still needs to remain staffed. You never know if someone got stuck working third shift. Also, we’re human beings. Not robots. We have lives outside of volunteering/staffing the convention. You never know what another person is dealing with.

“Why didn’t I win the costume contest? Your judges are biased and they pick only their friends to win.”

This is, perhaps, the one point that hits closest to home for so many of my fellow ACC volunteers. This is someth

ing we hear after every single cosplay contest, and let me just make this perfectly clear…it is 8000% false. I can literally say I wasn’t close personal friends with any of the main ACC winners. I barely know people in this area. I’ve only been here 2 years. My fellow judges are NOTHING but PROFESSIONAL, and to insinuate otherwise is disgusting and shows poor sportsmanship. The majority of people who make this claim do so when they lose to someone else, yet when they win, they have glowing reports of the contest. We work our asses off to pull off a good cosplay contest for everyone. It takes months and months of planning, preparation, and cash (to put towards prizes) and it’s downright disrespectful to treat people who work so hard, to put together something that is requested time and time again. We could simply not offer a cosplay contest, but people would complain about that as well. True story: I know a 9 year old girl who takes loss more eloquently than some adults in this area. If you didn’t win, it’s probably because someone was better than you. It has nothing to do with you personally, and does not define you as a cosplayer. It doesn’t even mean that yours wasn’t as good as person x or person y…it just means, in the eyes of 3-5 judges, someone was viewed as better than you.  If you cannot handle losing, you have no business entering a costume contest.

 

Now that I’ve addressed some of these frequently heard complaints, you may be wondering if there’s anything you can do to resolve some of these issues. The first thing I would suggest is to VOLUNTEER, VOLUNTEER, VOLUNTEER! Cons could always use more staff and volunteer support, and usually, there are nice incentives for helping out — like free lunch and free admission to said event. Also, it’s the absolute best way to get some of your concerns addressed. My 3rd grade teacher always used to say, “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” If you want a specific area improved, volunteer there. There’s no better way to know how a cosplay contest is being run, than to help run it!

If you have concerns, the best way to go about it is to go directly to the source. The con owners welcome constructive critiques and use them to make their show better time and time again. A good business person always takes the customer’s concerns seriously, and it’s no different in the convention world. Facebook posts bashing convention staff are NOT the way to go. Address it with the convention owner, if there’s a satisfaction survey offered, take it and air your grievances there. It makes your concerns more valid and doesn’t make you look like a petty vaguebooker. Believe me, I know how great the temptation is to complain all over social media. I have been guilty of this in the past. But going straight to the source is the best course of action for all involved.

I hope I shed some light on what it’s like to be a volunteer/staff member. I honestly love doing it and it’s how I have met so many dear friends. If you don’t volunteer/have done some of the things mentioned on this list/rant thing, I hope that this enlightens you as well! I encourage anyone who’s worked a con to share some of their stories in the comments or with me personally on the Facebook group. Don’t forget to say “thanks” to a volunteer or staff member at the next con you go to!

 

Metamorphosis: Undies Update June 2016

I’ve been itching to write something since I’ve finally got some time to spare (for a change, huh?) and believe it or not, this entry was inspired by my class. For those of you who don’t know me in the muggle world, I’m an assistant teacher in a Universal Pre-K classroom when I’m not cosplaying/blogging/reading comics. Recently, we did a unit on the life cycle of a butterfly, and we got some caterpillars in our classroom. My class was able to watch the life cycle of a butterfly firsthand, and this week, after our Memorial Day break, we let out butterflies free.

Clearly this blog isn’t to inform you on how butterflies work, so I’ll get to the point. The metamorphosis got me thinking about my own life, and how I’ve changed as a person, writer, and cosplayer, in this past year alone. My favorite human, Walt Disney, once said, “”Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” I feel the same is true for all of us, whether it be about creativity, personal growth, or whatever, we are always changing and evolving as people. Do I think that I’m a perfect person? No. Not by any means. But thinking back to last year, I can see such tremendous growth in every aspect of my life.

I don’t talk about it much, because I hate being pitied and I really hate divulging any deeply personal details of my life, but last year I was going through so much. I was struggling so much with depression, anxiety and mental health in general. I hated my job. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I felt like a failure as a person, cosplayer, and friend. Now, here I am, getting regular treatment, taking care of myself, (hopefully) attending graduate school in the Fall for my Masters in Teaching, and sure of myself as a person.

This blog isn’t to brag about how great my life has been compared to last year, I promise. I’ll always struggle with my mental health, I had my fair share of drama in the cosplay community this year as well. But the important thing is…I’m still here, breathing, cosplaying, and living my life. And while I have bad days, I know that I don’t have a bad life. And it could be far worse. It HAS been far worse. And I’ll get through it.

Growth is a necessary part of life. And in order to continue that growth, sometimes we need to go back to square one. If you’ve ever seen Mean Girls– do you remember that one scene where Lindsay Lohan’s character, Cady, goes to visit Regina George (Rachel McAdams) at her house, after she was hit by that bus? Even though Regina was an uber bitch, Cady is able to recognize that she’s made some mistakes too. She says, “When you get bitten by a snake, you have to suck out all the poison, that’s what I had to do, suck all the poison out of my life.” Like Cady, I know that I’ve made some bad decisions and I’m not a perfect person. I can be overly defensive, and it’s caused me to burn some bridges within my friendship circles. It stems from my trust and abandonment issues and my anxiety as a whole. I’m not making excuses, though, and I fully intend to take responsibility for my actions. If you’re reading this and I’ve upset you in some way, shape or form — I’m really sorry. I want to suck the poison out of my life, and I’d love nothing more than to start over with a clean slate for everyone involved. Life is too short to hold grudges. Cosplay is an escape for so many of us…nobody should have to be riddled with anxiety or fear when gearing up to go to a cosplay event. We should all be there for each other, lead by example, and make this community an awesome one.

 

Reflecting Back : Moving On and Moving Out

I said I’d be getting more personal with this blog, which may be a good or bad thing, I’m not sure, but I love writing and I’m doing this for me more than for my cosplay related stuff and to promote myself. I said in an earlier post that I keep journals regularly and I stumbled across an old entry dated March 2014, and realized that this week marks my 2nd year living here in Albany, NY.  It has honestly FLOWN by, I can’t believe I’ve lived upstate for two years. For those of you who don’t know, my “Just a Girl from Brooklyn” is more than a Captain America reference, I was born and raised there and have lived there for most of my life (barring my time in Orlando where I worked in the Disney College Program, but that’s a blog for another time, kids). What caused this spark and change in me to leave my childhood home? Well, I think all of that’s kind of way too personal for this blog, but let’s just say I had a need to get out of the city for my mental piece of mind.

Moving out of the city was honestly the best thing I’ve ever done.

People poke fun at me when I tell them I’m originally from Brooklyn, with the jabs ranging from “Ew, why?” to “Don’t you miss real pizza?” (The answer to the latter is YES, and is honestly the only thing besides family that I miss on a daily basis, but I digress.) But, I honestly love it here. People here don’t (usually) scare me, it’s much cleaner and actually affordable. But living at home until I got married just wasn’t for me. I knew I couldn’t do the long distance thing, from prior experience, it may work for others but it’s simply not for me. And when I first visited Albany and got to know what it was like in my boyfriend’s neck of the woods, I knew this is where I wanted to be. Chris and I discussed it and we thought, financially and all, that it wouldn’t make sense for us to have two separate apartments, and thought we could definitely make living together work.

The catch, and the thing that shocked most of my Brooklyn friends and family members, was at the time I’d moved up here, we were only together for 4 months at the time. Yes, it definitely widened some eyes, and perhaps 4 months is a bit too soon to move in with a significant other, but it just made the most logical and financial sense for both of us. I won’t lie: it was the furthest thing from easy. Coming to a place where I didn’t know ANYONE except those people I was introduced to by my boyfriend and his family (who, by the way, massive credit to them, because without them I wouldn’t have lasted two seconds without friends or a car)  was jarring in a sense. It hit me way later that I really didn’t have much of a life. I secured one job for myself, and at first, held a total of 3 jobs when I first came here, because I was really adamant about not receiving help from family, who at first, were not too happy about my choice to move in with someone who was kind of a stranger to them. And I don’t blame them for that in the slightest. It was pretty sudden of a move to them, but they did support the decision since they knew I would achieve the piece of mind I needed.

I would be lying if I said it was easy for me. It was a hard decision to make. But I knew I didn’t want to be that kid who relied on their parents for everything and I knew the only way I could figure out who I was as a person was to get out there on my own and experience new things. Don’t get me wrong, I love Brooklyn. I love my friends I have there but it just wasn’t enough for me to stay there. I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford my own place and the job market out there was just really unwelcoming. Hard times financially took a toll and it was a hard rut to get out of. Add that on top of first apartment shopping, moving in with a significant other and getting used to living with a BOY…all huge changes.

A friend of mine recently brought up my move and asked how I did it…and the answer is, I’m really not sure. I don’t know how I managed to even survive. But I did, and I keep on surviving! When I look back to where I was when I started out here, and how my life is today, I’m honestly really proud of myself. Even with my anxiety issues I was able to push through and make this all work. Of course I had some help, but I’m so proud of the fact that I did something for myself. I spent so much of my life trying to please others and it was such an eye opening experience realizing that not EVERYTHING I do needs to be done with others in mind. I knew I was done driving myself crazy just so other people could have peace of mind. I deserved piece of mind and I’m honestly so lucky I got it.

Moral of the story kiddos: Change can be scary, but ultimately necessary in order to grow as a person. Even though I’ve made mistakes, I’m so glad I have support and that I live in a place where I can be free of the negativity of the past. I was given the opportunity to start over fresh and create the life I wanted for myself and I can honestly say I live a much happier life. Do YOU and make sure you’re living the life you want to be.