Monday, September 28, 2015

Dragon Con 2015 – Phantom’s Recap Part 3 - The Rest of Con


If you need to catch up you can check out Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Saturday was wide open. I didn’t have a single thing that I had to do until the game show crew met in my room at 7 PM. Given how busy Friday had been and how important the game show was, I wanted to relax. Granted, that didn’t mean just sitting around the room. I wanted to visit Artists’ Alley again and maybe hit the Walk of Fame. I also decided pretty early on that I wasn’t going to worry about any panels other than my own. It’s Dragon Con, and even the smallest, lowest-key panels require around ninety minutes of your time when you factor in travel and waiting to get in.

It’s worth noting that I didn’t suffer any further hangover issues. Friday was my only bad morning, though I was definitely tired the following days. If I hadn’t been at Dragon Con, I would’ve had a hard time getting motivated to leave the bed.

A condition I did experience Saturday morning was extreme hunger. I hadn’t eaten anything substantial since lunch with Sean the prior day, which had been around 1 PM. That is, obviously, a ridiculous way to do things.

Before I get any further, I feel like I owe some words to the magnificent and incomparable Dragon Con Parade.

If you haven’t seen the parade, you must see the parade. I say it every year, but there’s nothing quite like witnessing hundreds of people in costumes from every nook and cranny of the geek universe walking, strutting, staggering, dancing, and in some cases fighting their way down the streets of Downtown Atlanta. It’s wonderful and inspiring.

Having said that, I don’t watch the parade anymore. I did for two years in a row and I think I’m good for a while. I’ll sit and watch parts of it on Dragon Con TV when it’s on because I enjoy the spectacle, as well as the hosts’ commentary, but I just can’t stand out in the streets and watch. And God bless every single costumed lunatic that marches in it. I can’t even begin to imagine.

So I was starving and knew the parade wasn’t a factor in my schedule that morning.
Speaking of factors in my schedule, I don’t know if this is the year that everything clicked or if I just got lucky a lot, but I spent very little time waiting after that Thursday morning line. I feel like I had less trouble getting around this year and that in general the crowds were less of an issue than they’ve been in years. I have no explanation for this other than I just have a better feel for where to be and when. Obviously avoiding panels was a help, but even just going to the food court or waiting for elevators – one of the worst parts of Dragon Con – seemed like less of a hassle.

Of course, it could also all be attributed to the fact that overall I think I was simply in a better state of mind than I’ve ever been. And that I can’t really explain, though I might try in the final part of this recap.

Back to being hungry.

I was so hungry that I didn’t just want to eat, I feel like I needed to be nourished. Like, I needed fuel. Normally I eat pretty badly at Con aside from the snacks I have in the room. But on Saturday morning I wanted no-frills sustenance.

I have walked right by Farmer’s Basket countless times. Just the name elicits a laugh from me – “Farmer’s Basket? That must be for weak-stomached vegetarians whose frail bodies can’t process real food. HAHA!” I don’t think I ever spared as much as a glance at the place beyond recognizing the sign. But on Saturday morning they had two very appealing things to offer – menu signs full of vegetables and non-fried meats and a line consisting of three people. My stomach practically dragged me over.

Once I stepped into line I could see the actual food behind the glass counter and the offerings weren’t quite what I was expecting. The menu consisted mostly of Chinese food, none of which looked particularly healthy. But they did have grilled chicken, rice, and okra. The rice and okra were both fried, but I was too ready to eat to quibble. And did I mention there were ONLY THREE PEOPLE in line?

I managed to find a table fairly easily and sat down to eat. The chicken made me nervous. It didn’t look grilled so much as boiled and it definitely had a suspicious texture. But it was delicious and had no negative side effects. Actually, it was all excellent and as I ate I could almost literally feel my energy levels going up. That was probably the best meal I’ve ever had at Dragon Con.

Oh, yeah – another condition I suffered from Saturday morning was feeling like I had swallowed razor blades. My voice was shot. After two panels, three hours of calling the best wrestling in the world, and Puppet Improv (thank goodness for mics, though) the previous day, my throat hurt worse than it ever has. I posted about it on Facebook and I have to give the Hero of Con award to my pal Bambi Lynn from Radio Cult. She left a comment suggesting I try a mix of half apple juice and half water. That seemed a little underwhelming as a cure, but considering her years of performing experience I looked at her as an authority.

Before I went to Farmer’s Basket I bought a bottle of apple juice from somewhere (it was surprisingly hard to find a place that carried it). I ordered a large water with my meal and it took an awful lot of conversation to explain that I wanted the cup half full with no ice. The employee had to dump it out and start over again twice. That’s probably why they charged me regular drink price for half a cup of water.

Once I sat down I mixed the juice and the water and drank. Much to my surprise, my throat felt better almost instantly. I sipped the combination over the course of the next couple of hours and by the time I was done there was only mild irritation, easily soothed by the cough drops I always keep on hand when I’m performing. I consider this nothing short of a miracle and I will be eternally grateful to the Queen of Rock for the tip.

Thusly rejuvenated and mostly healed, I headed to Artists’ Alley to buy some art.

Honestly, there’s not much story between there and 7 PM. I already got long-winded about eating and there’s an awful lot to cover about Saturday night, so I’ll spare you the details of me buying cheesecake Harley Quinn prints.

Several hours later I grabbed my annual Dragon Con Checkers meal and headed back to the room. It occurred to me that I actually had quite a few things to do before everyone showed up for our pre-game show meeting – I needed to organize the props and materials, make room for everyone else’s stuff, eat dinner, and take a shower. I tend to shower two or three times a day at Con because I am not a barbarian.

Preparation for the show was much easier this year. We had done two rehearsals and pretty much had the act down. As much as we wanted, anyway. I think all of us agree that there has to be some degree of spontaneity to live performances. I’m not interested in doing scripted stuff. While the game show does require a certain amount of timing and planning, the performance aspect needs to feel fresh and raw or else there’s really no point in doing it. The main topic at the meeting was how we were going to set up and preparing for whatever inevitable difficulties cropped up.

And boy, did they. But I’ll get to that.

First let’s talk about my crew. They are phenomenal and just thinking about working with these people makes me warm and happy. We all share a powerful desire to entertain and each have our own perspective on what to do and how to do it, while all contributing to the whole. The levels and types of experience vary wildly, but we share a vision. The talent and drive is off the charts and I scarcely believe that I have the privilege of not just knowing, but working with this crew.

A Brief Narrative Detour
The Adventures of Sexy Wolverine

While the game shows – Whose EFF Is It Anyway? and The Dirty Dirty Con Con Game Game Show Show – were created by me and Miss Lady Flex and they wouldn’t and won’t exist without both of us, after this year I feel like the five people that made it happen are The Crew. And one of those new Crew members is Sexy Wolverine. Now, you may know that Sexy Wolverine was part of the show last year, but we had to find a new performer to fill the role of announcer/crowd wrangler/co-host. There wasn’t really any debate about who we recruited. We had already discussed bringing her on board as of last year’s show. The question was of what her character would be. After some discussion, I suggested that she just be Sexy Wolverine. This was met with universal approval.

Now, obviously there is humor inherent in a pretty lady playing Wolverine. But I don’t think any of us were ready for who showed up Saturday night.

I received a text a bit before seven that said, “On my way. People really don’t like me.”
Apparently the Sexy Wolverine get-up was garnering looks of confusion and outright disgust. This was Dragon Con, so I was having a little trouble imagining anyone having problems with something as tame as a gender-bent Logan.

Of course, there has never been a Logan like our Logan:

Naturally all of us thought she looked incredible and couldn’t have been better for the show. Plus she’s a great performer, so Sexy Wolverine was set to be one of the most memorable parts of the Dirty Con Game Show.

And, as it turned out, of Dragon Con overall.

We made two trips over to the Classics Track room. One to set up as much as we could and one for showtime. We couldn’t get ten feet either time without someone stopping Sexy Wolverine to get a picture. She was literally the most popular person I have ever been at Dragon Con with. I’ve never seen anything like it. We were very fortunate to have Needless Things’ own Beth V with us helping out to keep us all together as we made our way through the masses. Otherwise, some old dude would have probably snatched Sexy Wolverine up and run off with her.

End of Detour

When we got into the Marriott we saw a big line going across the Atrium level. The end was by the elevators closest to the sky bridge. We wondered what it was for - most of the big stuff was upstairs. As we approached the Track room something became clear. This was our line.

I did my best to get a picture, but it's hard to get a picture of a huge line. I had a game show to get to, so I couldn't very well run upstairs. From the left to right of this picture and far beyond on both sides, this was the line for our show.

The Dirty Dirty Con Con Game Game Show Show faced some challenges. I cannot emphasize enough that the room we were in was not sufficient to handle the audio/visual/performance presentation we had ready, nor the crowd that showed up to see it. I would guess that we turned away 150 potential audience members and I was told that others waited in line for half an hour or more just to get in to see the final portion of the show.

During setup we had a tremendous amount of trouble working with the antiquated audio system. This is not a fault on anyone’s part – the system was fine for what the room is used for throughout the day. But we needed a minimum of four wireless mics for our show and could not connect them to what was available. Then, just before showtime, the mics that we did have stopped working. As near as we can figure the audio system would not allow us to play prerecorded sound and use the mics at the same time. So we performed the entire show without mics.

This was a problem for two reasons – 1) It killed our voices and eliminated a certain amount of spontaneity. When you have to strain to make yourself heard, you are much more conservative about what you say. I know I threw away some potentially funny lines because I didn’t want to shout; and 2) Not having mics dispelled our presence a bit. Everyone else in the room was just as loud as we were, so we didn’t have quite the commend of the audience that we should have.

I’m not trying to gripe or make things out to be awful, but these are things that happened and they definitely affected the show.

Regardless of that we had a fantastic time and, more importantly, the audience had a fantastic time. I cannot even begin to describe the warmth that I still feel from the pure joy of working with these people. And believe me – I’m doing everything I can to hang onto it. If all goes as planned, The Dirty Dirty Con Con Game Game Show Show will be back long before Dragon Con 2016. We want to take this thing on the road. So if you have a local con that you think would be a good fit, let them know and let us know. There are some criteria to consider, though:

*A con that prides itself on being family-friendly is probably not going to be interested in us.

*The con probably needs to take place in a hotel, as convention center cons probably don’t feature evening entertainment.

*We need functional audio equipment (haha).

Side Note: Also, if you were at Dragon Con, please go into the app and rate the show and mention in the notes that we need a bigger room. I don’t find the audio stuff to be worth mentioning because if we can get into a ballroom for next year it will be equipped with what we need.

I almost didn’t even mention the negative stuff because overall the game show was so amazing and is the highlight of my performing life, but that stuff happened. I would have felt weird leaving it out.

The very best part is that we all hung out after the show. We went back to my room and had some adult beverages and talked about the show, then ventured forth – still in costume – to enjoy Dragon Con. And enjoy it we did. It didn’t even really matter what we were doing, we were having fun and decompressing as a group after the show. It was by far the best time I’ve had just wandering around aimlessly. Well, mostly aimlessly. There was that sick room party in the Marriott 603.

But I can’t talk about that.


Alright, people – I’m going to have to power on through this thing, so hang in there. Dragon Con was technically a week late this year, so I don’t have the amount of time I normally have to spread these long-winded recaps out. That’s okay, because there are only a few things to cover about Sunday and Monday was just getting up and going home.

After running around all weekend and missing him a couple of times at his table, I finally got to meet Scott Thompson. I told him that having grown up in the American South I had been exposed to certain preconceptions about homosexuality and the flood of prejudices that go along with them. Buddy Cole and other characters that he had portrayed had opened a sort of door in my mind and led to my eventual acceptance of different lifestyles, something that wouldn’t have happened in the school and other environments that I was in. I also told him that his comedic style and character work had been hugely influential on my desire to perform and the way that my creative mind had developed.

Of course, Mr. Thompson was higher than giraffe pussy, so he just smiled politely and we got a nice picture:

I am glad that I wore the full-on Phantom get-up for this one.

My final panel of the weekend was at 4 PM in the Classics Track room. It was called Sci-Fighters and featured a sort of tournament between characters from GI Joe and Masters of the Universe. The audience helped to select the participants and the eventual winner. It was another fun, highly interactive panel of the sort that I and the rest of the Classics Track Irregulars specialize in.

I was the first panelist to arrive, so I sat down on the right side of the table to wait for everyone else. I had no idea who else was going to be on this one, but I never sit in the center unless the panel is specifically mine.

The start time drew closer and nobody else was showing up. I wasn’t too worried about running the panel myself if I had to, but I wasn’t exactly expecting that, either. Gnoll from Dork Droppings had originally been scheduled, but he had a GI Joe photoshoot. While this had been the case since long before Con, I wasn’t sure if Joe and Gary knew that. So I got my stuff together and prepared to start.

And then, just in the nick of time, Gary walked in. I have to admit to being relived. While I could have handled it, I preferred not to. And then, just after the nick of time, Joe came in as well.

Silly things happened like Baroness assassinating Snout Spout and the Ice Cream Soldier to take a slot and Zartan and Man-E-Faces being unable to find one another and both getting eliminated, allowing He-Man a pass into the next round. IT was chaotic and somewhat intense (in a good way) because everyone had their favorite characters and was way into them progressing. A lot of serious nerd thought went into the thing, and I’m proud to have had a hand in prompting that.

As I mentioned on the Needless Things Podcast, the panel was a “had to be there” kind of thing. It was a whole lot of fun and everyone in the room had a blast, but I’m not sure if it would really be fun for a podcast episode. I do have the recording, though, and someday it may find its way onto the show.

Later in the evening was the Needless Things Meet-Up/Rad Ranger Birthday Bash. Sean had no idea that we were planning it, but before Dragon Con I had gotten together with our mutual friend, Jesica, and made cake plans. So when we arrived at the Hilton pool she was there with a cake and everyone sang happy birthday. And to those of you that showed up, you have my deepest, most sincere thanks for taking the last of those Needless Things t-shirts off of my hands.

Seriously, though – thanks for coming out. I wish I could have spent more time with everyone, but that’s just how Dragon Con goes.

Afterward we made arrangements to hit the Puppet Slam because there’s no way a Dragon Con is complete without seeing the Puppet Slam. I’m posting a full separate review later this week, but here are some general thoughts:

I went with Oz and Sean and as we got to the top of the Hyatt steps a voice called out, “Phantom!” and it was Mark Meer in a fantastic jacket. Voice actor and improviser Mark Meer, who is always one of the highlights of the shows I’ve seen him in. He complimented me on my performance at Puppet Improv and both my heart and my head grew three sizes. And then we hung out and talked for a while and then walked into the Puppet Slam. With Mark Meer.

Leslie Carrera-Rudolph was entertaining the crowd while the room was filling up and I got to talk to her a bit more about my part in Puppet Improv on Friday night. She told me I did a great job and I thanked her again for making it such an incredible experience. I wouldn’t mention her saying I did a great job except for the fact that I don’t think she’s the sort of person that would tell me that if I hadn’t done a great job. So that was a wonderful little denouement to Friday’s excitement.

Look – I know you guys are probably rolling your eyes at my talking about these folks complimenting me, but after stifling the urge to perform for over three decades of my life because I spent the first two being told it was stupid and pointless, it’s so validating to get positive feedback about doing it. At this point in my life it’s not something I can pursue as a career, but one night of performance brings me more satisfaction than anything that will ever happen at my day job. I just passed the ten year mark there and they didn’t even mention it. So yeah – I’m enjoying every bit of praise I can get from people that I actually respect.

As far as the show itself, it was fantastic. There was an experimental feel this year that I thoroughly enjoyed. The show as a whole was massively entertaining and there wasn’t one act that I would call a bathroom break. I’ll get more detailed in the review, but Kathleen and Peter David’s The Cad in the Hat won my Best in Show.

Dragon Con 2015 was incredible in every way. I'm still buzzing from it weeks later. I don't have a particularly clever way to wrap this up, so I'll just say thank you to everyone that had anything to do with it and I'll see you all next year, with bigger and better everything.

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