Monday, March 24, 2014

Convention Report: MAD MONSTER PARTY

CLUSTERFUCK was the word on everyone's lips at MAD MONSTER PARTY this past weekend. I heard the word so often that it began to lose meaning, though the event maintained its ability to terrifying me with feats of mismanagement throughout the duration of the three-day convention in Charlotte, N.C.

I'd say the problems were in place when the event opened its doors 6 p.m. Friday at Hilton Charlotte University Place, but that's not exactly true. For a great many people, the convention didn't begin in earnest until several hours later because of the event's inability to manage crowds. Despite purchasing tickets weeks earlier (and getting in line about 45 minutes before the doors opened) my wife and I didn't get inside the hotel until sometime after 7 p.m. The first of the weekend's scheduled events, a ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW panel featuring cast members Barry Bostwick, Little Nell and Patricia Quinn, began at 6:30, while a photo-op with William Shatner was set to start at 8. You do the math.

The festival organizers spotted this problem and wisely began to go through the crowd, cherry picking attendees who had pre-paid for the expensive Shatner photo (though it's incredibly unlikely that some customers weren't overlooked.) They also announced that the ROCKY HORROR panel would be delayed until everyone made it inside.

The panel was pushed back all of 30 minutes. The location of the event was also not marked on the tri-fold brochure issued to customers, meaning nobody knew where it was taking place ... including the first few MAD MONSTER employees we spoke with. As it happens, the panel took place outside the hotel, in a large tent. After fighting our way back through the crowd, up the escalator and exiting the building, we managed to catch the final 15 minutes of the panel.

As did a lot of other people, apparently. This was the audience at the ROCKY HORROR panel.
When the panel was over, the line for customers outside was alive and well, and still wrapped around the hotel. Some of these were people waiting to buy tickets; others were people who'd bought tickets online prior to the event. There was just the one line for both kinds of customers. (There were also VIP ticket holders, who had the privilege of getting into the convention at the appropriate time on Friday. Win?)

I refuse to believe this woman is 62 years old.
And this is how the weekend pretty much went. The staff rarely knew anything about events taking place outside of their immediate area, and were not equipped with radios to find answers to questions. And more than a few of them knew much of anything about their own assigned tasks. I paid $75 (sigh) in advance to get an autograph from William Shatner at noon on Saturday and, like the ROCKY HORROR panel, the location was not marked on the brochure. Luckily, my wife spotted an elevated table on Friday, heard someone mention Shatner's name and guessed he'd be doing all scheduled signings at that location. She was right. And wrong.

I arrived early at the table to avoid the problems witnessed the previous day with lines. After standing around for a few minutes, it became worrying when nobody else got in line behind us. I asked a staff member assigned to the area if this was where Shatner was scheduled to do his noon signing. "Yes," I was told. Noticing the camera around my neck, he also told me I wouldn't be allowed to take photos.

We waited a few more minutes. Still: no line.

I decided to ask the guy again about the scheduled signing, and was much more specific with my second question: "Is this where we stand in line to meet William Shatner?" You probably know where this is going.

Shatner's line began on the other side of the convention hall, beginning with a door leading into an employee access space that ran behind a hotel wall, and back to to where I was standing. (We saw where the hotel stores its Christmas decorations, if you're interested.) The door was not marked, either on the map or, you know, on THE ACTUAL DOOR. If you wanted to attend any of the weekend's scheduled events, you essentially had to keep asking employees until you got the correct answer. And you'd better phrase the goddamn question carefully.

Richard Kiel, William Shatner and Anne Serling take part in a panel discussion about THE TWILIGHT ZONE.
The two panels I hit were sparsely attended. The front section was reserved for VIP customers, but so few people attended that everyone got a free upgrade and was allowed to sit in those seats. I don't know if the low attendance was the product of disinterest or confusion. (The actual panels were terrific fun, BTW.) While confusion and crowd management on Saturday weren't as chaotic as Friday's mayhem, there was still a lot of room for improvement. Such as when a staff member gave us directions from the hotel to the outside tent, which involved climbing over a small wall and walking up an unpaved hill to the event. My wife is five months pregnant, just so you know.

Patty "Frankenhooker" Mullen & friend.
The crown jewel of the weekend's activities was a ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW screening by That Type, a Charlotte-based shadowcast. I saw them a few years back and knew they did good work, but cast members from the original film were also supposed to take part in the event. I had no intention of missing it, but felt my balls crawl into my belly when I saw the line for the screening stretched from the tent to the front door of the hotel.

BUT: This tale has a happy ending. Mad Monster Party was beginning to get its shit together and had everybody seated in a timely manner. It was an AMAZING experience, one I'll share in a separate blog post.

So, where does that leave us? I heard no apologies from anyone for Friday's widely acknowledged clusterfuck, and organizers have chosen to downplay the problems online as "growing pains." I heard complaints from vendors about confusion regarding how their space was allotted on the floor of the convention, while constant delays continued to snowball and create new problems. If you were late getting your photo taken with a celebrity, chances are you were late receiving the photo, as well. By the time someone told me their photo with Shatner had been lost, it was almost funny.

But it's not all bad news. While I expected much, much better from a business that conducts these events all over the country, management has not (as yet) taken to deleting negative comments from the Facebook event page. That's a promising sign. With luck, Mad Monster Party will learn from last weekend's mistakes ... though their responses to these problems (both online and at the actual event) have been difficult to decipher. For the time being, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Little Nell, Patricia Quinn, Barry Bostwick and the THAT TYPE! shadowcast.
And none of this is to suggest I didn't enjoy myself. While it often felt like the event was at odds with its customers, the celebrity guests were all outgoing, and Mad Monster Party created once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for fans. Here's a non-essential tale of weirdness that could only have happened at there:

FYI: Dick Miller has a Twitter account.
I got to share the stage for about 10 minutes with Barry Bostwick, Little Nell and Patricia Quinn during the finale of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW screening (I actually held Patricia's hand and helped her down the stage stairs afterward.) While heading back to the hotel, I spotted a goose standing in a small patch of grass. At first, I thought it might have been a discarded prop ... there's not a patch of grass within 20 square miles of that hotel that's not part of an artificial "greenspace" project. A flaming skull? A bloody hatchet? Finding something like THAT discarded outside the hotel would have made more sense, as odd as that might seem.

As it happens, the goose was very real, and looked like kind of an asshole.

I took a photo of the rogue fowl and headed back toward the hotel when I saw Ken Foree (of DAWN OF THE DEAD) and Heather LagenKamp (of A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) smoking on a set of stairs outside. I stopped to talk and showed them the photo of the goose, saying it was "the weirdest thing I'd seen all weekend" (or something like that.) Even as the words were coming out of my mouth, I knew I was topping the random goose sighting story by becoming "The Guy Who Tells Random Goose Sighting Stories." 


"I wouldn't be surprised if it was someone in costume," I said about the goose, ha-ha, before shouting "SMOKEBOMB!" and running away. (I made up the smokebomb thing just to sound cool.)
The photo in question.
It's not my intention to throw Mad Monster Party under the proverbial bus. Was it fun? Absolutely. Was it frustrating? Without a doubt. Can these problems be fixed? YES. Assuming this story doesn't get me banned for life, I expect to be back in 2015 for the next event. I just hope it's better organized next time.

(NOTE: For more photos of MAD MONSTER PARTY, visit our Tumblr and Twitter feeds.)

An awkward moment from the ROCKY HORROR screening.

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