So you are attending your favorite convention, right? You are in awe of the celebrity tables and amazed by all the cool vendor booths. What you might not know are the true stars that are behind the scenes of the conventions. The ones who put together those celebrity tables, hung those banners, helped set up those vendor booths. These people are often volunteers or in some cases ambassadors. They arrive days before the event to help set up every detail that you see. From the curtains and banners to the tables and even the line ques. They arrive hours before the doors open to prepare for your arrival. They check you in, they take care of your safety, help you with disability services, ready to answer your questions, help you meet your favorite celebrity and all the while keeping a smile on their face. Then at the end of the convention, they break it down and move on to the next convention and do it all over again.
Why would someone volunteer to do all this work? These people would answer it is a labor of love. While at Fan Fest Nashville 2018 I took time to talk with a few of these awesome people. These stars have a few conventions under their belts and keep coming back. As I talked with each of them one thing I noticed that they never answered, “I do this to hang out with the celebrities”. The truth is if you are signing up for work a convention just to hang out with celebrities you will be extremely disappointed. However, if you want to meet lifelong friends, make attendees have the weekend of their lives and be part of something amazing then, by all means, volunteer and become part of the “con family”.
I started my interview path at the “Walker Crew” stop. At each Walker Stalker Con, you can stop and play around with the “Walkers”. The make-up queen Krystle Wood starts early getting the ambassadors who are going to be “Walkers” get their make-up applied. It takes up to two hours to have the make-up completed and ready for your arrival. In Nashville, I talked with Angela Feingold from Henderson, NC she started her convention career in 2016 at the Walker Stalker Con in Charlotte and has done nearly 15 since. I asked why does she keep coming back and her reply made me smile. She simply replied: “I work Fan Fest Conventions because I like to see people happy and smiling. I love my full-time job, but with my full-time job, I see a lot people at their worst. At the conventions, I get to see a lot of people at their best. People who are happy. People who are having their wishes come true. I have worked in different areas: zombie, ticketing, merchandise, and line control, and I have enjoyed all of it. Usually, I am a zombie. Being a zombie is fun because you get to interact with the guests. I love when the attendees have new ideas on how to stage the photographs. If I am taking the photographs, I like to do a selfie with the attendees in the background without them knowing. Sometimes they come back after they see the selfie and tell me how much they like it. The other reason I like working the conventions is that I get to make friends and see old friends. Everyone is like a big happy family. Everyone gets along and are very accepting of others no matter their age, race, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. The ambassadors and staff make everyone feel accepted and loved. I think these are the reasons I keep coming back. I love being a part of something where the rule is to have fun and to make sure the attendees are having fun.” I also spoke with Patricia Kelly from Philadelphia, PA who started her convention “habit” at Walker Stalker Con in Philadelphia. She has done 12 conventions since then with plans to attend as many as she can in the future. I also asked her why does she love doing the conventions and she replied: ” I keep going because it’s a lot of fun. You meet new friends each time, see old friends, so it’s like a family reunion. I’ve worked panels, disabilities and the zombie photo area. To me, working as a zombie is the most fun. Just to see how excited the attendees get when killing zombies is cool. People come over and say “Can you bite my baby”, and hand over their babies! Of course, we act like we’re eating the kids. We get them to turn on each other or give them suggestions for their pics. Sure, meeting the celebrities is nice, but you see them for a quick minute, they aren’t going to remember you. I like zombie work better. These folks will remember you and the fact that they got to kill zombies. The big smiles on their faces are awesome, and we put it there… My boss said I am a different person at the cons. Sure, because I get to attack people. This is frowned upon at work. I get to act goofy, scary and have fun doing it. I can be a zombie prisoner or nun, scary zombie or friendly zombie. Whatever it takes to make people smile. I invite special needs people over for photos. Sometimes they think that we can’t pose with them. Nonsense, I’ll lay on the ground and have them pretend to run over my head with a wheelchair. Everyone deserves a chance to kill zombies. Just watching these fans smile and have fun, partly due to me, keeps me coming back.”
I then moved to the front of the house. If you have attended a Walker Stalker Con, then you may have had the distinct pleasure of meeting our very own James Elwell S. aka Joe Dirt. who hails from New Jersey. After a long morning of helping get 20,000 convention goers through the front doors, I talked with him about his “con” life and why he loves it. He started his path three years ago in Philadelphia and since then has lost count but somewhere 15-18 conventions since. I asked which one was his favorite city to attend and he was Nashville. I asked him the same question that I asked everyone I interviewed “What keeps you coming back?” Again, it wasn’t the celebrities. He smiled and said “It’s the fans and the people I work with. You meet some cool people along the way and to be able to see them and hang out for a couple of days is great. It is a family. It is the one on one and making people smile.” I have worked with him a few times since I started my own convention life and “Joe” (which I thought was his real name for at least ¾ of the ones we worked together) has always been kind and had a smile on his face no matter how tired, stressed, or chaotic the convention had been. I must send out a hello to Cindy Mancini from New Jersey as well because we worked all day putting out flags for Nashville and trust me that was a long day.
My journey soon landed me out front again where I found Nancy Lindsey from Gainesville, GA working the Accessibilities Services (also known as Disabilities Services). The disability team at Fan Fest events always go above and beyond to ensure that anyone attending their conventions receives the same experience as everyone else and that they have the best care to make sure that is possible. Nancy started her convention path at Walker Stalker Atlanta and has lost count and when I asked why she keeps coming back she replied she loved the attendees. She loved being able to make the attendees with special needs weekends something special. She loves working with Katie Anderson who is the person in charge of the Accessibilities Services at Fan Fest. She is proud of her team and how they work together to make the event safer and more enjoyable for the attendees that need them. I have known Nancy since I personally started my “convention journey” and she is such a sweet and amazing person who does amazing work.
As I continued to track my path of the stars, I found myself at the Merch booth. My own child is a proud member of the Merch booth team. I spoke with her friend Alicia Flood of Dacula, GA who started her con journey in 2016 at Walker Stalker Atlanta. She has done nine since with Atlanta being her favorite. Of course, I asked that famous question and my heart smiled when she said it was her “con family” that she has made. “I love them all”. I also spoke with Chandra King from Lagrange, GA. She started in 2016 at the Heroes and Villains. When I asked the question of the day she replied: “I like to watch the people. I am a people watcher. I like seeing the costumes and the guests are great.”. These “con sisters” have plans to head to Orlando which is the next convention on the calendar.
I moved to the celebrity tables last. The one position that seems like you would have all the “glory” but it comes with all the stress is line control. This job is highly stressful sometimes especially if you have a high-profile celebrity. You must keep the lines (Well in control), keep them moving, keep the guests happy and the celebrity and management happy and all the while keeping a smile on your face. So yes, it is awesome, but it can be overwhelming for some. So, I caught up with Tina Knight and Cara DiBenedetto both from Boston, MA. They were working the Brandon Routh line control. They started in 2016 at Heroes and Villains and have since worked nearly 15. They have a really cool opportunity that when Brandon does an event then they get to be part of his team which is awesome. They also love seeing the attendees and their fellow con family as well.
So, I had a couple of other interviews that were lost when my recorder decided to delete over half of them so if I talked with you and you are not on here that is why. I tried to find everyone that I could but that is what happens when you try and depend on technology instead of writing down like I should have. So there is just a glimpse at the true stars, celebrities, and heroes that help pull off your favorite conventions. I can assure you I have witnessed them put their blood, sweat and tears into making sure that those attending have the best experience possible. I know that when I work the convention I want to make sure that every attendee I meet has the best time they can if that means I help take your selfie at the celebrity table because you are so nervous meeting your favorite actor. If it means you want me to “bite” you when I get to be a zombie. I just want to give my fellow ambassadors a shout out because they rock and I know that they also want to make sure you have the best weekend of your life. They want you to walk away with a memory you will never forget because they to will be walking away with that same memory.
Rachel is not a professional writer but she is a passionate writer. What does that mean for you dear reader? On one hand, that means misspelled words, run on sentences, forgotten words and rambling content. On the other, you will get humor, honesty, passion and hopefully interesting content.