(RE)GENERATION WHO: It’s Bigger and More Fun on the Inside
Four years ago, into the midst of FarPoint Con and Shoreleave Con (which, as their names hint at, are dedicated primarily to Star Trek) came a new Con: (Re)Generation Who. However, unlike these other events (mentioned before), this Con would be geared toward "Doctor Who." Given the fact that the Who universe is as rich and diverse as the Star Trek universe, it would be easy to make the mistake that someone was already holding this type of Con in the DC/MD/VA region; surprisingly though, no one was. Therefore it was into this vacuum that Oni Hartstein, James Harknell and their Team of Companions stepped up to bring this unique event. And so, it was - of course - from this moment that Doctor Who fans finally got the Con they deserved.
(Re)Generation Who 4 was held at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace, the second host hotel in the Cons' 4 years of existence (the first two being held in Hunt Valley, outside of Baltimore). The hotel is easily accessible either through public transportation or by driving and parking at any of the many parking garages that are an easy walk from the hotel (which also had it’s own parking). Little Italy and its plethora of family run restaurants was an easy walk away. But the real treasure was what was inside the Con: a mixture of classic and current Who guests. Headlined by the Twelfth Doctor himself ,Peter Capaldi, and Missy-Michelle Gomez.
The Con was held on the fifth floor of the hotel, which was a sunny atrium that overlooked the shopping mall connected to the hotel. On Saturday morning, the entire Atrium was alive with the buzz and energy of several hundreds of people lining up for the first chance to meet Capaldi and Gomez. In all my years of attending the Con it was the largest I have ever seen the autograph lines. And yet there never a sense of chaos or people being unhappy. The staff was doing a good job working people through the line, and everyone was pretty happy. And that is possibly one of Regeneration Who’s greatest successes. Though it is an expanding Con (Saturday morning was proof of that), it still has a feeling of being small and intimate, where everyone knows each other. It is like what the show Cheers would have been had the setting been an annual con and not a bar. The setting also helps because unlike larger Cons where you spend time wandering aimlessly down a hallway trying to find the room that hold the panel you wish to attend, everything is pretty much right there. It’s like being inside the TARDIS, on the level where all the fun rooms are.
All the Con staff were not just friendly, but they were prepared. They were all equipped with electronic devices to communicate with another person if they were faced with a question they could not answer. And they showed an ability to adapt to circumstances. For example, they quickly realized that they could increase the speed of people going through the line if they broke out the people who just wanted to get Michelle Gomez’s signature. Photo-ops were held on a separate floor, which was a good call (again so as not to overcrowd an already packed atrium). And unlike some Cons were you are made to stand against a wall in a hotel hallway, here you were allowed to sit in a room with a nice view of the harbor, and wait until you were called and brought into the room for your respective timed photo op session.
The Con had a rich variety of Doctors, and I don’t mean just the ones in Cosplay. In addition to Peter Capaldi, (Re)Generation Who had Peter Davison and Colin Baker (the Fifth and Sixth Doctors). Also among the guests were: Companions, Davros himself (Terry Molloy), the very successful and talented director Rachel Talalay, and the voice of K-9 himself, John Leeson! It was fantastic to hear the swell of pride in the voices of the actors from the first run of Who when they talked about how the show started vs. what it has become today; undoubtedly, they are trailblazers who have led the way in shaping our current Who Universe. Last but not least, there was Peter Capaldi who took to the stage (entering through the TARDIS, naturally) to a room that, despite its large size, was barely able to hold the people who came to listen to him speak. People lined up against the wall once all the chairs had been filled (easily well over 1,000 people). Capaldi spoke like a man grateful for his time as a TimeLord, yet ready to move on to other projects. He did share an idea he had that sadly did not make it into the show about how his Doctor would have met Jimi Hendrix, and would have had an exchange about guitar playing.
Aside from Peter Capaldi, there was Michelle Gomez-Missy. She was at times insightful, yet whip smart and always funny. Her talk alone was definitely worth attending Regeneration Who for. She spoke about upcoming work (she will be on the New Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), living in Los Angeles, and she also spoke about how she thought that she was the right Missy for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor, yet unable to recreate the chemistry with another Doctor. Finally, a big reveal she gave was: ‘Spoilers’: she and River Song will finally meet in a ‘Big Finish’ production she just wrapped the previous week. Michele Gomez was unable to attend last year’s (Re)Generation Who, but this year she brought her A game.
The other thing that (Re)Generation Who does right is its selection of vendors: these are not just your usual vendors selling old comic books or toys from yesterday. Many of these vendors are skilled craftspeople selling items made from a variety of materials. Located both at the entrance to the atrium and inside the vendor room, there were many items to choose from to purchase. Definitely a higher quality of vendors.
Now, with all those talking point out of the way, below I have specified what the Con did well, and also, where it could improve.
What was done well
Well organized with trained staff. All the staff are prepared, and equipped with radios to contact someone if they can’t answer a question or provide assistance. Though Saturday morning was a Tsunami of people, they handled the expanding signature line without panicking (at least not publicly).
The Photo op wait was a pleasant experience. At many cons, getting in line for a photo op involves either standing in a hotel hallway, or sitting on a concrete floor. Regeneration Who had an overflow room for people to comfortably sit and wait their turn for a photo op. And unlike other Cons where you have to wait for your picture to be printed and placed on a table an hour later for you to hunt for, here the picture is quickly printed and you are handed it before you leave the room. You don’t feel rushed.
It is a close knit experience. Though the Con is growing, the experience itself still feels like a close community. It might be a function of the use of space in tight quarters, but the Con does a lot of things right to maintain the sense this is an experience focused on a small
of people, where in reality there are lots of people there.
A nice diversity of activities: From quantum hypnosis, to Yoga to Tea with the Doctor, the Con has several unique signature activities that are vastly different from just your usual fan organized panel or main talks. Thanks to the diversity of things to do, there is another thing that makes Regeneration Who stand out.
Room for Positive Growth
Improved Signage: I think it would help to have printouts identifying each day what is the schedule of events for each room on the signs identifying the rooms. These are available online, but sometimes attendees just want to know at a glance what is happening in a room without having to check their phones. Likewise, if the hotel allowed it, I would place an easel with a sign saying that access to the Con through the Mall was not an option. Both myself and a few other Con attendees in Cosplay wandered up and down the escalators trying to get upstairs until we realized access was only through the hotel itself.
Make it easier for volunteers to read printouts: Rather than being given a ticket to hand to the handler at each guests table if you pre purchased a signature, your name was on a printout. The issue that I saw happen was that the print was so small it took the volunteers sometimes up to half a minute to find our names on the printout. If what the database prints out is exported to an excel sheet, an extra step of simply selecting all and increasing the font to 12 or 14 font would help the volunteers find names faster and would act as a another way to move lines along.
Encourage Attendees to share their photos on Flickr: The (Re)Generation Who page on flickr has not been updated since the second Regeneration Who. People love to post images of the Cons they attend. Encourage people to share on flickr and other social sites about the Con. Grow the social buzz.
Place the Sign language interpreter on a highchair on stage. There were chairs up front for hearing impaired guests and this was a good move. But if you were sitting more than two rows back, it would have been challenging to see them. And you could definitely not see them on the video monitors because they were seated on the edge of the stage. To ensure anyone who is hearing impaired can see them, I would suggest placing them on a high chair on stage.
Have a room playing the main episodes featuring your guests: For people who may want to take a break from the Con and still feel a part of it, perhaps designate a room where people can see a selection of some of the episodes the guests were a part of? Doing so would not only allow attendees a break from walking around, it would also allow those new to the series an opportunity to enjoy watching prior seasons (to catch up).
All in all, it is not easy to organize a Con. More importantly, it's much harder to organize one that is successful and expanding in a sustainable way. With that said, (Re)Generation Who has not only filled a niche, but is choosing to not take the path of sudden rapid growth (and the headaches that come with them), but rather the aim for strategic growth. As mentioned before, the first two (Re)Generation Who events moved to the heart of Baltimore to be closer to their fans and allow for easier access.
(Re)Generation Who #4 has shown that they have reached the capacity for their current location; as a result, next year it will be on the move again: to the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center near White Flint in Rockville, MD. Not only will this provide them with more space to work with, it will allow people from Virginia easier access, and be an easy 5 minute walk from a metro stop. It’s not easy to continue to shake things up when things are going well, but (Re)Generation Who is showing the fearlessness to continue to adapt to the needs of its attendees.
It may look like a Small Con, but it is much bigger on the inside-and a lot more fun. I give this Con an A-.
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