August 22–25, 2013
Providence, Rhode Island
I have been to many conventions over the past fifteen years: science fiction, fantasy, gaming, horror, literature, steampunk, geek-centric, media… but even the most interesting, the most original, have gotten… routine. So I decided to do something new.
I had never been to a Rocky Horror convention before. I had been in a shadowcast (before it was called shadowcasting) in Staten Island back in the 90s, and I had always had a soft spot for the really bad cult movie and its fans. Rocky Horror was the start of an art form that has become almost a living thing, encompassing movies such as Shock Treatment, Xanadu, Ghostbusters, Repo! The Genetic Opera, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. There are costumes, rehearsals, auditions, props, audience participation… This underground sensation has become a world-wide phenomenon, and I just had to go to a convention.
RKO Con, the 38th Annual National Rocky Convention, took place on August 22–25, in Providence, Rhode Island in various locations around town, with “home base” being the gorgeous Omni Hotel. I was able to look at this convention from various perspectives, which may be why this review is longer than most. I knew no one at this convention, save for one vendor. I had no friends there, no connections, was not a participant in any way, and was unfamiliar with the town and the venues. I also have years of con experience on concomms, on security, as a panelist, as a promoter, and as an attendee. I also have experience working behind the scenes on a shadowcast, and as a professional event planner. With all of this background and knowledge, I knew I would not be easy to please.
The schedule for RKO Con was both jam-packed and well organized, with an afternoon start time and a break for dinner each day. Signing up for the convention was a simple procedure, and the hotel liaison was helpful and knowledgeable. The concomm set up groups on Facebook for questions about the convention and for socializing with each other before the con started. The committee was hard working and very professional, but also had their fun, quirky side that was welcoming to everyone involved. Registration was open in a hotel room hours before the convention started so that people could stop by and pick up their registration packets with ease. Those that got there later could register at Dave & Buster’s, which was the first venue of the con on Thursday night.
It was there that I got my program, which was 40 pages, 8.5×11 and full color, with schedules, cast lists and vendor information. The ads (I purchased a half-page) had been easy to order, and were professionally placed throughout the program. There was also a listing in the program describing each event—which was very helpful to those who were new to either the Rocky convention circuit or to shadowcasting in general—along with a complete history of the host cast, RKO Army. What struck me the most was the other thing in the program: the thank yous. In the front was a letter from Roy Rossi, the “convention chair” (I don’t know if they used the same titles as other concomms), thanking not only his staff, but the attendees of both the con and their show; in the back was one from “the soldiers” of RKO Army, thanking everyone involved with the convention.
The Dave & Buster’s site was set up as a wedding reception for Ralph and Betty’s wedding reception (from RHPS) where BtVS: Once More with Feeling and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog were performed by RKO Army followed by karaoke and a party back at the Omni.
Friday’s events started at noon at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel, which is a club used often by Tight Crew, an event production company who worked with RKO Army on the convention. There they had panels, vendors, and an all-star performance of Shock Treatment (“all-star” meaning not just members of RKO Army, but cast members from all over, including Canada and Israel), a rave, and then a party back at the hotel.
Saturday’s events were at the Columbus theater (which, appropriately, was once a XXX theater) starting at noon. The con had arranged for buses to take attendees and cast members back and forth from theater to hotel throughout the day. I never left the theater that day except to grab some food during scheduled breaks, because the day was packed with panels, shows, contests, raffles (with the one and only Sal Piro of RHPS fan fame), video pre-shows, an all-star performance of Repo! The Genetic Opera, then a dinner break before two hours of live pre-shows from various casts, and then the crown jewel: the all-star cast of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Then there was a wrap-up party at the hotel which lasted until 6:00 in the morning.
Sunday was an informal brunch at a restaurant called Fire & Ice. Approximately 150 people showed up for the brunch; no one seemed to want it to end.
Some things I noted at this con:
- Security: they were everywhere, but unobtrusive. They checked badges, stood in hallways, guarded stage entrances, and herded people in and out of venues.
- Video streaming: RKO Army had live streaming of the convention events, starting with the pre-con events on Wednesday evening.
- Con staff: The staff/cast of RKO Army was easily visible in bright yellow shirts, and were friendly, knowledgeable, and welcoming.
- Food: While there was food at the reception on the first night, the town didn’t seem prepared for the flood of conventioneers that descended upon them (Necronomicon was also that weekend). The Dunkin’ Donuts next to Lupo’s actually ran out of food before noon, and the local deli closed the whole weekend. Fire & Ice wasn’t prepared for so many of us at all. Luckily the pizzeria across from the Columbus was able to take us on, but it seemed to be the only establishment able to do so.
- RKO Army: What makes this convention committee the most impressive is that this was their first con ever! A cast member told me that on the RHPS circuit—unlike on the sci-fi/fantasy circuit, where established cons bid for hosting privileges—established casts talk to the “powers that be” and simply ask to host a con. Although RKO Army helped other casts with their cons, this was the Army’s first. This con had almost 400 attendees (20% higher than originally expected), plus an extra 100 guests at the Saturday night event, making RKO Con one of the largest of its type in the last several years.
To say I was impressed doesn’t even begin to cover it.