(Readings in Convention Planning #1)
"Constellation Con '83" was advertised in 1982 as a media-oriented
SF convention to be held in Victoria, B.C., on Feb. 18-21, 1983, in
two hotels -- the Empress and the Harbour Towers -- drawing at
least 1500 people. Memberships were sold at $25 a head.
What eventually happened was a one-day event in a Jaycee Hall, on
Feb. 20th, drawing maybe 100 people. About 30 of them, the story
has it, were the committee. Reports vary.
As early as June 1982, many members of SFAV, UFCST, and UVicSFA
(the local clubs) expressed fears that the Constellation plans were
grandiose and unworkable. Also, a number of events made some of us
progressively annoyed, frightened, very angry, and finally paranoid
about Constellation and its organizers.
It is worth noting that the members of these clubs were largely
college and university students, used to trying to make ends meet
on entirely inadequate budgets. At the time, I myself had no
concept of a mentality that disregarded budgetary constraints.
As faneditor Robert Runte pointed out (in the Jan. 1983 edition of
New Canadian Fandom), several problems with Constellation
Con were obvious, even to out-of-towners, over six months in
Robert Runte wrote: "While not spectacular, [the Victoria] cons have been quite enjoyable and have always achieved their sensibly limited objectives [my emphasis --GS]. These small cons have provided invaluable experience for Victoria fandom in running conventions, and it was generally recognized that they were slowly working up to a full-scale regional, possibly even taking a turn hosting V-Cons ... All this careful buildup, however, is now threatened by Constellation." Constellation Con were thus doing themselves out of experienced local manpower;
Robert Runte wrote: "No con in North American has ever paid for more than four guests, and standard practice is for one pro GoH, one fan GoH, and occasionally a Toastmaster if the con can afford it. ... Constellation Con '83 has neither an established reputation nor a reserve of cash."
Now, granted, when he said the Constellation concom intended to
host "the largest convention ever held in Canada", Robert Runte was
not taking into account Torcon II (Toronto, 1973), the second
Worldcon held in Canada, which drew (by some accounts) over 2800
people. Apparently he compared Constellation's objectives to the
regular attendances at annual Canadian conventions, none of which
topped 1000 and many of which were under 600, as of 1982-83.
Myles Bos, a survivor of the Constellation concom, later told me
that Constellation was figuring on a budget of about $75,000. That
is the only information I have to tell me they even had a budget.
Constellation figured that their breakeven was 600 to 800
Jon Gustafson, then largely involved with Moscon and the Palouse
Empire SF Association, later wrote me to indicate that he, too, had
his offers of advice and experience rejected. From his remarks I
inferred that there are other new concoms which mistake such offers
for takeover attempts.
A member of the committee told Robert that manpower was no problem
since registration would be handled by computer (?), and that
conrunning would be no problem since Bjo Trimble knew all about
conventions (?). That was typical of the fast-talking gobbledygook
that the core committee kept producing.
Robert recommended this concom (1) drop one of the hotels,
preferably the Empress, (2) drop all of the paid guests other than
the official Guests of Honour, (3) scale down the entire operation
to about 400 attendees (still aiming high, he said, in a time of
recession), and (4) achieve a reconciliation with the local
After seeing an early draft of the article quoted above,
Constellation arranged a conference call was arranged with Robert
and local club members that fall. As I heard later, the treasurer
went back to the concom and said "We've gotten Robert straightened
out and everything's okay now."
As things turned out, the concom dropped the Harbour Towers, kept
the guests, kept alienating the clubs, and only gradually talked
about 1000 (later 800, later 400) projected members.
The last word Robert had before printing New Canadian Fandom
#6 was that the more starry-eyed concommers had been removed, but
Empress withdrew from the con, and Constellation was officially
cancelled -- leaving the concom heavily in debt and without funds
to repay 360 memberships.
Feuding occurred within the concom as different factions held
executive meetings, voted rivals out of office and instituted their
own plans. The treasurer turned out to be a slick, fast-talking
kleptomaniac; it took some careful hacking to open up files he had
kept other concommers out of, and find out why Constellation
cheques kept bouncing.
Stranger things than fraud and forgery were happening. It got to
the point where someone threw a paint bomb into a local comic fan's
apartment. It got to the point where several non-members were
entered into Constellation's membership lists -- including several
club members who had no intention of joining Constellation, and one
dead fan; apparently their names and addresses were copied from a
notoriously outdated edition of the Fandom Directory.
I drew several conclusions from the Constellation affair in SFAV's
clubzine, useful for future conrunning committees. But as for
protecting your clubs and cons against certifiable space cadets ...
nothing seems possible.