Held annually at the Marriott Madison West in Middleton, WI (10 minutes outside of Madison proper), last year’s Geek.Kon reported a respectable attendance of over 2,500 attendees, but the presence of some-two thousand was not felt at this year’s event. Attendees wandered the narrow, poorly-lit hallways of the convention center with little to do–empty tables in the Vendors’ Hall suggested that some dealers or artists hadn’t even bothered to show up, the subpar programming included irrelevant panels such as “How I Overcame My Depression,” and the unimpressive guest list read like “someone’s list of slightly talented friends,” as a friend put it. Having recently moved to Madison myself, I went to Geek.Kon with high hopes, excited to experience my new home con for the first time, but ended the weekend feeling severely underwhelmed.
The positives of Geek.Kon include its convenient location and its wonderful staff. Geek.Kon, although not centrally located in Madison, was in the perfect neighborhood for a convention. The convention center itself had ample free parking across two large lots, and was within walking distance to many affordable food options, including Five Guys, Dickey’s Barbeque Pit, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and many more. Coincidentally, there was also a Michael’s less than half a mile away at a nearby mall, for anyone who needed last minute cosplay supplies. The Geek.Kon staff, who I ended up interacting with extensively, were extremely kind, accommodating, and clearly trying their best. The registration staff handled my special request swiftly and painlessly, and the masquerade staff were always friendly and quick to answer my questions, even when under pressure.
As a masquerade participant, however, I am obligated to comment on how poorly executed the event was, mostly likely due to a lack of manpower. The tech rehearsals ran almost an hour behind schedule, while craftsmanship judging was done on a “first come first serve” basis in a corner of the green room (the lack of communication between a masquerade staffer and the judges disrupted the queue on one occasion). There was no audio or video connection between the stage and the green room, so waiting contestants could not hear or see any of the contest. When the awards were announced, a staffer had to run back and forth between the stage and the green room to call up the winners. Most winners returned to the green room, ribbon in hand, saying “I don’t even know what I won.” At the end of the masquerade, both the contestants and the audience were made to wait forty minutes (the length of the masquerade itself!), without a half-time show or any form of entertainment, for the judges to deliberate. As someone who has judged many cosplay contests, I find that completely unacceptable.
Ultimately, in the words of georgedugong on Instagram, “Alcohol can only do so much to try to save a con…” George was only one of many attendees who left Geek.Kon 2017 feeling disappointed. Numerous congers claimed that the event actually used to be bigger or more interesting–and given the lack of other conventions in the Madison area, where did all these attendees go? Another big complaint I heard from a Geek.Kon regular was that the same vendors and artists sold every year. Personally, I live ten minutes away from the convention and didn’t even go back on Sunday (and I doubt I’d go again next year). Geek.Kon organizers, it’s time to spice things up if you want to keep your attendees interested!
All images © Jason Cheng Photography