Attitude: The Convention
by Pam Wells
In the run-up to the con, people (usually Greg Pickersgill, Alun Harries or D West) would take me to one side and ask me what the hell Attitude was supposed to be about. I never seemed to be able to give them a coherent answer, or at least not one they considered satisfactory. Hell, I was just making it up as I went along. And then, one night during the convention, Alun and Greg asked me the same question again. I tried my best to explain.
"It's sort of like fandom used to be, you know; fans did fanzines and they ran conventions," I said. "Attitude is a fanzine and a convention. They're the same thing. They feed into each other. That's it."
Now, I've no idea if those were my actual words, since I didn't write them down at the time, but whatever it was that I said in the bar that night, it made sense to the both of them. So, that's what Attitude was for. And, as the other half of the same project as the fanzine, I think it worked pretty damn well.
The atmosphere of the hotel on the Friday, as people arrived and connected with the con, was a delight. Everybody knew each other, even if they didn't. It was like cutting the crap, removing the need for small-talk and those "what are we gonna do now?" conversations you often seem to get at other conventions. Everyone knew why they were there, or at least enough of them did to carry the rest on through. The convention had a Purpose, even if I'd never been able to explain very well what it was. It had a life of its own, right from the word go.
The hotel was a great help in all this, of course. Friendly staff and a congenial atmosphere, with us being the only event there all weekend (not counting a political dinner in the adjoining suite on the Sunday night), made for a cohesive and almost cosy experience. I'd felt it was vital to use a hotel that hadn't been used for a convention before, so that the attendees wouldn't have any carried-forward expectations from previous events held there. But, even so, we stamped our own identity on the space from the off, by pinning interlineations on the walls, and by having whoever was in charge of the con at the time wearing a large pink hat. When I left on the Monday night, there was still one rather obscure interlineation left pinned up in the bar . . . .
Participation was the key. We used over half our members on the program, and encouraged involvement from the floor -- some of which was perhaps too enthusiastic; fandom could probably use some stronger moderators, in lieu of interruptors who Won't Wait Their Turn. But I think this is a better criticism than the one that an audience sits there passively like a bunch of stuffed dummies, not being encouraged to say their piece and not feeling involved.
We had a continuous single-stream program, running from (late) breakfast time until after midnight, and we used two programming rooms, alternating the items between them. Because the programming took place in two different rooms, this allowed popular items to over-run by up to an hour. Mexicons had tried the concept of a "continuation room" for heated items to move into, but this never really worked; once people move from their seats, the heat seems to go out of the arguments, and the bar beckons. Allowing people to stay just where they are and carry on (after the official "end" has been announced) proved to be an effective and popular move.
Another way we involved people was by giving them a bunch of questionnaires to fill in. There was the Religion Questionnaire, prepared by Tibs, to be used as input to the Weird Religion panel (Sunday morning). There was the Family Fortunes questionnaire, prepared by me, to be used as a round in my mega-quiz Whose Round Is It Anyway? (Sunday night). And then there were the infamous Trilby Awards. Was it just competition for the Trilby award for "Best One-Shot Produced at the Con" that caused 14 one-shots to be produced at the con? (Or were we just lucky?) I was delighted to notice that the Trilby award for "Best Attitude," awarded to the hotel, was sitting at the top of the bar on the Monday night, in pride of place.
The Repro Room was largely a success; people had loaned all kinds of old and new technology, from Bridget Wilkinson's jelly duplicator via Maureen Speller's Gestetner duplicator and electrostenciller and the Critical Wave photocopier, to Dave Cox's state of the art Macintosh computer and color laser printer, and Simon Bisson's laptop PC and modem (which we used for the IRC link-up to Boskone on the Saturday night). All the equipment was used over the weekend. It was good to see Felix Cohen produce two one-shots, going from the stage of not knowing what to say at all and staring at a blank screen for a long time, to confidently producing and handing out a second issue. His was the only publication to be reproduced using two different technologies (the first photocopied, the second duplicated). Quite the most promising 14-year-old to be seen in fandom for many years. I believe Vince Clarke and Chuck Connor managed to get Maureen's Gestetner working better than it was before the convention, too. I was hoping that there would have been some formal demonstrations of the technology, but -- hey -- 14 one-shots will do just as well . . . .
The program contained quizzes and silly games, serious as well as more whimsical panel discussions, items of general interest, and items which came out of some of the articles in the fanzine. Just like the fanzine, the convention started out with an editorial and ended up with Stance, Erudition and Scorn. Cutting Room came towards the end (for audience feedback and the presentation of awards), and there were many articles -- OK, program items -- about science fiction, fanzines, conventions, all manner of topics of general interest, and even some fanzine reviews. It was, as near as dammit, a live fanzine, albeit a very long one . . . .
One of the criticisms that has often been levelled at Attitude: the Fanzine is that it is "too worthy." It's a criticism I don't like, largely because I've heard it too often, but also in part because I sympathise: damn those critics, I know exactly what they mean! Someone (I think it was Alison Scott) said to me at the convention, with surprise and admiration, "Hey, you know this convention isn't very worthy at all." I took that as high praise indeed.
One thing that several people have been asking for is a second Attitude convention. That won't happen. We're winding down the fanzine over the next two issues, and that will be that; by the end of this year, we'll all be involved in different projects. We hope that other people will come up with new ways of giving us innovative fannish entertainment; we've had our 15 minutes. You were either there or you weren't, and that (in my opinion) is as it should be. The worst thing we can do is stagnate. Another Attitude wouldn't be -- couldn't be -- as good as the first. Someone else's great new idea, though -- well, that could be much better . . . .
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