Dallas Convention Integrates Arts Community with Sci-Fi and Fantasy Venue

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"From Elvis to Springsteen, with some show tunes for fun." The Friday night cabaret would seem out of place at most science fiction and fantasy conventions. But the Dallas 2006 convention "All-Con" is designed to defy stereotype.

The Sterling Hotel in Dallas won the bid for the convention for the second year in a row. All-Con is March 17th through the 19th taking place during Dallas' spring break on the educational calendar. The 3-day event draws fans to its metroplex home from around the country.

Dallas has no shortage of specific interest conventions, toy expositions, and comic book shows. "The other events know what they're doing, and they all do it well," says Todd Carlton, one of All-Con's founders. "Unfortunately, it's the exclusivity of their themes that narrows the interest of events and limits what the general public has to choose from. Because of that, many fans have to travel out-of-state to go any of the major (fandom) conventions."

The issue Mr. Carlton is addressing is the concept of convention attendees as a community. "There are fan organizations and groups of people who hop show-to-show for the social aspect. When you frequent all the (local) shows, certain faces are always familiar since you see them at every event. We value those people, and we count on them. Show veterans know how to have a good time. All-Con also knows that the community of diehard show attendees is finite, and if we're to continue to grow we need to expand our audience."

All-Con refers to itself as a "community participation event". Additional organizations referred to as "content partners" are given space in the venue in exchange for providing features. It's through the content partners that All-Con is able to reach other fan cultures or interest groups who may be too small, select, or disperse for a convention of their own. Content partners are able to promote their own groups and interests while providing education and entertainment to the people whom attend.

"It's amazing how many groups are cross-cultural. A great example this year is Southwest Festivals, Inc., who are known for their Screams theme park in October, and Scarborough Faire Renaissance Festival every spring. Their group holds the interest of costumers, role playing gamers, replica modelers, weapons collectors, and pretty much anybody who enjoy the antics and charm of their renaissance group."

Convention organizers faced criticism during their first two years that without a specific focus, their attendance would be low. "We proved them wrong", Carlton again. "We inserted odd events that you wouldn't find in most shows around town. Last year we had a stand up comedian and a burlesque troupe. Both are unheard of at a science fiction convention and both were extremely well received. They were an experiment that succeeded beyond belief. People who are into the arts have a new event to attend, and the classic convention fans were exposed to cultures that they might not have otherwise sought out."

Most local shows are daytime hours only and center around a dealer's room with a few guests for content. All-Con provides the staple dealer's room and guests, along with discussion panels, competitions, fan and independent films, audience participation (Rocky Horror and Moulin Rouge), and more throughout the day and deep into the night. The show hours are from 9:00am until 3am on both Friday and Saturday, and 9am until 5pm on Sunday. Says Carlton, "We've got to pack five days worth of content into a 3 day convention… now that's a feat people want to see… and to be a part of! All-Con a spectacle in the very best of sense of the word."

All-Con is proving that merging the theater culture with the fandom community is not that far of a leap. This year's arts events include a cabaret performance titled, "From Elvis to Springsteen, with some show tunes for fun", performed by Mr. James Horan who holds the distinction of playing five characters on four different Star Trek series', and who recently appeared as Katie's father on the television series "LOST", a point Mr. Carlton proudly points out as another culture cross-over. Friday and Saturday, Keith and Margo's Murder Mystery Weekends present an independent murder mystery dinner each night. The murder mystery dinners are definitely high up on the promotions list this year. Keith and Margo have been featured on "Entertainment Tonight" and "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous".

"We're pleased to be able to provide diversity from the rest of the Dallas area shows. It's our signature. It's who we are. At the same time, we also incorporate the classic formula behind the success of classic conventions. We have comic book guests, actors and actresses from television and film, a dealer's room, LAN gaming, a Warmachine tournament, vampire live action role playing (VLARP), seven different costuming clubs attending in costume, an open costume competition, model building competition, national Ms. Star Wars contest, independent film screening, panel discussions, a 24-hour anime room, live music…", Carlton pauses with a smile, "It's a bit overwhelming to try to recite all at once. "

Promotion has been handled by breaking up the events into their own publicity camps. All of the content can be viewed on the main website http://www.All-Con.org and several independent sites have been created to promote individual events: http://www.DallasMurderMystery.com, http://www.DallasCostumeContest.com, http://www.DallasMoulinRouge.com, and http://www.MsStarWars.com.

An adult ticket to attend all three days is $20, with children twelve and under half price. "We're expecting this to be our biggest year so far", says Todd. "We've contracted nearly 30% more convention space at the hotel, and they've dropped their guestroom rates for people who want to stay at the hotel for the event. Last year's expansion into the arts created quite a buzz. I can't wait to see how well the additional content is received this year!"

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Geoffrey Carlton