AUSA “Wow you look exhausted/ It’s 2:11AM” 2017 Convention Review!!
TL;DR 4/10 With the chilly December winds in full effect, there was little to no photo variety available this year. Staffing seemed to run me ragged, and due to technical (and ironically staffing) issues that was in no way the fault of the team I was working with, things were much more difficult this year. Personally, my photo count was extremely low for a weekend event, and I found it very hard to enjoy the time that I did have for activities. Programming is excellent as always here, along with great groups of people, but alone, that simply wasn’t enough for me to enjoy this con.
Let’s begin this one by listing some Pros:
Hotel Staff: With the exception of the valet parking staff members, the rest of the Marriott’s hotel staff was on point and exceptional. Checking in and out was a breeze, buying food was quick and efficient, and even housekeeping was above par when it came to being polite and courteous
The People: A generous amount of friends decided to give AUSA a chance this year, and that provided great opportunity to work with some of them again, which was excellent. There were nice opportunities to sit down and eat with friends old and new, and to really get down to business when the situation called for it. That element was great, that even in the wintry cold, that chilling together (literally) in the same place could provide a homely, warm element, that may not have been there if the con had been hosted back in late November
Saturday Snow: If you were already at the con with no plans on leaving, then the snow made a great opportunity for natural light photos, provided you could withstand the cold. Due to my schedule, I was only able to capitalize on it for two shoots, but both of those shoots made me happy with what I was able to get. The natural overcast was wonderful, and it wasn’t too much snow at all
Programming: AUSA always amazes me with the collective fusion of culturally rich/educational panels, and completely fun and modern day panels. I was able to sit in on a few events, and get backstage at some due to staffing, and I was very happy to see many people enjoying things like the Idol Showcases, Concerts, the Dance Off, the Masquerade, the Gaming tournaments, and some of the educational panels that collectively ran all day and night. This is a place where the convention truly shines, and in my eyes, it does better than most other conventions in this element. I don’t know too many cons that provide quite the level of education, cultural insight, and sheer enjoyment from their panels as AUSA does, and again, as we all know, I don’t attend cons for panels. Yet at AUSA, I was able to actually attend, and mark off at least 6 separate events that I could go to, and for the most part, enjoy each and every one.
The Artist Alley: Barring an unfortunate pipe bursting regarding the Artist’s Alley/Dealer’s Room area, I truly must say that the Artist Alley this year was very captivating. As I went between the aisles, it was hard choosing where I should look, and in fact, I had to stop quite a few times to simply appraise the genius and creativity that lay before me in every direction. From buttons to bags, to wallets and original prints, there was a plethora of talent concentrated in that room so that if I wanted to buy a buster sword that was as true to weight as I’d ever seen one, I could. If I wanted to buy a cute bookmark with my favorite animal on it, I could, and that was really amazing. I talked to a few of the artists at their booths and you could really see the passion for their work light them up, and that is something that enhances the overall buying experience as a consumer, and had to be pretty awesome for the con itself.
The Edo Bushido Concert/Cosplay Burlesque: Giving a quick section shoutout to two of my favorite events that once they got started and rolling, were definitely enjoyable to see. It definitely makes it worthwhile to come and see acts like both of these put on, and I was able to smile together with friends at both, as we showed our deep appreciation for each of the dramatically different art styles here. Big ups to Kakashi Shishio as always, along with that killer final act at Cosplay Burlesque which you absolutely had to be there to see
Rope: Got to do a pretty chill shibari shoot for this convention which was very very fun!! The time seemed to fly by and even though I didn’t have my full light setup, I’m really excited to be editing those images!! I hope to be able to do more at other cons as well!
So, with that being said, I have no choice but to continue with my cons for the con here, so here goes.
The Valet Staff: The same four people each year take over for the convention parking, and each year I always have problems simply parking in the front for fifteen minutes, and making two trips up to my room. I’m staying in the hotel for three nights and four days, and I definitely don’t have the time to be questioned, and hassled about leaving my car locked and unattended while I make a trip (alone with no carts nonetheless!) up to just the second floor with my suitcases, gear and extra lighting. One of the staff made a huge deal about asking his boss if I was able to keep my car in place while my hands were full with over 80 pounds of bags, food, etc, and instead of waiting, I simply checked in and kept going. I can’t stress how annoying it is, especially since I was going to end up parking in the expensive garage anyway, and I was staying at the hotel all weekend. Getting my room stocked up took less than fifteen minutes, but you would think from their attitudes that I was out there for forty.
Staffing: This was a tough call to make, because like last year, I couldn’t have asked for better people to work with as a team, and I do think we succeeded in what we set out to do, but there were so many things that were unnecessarily difficult. Irony came in the form of the physical staffing being substantially less than usual, making the workload increase on those of us that remained. There were calls in both the witching hour and the morning rise about meeting up and getting material from the same day that simply shouldn’t have happened. Meetings dragged needlessly when only one or two things needed to be explained, and in regards to A/V equipment, there were some major fails this year. Not only is the main video equipment dated, but the team responsible for providing it seemed mostly unwilling to help our department at all, and notably for Stage 2 (Salon 3) events, sound problems made many major events late to start. With a properly filled team, and adequate equipment, things would have run much smoother, instead of us having to worry about who was actually going to show up when, and if we would be ‘on call’ expecting to fill a gap left by a no show. This was the source of most of my exhaustion for the weekend. Additionally, despite wearing my staff shirt and showing my badge, some of the staff at hand seemed extremely slow to recognize that I was in fact staff, and not some person with a staff t-shirt on, and that again made things needlessly cumbersome. It was NOT like that last year at all.
Punctuality: Again, due to sound issues and technical problems, I noted that quite a few of the events ended up starting late, and thus ending far too late which threw off the schedule majorly in some areas. People that showed up on time, or earlier to fill the crowd and to really enjoy some of the events simply left or were stuck waiting often on an average of 45 minutes for things to get up and running, which again, throws off the entire schedule. I don’t think some of the main events received their proper fill of audience members, and to be honest, it wasn’t their fault. However, being at at least two of those events myself (and having to cover them), it seriously ate into my day when I had to wait an extra hour where I could’ve been taking my own photos or eating.
Photo Locations: Going in, you knew that everyone was going to be in the photographer’s hallway (which is probably trademarked) and the mirror room, but additionally, because of the extra cold weather and the snow, there were simply not enough easily accessible locations to shoot photos here. Indoor lighting is treacherous for natural light shooters like myself, and unlike last year, where a quick walk to the gorgeous gardens of a nearby hotel was feasible, this year that option was long gone out the window. Because of the snow, there wasn’t much shooting happening outdoors in the con space’s usually colorful gardens either. It made getting a general variety of photos pretty difficult, especially for me
The Rave: I give this a section in every convention review I write now, and for there to have only been one rave/dance, I was already a bit disappointed. However, despite that, I’ve just gotta say, you have to play to your crowd. I love old school hip-hop too, and I can see the intent (especially having collaborated with Edo Bushido that weekend) behind playing a bunch of hip-hop heavy tracks, but it’s a convention rave, not a block party. If you want the crowd to break out of their shells and not stand around, you have to cater to their sounds, which would have gone over much smoother if the start, and the finish was more techno/house/dubstep centric. As such, I can definitely say that it wasn’t a strong point this con
The Parties: I must have been either in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I suppose this isn’t a direct fault of the convention, but who wasn’t getting shut down where, and why wasn’t I there? I think it was difficult this year, not only to find out who was actually turning up, but in turn to get somewhere that wasn’t getting shut down within a fifteen minute time frame
Sunday?: I took 8 photos. That should say enough. It really seemed like everyone was in the quickest hurry to leave the convention, and after finishing my interview and doing a bit of roaming, I left utterly disappointed. I don’t think I’ve ever had a photo count for a Sunday that ended up in only single digits
Parking Price: $48 dollars a night (without Valet) for regular con attendees at the Marriott. Do you know how many people came to that con on Thursday? That’s a huge amount of money and that’s before you even get to enjoy the convention. There’s something to be said about accessibility when you’re basically forced to park at the hotel and thus subject to this high charge in addition to your hotel fees.
So there you have it. I just couldn’t enjoy the con nearly as much as last year, and I was tired almost 24/7 trying to figure out where I would be next for staffing purposes. When I did have down time, it was hard organizing shoots with new clients, and so I ended up wasting a lot of time exploring the same con spaces. While the marketing team is amazing, and I praise them very highly as teammates, this year’s experience was a bit rough, and definitely needs some tweaking for next year. I was extremely excited to attend this con after last year, which got a rating of 9/10 from me, but this year was dramatically different. Add to that the price of parking alone, and Sunday and Thursday being pointless days, it didn’t seem to be worth the trip. As foolish as it sounds, I’m going to try this con one more time before throwing down the final axe. To Magfest we go peeps. 4/10
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