Friday, July 1, 2016

An Interview with the Masterminds (Staff) Behind Con-Gregate

art by John Grigni
It's my pleasure to welcome James Fulbright (ConChair) and Tera Fulbright (Programming Director), two of the masterminds behind Con-Gregate to my blog today! I'll be attending Con-Gregate as a guest in just a couple of weeks and I had a few questions about the con: 

What's the origin story of ConGregate? How did it come about?

ConGregate was originally supposed to be a Relaxacon, a place where fans could just come and hang out. The vision was a ConSuite, a small vendor room, and one programming room, that would be limited to round-table discussions. While we were in the process of working through the basic set-up of the company, a couple of key things occurred:

1. StellarCon, the area’s long-running, general SF con went on hiatus.

2. We found that no hotel would offer us a contract that was financially feasible, unless the fans would be willing to pay registration rates somewhere around $250.00 each. The reality was that we could rent enough space for a full SF con for the same amount of money that just a few small ballrooms would cost us, because a full scale con would have a significantly larger hotel room block.
What's special about ConGregate? What sets it apart from other small cons?

When we got ready to announce the con, one thing we did was poll various fan groups about what they’d like to see more of in conventions. A disproportionally large number of the fans said, “more interactive programming.” It seems they were tired of the traditional panel format for conventions. In year one, we set-up several workshops that were very well attended. At the end of year one, the fans almost unanimously said they liked the programming where they could directly interact with the guests.

We decided that, moving forward, our focus would be fan interactive programming. Not just workshops, but more round-table panels and some TV style game shows. Anything, really, where the fans could interact with the guests, as well as other fans.

Looking back over past cons, what are some highlight moments?

Well, there have only been two cons so far, but Les Johnson, a retired NASA manager, attended the first ConGregate and did a few talks on the future of NASA that were well received.

Last year, we host HollyWeird Squares, based on the TV show by a similar name. We cycled about 20 contestants from the audience (fans and guests) through the game. It was a lot of fun and drew quite a crowd.

We noticed that cameras were making a comeback recently, and started having photography workshops to educate people on the proper used of their new, and very expensive, equipment.

What's new this year?
We’ve added a second game show, “Name That Show!” It will be similar the TV’s “Name That Song,” except instead of the contestants getting musical notes from which to name a song, we will provide a basic clue and then names of some of the actors in the show or movie. The fewer names the contestant bids, the more obscure the actor will be. In other words, if you say you can name the show in one actor, don’t expect us to give you the name William Shatter, if the show is Star Trek.

We are also expanding our photography workshop, and actually splitting it into multiple workshops. We will have still have a workshop on how to photograph cosplayers, but also one for the cosplayers themselves focusing on how to properly pose to for pictures, as well as offer basic make-up tips for photography. So, we’re covering, not only being behind the camera, but in front of it as well.

The members of the 105th will host Iron Maker, a competition between two teams to create a costume in 2 hours, without prior knowledge of the theme, or what materials they will have to work with during the build. And, naturally, we will be introducing a wild card into the builds at about half-way through the competition.

Finally, maybe one of the more unique opportunities for fans, will be a series of two Tia Chi workshops, conducted by our Writer Guest of Honor, Steven Barnes. Per Barnes, this will be a gentle exercise available to folks of all skill levels. Though we do recommend bringing appropriate clothing.

What are your dreams for ConGregate in the future?

Oh boy, that’s a big question!

Well, obviously we want to grow the con, but in a controlled way. We experienced 25% growth from year one to year two, and it’s looking like we might come in at about 15% growth this year. The problem we will face is the con hotel cannot handle too many more years of this level of growth. Sooner or later, probably sooner, we will need to decide whether to stay where we are, and cap attendance, or find a larger venue.

Beyond that, we’d like to continue with the interactive format. We want to branch out and see if we can do more hands on workshops for costuming, con-running, fitness, writing, etc.

For further down the road, we’d also like to see if we can arrange in bring in a Media Guest of Honor. Space and cash will be the ultimate factors whether that’s possible.


  1. It's amazing how quickly these things have grown. I remember going to a "horror con" back in 2002 or so, when it was all kinda new. I got to meet several celebrities. They were B-list even in their day, but still. Dawn Wells from Gilligan's Island was there, but she wouldn't talk to you unless you bought her book. There was a bouncer standing next to her making sure nobody talked to her without shelling out some $$$.

    1. Yes! I love both the big cons and the smaller cons. There are still some "autograph for sale" scenarios, mostly at bigger cons, but largely the genre celebrities are genuine and kind.

  2. I am continually impressed by how much there is in this world that I know nothing about. A short walk around the internet and I'm staggered by new adventures. BTW I just noticed your link "Menopausal Superheroes." I HAVE to go look at that!!!

    1. Thanks Kathleen! Just be careful of wandering down too many dark alleys on the Internet . . .you can find things you don't know about AND don't want to!