Anthrocon: Furry convention becomes staple of steel city
When Anthrocon started in Albany in 1997, the humble gathering went by the name of “Albany Anthrocon”. Two years later the convention found itself moving out of New York State and into Pennsylvania. Through that was learned the first major mistake a fledgling convention could make. Naming your new convention after the city it is hosted in is like someone getting their lover’s name tattooed to their arm. Ironically, it’s a mistake that other conventions still make to this day.
But living through mistakes is what makes one stronger in the end. It has now been about one decade since the largest furry convention had made its home in Pittsburgh. At this point I think it’s a much safer bet to commit to being inked.
As there were 6,389 recorded attendees to this convention, there are just as many stories and perspectives on the convention. So this review will focus on three sections I focused my experiences around: fursuiting, performances, and writing. It is essential to note that reviewing a convention is unlike reviewing any other medium where you can experience a full package. Many panels run concurrently so one has to make a choice, usually based upon one’s preferences.
This was my second convention fursuiting, and what a leap this was from my prior experience. In Furthe’More 2014 the hotel room was within the same building as the convention and I found that I was not in suit all too often as a result, ironically. I would put my suit on for the panels I wanted to be in suit and take them off for those that I didn’t. Changing to and from the suit was easy so I did so often.
Anthrocon forced me to change that behavior. You have to basically plan your day around when you are in suit and when you are not and you need to make sure that you don’t go to and from too frequently. This is especially true if you are staying in a hotel that is minutes away from the main convention space, such as the DoubleTree. It was also very fortuitous this year that Pittsburgh got all the rain out of its system on Thursday as that was the only day when it poured outside.
Planning the convention around the suiting was very effective. By carving out specific hours of the day and allowing oneself time to go back to the room to get out of it during down time created interesting paradigms. I would attend panels in suit I would not otherwise, such as performance and writing panels. I also became more comfortable with taking off the fursuit head in these side panels where suiting was not the focus as the convention went on. I learned if there is no reason to keep the head on it’s best not to, despite the taboo such an action can generate. Running out mid panel to go to the fursuit lounge to cool off is going to help no one. Also wearing the head if you’re sitting in front of another person is hindering to the vision of two people.
I attended the Fursuit Character Development and Improvisation panel which was well run. I especially appreciated that they had all the fursuiters come up and march in a circle for a bit in anticipation for the parade the next day. It was the only time my tail got stepped on the whole con. This was also where I got to meet with Patch from DogPatch Press and toss around a stuffed hamburger prop like a frisby.
After the panel a curious young lady was asking me questions as children oft tend to when they see something they admire. She was in a bunny costume, but she found kangaroos to be very cool. She wondered how my tail was made. She sounded like she wanted to be a kangaroo character. It’s always cool to know that just by being there your can affect the species choices of others. Then again, it may be just be what happens in youth when you’re trying so desperately to find your identity so you’ll put on several masks in rapid succession and toss old ones.
Hopefully they won’t make a fursuit for each of these whims, that’d get expensive. As a tip it’s probably best to solidify the character you want to be first, and then make a suit based on this one you’ve grown into.
Mistakes were made on my part, but were because of my own inexperience. My paws accidently got drenched when I had to use the restroom. I had placed my paws on a towel by the sink only to come back later to find the sink had some sort of gravitational field that sucked my paws into it and activated the motion sensors. As I was shaking the wet fabric in front of the fan in the headless lounge I had decided it’s probably best to stick them in my clothes pockets instead.
Damages to the suit are also always a possibility that one must be comfortable with if you’re going to be an active suiter. The fursuit lounge wisely had maintenance items in the headless lounge for people to use for quick patches if needed. You’re going to want to be prepared to maintain your fursuit after the convention’s end. Clean it of any street dirt, sew up holes, fix toe claws that take damage from all the walking, etc.
If there is one item of safety I would recommend to the convention, it would be for the maps provided by the convention to have a symbol indicating water stations. Staying hydrated is essential, and I think drawing more attention to the location of water stations would do nothing but help those who need a drink and find themselves a bit farther from a headless lounge. Marking the map may work since it seemed to me these hydration stations were in consistent locations throughout the con.
That’s assuming, of course, people actually look at these maps in the first place, though. I maybe in the minority.
The Fursuit Parade
One of the biggest changes, and the one that Anthrocon 2015 will be remembered for, is the addition of a general public section of the parade where fursuiters exited the convention center to walk amongst the civilians in the city.
Some estimated that around 5,000 non-convention attendees showed up to view the parade. In an ironic sense it was a reminder that despite how much Anthrocon has grown, how small furries still are as a community when you realize that the citizen parade turnout and convention attendee turnout was nearly one to one.
Ironically, despite being called the “Death March” by some in the fandom, I found myself less tired at the end of this parade then I did in my first and only other experience (Fur’theMore ‘14). It was probably a combination of a few things:
- The picture was taken first so you weren’t waiting after it was all over to have it taken.
- The waiting room was made for larger crowds and there was plenty of elbow room. This was not necessarily the fault of the smaller convention as they were already outgrowing their current venue on their second year.
- Probably the biggest factor was the energy given off by the public crowd was extremely stimulating and completely made one forget about one’s own exhaustion.
- My own experiences with pacing and preparation which I had gained from the prior parade.
Still, don't take the parade lightly. I know at least one had to be treated for heat exghaustion prior to the parade starting. To that person, I hope they are doing better. Drink water and unless you're getting your picture taken or are preparing to go out in the parade, take the head off if you can. You're with other suiters, it's okay. Get a sense of how long it takes you to put on the suit head so you can time it well.
Since I hadn’t participated in past Anthrocon parades I don’t know how this one’s length compared to others, but something tells me it may have been shortened up from previous years for fears of outside heat causing adverse effects on marchers. Whatever may be the case, I liked it. It had a three act structure to it.
The first act was going through the main hallway, the second was going through the dealer’s den, and the final act (if you chose to accept it) was the general public section. I have no doubts that climax was by design as they wanted to ensure furries got back to the cool down room soon after the exposure to the elements outside of people and weather.
I could easily go off on a tangent about my own personal experience in the parade, but thanks to several camera angles you can experience the whole thing from multiple angles at anytime. I will share with you two videos:
- This first one is from the public section from the perspective of an audience member where you can see the parade from start to finish in traditional fashion
- This second one is also of the public section of the parade but from a different angle, that of one in the parade itself looking upon the audience. This was at the rear of the parade. You may also see me in there somewhere, you can’t miss me, I’m the red and orange in the suit shaking hands.
As before stated there are many angles out there, feel free to share your own videos of it in the comment section below. The parade was approximately an half hour in length. There was quite a crowd in the finished side of the parade gathering room by the time the end of the line, which I was in, started to move.
After the success of the public turnout this year, it is hard for me to see this not becoming a yearly thing for the convention. It seems the only question I heard in regard of it was: why was this not done sooner?
The only issue I think this does bring up, though, is that now that the fursuit parade is being viewed more by the general public, is the con going to start being more persnickety on which fursuits are appropriate for public consumption? There is already a rumbling about one fur who decided to fly a confederate flag as they were marching.
While I’m not too fearful as my suit is mostly harmless, for those that walk the edge of ‘decency’ in their mannerisms and expressions it may be something to be wary of. It’d be naive to think that amendments will not have to be made in the future because of this added publicity of the parade.
For now though, it seems like one bad Southern peach didn’t spoil the whole pie as most complaints about it seem to have been intra-fandom.
I’ve always had a theory that the performance arts was always Kage’s personal preference when it comes to furry content. As conventions start to diverge into specializations, Anthrocon still holds onto its reign on this aspect. Probably mostly for the quantity of talent they are able to pull in and the amount of space they have for it.
The fursuit dance competitions have only grown a stronger draw over the years, and have grown more inclusive to novices and veteran performers, a change adapted from other conventions (MFF 2013). The chairman’s hour where he embellishes slice of life situations he had experienced continues to please crowds.
I also attended the furry masquerade, at great personal risk. I say this out of love of course, the last and only time I attended one of these [AC 2011] was a mixed bag. For every good performance there was one that was cringe worthy. Over time it seems that the quality of performances has made strides. I only recall raising my eyebrow and thinking ‘that was a thing’ twice this year, as opposed to 2011 where I recall a few that wanted me to hide under my chair in empathetic embarrassment at times.
One of my personal favorites was when a thrifty raccoon [I’ve Made too Much Pasta] came out with his guitar and proceeded to lead the audience to help him sing a song about stealing their neighbor’s cable. A Youtuber named Jules Verne on the video the performer posted a few months earlier said the main chorus line would make a great statium hymn. I can attest it does make for a fun audience chant and the inclusion of the chanting was a nice touch for a very fun song.
Another skit that was interesting from a statement stand point was when the American Sign Language group, who was helping translate throughout the convention for the hearing impaired attendees, began to do a skit without any sound. A select portion of the audience was able to laugh while the rest were left behind.
It’s always something interesting to think about, especially when Kage told a story during his story hour about interrogating convention attendees on “Who set [the] hotel on fire?” when fire trucks were called one year. “And no matter who I asked all they kept on telling me was—” his musical accompany on the piano started to playing the main melody line of Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire’.
That seems like one of those jokes where you wonder how the sign language interpreter would have conveyed the idea behind the joke to their listener. How would someone sign a melody? How would those that cannot hear understand what the song sounds like? So while it may be tempting to pan the small skit as an empathy stunt, when you think hard about it there are small audio cues that one takes for granted in the world around you. There are plenty of times you’re included in something others cannot be, so be patient and understanding when the inverse happens.
But, that aside aside, that brings me to the next segment. One of the main focuses this year was on musical performances. An article of the muscial guests can be found in more detail on a previous article written by Quinn Yellowfox. I saw the Bandthro performance, Bucktown Tiger, and Matthew Ebel.
In the end, I can say I do have a lot of respect for the musicians of the fandom as while they perform their own original content they are most apt to be overlooked. While writers oft complain about not gaining as much attention as the visual mediums, we can at least call ourselves “furry writers” and not have people shake their heads. We at least don’t have to spend hundreds on equipment to create our craft. We can do what we do for less than a dollar with a pen and paper.
I think furry musicians are really trying to make their way, they’re trying to make thematic songs such as “Not Quite Human” to describe the emotional state in what leads people into interest of anthropomorphics in the first place. With furry fandom being as anarchistic in ideals as it is, that is by no means an easy task. I will say this though, furry musicians are not going to get there competing amongst each other. They probably should create a musical equivalent to the fandom’s Writer’s Guild. I would fully support seeing these individuals working together more often as they did upon that stage.
And who knows, maybe they’ll all come together and eventually adapt a new style that can actually give the fandom its own distinctive genre or musical style some day. Even if they don't, I'm sure the songs they do generate will be very worth listening to regardless.
Writing panels are probably the most targeted that are geared toward a specific set of furries. Those that are interested in writing, obviously. From my personal con experience though, this group was the foundation on which I returned to if I had nothing else to explore at the time. They were also the group I hung out with after the close of the con.
Which brings me to this point. If you are thinking of going to a larger con, it drastically improves the experience if you have at least some establishment within a particular group. I’ve done the loner convention before (MFF 2011) and it makes for a generally mediocre experience. I wasn’t always in a group at this convention, most of the performance items I viewed I did so alone, but it’s always good to be able to share experiences with at least someone. At the very least have someone you can tolerating sharing a room with!
One panel that was part of the writing track, however, stood out as one that anyone in the convention could enjoy. It was called “Readings in Terrible Fiction” in which audience members took turns reading from a digital copy of a terrible self-published work in attempts to not crack up while doing so.
It was interesting to see the panel start off rough and begin to evolve into something better for all those involved. It started as a competition where a person was allowed to read until they cracked up. After it was noted that people were a bit too good at that, the times were shortened to two minute maximums to keep the readers flowing. The audience, who at the start seemed disengaged and bored, were later more engaged as the panelists began to implement audience gestures when redundant or out of place words began to crop up in the work. It worked similar to a Rocky Horror Picture Show type of event.
One of the most prominent example was that when one of the characters started to inject “Yo!” in front of each of their statements. The audience would then pound their chest and point, similar to the Demoman’s sticky launcher taunt from Team Fortress 2.
After the con was coming to a close I was given the opportunity of sitting around with other writers and publishers in the fandom and talk about writing and the con for the show of Fangs and Fonts. It was a great way to cool off after the bustle of the weekend. I was grateful the opportunity to hang out with them and hear their stories. I was even privileged enough to offer some of my own thoughts and stories with them as well.
Each new year is a mark on the trials and tribulations of the collective experience of all the years that came before. Artistic styles evolve, people seek to better themselves and the lives of those around them through expression.
While oft not seen as an art, the collaborative project that is the convention is not as far different to the smaller more individual works we consume on a more regular basis. Mistakes are made, some things work while other are panned, but in the end those that keep on trying to create and respond to constructive criticism will flourish. And knowing that the art is in the eye of the beholder, feel free to leave your own reviews below.
With the change to the elevator system in the Westin showing that the very foundations on which the convention space resides are adapting with the needs of the convention, it is safe to say that the city, the hotels, and the furries who visit there every year are fully committed toward the success of this gathering. It can be said that the city of steel now has softer and more fuzzy side permanently attached to it, and will for many years to come.