October 2016~ Les Mis & Jessica

This afternoon totally blew me away! It wasn’t the fact that this was my 29th time seeing Les Mis. It was something else.

My niece has been on at me for a while to take her. For those that don’t know, she is on the autistic spectrum and finds certain situations very difficult, especially anything with crowds or new places. She goes to drama school which helps her a lot with confidence etc. and she absolutely loves theatre. Even though she was excited she was also very nervous. I had spoken to her about the trip prior to this as had my brother. I also contacted the theatre in advance to let them know.

It was them that blew me away! From the moment I emailed everything just fell into place. I received a phone call yesterday confirming they had things in place to help and they advised me of the procedure.

We arrived early and collected our tickets- they allowed me to book the seats normally reserved for wheelchairs which was good as it wasn’t in with the main audience. It was a little box to the side. Within 5 minutes, Nick, the theatre manager came to collect us. He took us to a little waiting area and introduced us to some other staff. He then offered us refreshments. Nick then spoke directly to Jess and told her everything that was about to happen. From the staff roll call, setting up of the kiosks, everything! He also told her that during the briefing, all staff would be told about her and to look after her (this did happen as the staff were all great at checking in and seeing how she was). Then he asked Jess if she had any questions and afterwards sat and chatted about nothing in particular to help her stay calm. We also had access to the disabled loo so she would not have to encounter any crowds there, and a quiet room in case everything gets too much- the quiet room has comfy chairs and a large TV show so you can watch the rest of the show if need be. Then he handed us over to our own liaison person who escorted us to our seats early, just before general admission. This let Jess get acquainted with her environment. Both him and the manager checked in on us regularly.

Afterwards, she managed to meet a few of the cast at the stage door who were equally amazing! A massive thank you to everyone at The Queen’s Theatre, you are awesome!

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October 2016~ Destination Star Trek Europe

So, Destination Star Trek Europe. Where do I begin? Please note that these thoughts and opinions are entirely my own and I represent no one else.

As a 28 year veteran of cons of various types I feel I need to get all my thoughts down on this matter so I am going to start at the very beginning…..

The event was initially announced by Showmasters on February 2nd, 2016 with these words

“Destination Star Trek returns in 2016 for a VERY special anniversary. Join us in Birmingham this October to celebrate 50 years of Star Trek, yes 50 years of seeking out new life and new civilisations and to keep boldly going where no one has gone before!
Set to be Europe’s biggest Star Trek celebration, Destination Star Trek Europe will offer fans the opportunity to meet the cast and crew, explore interactive exhibits, learn about Star Trek’s impact on science, space and technology, and enjoy parties fit for a golden anniversary“

In the months leading up to the announcement there had been lots of talk about a UK based 50th anniversary con. My initial thoughts on it were to avoid at all costs. But, I thought to myself, surely Showmasters can’t screw up this one as it’s a huge milestone. The initial guest list looked good with further promises of more to come.

I bought a ticket. The cheapest of the packages that would give me 3 day access, a couple of free talks, a goody bag and so on and I waited for the announcement of more guests and activities…..and I waited and waited.

Announcements were few and far between and SM were extremely bad at replying to messages on any of their social media platforms and I won’t even go into the unprofessional behaviour on their own forums by their staff and mods. Let’s just say that criticism isn’t allowed. Even guests were announcing their appearance at the event on Twitter before it was made “official” by SM.

Personally I was hoping that with it being the 50th anniversary, there would be lots of guests from the original series, both surviving main cast, background actors and guest stars. I even sent a list of suggestions via Twitter. Not a reply was received…

By August/September it seemed the guest list was complete. 30 guests in total with only 5 from TOS. People have argued that it should be a celebration of all that is Trek, and whilst I agree to a degree, there should have been more representation from the series that started it all.

I went ahead and booked my photoshoots. 9 in all which was a big change from the 20+ of the previous event. My hotel and train were sorted, all we needed was the final schedule and floorplan and we would be set.

For well-organised events, schedules and floorplans are normally released two to three weeks before the event but even with people begging for the schedule so they could plan their weekend, nothing was forthcoming. It was about a week before the event that the timetable was published. No floorplan though. We would have to wait until the day for that.

Once the timetable for photoshoots and talks had been published it was quite clear that there were some major errors. Overlapping times, guests missed off completely, that kind of thing. It was eventually fixed and I planned my weekend.

The day arrived and I set off for Birmingham. In previous years we were able to collect our passes from the venue early which would allow us to get in to the event quicker. Excel was setup up with multiple ticket booths to handle large queues. Upon arriving at the NEC and finding Hall 4 I was met with a huge line. This was at 12.40pm (the box office had been open since midday). The event opened at 2pm. My first photoshoot was at 3.30pm. I was a bit apprehensive as I had seen a friend who already had his pass and told me they only had 4 box office windows open. This was going to take a while…..

There were only a couple of SM staff on line duty. Eventually they started calling people by package which, if you had been in line a while, was very unfair. After queuing for a while they eventually called my package group (Lieutenant). This was around 2.15pm. We were moved into a separate line which I thought would make things easier. At about 3pm they suddenly let in all of the standard passes before us and we were left in the line. 3.15pm- an SM crewmember asked for anyone with an upcoming photoshoot to come forward. He only let in people who had a shoot within ten minutes. Mine was 15 so he refused, even though I said there is no way I am going to get to the box office in five minutes. He ignored me and walked away. I eventually got to the box office and got my pass at 3.45pm- three hours after joining the line and five minutes before my photoshoot ended. I made it to the shoot but I was already angry.

Looking around the place, apart from a big poster by the door and some banners overhead, there was no decoration. Nothing that screamed Star Trek 50th Anniversary Event.

I had a quick chat with mates before finding the floorplan and seeing how empty the place was. I managed to get all my autographs in one go which was one of the only good things about the weekend, but if you were not interested in autographs or photoshoots there was not a great deal more to do other than the talks (which there were none of on Friday). The advertised gaming zone was non-existent. The “Ferengi Bazaar” consisted of no more than ten dealers of varying quality and price (Filmwelt? WTF are your prices about? Rip-Off or what) and the fan zone only had about half-a-dozen clubs. The Klingon Zone had a few bits from previous years but otherwise it looked as though they had raided a car boot sale for décor and furnishings. The Borg regeneration chamber looked like it had been dumped and forgotten about and the Klingon Bridge was, to be honest, crap! The prop exhibition was a vastly reduced version of the past couple of years and doesn’t look like it has been taken care of. The art gallery was nice. The chill-out zone was a joke. No screening of episodes as in 2014, just a few bean bags around a large screen playing a ten-minute compilation clip on loop. In previous years we had authors, make-up artists, balloon artists and much more- this year, nothing!

I was suffering with a bad leg and as per usual at SM events, seating was sparse unless you sat by one of the stages or by the refreshment stands. I even spoke to a good few SM staff about my leg at different occasions and all were either rude or totally useless. Only one guy at Photo C was of any help. Queuing up for 3+hours had not helped and the line for the opening ceremony was equally as big. I decided to miss the opening ceremony as I did not want to make my leg worse. As it turns out it was 20 minutes late starting anyway…..I could not queue for that long again. I decided to go back to the hotel and rest my leg ready for Saturday.

I had a party ticket but decided not to bother. I heard mixed reviews about both parties but can’t really comment.

Saturday- This should have been the main day. I had a couple of photoshoots today. Wil Wheaton (whose autograph I got early on thanks to a friend) and then some bridge shoots. I also had a few talks to attend that came as part of my package. Did I get to see any of the talks? No! The photoshoots with Koenig/Takei on the original bridge and the Shatner on the original bridge were rearranged last minute. I complained and was told I had a choice talks or shoots. I’d paid for both so it was a total rip-off. Yet again it meant queuing for another couple of hours. I missed all my talks because shoots were rearranged with little or no communication.

When it came to my turn for the bridge shoot I noticed how bad this replica bridge was. It was later I learned for overhearing some crewmembers speak that SM had built and painted it. A crappy job. Anyway, we had about 7 seconds to get into place, have the photo and get out. I tripped going up and then again getting into the chair due to being rushed. I made the chair creak when I sat down because I tripped! I didn’t get time to pose and hated the photo. Tried to complain but yet again it fell on deaf ears. It also did not help that it was an open set and everyone was stood watching you……really off-putting! Same again with the Shatner shoot although it came out a bit better.

I eventually located the desk for collecting my goody bag. It had been moved. I told the guy I was a Lieutenant-level attendee and got really grumpy saying he would have to make up a bag for me. He did this by simply taking out an autograph from a Commander-level bag. The contents were rubbish. A trading card, a tiny badge, a cheap pen, a show guide and a crumpled up version of the poster. All in a branded drawstring bag.

On the whole, Saturday was spent in long queues and complaining to people who didn’t care. I managed to spend some time with friends on the USS Iceni stand and get some photos (see below) but that’s all. I refused to join another massive line for the world record contest. Another crappy Saturday at an SM event. I went back to my hotel feeling pissed off. Went to get some food in the restaurant and was going to meet some friends there but they had other plans. So I went to bed….

I woke up Sunday morning in a foul mood. I had had enough. Enough of being ripped off and enough of being treated like cattle so I decided to call it quits, miss the last day of the con and head home. I freely admit I was (and still am) really upset by the events of the weekend.

One of my friends said that it’s the fans of make the con. I have to disagree. We can do what we do as fans anywhere. A pub, hotel, park, wherever. We go to cons to meet up, yes but also to do other things that only a con can provide. Meet the guests, buy crap, have photos done etc. Yes, the fans help with the atmosphere and laughs but I don’t agree that the fans make the con.

It also doesn’t bode well when you hear guests apologising for the quality of the event. I overheard this a few times!

Overall the layout was poor, the guest list was poor (even though the guests I chatted with were amazing), the queuing was beyond poor, the activities on offer were poor leading to a sub-par event. I feel sorry for those newbies who, not knowing any better, thought the event was amazing.

It annoys me because SM have the potential to do great things. They get amazing guests and prop displays etc and the photoshoots normally work really well. They just need to consider some of the people who volunteer for them as they are quite unpleasant and think more about making it a better experience for the customer.

Photos follow….