I did it! I made it through my first con! I learned so much!
To summarize my time in a few words at the Creation Entertainment New Jersey Con 2018: lotsa cosplay, meeting new friends, seeing old friends, fun at the cast Q&As, blink-and-it’s-over pics with the cast, bad expo center food, and fun that left me exhausted come Sunday!
In the past few years there has been a fan con boom thanks to the rising popularity of the Starz TV show Outlander. With a growing fan base and higher profile comes more chances for the three leads Sam Heughan, Caitriona Balfe, and Tobias Menzies to cancel their appearances due to film commitments and that’s exactly what happened for the New Jersey Con (and a few others). There were some angry attendees who took out their frustration on innocent con volunteers and staff! Although I didn’t witness this, I read through some venomous posts on Facebook and Twitter and if you’re gonna get mad, get mad at the actors (but maybe not to their faces). Listen, we all take the risk buying tickets when these cons make it clear from the beginning that actors might cancel and if so, tickets are typically non-refundable. So, do you wanna take the risk?
Don’t get me wrong; for me Cait’s cancellation was a real bummer. I was so disappointed that it was announced the day before the event. Tobias’ departure was expected (let the man shoot The Crown!) and then Sam bailed a week and a half before the event. Thanks guys. But they did do a surprise Skype Q&A! More on that later.
I felt like people had to make the best of it no matter how much money they already spent. For some, it was a lot and I understand that the cancellation of the top head-liners was a sharp stab in the heart (and wallet). The audience seemed generally subdued and maybe it was because of the cancellations. Maybe it was because we were all stuck in Secaucus New Jersey? I don’t know.
So how did I make the best of it? Well on Thursday night I turned my “vacation” email on and I began my trek to the far-off, unknown, and glamorous land of Secaucus New Jersey (about a 10 minute train ride from Manhattan) to pre-register which thus ensued a hellish drive back to the city (take me out of my urban comfort zone and I am a mess!).
The first day I arrived via public transportation and then a Lyft because (other than pack mule) there was no other way to get to the Meadowlands Expo Center! I breezed through the lobby crammed with people waiting in line, past the sparse vendor section (more on that later), and into the auditorium.
I had a group hug with (formerly known as) Twitter friends (now real friends) and the day began! The previous weekend Keren went to the Starfury Con in Birmingham England and Cela the month before went to the Outlander Creation Entertainment Con in Las Vegas. By that point they were veterans while I was the newbie with my eyes wide open ready to take on the adventure!
There weren’t a lot of attendees on Friday. Guests were Lauren “Marsali” Lyle, Cesar “Fergus” Domboy, Gillebrand “The Guy Who Sings at Castle Leoch with the Harpsichord in Season 1” McBride, Scott “One of the Scottish Soldiers in Season 2 Who Has Gained Many Twitter Followers” Kyle, Lotte “Geillis” Verbeek, and David “Damn He’s Handsome in Person Too” Berry.
Stephen Walters was the MC and opened each Q&A with a silly little poem he wrote about each guest and he sang a song about Sam Heughan being a handsome bastard.
Lauren Lyle is very funny and quite the sassy lassy. She is originally from Scotland but moved to New Zealand as a kid and quickly learned that she had to change her accent and speak slower (“I talk fast!”). She enjoys working with co-star Cesar Domboy (“Who?”). Lotte Verbeek’s favorite costume from Outlander was the blood bath! If she could time travel she’d want to go into the future.
If you remember in Season 1, Gillebrand McBride sang a song at Castle Leoch about a lass who time travels explains Jamie to Claire. His voice has a unique ability to transport you back in time and place you in the middle of a Scottish glen. At the con, he sang in Gaelic and attempted to teach the audience some of the lyrics but it’s not exactly an easy language to learn on the fly. My favorite line of his: “Before Outlander I only sang in front of two men and a dog!”
Some fans ask peculiar questions and one of those went to David Berry who plays Lord John Grey whom we met in Season 2. “When your character is in love with Jamie, what goes through your head?” He chuckled and said: “I don’t know what goes through my head.”
Cesar Domboy who plays Fergus is (insert your best nasal French accent here) soo Freeench! A fan asked why he auditioned for the role and he quipped, “When you’re a starving artist you’ll do anything!”
During Cesar’s Q&A, David grabbed the mic from the sideline and said, “You’re my second favorite fictional French character” which prompted Cesar to ask who is his first favorite? David incredulously retorted, “Pepé La Pew of course!”
I missed the karaoke that night but heard it was fun!
By the second day the audience and guest roster grew! There was a panel of Gary Lewis, Graham McTavish, Lauren Lyle, Cesar Domboy, Andrew Gower, Stephen Walters, and David Berry. Andrew and Stephen are friends and working on a project together which prompted Andrew to say that the reason he wanted to do Outlander was simply because Stephen’s character Angus would kiss his hand. They all seemed to get along well even for those that never worked together!
Although he cancelled, Sam did a surprise Skype Q&A on Saturday. I’m sorry but I barely remember what he said. I think I was transfixed by his handsome face so large in front of me that I lost all my senses.
After Sam, Caitriona did a surprise Q&A as well! She was so beautiful even when her face was on a giant screen sans makeup. It made me crazy! One of her favorite Jamie and Claire scenes was in Season 1 when they argue by the river after he saves her from Jack Randall (“The Reckoning”). One of her favorite episodes was “Faith” from Season 2.
Did you know Andrew Gower is only 28? How is that possible? He seems older than his years. Though he seemed relaxed and funny answering fan questions he revealed his nerves — “You should see my back it’s quite sweaty!” When cast in the role of Bonnie Prince Charlie he knew the books were popular but wasn’t prepared for its scope and fanbase. Also, he thought that “mark me” wasn’t used enough!
Gary Lewis and Graham McTavish talked about the power of books to transport you to another time and place. Although Gary didn’t go to acting school he studied people to hone his craft. Graham was asked about working with wigs on shows like Preacher and movies like The Hobbit. The latter project’s wig proved to be so arduous that when the hair stylist on Outlander asked how he saw Dougal Mackenzie, Graham said, “I see him as bald with a beard!”
One of the most interesting facts to learn was about Sophie Skelton who plays Brianna. It turns out she wears a wig on the show! Apparently in the second season, in various attempts by the Hair Stylist to color her hair red they all proved to be failures because Sophie’s hair began to fall out! Sounded like a nightmare. Additionally, she’s only read up to Book 4 (“Drums of Autumn”) and doesn’t want to know more than Brianna. Some of her favorites include the shooting location of the stones in Scotland (read about my trip there) and the tartan cape in Season 3 Episode 5 “Freedom & Whisky”.
Richard Rankin is a total ham! Eating up the spot light, teasing his co-star Sophie Skelton, and being a general imp, his presence was warmly received by many fans. If you follow him on Twitter or Instagram you’ll see his shenanigans in full display. He is funny and wanted so badly to talk more about Season 4 but alas at this stage he had to pipe down although he revealed that we may be seeing Richard play guitar.
Together, Sophie and Richard have cultivated a banter that fans enjoy. Foreseeing how their character’s relationship develops in the books, it will be interesting to see how it unfolds on screen. There’s a playful tension between them that may serve their character’s well. She was more the “straight (wo)man” to Richard’s clown while teasingly urging him to be more serious during the Q&A. Richard said that sometimes they’ll get off stage and wonder if they went too far with their banter during these cons! Yet they trust each other and understand their characters. Neither one could divulge alot of information for Season 4 of course.
Months before I hemmed and hawed over buying a photo op with all three (so expensive) and then as they started dropping like flies I thought “well I’ll just get a pic with Cait!” so I bought the ticket the Sunday before the event which meant a few days before she cancelled! Once the news hit the internet on Thursday, I traded it in for a Sophie and Richard photo op.
Although I really wanted a picture with Cait, Sophie and Richard proved to be really nice and generous with their time. Because I was the lowly “Copper” level it meant I had to wait until 5pm on Sunday to get my autograph. Luckily the picture I took with them a few hours before was ready in time to get signed! Richard liked my “Claire is my Ride or Die” t-shirt when I walked up to get my photo. Some fans go all the way by striking a pose with the actors but I was not so creative. My goal was not to blink and I succeeded!
During the autograph sessions, Sophie really spent time with the fans which was nice. Apparently she had to cancel plans to see her family in order to make the con since Caitriona didn’t make it. I thanked her for neglecting her family for us.
As I waited in line for Richard’s autograph, some ladies ahead of me were flirting with him and of course he was dishing it back! I rolled my eyes as I tapped my watch and said “Let’s get a move-on here!” Ok I didn’t do that but ya know.
Here are some photos of the cosplay!
Would I do it again? If I had the gift of foresight and knew that Sam, Caitriona, and/or Tobias were attending and wouldn’t cancel, yes! Some fans griped that they didn’t pay a lot of money to meet the “B” (and some might say “C”) level actors but you have to decide whether or not to make the best of it by taking the risk that some of your favorite actors might cancel. At this point the chance of seeing the “Holy Trinity” together for a con is increasingly nonexistent. Furthermore, Diana Gabaldon and Caitriona were both at Wizard World Con a few days after New Jersey which prompted an “awww shiiiiii…” moment from me. But again, how do you know who will really show up until the night before the event?
Are the higher tier tickets worth it? For this con, there were three tiers – gold, silver, copper – and then daily tickets. Gold had its perks of including autographs and front row seating but they still had to pay separately for meet and greets and photos. Lowly Copper attendees like me had to pay extra for photos, autographs, and VIP access if I wanted them. How much do you want to meet and chat with the actors? Who do you want to take photos with? What’s your budget? Do I think it seemed worth $1,000 to sit first row at Meadowlands Expo Center? No but that’s just me. People move throughout the day so it was easy to get an empty seat closer to the stage.
I heard good things about Creation Entertainment but the Meadowlands Expo Center was not a nice venue and the vendor section was lacking with only a few tables. It was confusing for first timers like me to understand when to stand in line for things. The whole event felt disorganized and the audio was awful on Friday but they fixed it for the rest of the weekend. Trivia was originally mentioned online months ago but it ultimately wasn’t programmed. It would’ve been nice to have more fan oriented games like that to meet more people. Otherwise you could be part of an online group that met for dinner.
Overall it was fun because I met some new people and old friends. It was fun hearing the actors speak of their experiences and talk of their craft. Although I initially balked at paying for a photograph I got swept up in the momentum of people’s energy and excitement (and then signed up for a Richard and Sophie autograph!). I think it’s worth going for fans that really love the show and books but do your homework. Talk to people about cons they’ve been to and what they recommend and decide if you want to bring your passion to the next level!
Fan Con Tips:
Given my (one) experience at a fan con, I now consider myself an expert. Though normally I would charge to give my expertise I’ve decided to share some of my tips for your first experience for free:
- Bring comfortable shoes! There are long lines to wait for autographs and pictures.
- Bring some water and snacks to avoid any less desirable food that might be offered and don’t forget your phone charger.
- Bring a camera so you don’t miss out on some great photo opps with friends.
- Think of questions for the actors ahead of time so you can get in line quicker.
Creation Entertainment had a “strict” policy about no photos or video of the event but that fell apart after everyone was tweeting and posting their pics online so check out more of my photos and posts via Twitter and Instagram!
Check out my other blog post about hemming and hawing over the costs to attend these cons and how much actors make at them.