I had a blast at Prophecy, but little of that had to do with the actual, you know, conference. This is the first time I've had so many negative things to say about a con -- TWH was my first experience of the kind and I didn't have much to compare it to, and while I know Lumos was not high on many people's lists, I rather enjoyed it and thought it was organised rather well. I had high expectations and, needless to say, they were not met. So, here is a list of things that annoyed me, things that hopefully won't happen (or at least won't happen as much) at future HPEF cons.
1. They picked a hotel where all the programming areas were on three different levels with rather confusing access routes. At least everything was at the same hotel (like during Lumos; I sincerely hope HPEF learned from TWH for ever), but the going to/from programming areas was confusing and contributed to mounting annoyance which was as useful as rats in a barn.
2. They scheduled the con to happen during Caribana weekend, which made the place feel like heaven after a church explosion starting on Friday and well into the final day. I mean, this was not just any old Caribana, this was the festival's 40th freakin' anniversary, and there were something like a million people participating in and watching the parade right next door to the con hotel. The hotel elevators were constantly over-crowded (something that was not an issue at Lumos and certainly not at TWH), and it was pure chaos on the last day as both Prophecy-goers and Caribana-goers tried to check out at the same time. I realise that it was a long weekend, convenient for the local organisers, but you don't schedule a con over a thousand strong during a major local festival, you simply don't: it's impractical. Aside from the crowd issues, Toronto isn't the safest place to be during Caribana, despite the increased police presence. Not because it's Caribana, but because thousands of people + one big party + city streets + lots of alcohol = usually bad news. One of my friends had a glass bottle thrown at her as she walked home from the hotel on Friday night; luckily, she wasn't injured. This was one of my biggest problems with the con; it just demonstrates complete lack of foresight.
3. Also related to the overcrowding issue -- the Wizard Rock concert? When we got there, just in time, there were still hundreds of people waiting in the snaking queue into the concert hall, where over 500 people were already in attendance. Several of us took off for the hotel bar, because there was just no way we were going to stand in a line that long and then be crammed into an auditorium that can barely house everyone. This has never been an issue at the previous cons, but Wizard Rock's popularity has soared in the past year, and it was really unwise of the Prophecy organisers not to anticipate how many would attend (and shift their plans accordingly). It would've been as easy as requiring people to register for the concert. Obviously, not everyone who registered would go (hell, I paid $5 for the ball ticket and showed up for about 5 minutes), but at least they'd have a ballpark figure of how large of a venue they needed. Luckily, the place had those sliding wall things that many hotels have, so eventually everyone got in (I think), but it was annoying that the performance was held up because of such poor planning.
4. The scheduling conflicts were a nightmare. I missed one roundtable discussion that I was really looking forward to because it was rescheduled and few knew; even my own roundtable was randomly rescheduled without anyone bothering to let me know -- I showed up at the right time and saw that someone had written the correct time (2:00 pm - 3:20 pm, which was marked in the programme book) in marker. The actual schedule next to the door said 12:30 to 2 or something equally ridiculous. I was able to hold the roundtable as scheduled in the program book, because there were no conflicts with other programming, but ffs. Many thanks to Bellatrix and Regulus, who yelled at the con people on my behalf before I got there.
Later that same afternoon, organisers tried to get the Shipping Harry panel to leave because His Majesty Steve Vander Ark had apparently been gracious enough to let them go over by 15 minutes. Except that on the official schedule, they still had 20 minutes of the panel left. Just, really not on. I understand last-minute cancellations, I do. That's not an excuse to punish other presenters just because you can't stand the thought of having a room stand unoccupied for an hour or two.
I also heard that a Snape panel/roundtable was forced to cram into a room barely big enough for 50 people. This is after the unofficial Snarry meet-up drew over 70 attendees. I've yet to meet a Snarry fan who is not a Snape fan, so. Snape panels, shippy or otherwise, needs lots of room. By contrast, the Draco panel (housed in an auditorium big enough for over a hundred) was not even half-full -- which was unsurprising. There are not nearly as many Draco fans as there are Snape fans, at least not amongst the over-18 contingent. Anyone in fandom can tell you these things if you only ASK. Just in general, Snape is every con's darling; anyone who's ever attended a con will know this, and it's frankly shameful that the organisers don't seem to.
5. For the second time in a row, they chose a hotel without unrestricted wireless access. It was better than Lumos in that at least there was a "free wireless" area, but there were not nearly enough electrical outlets for everyone's laptops, and constantly needing to put in our names and room numbers every hour or so was incredibly irksome. Plus, the wireless area was in the same place where the hotel provides computers for its guests' use, and while fandom frequently claimed the armchairs by the TV, there wasn't much room for more than 10 or so people to sit comfortably. The Sheraton at TWH had been ideal for wireless and I sincerely hope that HPEF is going to stop organising its cons at hotels where wireless is restricted or unavailable. We are an online fandom; expecting people to leave their laptops at home is just ridiculous.
6. The vendor room was tiny compared to Lumos and there was barely any merchandise after the initial first-day rush (complete with straggeringly long queue). The vendors seemed unprepared to deal with order volume, which I also blame on HPEF, who clearly had taken very little time to learn about the attendees -- what we would do once we got there, what events would be most popular, what vendor-booth items would be most popular based on previous cons. I mean, they'd run out of Slytherin robes by Friday, and pretty much all the buttons were gone by Saturday afternoon. It also irked me in the extreme that HPEF threatened to revoke mijan's registration for selling her handcrafted wands out of the lobby. I'm sorry, they expect an average fan to cough up $600 to be allowed to have a table in the tiny vendor room? I realise there are laws that govern where and when it's okay to sell things in public, and they don't want to be slapped with a fine, but it's unfair to expect a fan to pay as much as a retailer like Whimsic Alley. The least they could've done was allot the craft-y fen a bit o' table space and ask them all to pool their cash together to pay for it, or something. And get the damn booksellers out of the con; their prices are not any lower than Amazon's. I think con merchandise ought to be things we can't just walk into the local Wal-Mart for -- like costume items, fannish buttons, quilts and handmade wands, pretty jewellery -- in other words, memorabilia. Things I can look at four years later and say "hey, I got that at Prophecy, and I just managed to snag the last one. They don't make 'em like that any more." Commercial activity needn't be just about money.
I think those are all the major points I wanted to bring up. I am of two minds about going to Portus next year. I was actually dead-set against going to Portus up until the last day of the con, but now that we're all back and I know how many people I'm going to miss at Terminus (where I'm definitely going; I've already registered and even signed up to be on a panel with titti and sabershadowkat), I'm reconsidering. I go to the cons for the people, not the organisers, and it seems like I'd be shooting myself in the foot if I didn't go just to stick it to HPEF. Besides, I've never celebrated my birthday in Texas before. :D
On the upside, the volunteer elves were great, and the programming in general was wonderful -- I just really wanted to get the negative out before I did my con report, because as I was writing it, I kept getting sidetracked into "ARGH THIS ANNOYED D:" and it sounded more like a rant than anything else.
Now that that's out of the way, my con report is forthcoming in a day or two.