By Ashley Benson
When I walked into the Marriot hotel the Thursday night before DragonCon, I thought I had gotten my dates mixed up. Everywhere you looked there were fantastic, intricate costumes, intense conversations about the latest episodes of several TV shows, and just general merry making, all before the con even started. My introduction to DragonCon, to seeing the joy in all these attendees, truly showed me the heart of what this convention is all about and that’s the fans.
DragonCon has become a staple of the Atlanta Labor Day weekend for about 28 years now and in that time it’s grown, attendance topping out at about 62,000 people this year. DragonCon is very unique in that it is held between five different host hotels, with programming and vendors in each hotel. I will admit it, I got lost. A lot. Even after attending the media tour, I often would get turned around in crowds and find myself in the Hilton with the gamers when I meant to be in the Hyatt with the comic book artists. However, by the third day I was navigating the skybridges between hotels like a pro.
There was a strong Once Upon a Time presence at this year’s DragonCon, from both cast members and fans, which was fantastic to see. Aside from Rebecca Mader, Robbie Kay, Giancarlo Esposito, Lee Arenburg, Sean Maguire, and Beverley Elliott, who all participated in the numerous OUaT-centric panels, Amy Acker, Emma Caulfield and Kristen Bauer were also in attendance. It was a full house! Each actor was available in the Walk of Fame, which is an autograph area that was open throughout the con. Most fans could walk right up to their favorites’ table and have a little chat while getting a picture signed. There was virtually no wait and the actors were able to be generous with their time, which allowed for many special moments with fans. It was very nice to walk up and say hi or get an autograph and have a quick word without being rushed away. I was fortunate to be able do a few interviews while on site as well, one with Beverley Elliott and the other with Rebecca Mader. Both interviews can be found here and here . It was very nice to take about ten minutes, slow down the day, and talk about the show with two of its actors.
Besides the Walk of Fame, our Once Upon a Time team could be found chatting it up on stage during four different panels that were brought to us fans by the American SciFi and Fantasy Media fantrack. With one panel a day during the length of the convention, there was naturally going to be some repeat questions, but for the most part the fans ran the show, stepping up to the microphone and asking questions ranging from inquiries of characters’ theme songs, to heartfelt reminders of how hugely this show has affected the viewers for the good. The best advantage to having a panel a day was accessibility. I didn’t feel the anxiety I normally do when I try to get into a panel at a con. I knew that here, there would be a seat for me with my fellow Oncers. In addition to these panels with the cast, there were two fan panels that occurred during the week. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend due to conflicts in my schedule, but from what I heard spirited debate and conversation arose from both.
Another huge part of DragonCon is the parade, a showcase for the city of Atlanta of the ingenuity and creativity fans have when it comes to costuming. We Oncers had our own cosplay meet up, and the level of detail and care put into these costumes was astounding. Pictures of DragonCon OUaT costumes can be found here. Cosplay is an essential part of the culture of DragonCon and the parade is the ultimate celebration of that. I actually walked in the parade, dressed as Granny, and was rewarded with a unique perspective. It’s one thing to just say that a community supports a con and another entirely to see that support in the faces of families standing ten rows deep along the city streets, waving at Elsa or Snow White. To look up and see every single level of a parking garage bursting with people hanging over the edge, cheering at the cosplayers below. That image has stayed with me.
The thing that many veteran DragonCon goers stressed to me again and again was that this is a con for fans, by fans. And that showed in my experience in Atlanta. Sure, we were all tired by the end of the holiday weekend, but we were all happy, Oncer and actor alike. This is a convention that actors want to attend and it shows in the positivity and celebration that occurs within those five hotels during those four crazy days. And you better believe I will be back next year.
Ashley is a professional event planner, OUaF Forum Administrator, convention enthusiast, and resident sass master. When she's not tweeting up a storm, Ashley also finds the time to write reviews for Once Upon a Time atSpoilerTV.com. Feel free to contact her at @mitigatedtext