Interviews From The Past.
Alisa Green was the Programming Director for Steamcon II, which took place November 19-21, 2011. I first met Alisa at the first Steamcon in 2010 and had a chance to catch up with her in the final weeks before the big event of 2011.
Airship Ambassador: Hi Alisa, thanks so much for taking some time out of your crazy-busy schedule to talk with us. Before we get into the details of your role, first, how do you describe steampunk?
Alisa Green: Romantic Science meets a DIY culture. When I say “romantic”, I’m not talking about candlelight dinners. What I mean is science going back to a more innocent time where the possibilities are endless and no idea or invention seemed too far out there to pursue. I think the reason steampunk has become such a popular movement has to do with what it offers to us in an age where technology has become cold and common place. With steampunk we have an occasion to utilize our creative sides. We get to repurpose discarded or ignored items and are encouraged to make them new again. This harkens back to a time when repairing, reusing and repurposing items yourself was a necessity. It gives us an opportunity to honor that past while gaining enjoyment from doing the work ourselves to make something unique.
AA: As the Program Chair for Steamcon, what do you have to do?
AG: I am responsible for recruiting and scheduling all panelists, coordinating schedules with other departments, leading my team in creating panels, giving Publications the information it uses for the program book, and providing our needs for programming spaces to Operations
AA: Certainly that’s something to keep you very busy! How did you get started as the head of programming for Steamcon
AG: I was recruited by the Chair & Vice Chair of Steamcon at a mutual friend’s wedding reception.
AA: They obviously knew of your skill and previous experiences. How did that experience prepare you for Steamcon?
AG: I have volunteered in various aspects of Programming for local Sci Fi conventions for 11 years and counting. I started off as a panelist, making a few panel suggestions. I eventually became the Costume Track leader for Norwescon. As the track grew, I started volunteering for the Programming department more and more until I eventually became one of the Track Programmers aka Doomed Minion (I have the name tag to prove it). I never counted the number of hours I volunteered, but I must have been in triple digits each year. I also have more than 20 years experience in customer service and office management.
AA: I can see how office management and customer service would be helpful. Is there anything in particular?
AG: Organization, patience, good research skills, the ability to multi-task and see the big picture. It also helps to have strong office skills and be detail-oriented.
AA: There are so many details to keep track of in Programming. What are some challenges you’ve had to overcome?
AG: This is a time consuming and complicated process. You could easily become overwhelmed by the amount of information that you have to work with. This year at Steamcon, my team and I will be managing over 100 panelist/presenters and over 200 hours of programming and special events.
AA: Wow, that’s a lot of cats to herd! What keeps you going?
AG: The biggest reward for me is being at the convention itself and seeing all of the hours of planning turn into a successful event. It’s also very satisfying to bring such an eclectic mix of talented and creative people together. Last year at Steamcon 1, I was very excited to see so many people in costume.
AA: Do you talk with other convention programming chairs to trade ideas?
AG: Not really. Most of the programming chairs I know don’t work for themed conventions like Steamcon; instead they work for general Sci Fi conventions, which are handled a little differently than how we do programming at Steamcon.
AA: What kind of team have you put together to successfully create and implement the programming for a convention?
AG: Hard working, versatile and maybe just a little crazy. I say that my team members are “Specialists that are also Jacks of all Trades”. The trick is to find each person’s strengths and utilize them. Each member has their own role, but there is overlap.
Programming can also include long waits followed by flurries of activity. For example, one of my team members and I spent 15 hours in one day prepping information for Publications and then we came back for more the next day to meet a deadline.
AA: What is the process of programming – concept, people, scheduling, etc
AG: We compile panel ideas, invite panelists and recruit new panelists based on growth, filling holes, specialists for the theme, etc. Once we have accepted panelists, we send them a survey to provide us with their bios, availability and any panel ideas they may have. When we have the majority of panelists we need (which is based on the number of available programming hours we have to fill), we send them a panel list to pick their preferences from. When we have the majority of the panel preferences back, we plug the panels into a programming grid. This part can be a bit of a jigsaw puzzle because of all the variables involved. Once we populate the grid, we check for conflicts and create a master time line to send to Publications. We then send out itineraries, create the Room Bible for Operations so they know what goes where and the packets for each panelist.
AA: Programming can’t always be as simple as saying “Let’s have a panel on topic “A” and these are the people who will be on it.” What kind of details have to be managed?
AG: It can be for that panel, but then every panel around it won’t be, as it is affected by that initial panel. Like I mentioned earlier; programming is a giant jigsaw puzzle that you keep working at until you get each piece to fit. Each of the panelists’ schedules needs to be coordinated as well. We also play psychic just a little. We’re always making our best guess on the popularity of nearly any panel. This will affect what size of the room and the time of day we will have the panel. We also need to factor in any extra needs, such as equipment, room layout, amount of time, etc.
AA: There’s so much to be managed – time, people, places, along with several unknowns. What is one of the most important or helpful skills or roles in the programming process which makes your life easier
AG: Probably my biggest secret weapon is that I have writers as part of my staff. I’ve never met another Programming department that has staff writers, but it seemed natural to me. Programming does a huge amount of writing and editing as part of the process. We create our own forms, invitations, letters, write panel and event descriptions, edit panelist bios and presentation descriptions.
AA: Where do you get ideas for programming?
AG: Everywhere; panelist suggestions, fan suggestions, my staff, what’s hot in the media, blogs, books I’ve read.
AA: What do you look for in a program topic or session in order for it to make the cut?
AG: I ask myself three simple questions: Is it interesting and/or entertaining? Would it be a panel that I would want to attend or know someone that would? Is it appropriate to our convention?
AA: Once you have that list of panel ideas, where do you look for panelists and speakers?
AG: We get approached by a lot of volunteers; I receive recommendations from other panelists and staff. We use as many local authors and artists as possible. We also recruit people to fill specific roles. For example this year’s theme is Weird, Weird West, so my staff & I went looking for cowboy and locomotive experts. I use the internet a lot for research. I actually do a Google search on every potential panelist as well as look at any websites or pictures they send me. I have found this gives me a much better insight into their potential.
That’s a good place for us to stop today.
Please join us again next week for the conclusion of our interview with Alisa Green, Programming Director for Steamcon.
Kevin Steil is the creator of the steampunk news and information resource website, Airship Ambassador, the annual month-long global blogathon, Steampunk Hands Around the World, and is the curator of the online Steampunk Museum. He has been a guest and speaker at a number of conventions, contributed to several books, and has consulted for national media programs and events. He can also officiate your wedding!