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Thanking the Ditmar Crew!

Life is funny.

Sometimes it hands you opportunities you never considered would come your way. Opportunities that seem to exist in another realm, for other people. People who probably do this kinda thing all the time, or at the very least have some kinda background in it. But instead the opportunity has come to you. And when those opportunities do appear, you find yourself having one of those reactions.

You know, the ‘Er, wtf?’ reaction.

Ever had that?

So when Terri Sellen asked me to host the Ditmar 2013 Awards at Conflux 9, my first reaction was ‘Er, wtf?’ And my second was, ‘Is there a budget?’

There isn’t a budget.

But I agreed anyhow because … well, mainly because a couple of people had quite a dubious reaction when I told them (‘Er, ho ho, wtf, you? Host Ditmars?’) & I have a real issue with being told that I may not be up to the task.

So then I got to thinking. What do we want from the Ditmars event? What. Do. We. WANT?

I decided a) we want it to be brief (there’s drinking to be done, fer chrissake, I mean, this is a *con*), and b) we want it to not bore us to death. You know. Like it did in 2006. Which was the last time I’d actually been to a Ditmars ceremony. And no, those 2 things are not unrelated.

I put together a wishlist of ideas & emailed them to those 3 powerhouse women without whom none of this would’ve happened: Terri Sellen, Nicole Murphy, & Donna Maree Hanson. Truly, nothing seems to derail those women. It is remarkable.

I listed more than I thought we’d need because I figured some of it wasn’t going to happen (like, the throne. Why I thought those 3 could *not* source a throne, I am no longer sure, but I really thought that idea would fall through). In project management-speak, we call that ‘contingency planning’. Otherwise known as ‘what to do when it all goes to hell’.

For the really important stuff – like the lego & the bubble machine (of course) – I had backups. In fact, I had so many lego offers I had to start turning some down. Which is what community is all about, eh? Guest of Honour extraordinaire, Kaaron Warren, was the woman with the lego goods in the end. Jane Virgo managed to source us a bubble machine – which, alas, we didn’t manage to get working. Rather than cover everyone on stage with soap, the bubble machine was quietly unplugged.

So then, armed with more lego than I knew what to do with – and a throne, which, frankly, was a throw-away idea I hadn’t really thought through to any kind of logical conclusion – the task became to find a community of people to make the night a success. Because that’s what cons are, for me. No, not success. Community.

And also, all the stuff on the backup plan was *also* happening, so now we needed people to help make it all work.

*Obviously* we needed music. I don’t know much about music, so I kinda delegated this one. As it turns out, Dirk Flinthart is quite the flautist. And so we employed him to entertain the crowd before the show. This became a particularly critical role when we realised we had no set-up time between panels and Ditmars (note to future Ditmars teams: ask for 30 mins set-up time).

Luckily, my back-up plan for the bubble machine was to source bottles of bubbles for the audience. (I just like bubbles, is all. It’s a thing I’ve had since I was a kid.) This distraction was rapidly deployed by willing volunteers to the crowd who waited, locked outside the Ditmars room. Emma Kate also distributed the raffle tickets (cheerfully and honestly telling them, ‘I have no idea what these are for!’).

And may I just say, the ‘raffling off presenter spots’ idea was a freaking stroke of genius from the remarkable Terri Sellen! Truly brilliant. Although I think our first winner may disagree (eh, Mark Timmony?).

BTW, no, the raffle was not rigged!  Sometimes you take the chance for something spontaneous to happen. You throw yourself at the lap of the gods & hope they won’t cuff you around the ears for it. Also, I didn’t have that kinda prep time. And yes, the first number drawn really was 69 A. (Hear that? It’s the gods. They’re laughing!)

But, back to the waiting crowd. I’d asked the inimitable Grant Stone to lead us in a laugh, since he is a laughter yogi of some acclaim. But, perhaps entranced by Dirk’s music, the crowd did not seem to require the cheering up I thought they might while they waited outside for the 30 minutes it took us to work out how to project a twitter feed (thanks, Jay S., for the twitterfall.com link!) and to test the sound effects (ably delivered on the night by Chris T, & sourced from freesfx and audiomicro ) and finally, where to put the throne I’d accidentally acquired.

We also needed an Oscars-style escort. Not only to assist people climbing the stairs to the stage in their long gowns (by the by, not many of us actually did the long gowns. Also, there was only 1 step to get onto the stage & it was kinda redundant. A three-year old could’ve climbed onto the stage without the use of a step. But I was determined that no 3-year-olds were going to storm the Ditmars stage. No, not this time) and also to ‘run interference’ if anyone went on too long. To ‘Go On at Great Length’, I declared, was a Ditmars sin.

So I employed fandom’s most smartly dressed man, Dave Cake (dressed by Joseph Anthony Bespoke, Perth). Dave’s ability to move people on and off the stage with military precision was a skill I hadn’t realised he possessed. I can now no longer imagine a Ditmars ceremony without him.

And then I had to find volunteers to be our lego masters. Turns out, our community has a direct link to the lego community, with Sue Ann Barber Barber offering to slum it for an evening of interpretive lego. Sue Ann brought along another willing victim volunteer, Rachel Holkner, whose lego nightmare images still haunt me.

Did everyone get that we were making a lego Gary Wolfe (for no apparent reason other than ‘it seemed like a really good idea when we were all on Twitter that one time’…)? It seemed just random enough to be awesome, & by the gods, it was indeed awesome! Some photos of the lego are obligingly peppered throughout Cat Sparks’ flickr stream.

Finally, I had to work out what I was going to do with a large, red throne.

Bill Wright was first on our running sheet to present the Bertram Chandler & Norma K. Henning Awards (actually, this changed before the event), so I asked if he might be willing to spend the rest of the hour watching from the stage. I even gave him permission to heckle. He didn’t, though. I mean, if you put me in a throne on a stage, I’d heckle. But some people are more gracious than me.

Donna and Nicole had also managed to find people to help move furniture & generally set up, & I do remember both Kimberley SG & Lily Mulholland providing timely & much needed help. There might’ve been others, in which case you may need to remind me you were there since I was thinking about a lot of different things right before the event & can’t actually recall many of the details about what was going on. AND the Conflux team also agreed to pay for additional AV so we had a support guy in the audience in case anything went wrong with the audio. For some reason, the audio was the bit that worried me the most (if you were there, you may’ve guessed this had something to do with a joke about a clock).

At some point, Tehani convinced the AV guy to also start handing out flyers. So at least the poor kid didn’t have time to get bored. We managed to fit the whole thing into an hour – which is when the AV guy was due to walk outta the room – with minimal apparent damage. And then, we drank!

And a special note that the Ditmars themselves were stunning this year, thanks to artist Lewis Morley.

My ‘resource list’ for the Ditmars hour was this:

Bubble blowers for audience
Bubble Machine
Twitter page for displaying #ditmars2013
Projector & Screen for Twitter page
Laptop for projector
Sound effects
Laptop for sound effects
Big Red Throne
Table for lego makers
Raffle tickets
Bowl for raffle tickets
Podium with fixed mic
Roaming mic
Posterity device (i.e. iPhone) for photos
iPad set to display time – to stop Ditmars running over
Fan, ‘cos lots of running about to keep Ditmars on time
Secret stash of scotch in a hip flask
Deb’s Victor Tung San Francisco jacket

And then: entertainers for pre-show, lego-makers, Oscars-style escort, someone for throne gag, AV guy, posterity device operator, awards administrator, raffle staff, door guards, someone to set up Twitter stuff, someone with lego, someone with a bubble machine, someone who owns a throne. Phew.

So, thank-you, Ditmars logistics team: Terri, Donna, Nicole, Jane, Dirk, Emma Kate, Grant, Dave, Sue Ann, Rachel, Bill, Kimberley, Lily, Tehani, Kaaron, the other Karen who offered lego. Thanks, Rydges, for taking receipt of the bubble blowers & for speedy set-up assistance. And thanks, Gary Wolfe, for your virtual lego attendance! You were unexpectedly terrifying. Alas, I haven’t yet found a photo of the interpretation of Gary as a one-eyed woman. And I have noted that lego masters, even while slumming it, will request a photo of the subject for reference. I like your thoroughness, gals!

And thank-you, presenters, all of whom were generous & well-behaved, & gave me no reason to use *the clock*: Sean Williams, Bill Wright, Grant Stone, Emma Kate, Rose Mitchell, Garth Nix, Kaaron Warren, Karen Miller, Marc Gascoigne, Nalo Hopkinson – and Mark Timmony, Lisa L. Hannett, Emma (someone remind me of Emma’s last name). And thank-you winners, you were so sweet & so humbled by your wins. I felt a little bad for all the gags. For a moment. (Sorry, Russ!)

Special thank-you to Jason Nahrung for taking the clock off my hands. That thing has a hair trigger!

OK, who did I forget to thank?

I could not have pictured a more perfect event, or a better team to work with, or an audience more willing to suspend their Twitter snark long enough for us to get the screens down. (Hi Rob Hoge! Thanks for that random tweet that night – you made us laugh. :) I was grateful to be part of it & to bask in the generosity of so many of you.

(As to the brief #noDebnoDitmars twitter thing – thank-you, but no! I have run out of gags.)

And if you want to see the night in words & pictures, check out Sean the Blogonaut’s Ditmars retrospective at Storify.

The Ditmars: by the people, for the people! Excelsior.