A Report from RingCon 2006

by Avondster

Thursday, 9 november 2006

This morning I wake up with the happy knowledge that I don’t have to go to work today. I am deeply unhappy at my workplace at the moment, and I am so thrilled to be able to get away from it for just a few days.

Because it’s off to Ring*Con! Of course, not before my cats have been properly cuddled and fed, some last forgotten items stuffed into my suitcase, and two phonecalls from my workplace answered.
At Amsterdam Central Station I meet up with my new(ish) Ringer friend DutchDiamond, for whom this will be her first ever Ringer convention. She is rather late due to her bus not coming, but she makes it to my side with a few minutes to spare, and we get into our ICE train to Frankfurt.
Our journey is whiled away with chatting and watching my new LOTR Limited Edition DVD extras (I know, I know, I did yield in the end). It’s actually a nice change to have someone on the journey with me. I’ve always had to travel to cons alone before.

Diamond and I arrive in Fulda as evening falls, and we navigate our way to the Hotel Am Dom (why yes, it was me that chose this hotel, how did you guess?) and check in with far less trouble than I expected (I never did get a reservation and whenever I called no one seemed to speak English). Our room is nice and comfy, though, and we unpack at our ease before setting out to try and find some food for Diamond’s inner Hobbit.
We look for quite some time and finally settle for the Italian restaurant that Varda and I ended up in last year. We have a good meal there (we stay clear of what V had last time) and after I have had my cup of tea we head back to the hotel and crash into our beds. Big day tomorrow!


Friday, 10 november 2006

We have breakfast in our civilian clothes, and here is where Diamond’s Quest of Avondster Needs Feeding Up begins, insisting that I eat some solid food before we leave.
Checking out of the Hotel Am Dom for now, we head towards the Esperanto, which just like last year we can find by simply following the train of Elves. My Arwen-o-meter starts beeping already!

At the hotel we first sign in and get our tickets for everything. We are then directed to the reception where we are to ask how to get to the Baderpark Hotel, where we were located because the Esperanto was full. It said on the website that there was a shuttle service going between the two hotels, but the lady at reception declares that there is no such thing. There has been a bus rented for that purpose, yes, she informs us. When is the next one leaving? Well, at 17. 17 past the whole hour? No, 17:00 hours. Which is FIVE HOURS from now.
Since this is the hotel where the people were put up who were supposed to be in the Esperanto itself originally, we figure that it must be close, so we tell her we’ll walk. She actually laughs at that and says we can’t. Why? Because the Baderpark Hotel isn’t in Fulda. It’s IN THE NEXT TOWN, Kunzell, 7 kilometers from here. Thank you very much for not telling us that beforehand, Ring*Con.

Finally, we resign ourselves to dragging our suitcases to the bus station and taking public transport to the hotel. When we get there, there is another problem. We can’t check in yet, since the rooms are not yet ready, but there is a conference room made available where we can store our luggage and change into our costumes, which is something. Our luggage will be taken up to our room while we are at the con.
Without further ceremony we frantically change clothes in the conference room, since the next and only shuttle to the Esperanto leaves in 20 minutes.
Though I think Diamond exaggerates ever so slightly with goading me into eating, when I put my Elven gown on, it seems a lot roomier in there than it used to be. I’ve also got some new shoes that actually fit and are comfortable, though sadly with my new short haircut I can’t wear my silver circlet anymore.
Diamond bought a medieval dress a few weeks ago that reminded us of something Hobbitish, plus it matches the colours of my gown, so she bought it for an (in my eyes) outrageous amount of money. The dress is slightly on the posh side, but then again, I tell her, she is going as Diamond Took, and everyone knows the Tooks were wealthy.

We are in time for the shuttle, and get back to the Esperanto in 15 minutes. To my amusement they are using the same outdoor decorations as last year, only with the 5 in 2005 rather clumsily painted over into a 6. Inside however, there’s some lovely new stuff. Apparently the theme this year is the baddies, as can be seen by the black and red decorations and merchandise, the group of lifesize Ringwraith and Orc figures standing in the Entrance Hall and, awesomely, a huge nasty-looking thing of wooden stakes that has Elf armour, weapons and helmets skewered on it.

Immediately we take a stroll around the Dealer Room, but most of the people there are still setting up and there isn’t much to buy yet. I do, however, spot a DVD of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys at a stand, that I really, really want (I was a huge fan of this series as a teen). However, as far as I know the series has never been brought out on Region 2 DVD, and the man can’t tell me either but promises me he’ll look into it and tell me when I come back tomorrow.
Back in the Entrance Hall we run into RosieCotton, yay! We haven’t seen each other in a year, and there is so much to tell. She has also brought her Sam and beautiful Baby Elanor, who is so big now I shall change her name to Toddler Elanor (she’ll be two soon).
As Rosie goes to the Holiday Inn (lucky Hobbit!) to escort the family, we first go to register for next year’s Ring*Con (maybe now we’ll actually have a hotel in town!), then go to the Great Hall to see us some panels.

We fall in the middle of Bruce Hopkins’s Q & A, which is so poorly attended it makes him rather uncomfortable, I think. There are some questions, but mostly he just skips around the stage looking for something to say. Not that he can’t be extremely amusing when you ask him the right questions.
After that it’s Shane Rangi and Jed Brophy. I am so in love with both of these men. Shane is very sweet and shy, and Jed is just… guh. The man is fantastic, and I have no idea why.
They fool around for a while, answering questions and rolling around the stage, and then it’s Lori Dungey, who was also here last year and therefore figures everyone must already have asked her everything she could possibly tell, which is why she shows us a narrated slideshow of her holiday in Matamata, a.k.a. Hobbiton. It is very interesting and amusing.

We reunite in the Entrance Hall, and in the few hours I have not seen her, Diamond has fallen completely in love with Jed, as well she should, of course. I also meet a few friends from LiveJournal, and here we find Indis and Elentari who have just arrived, and after a while I spot Varda in the crowd and go to greet her as well. I am so glad to see all my friends again!
In a corner of the Entrance Hall there is a little stand with some people who have a tame falcon named Mr. Sancho, that you can have your picture taken with. Indis and Elentari go to try this, and then it is time for us to go our separate ways for dinner (as the sisters don’t have buffet tickets).
After a good dinner in the hotel restaurant, it is time for the Opening Ceremony! Diamond and I go our separate ways again and I sit in my prime seat with Rosie at my side.

The Opening Ceremony is great as always, and lo and behold, there is more English than last year! Only two lectures over the weekend, but hey, it’s a start.
Marc welcomes us with his usual enthusiasm, and the guests are announced. Craig and Mark, the convention mascots and indeed ‘good luck charm’, as Marc dubs them, receive such an enthusiastic greeting from the crowd that I worry the stands may fall apart with the stamping. Miranda Otto just stands open-mouthed on the stage while the fans applaud her for several minutes, clearly overwhelmed with the attention. Sean Astin seems a bit more used to it, but he, also, has to wait a long while before the audience quiets down enough for him to say anything.

And he has plenty to say, trust me on that. His Q & A is right after the Opening Ceremony and I honestly don’t think he answered more than about ten questions in that whole hour. The man just isn’t capable of keeping it brief. He keeps contradicting and explaining and sidetracking (if you’ve read his book you’ll know what I’m talking about), until no one can remember what the original question has been and most of the Germans in the audience have not understood half of it (he uses a lot of difficult words and terms).
That being said, it’s not like he can’t tell an amusing story, or that he’s not an interesting personality, because he is. Just one that likes to hear himself talk.

Craig and Mark have their panel after Sean, and they do some more of the crazy games that they always come up with. After all these years I still love to watch them and listen to them, and more than once they have the entire hall howling with laughter over their antics.

After the Parkers’ panel there’s some performers playing, but Diamond and I are tired and want to get back to the hotel. Which, of course, is not possible, because the last shuttle left at 6, and the next one won’t be going until 1 am. Absolutely fabulous.
So we sit around waiting and talking a bit and go to check out one of the bands, Schelmisch, who are terrific but can’t take my mind off the fact that all I really want to do is sleep and that I am getting more angry with the organisation with every passing moment.

At long last, after over two and a half hours waiting, the shuttle bus arrives and we can get back to the Baderpark. At this point I am very cranky and tired, and to add insult to injury one drunk/hungover Elf sitting behind us is violently sick all over the interior of the bus. I mutter to Diamond that tomorrow we’ll be taking a taxi, whatever the cost, and that I’ll find someone to complain to if it’s the last thing I do.
When we arrive in the hotel at 1.30, a disinterested night watchman waves us away when we ask where our room is, and we spend some time looking for it and climbling up the stairs of the wrong wing and back down again, and now I am about to explode, which I do when we finally, finally reach our room. Diamond sort of cowers at the other side of the room while I give in to a tantrum and shout some very harsh words in the general direction of whoever got us into this hotel, then go into a spectacular sulk which I keep up until we fall asleep.


Saturday, 11 November 2006

I am back to my old self when I wake up after way too short a sleep the next morning. Diamond seems rather relieved and happily resumes her quest to make me start eating more at breakfast, where they insist on playing music rather loudly in this hotel. The food, however, is very good and plenty, and the serving personnel are nice. The other guests, mostly German business people, just look at us like we’re not really supposed to be here.

The only bus to the Esperanto hotel leaves today at 9:30, which means we’ll miss the showing of ‘Mr. Bliss’ because that starts at 9. The bus is late as well (maybe the driver needed to get it cleaned of Elf sick first, yuck!), and we stand in the hallway of the hotel waiting for it, together with Legolas, Gil-Galad, Galadriel, Frodo and Sam, and a few random Elves (including Sickwen, who seems better now so hopefully won’t repeat last night’s performance), while passing businessmen do amusing double-takes at us.

The bus comes at 9:45 and we get to the Esperanto without further mishaps. Here we attend first Bruce Hopkins’s second panel (thankfully a lot better attended than the previous one) and then Sarah McLeod and Lori Dungey, who are two very amusing Hobbitladies that teach the audience how to dance and eat like a Hobbit, and Sarah has to tell about five times what a great kisser Sean Astin is.

After this it’s Autograph time, which means just like last year that we have a long stretch of time in which all the English-speaking guests are occupied in the Great Hall and all the talks and workshops that are happening are in German.
Diamond, Rosie and I find Varda, and we decide to make another round of the Dealer Room, where I buy another Frodo bedspread to keep the one I bought last year company, as well as a new calendar and the Hercules DVD (which does play on European DVD players, hurrah!). Diamond gets Aragorn’s banner and Varda buys two banners also.
We go upstairs to check out the smaller dealer room, where I find a Merry and Eowyn on Horse figure in the discount box, and to go to the con office to complain about the shuttle service. The harassed-looking girl behind the counter listens to us patiently and writes it all down, then asks us to come back in about an hour while she sees what she can do.
We cruise the dealer room some more and hang around and count more Arwens until it is time to go to dinner, which we do early today because there is an Auction at 6 and then the Costume Contest at 7.

The Auction is fun, though not as amusing as it was last year (Craig keeps his trousers on this time, though Shane does wear cycling shorts, which makes Diamond a very happy Hobbit).
The Costume Contest is always great, and it doesn’t disappoint this time. Boromir of the Ringstars is the presenter once again, and after some Haradrim entertainment the costumes are being presented. There is a Galadriel that sings about how Middle Earth fashion goes back to basic with the return of the traditional fig leaf (though thankfully she doesn’t demonstrate), a deeply confusing act between a Frodo and an Éowyn that no one understands, including the two themselves, a Rosie Cotton doing pantomime, an Éowyn who sings the funeral song, two rapping Dwarves from the parody ‘The Soddit’, and three girls beautifully dressed up as Hobbiton (complete with Party Tree on her head), Rivendell (with little flets made of matchsticks) and Minas Tirith (with a beacon on her head and, awesomely, a flaming Denethor dangling from the precipice). The highlight are three girls dressed up as the Trees of Valinor and Ungoliant, who re-enact ‘The Darkening of Valinor’ with narration and set to haunting music.
While the judges deliberate, the Ringstars demonstrate what happens if you put LOTR and ST together (the Hobbits and Boromir in silly hats, travelling across the galaxy to discover new sorts of food, ending with Éowyn and an extremely reluctant Boromir getting married).
The Darkening of Valinor wins both the Judges’ and the General prize, the rapping Dwarves take away the best performance, Galadriel wins Best Lookalike, and the City girls get the Audience Award.

Immediately afterwards Miranda Otto’s panel starts. She’s very nice and fairly entertaining, though the questions thrown her way aren’t that interesting (“what was it like to work with Tom Cruise/Viggo Mortensen/David Wenham/Karl Urban” And one guy “why don’t you take your clothes off more often for a part?”).
She also commits the unforgivable crime of mixing up Merry and Pippin, grrr!

When Miranda exits to loud applause, we get to one of the points in the programme that I had been looking forward to most: the Ringstars show. Last year’s was great and had me howling with laughter several times, making me a big fan, and this year’s promises to be even better and is more than twice as long!
Sadly, the outcome is rather disappointing. Most of the acts that they do are crude, even bordering on vulgar at times, rather than amusingly mischievous, and most go on for way too long. There’s no structure or story to it whatsoever, in fact it seems like they just let everyone make up their own act without censoring or directing. Where last year there were some coy references to slash that made us all laugh, this year we have Faramir and Anborn (who, I have to mention, is played by a girl) blatantly molesting each other on stage, which I just know will insult a certain Faramir-fan to the bone. Arwen is running around in her underwear and singing Moulin Rouge songs (and she’s not a bad singer but really shouldn’t sing along to her own magnified pre-recorded version, as she is bound to overcompensate and sound horribly flat). Screaming and kicking Elves are being slaughtered by Orcs with chainsaws and, to top it all off, one Gondorian gets captured by Haradrim and they mime cutting his head off behind a screen, which reminds eerily of recently seen war footage, and guys, this is not funny anymore, this is tasteless and insulting and hurtful.
There are some good parts, of course, because when it comes down to it, these people have done this sort of thing before. The lovely Hobbit-lookalike ladies known as the Strawberry Victims put on a nice show as always, there’s a funny bit where the WiKi is holding open auditions for villains to participate in the war (think Idols) where all the bad guys get to do a song, and some great stuff when Mordor reveals its ultimate secret weapon (scarier than any Orc, more evil than the Ringwraiths): Michael Jackson, who does the whole song-and-dance routine straight from the video of ‘Thriller’.
A very powerful but rather out of place act is an interpretation of the death of King Aragorn, when he sits in a chair and one by one the members of the long-gone Fellowship appear around him, forming a guard of honour with their swords and taking him away, all underscored with some powerful epic music that is very moving.

The show ends, and as I anticipated, both Varda and Diamond are disgusted by it as a whole. Varda is insulted to the very depths of her soul that Tolkien has been maimed this way, and Diamond, who studies Theatre Science, is so distressed by the bad taste of the performance that she thinks she might need medical attention. The Ringstars won’t be attending next year (though I dearly hope the Strawberry Victims will!), but I hope that when they come back they will return to their old form and be good clean fun again.

Diamond and I take our leave of our friends and go to find us a taxi back to the hotel. Thankfully is is not too expensive and we get to our room in good time. Before bed we watch one of my new Hercules episodes on Diamond’s laptop and laugh at Mark Ferguson in his silly wig. Then we go to bed a little more satisfied.


Sunday, 12 November 2006 (Craig Parker’s 36th birthday!)

The only shuttle bus going today is at 9, which is weird, because the programme today won’t start until 10. But anyway, we arrive at the Esperanto (in our civilian clothes once again), check our suitcases into the storage room at the back of the hotel, and go to take another cruise around the Dealer room, and to mark the pages in our books where we want our autographs.
Since I have number 652 and Diamond’s is somewhere in the back of the 1000’s, we have to go and get our autographs separately, so I take my leave of my friend and go queue for some scribblings. Once arrived inside the Hall, I quickly locate Rosie and her “babe magnet” Elanor, and stand in line with them.

First up, we have Jed and Shane, who both look really tired. Jed sees my Merry & Pippin T-shirt and starts imitating Pippin (indicating his coffee “thess ess myy say-kend breeekfest”) and asks which one is my favourite. Me: “Merry!” Jed: “Oh. I can’t do that accent.” He also attempts to read the first line of the chapter he’s signing, and asks what language it is.
Shane greets me cheerfully and asks me how I am. I tell him it’s very early, and he agrees with me. I am such a witty conversationalist in the morning.
Next is Sarah, who looks really really tired, but is still very polite to everyone, unlike Bruce Spence, who keeps his head down while signing and doesn’t even bother to look at you or say anything to you. Lori, however, is her usual cheerful self and very friendly.
Since I already have Bruce Hopkins in my book, I let him sign my Ring*Con bag, and I stand by and play with Elanor until the con people tell me to go away because Sean Astin is the next one and I haven’t got a ticket for him, and I’m not even allowed to take a picture of Rosie while she gets her autograph, because heaven forbid I might make a sudden dash at Sean and get an autograph that I’m not entitled to or something. Whatever.
Miranda is last, and she also looks really tired. Must have gotten late last night. But she does personalise for me, and I get an embarassing moment when I leave my con ticket on her table and she has to call me back for it.

Rosie, Elanor and I exit the Hall, and we go search for Diamond. Not seeing her in the Hall, we decide to go check out the dealer room once more, where we don’t find her but we do bump into Varda, and we continue our way together.
After a while I convince myself that Diamond may already be queuing for her autograph, and so Rosie and I amble around at our ease and I greet some more LJ friends and play with Elanor. Then we go to lunch, where Varda and Diamond rejoin us.
We attend another Craig and Mark panel, which again is most amusing plus we get to sing “Happy Birthday” to Craig, and another of Sarah, who seems somewhat perkier than earlier this morning and again has to retell how great it is to kiss Sean, and who shows us some slides of her private photographs.
Sean is next, and we happily listen to his rambling stories again (at one point he veers dangerously close to getting political, but the subject is thankfully dropped fairly quickly).
Miranda rounds off the panels for this weekend, and I get to ask my question: which scene in the movie made her cry, as an audience member? The Grey Havens scene. Aww!

Varda, Indis and Elentari leave before the Closing Ceremony, and I don’t get to say goodbye to them, which makes me sad because who knows when I’ll see them again?
Ring*Con is closed as usual with a demonstration of the workshops this weekend: a re-enactment of Beowulf in Olde English (with Craig and Mark playing the dragon), a beautiful performance of the Elven choir, and the best of the Archery and Swordfighting Workshops, with of course the actors participating enthusiastically. Jed sings us a beautiful song, and he, Shane and Bruce perform a haka. One of the organiser guys has lost a bet and has to dress up as Freddie Mercury and sing ‘We Will Rock You’, which of course rouses the whole Hall.
Sean Astin even brings his two older daughters on stage with him! Allie is so big now, she’s nearly ten and really lovely. It’s great to see Sean with his kids and how affectionate he is with them.
The group get three curtain calls and we just keep clapping and cheering because we really don’t want this to end, but finally, inevitably, it does anyway.

Diamond, Rosie and I meet up again in the Hall and already the After-Con Blues is kicking in. The band stage has already been broken up, as well as the Dealer room, and now the demolishing crew go to work in the main hall and the hotel corridors, removing all the remains of the con. People start bustling out, collecting their coats (or cloaks) and bags. I say goodbye to some LJ friends, and goodnight to Rosie, who we will meet again tomorrow morning. Then it is a long walk for two sad Ringers back to the Hotel Am Dom.

But the adventure is not over yet! For as we get settled in our room and then search for our coats so we can go out to dinner, I discover my coat is missing. I spend some panicky moments trying to figure out when I have seen it last, which is difficult because I’ve been wearing my cloak all weekend. At last we come to the conclusion that it must still be at the Baderpark hotel, and was never brought up to our room on Friday evening and I just hadn’t noticed. My panic increases, because my discman and, most importantly, my house keys are in the pockets!
A quick phone call from the lovely receptionist confirms that they have indeed found my coat at the Baderpark, and all there is to it is to take a taxi to the hotel I had hoped never to see again, to pick it up. The taxi driver is really nice and waits for me while I collect my coat, then takes us back to a nice, small German restaurant, just one block from our hotel.

At the restaurant we catch our breath and then we start brainstorming. Because now that the Ringstars have withdrawn, there’s room for new talent, we do figure. And since Diamond is studying to be a theatre creative and I have once studied to be a performer, we make a good team. So we start swapping ideas over our schnitzel. I don’t know if anything will ever come of it, but it’s fun, anyway.


Monday, 13 November 2006

Today is the last day of our Adventure, and I dread having to go to work again tomorrow.
After breakfast and checking out (and stealing a pen and notepad with ‘Hotel Am Dom’ on it), we go to meet Rosie and her Sam and of course Elanor.
Our weekend together is closed off in an appropriately Hobbity fashion: we go and have tea together in a little tearoom in the city center. Then it is really time to say goodbye, and after an invitation to come and look them up soon, the Rosie family departs to go shopping in Fulda, while the two of us slowly make our way to the station.

On the platform we run into a few other Ringers, and we chat together until the train to Frankfurt arrives. Diamond and I watch more Hercules on the laptop, and our hero’s Legendary Journeys take us all the way back to Amsterdam, where the two of us have another dinner together (I think I’ve eaten more this weekend than I have for the last month!).
Then it’s off back home, where we have tea and cuddle my cats and mourn the fact that it’s still another 320-odd days to the next Ring*Con.