by Garth Spencer

(Readings in Convention Planning #1)

Short Version:

"Constellation Con '83" was advertised in 1982 as a media-oriented SF convention to be held in Victoria, B.C., on Feb. 18-21, 1983, in two hotels -- the Empress and the Harbour Towers -- drawing at least 1500 people. Memberships were sold at $25 a head.

What eventually happened was a one-day event in a Jaycee Hall, on Feb. 20th, drawing maybe 100 people. About 30 of them, the story has it, were the committee. Reports vary.

Long Version:

As early as June 1982, many members of SFAV, UFCST, and UVicSFA (the local clubs) expressed fears that the Constellation plans were grandiose and unworkable. Also, a number of events made some of us progressively annoyed, frightened, very angry, and finally paranoid about Constellation and its organizers.

It is worth noting that the members of these clubs were largely college and university students, used to trying to make ends meet on entirely inadequate budgets. At the time, I myself had no concept of a mentality that disregarded budgetary constraints.

As faneditor Robert Runte pointed out (in the Jan. 1983 edition of New Canadian Fandom), several problems with Constellation Con were obvious, even to out-of-towners, over six months in advance:

Now, granted, when he said the Constellation concom intended to host "the largest convention ever held in Canada", Robert Runte was not taking into account Torcon II (Toronto, 1973), the second Worldcon held in Canada, which drew (by some accounts) over 2800 people. Apparently he compared Constellation's objectives to the regular attendances at annual Canadian conventions, none of which topped 1000 and many of which were under 600, as of 1982-83.

Myles Bos, a survivor of the Constellation concom, later told me that Constellation was figuring on a budget of about $75,000. That is the only information I have to tell me they even had a budget. Constellation figured that their breakeven was 600 to 800 members.

Jon Gustafson, then largely involved with Moscon and the Palouse Empire SF Association, later wrote me to indicate that he, too, had his offers of advice and experience rejected. From his remarks I inferred that there are other new concoms which mistake such offers for takeover attempts.

A member of the committee told Robert that manpower was no problem since registration would be handled by computer (?), and that conrunning would be no problem since Bjo Trimble knew all about conventions (?). That was typical of the fast-talking gobbledygook that the core committee kept producing.

Robert recommended this concom (1) drop one of the hotels, preferably the Empress, (2) drop all of the paid guests other than the official Guests of Honour, (3) scale down the entire operation to about 400 attendees (still aiming high, he said, in a time of recession), and (4) achieve a reconciliation with the local clubs.

After seeing an early draft of the article quoted above, Constellation arranged a conference call was arranged with Robert and local club members that fall. As I heard later, the treasurer went back to the concom and said "We've gotten Robert straightened out and everything's okay now."

As things turned out, the concom dropped the Harbour Towers, kept the guests, kept alienating the clubs, and only gradually talked about 1000 (later 800, later 400) projected members.

The last word Robert had before printing New Canadian Fandom #6 was that the more starry-eyed concommers had been removed, but Empress withdrew from the con, and Constellation was officially cancelled -- leaving the concom heavily in debt and without funds to repay 360 memberships.

Feuding occurred within the concom as different factions held executive meetings, voted rivals out of office and instituted their own plans. The treasurer turned out to be a slick, fast-talking kleptomaniac; it took some careful hacking to open up files he had kept other concommers out of, and find out why Constellation cheques kept bouncing.

Stranger things than fraud and forgery were happening. It got to the point where someone threw a paint bomb into a local comic fan's apartment. It got to the point where several non-members were entered into Constellation's membership lists -- including several club members who had no intention of joining Constellation, and one dead fan; apparently their names and addresses were copied from a notoriously outdated edition of the Fandom Directory.

I drew several conclusions from the Constellation affair in SFAV's clubzine, useful for future conrunning committees. But as for protecting your clubs and cons against certifiable space cadets ... nothing seems possible.