[Last week I reminded Kate that it was already four weeks ago that we had been to RDC5. A few days later I said to her that I was tempted to end the whole RDC series before recounting day 2 and day 3. Not least because with Kate continuing her report with THIS post and concluding with THIS, as well as armidreamer recounting the story from her perspective HERE, and also finding yet another previously unseen account by a Chinese (?) fan on Weibo HERE (thanks to inkedgirl for sending me the link!), it seems as if everything has been said. That is *one* reason why I am so unmotivated. There is also this super weird feeling that, as long as you still keep some of the thoughts and experiences to yourself, it is not quite over yet. But hey, a joy shared is a joy doubled, as they say. I need to get this over and done with. So here’s Day 2 (Saturday) from my perspective.]
WARNING: RAMBLING POST FOLLOWING
This was going to be a busy day. The photo sessions were set for 10.30am and both Kate and myself had been scheduled to have our photo taken on the Saturday. As Kate explained in her post, the sequence of getting your photos or autographs was determined by ticket numbers. To potentially serve all roughly 650 con attendants, two photo sessions were on offer on two days, comprising shots with individual actors as well as group shots with Richard and Mads, or with the whole group of stars. I only wanted my picture with RA, and damn, it really forced me to leave my comfort zone.
If you know me then you are familiar with my policy of avoiding being caught on
film pixel anywhere. Despite various opportunities, I have never wanted to have a picture with myself and Richard. I didn’t really want it this time either – not least because I had to fork out for it – but then I decided to do it because I felt that this was the least exploitative scenario in which I as a fan could ask for a photographic memento with my favourite actor. As in: This was not a nuisance request but it was actually a service on offer. RA was there to be photographed, and by agreeing to be photographed with paying fans, those who asked to be in the frame with him could not be seen as a nuisance who were encroaching on his privacy. In short: Pictures legitimately allowed. Oh boy, overanalysing much?
I knew from other con images that I had seen over the years, that fans came up with elaborate scenes as to how they would like to be photographed with their favourite star. No simple, boring double portrait! There were props and costumes and whole scenes enacted, with the more approachable stars actually hugging and carrying and kissing their fans. That was definitely out of my comfort zone. But I didn’t want an “American Gothic” kind of picture, either. Luckily, my trusty photo bag not only holds marky Mark but always comes with my favourite travel companion. So last minute I realised that I should use Pop!Thorin in my picture. And not a second too soon, because the big long queue suddenly got much shorter when I realised that most people were queueing for Mads Mikkelsen – who was shooting in the same room as Richard. I took Pop!Thorin from his dark prison and continued moving quickly towards the destination. As I got nearer, I had to leave my bag on a table, then, about 10 people away from Richard, a helper informed me “no hugs, Richard doesn’t want to wear flower crowns either”.
This was a request that caused a good bit of discussion over the day – among the con attendants, on Social Media, between Kate and I. There was criticism that Richard was being stand-offish – arrogant??? – by refusing hugs, crowns and fun scenarios. But *in the moment* when the photo assistant actually said the words to me, I did not feel the slightest bit surprised or dismayed or cheated or disappointed. Quite the opposite. I remember a kind of “preemptive obedience”, with myself vigorously nodding my head and almost swearing on my mother’s life that I would not hug, touch or otherwise inappropriately address Mr Armitage. “Oh, of course, no question, of course, yes.” For me there was absolutely NO QUESTION that this rule was right, was normal and was to be obeyed. And it was a typical case of “Is there anyone here whose needs are more important than mine? Oh yes, there is Richard. Please let me allow you to take precedence…” 😂
So I just moved forward until it was my turn. I remember standing at the side of the photo area, being the next person to take up my place next to Richard, inwardly squeeing, but at the same time trying to keep myself functioning. The whole thing was – and I am just saying this descriptively and not accusingly – a total conveyor belt. It all just took a few seconds, and I was in absolute convenience mode there. As in: “Let’s make sure that he is not inconvenienced by our *preposterous* desire for a photograph with him.” I remember that it was *all* about him, and not at all about the paying public as fans… I remember walking into the frame, taking up my place beside the black leather
jacket shirt. I said something like “hello, thank you for coming” – and he said “hello” back. Because I find such situations *painfully* artificial, I thought I’d lighten the mood by mentioning Pop!Thorin. “I brought Thorin along”. But there was no reaction. There was a slight confusion because I did not hear the photographer instructing me to put my chin down because of the light glare on my glasses. So I got two and a half precious seconds longer with Richard until I copped on what to do. And then I just said thank you. I don’t think he said anything. I didn’t really look back, either – I just wanted to get away from there, not further inconveniencing the man. I am 100% certain that I did NOT look at him at all during these 5 seconds. And it wasn’t just because I was afraid I’d lose my shit if I saw him looking back at me – if I am totally honest it was because I didn’t want to see even the slightest hint of him being annoyed/judgmental/bored by the whole procedure. I just wanted to get that picture done and dusted. In hindsight, I keep thinking that I would’ve enjoyed myself much more if I could’ve just sat at a safe distance and simply observed him. But well, that’s probably even creepier than asking to be photographed with him…. So, yeah, the whole thing happens so fast, you hardly have time to register your own feelings, let alone make sure you remember the moment while not obstructing the rest of the people who are behind you and who want their own five seconds with the OOA.
So, you ask whether the picture turned out American Gothic? Well, Pop!Thorin did the trick.
A Sermon on Expectation Management
I didn’t get to see the resulting photo until later that day. But pretty much as soon as Kate and I were through with the photo session (and while we didn’t have a Q&A to go to or stewarding to attend to), there already was quite a buzz about the con that there had been some disappointed tweets about Richard’s refusal to play ball. The thing was, despite my “built-in preemptive obedience”, I could totally see why some of the fannibals were disappointed. Kate basically says it all in her initial post on the topic. It was a case of expectation management gone wrong. Through no fault of the fannibals themselves. Especially if this wasn’t their first con, they probably expected another actor who would go along with all the antics that the creative fans tend to get up to for the photo shoots. To find that Richard really only wanted to stand there beside them – as one does, in a regular fan photo – must have seemed disappointing. And how should they have known to expect something else? They weren’t necessarily his fans, and didn’t know that he generally appears to be rather coy and slightly reserved at any kind of promo event.
My own impression on day 1 of the con, *after* the photo session and *before* the first Q&A was that the whole thing really was NOT Richard’s cup of tea. Not only in the way he seemed to refuse to have fun with the fans nor assume funny poses – no hugs, no flower crowns – but in his whole body language. Observing him at the opening ceremony the night before, and at the photo session, his body language to me looked as if he was a bit out of his comfort zone. As in: “What the hell? I do not understand why everyone is behaving the way they do.” That attitude put a bit of a dampener onto things, for me, if I am really honest. It made me feel guilty.
And yes, guilty with an i, not a y. His discomfort initially looked to me like an unwillingness to be there. And that reflected over to me in that I felt bad and guilty about wanting something that he did not seem quite willing to give. I almost felt like apologising for intruding into his sphere.
At the same time, I was a bit annoyed because I believed that that was not the way it should be. After all none of us there were requesting something out of the ordinary. Meet n greets, photos, autograph sessions – that is how a con works, and we were not doing anything that was off-limits. No doubt, I was overanalysing the whole thing, worked myself up into feeling slightly judged and had the suspicion that he initially was possibly even a bit judgmental about the scenario and the fans.
And yet, for myself, I was completely ok with what we got. I was not disappointed with only getting the absolute minimum. I had been as surprised as anyone else when he agreed to do the con, and wondered right away how involved he would get. Just judging on how I had perceived him at other events – always professional, but usually quiet, reserved, possibly shy, prone to slinking into the background – I didn’t think Richard was going to turn out the King of the Con. I basically expected reticence and that’s what was given. Totally fair enough.
However, Richard then pretty much slayed it with his first Q&A at noon. This is what he is really good at – listening to what is being said, and answering with wit and intelligence. He was coherent, spoke beautifully, and very quickly made everyone fall in love with him
again. With the trauma-inducing excitement of the photo sessions behind us, it only occurred to me when RA entered the stage for the Q&A that he was actually wearing the exact same outfit as the night before. I had to smile to myself when I realised that – “lazy bum”. It seems to be something that he does on a regular basis – he did the same back in 2015 in Leeds… And you know what? I like that casual attitude. After all, he’s just a regular bloke in the body of a gorgeous guy. He doesn’t dress as if he’s going to premieres every day. Anyway, unlike the other guests, RA got an interview with Sean (the Starfury organiser). Which on the one hand made the whole thing more structured but on other hand also regurgitated the same stuff that we have heard many times before. It also meant there was much less time for fan questions than what we bargained for. However, RA delivered, as usual – he expressed himself beautifully and answered the questions thoughtfully and originally. He immediately – and despite the photo debacle – was my personal King of the Con.
I’m a Stewardess
Not sure whether it is the same at all cons, but volunteering at a Starfury convention is called “stewarding”.
I can’t tell you how gratifying it was for a stubby 5’6″ hag to finally become a stewardess! Straight after the Q&A I had to report for duty. I was deployed at the photo collection point: The photographs from the morning’s sessions were turned around amazingly quickly. Within 2 hours of shooting the prints were ready for collection. And I and a number of other stewards were there to hand out the photos from the stacks to the individual fans. It may sound like a boring place far away from the celebs to volunteer at – but I basically got to see all the pictures, talking to lots of people. Which I really enjoyed. But also found somewhat frustrating, as a fan of Richard Armitage. There was no mistaking, Mads Mikkelsen’s photos were the best. 100% fun – he actually did anything and everything. Hugging, kneeling, whole scenarios – brilliant stuff. So much fun. And well, this is gonna hurt but it’s the truth: it made him look better/funnier/more interesting/even more attractive than shy boy Richard. Do I have to point out here again that I am saying this from a position of love and admiration? So don’t get your APM on – I’m just saying it as it is. I don’t really think he was an intentional party pooper. By all means and intents the man actually has some party trick up his – erm – *slacks* that would get any party heaving with fun ( cf. 7:50 mins in this interview). But from the pictorial evidence it looked as if dear Rich just wasn’t ready to leave the boring corner yet and just let go… Leaving aside that it looked as if there was a cardboard cut-out in all those photos, I felt a bit sorry that *he* was missing all the fun, possibly failed to understand that the fans were trying to give him their love and energy. I’d hate to think that he missed out on receiving the gift of his fans’ attention and admiration. But ok, I do understand that it must incredibly weird to have hundreds of people get up close and personal in a photo. Fan after fan after fan. The moment is unique and special for each of them. For him, it is hundreds of moments. I do respect his boundaries. But this is what happens at a con, and it’ll be interesting to see whether he will warm to the idea of this and do it again. That day he needed a while to warm up, though.
Oh, btw, even though I already showed you my own picture above:
Unbeknownst to you because I discreetly hid my mug away it turned out to be crap. My eyes were closed, which was a major bummer. But hey, my stewarding job turned out to be a blessing in disguise: photo peeps said I may get a second chance at a blink-free photo the next morning. Hello queues… The photo stewarding otherwise was an easy, cushy job, and I was able to leave after just one hour. (Kate had to work a full 3 hours btw). I was tempted to call it a day, head back to the hotel and do a bit of blogging, but then hung around in the lobby for one hour until I realised that I could actually listen to the other Q&As. Scott Thompson and Aaron Abrams were on – and boy, they were entertainment! The two of them were obviously really comfortable with each other. Two jokers – much like their characters on the show. They came out with some hilarious stories and literally had the audience in stitches. Including Hannibal novices like myself.
Guylty on autopilot for autographs
While all the hilarity was going on in the main hall, things were progressing quickly at the autograph sessions.
No doubt because armed with a pink clipboard and the gold sharpie, Kate was being German and perfectly organised the transit of the autograph hunters through the combined Mads & Richard signing room. Originally I had been told that my badge number would not be called to queue for autographs until the next day. However, all of a sudden I saw my number being called on Twitter during the Scott/Aaron panel. Good thing I hadn’t wandered home yet. So I rushed over to the autograph session, packed with camera bag, Pop!Thorin, big folder of things to have signed. And boy, was I Ethelred the Unready… Once again – much fewer people wanted Richard’s autograph *pats poor baby’s head reassuringly*. And so the queue for his table moved very quickly. There was already 1 picture included in the con ticket. And despite my advance decision to *only* get those free signatures and *not* spend money on more – yes, I caved again and I bought two more. I wanted to get one signed for Hariclea who had had to cancel her attendance at the con due to her mother’s sudden death, and I wanted another autograph for a future auction. And yep, that meant I forked out another 40 GBP. Thank goodness I had printed several of my own photos and also thrown a LLL playbill and a Crucible flyer in my folder. And luckily I didn’t consult with the powers that be whether my materials counted as “authentic” – as only official, licensed material was allowed for signing. Well, guess what, I licensed those photos to myself. There wasn’t much time anyway, because *boom* all of a sudden I was standing at that autograph table.
And *whoa* let me tell you. This was the closest that I have ever been to RA *without* having a camera to hide behind. And it was disconcerting! Richard was sitting behind a table, with a helper beside him who handed him the pictures and told him what to sign. As I rode up
*cue gif of Sir Guy crossing the drawbridge of Nottingham Castle on horseback*, Richard was still chatting to the girls in front of me – two young fans from New Zealand. He sweetly exchanged a few words with them. Then it was my turn. I said “hello” and “thank you for coming to the con”. My cod, I am so eloquent and original. A firework of loquacity. He probably said hello, too. “Probably” because – as usual – my memory is as hazy as a November morning on a midlands lake. Honestly. I thought I am good at multi-tasking, but when in the presence of the Armitage it seems as if I can only either look OR talk OR listen OR remember. Pathetic! Anyway, the helper passed the first of my three to-be-signed images to RA. Richard saw the picture I had chosen for Hariclea. I think (hazy, remember?) he looked up at me, but I don’t remember looking at him. I probably scraped my feet restlessly like a coy little girl – or waved at him in Oliver Hardy fashion (see right 😱). Or not. He saw the picture and volunteered: “Ah, that’s in Leeds.” And I eloquently replied – wait for it: “Yes!” *head desk* So he signed the photo for Hari. Then a b/w picture was put in front of him, and again he kindly commented “And that’s in Berlin!” And articulate mistress of words that I am, I grumped back at him “Yes!”. Imagine this in the sort of tone all German soldiers bark orders in 1960s WW2 films. “Schnell schnell Schweinehund”. I mean, really? He then asked me whether he should sign for Hari again, and I was kind of thrown and in the confusion actually decided to have my own name signed by him. *doh* Honestly, I don’t know where that came from. I already own several autographs. I didn’t want or need another. I wanted one to go into the auctions. But it almost felt to me as if he *wanted* me to want an autograph dedicated to myself. *shakes head* So yeah, that one’s for me. And then finally the Crucible flyer was passed on to him by which time he had given up on making any attempt at striking up a friendly conversation with me. “Just your signature please”. *scribble scribble* And then “thank you” and “bye”. I couldn’t get away from there fast enough.
No sooner had I left his vicinity, the roundabout of thoughts started gearing up in my head. For a moment I thought that, even though he had not been unfriendly in any way, RA had exuded a sense of distance and “PFO” there. Did he think it was all bizarre? Hadn’t I felt his awkwardness and that he was resolutely shy and politely reserved? No! I suddenly had this epiphany. It wasn’t him. It was *me* that had been the eejit – who needed coaxing from a shell, who obviously was completely out of her comfort zone, who was hopelessly uncool and inexplicably coy despite considering myself an extrovert and a people person. Yeah, my arse! I had totally blown the opportunity to make a coherent comment and say something meaningful to the actor whose work I have been admiring for seven fucking years. The nice man had actually done everything *he* could to make me feel comfortable. He’d given me the opportunity to speak *twice* when he commented on the photos, opening the conversation, waiting for me to say how much I had liked him in The Hobbit, how I was hoping UATSC would ever see the light of day, or how I simply enjoyed the events when I took the photos. I could’ve said a thousand things. But I couldn’t get my teeth apart and all that came out was a grumpy, humourless “yes”.
Honestly, I am shaking my head here. How fucking stupid can you be?
I had enough opportunity to think of all this and berate myself because I had joined the next queue – to get an autograph from Mads Mikkelsen. Which I decided to do, just because it was free and I might as well. It was a loooooong queue. I think I had to wait for an hour or so and I was among the last people that day, but let me tell you, it was worth it. And either because I had just had that epiphany about being too shy for my own good, or because it didn’t matter since I wasn’t a fan, it was such a pleasure to speak to Mads. I only had that one thing to sign – the free Hannibal poster that was part of our con pack – but he really took his time to treat every fan with kindness and interest. He must have been signing for at least two hours at this point, but Mads was supernice. He looked at every single person who came up to his table, said hello, and made an attempt at a chat. He asked whether I wanted it signed for me and I said no, just your signature, and we had a quick little back and forth about “best hand-writing”. The short interaction with him felt unrushed and comfortable. Well – *he* came across as unrushed and comfortable, I suppose, and at the end he actually looked up and shook my hand. Mads did that with every single person who had an autograph signed that weekend – he shook everybody’s hand. And fan or not, I have to say that that little gesture really made a difference to me. I certainly wasn’t lying when I said to him that it had been lovely to meet him… And the experience put into sharp relief that my encounters with RA were chilly and perfunctory – because *I* was acting like a teenager and couldn’t get my act together… Richard was grand as he was – he made every attempt at providing a good experience to everyone. But if some people can’t overcome their own reserve, then that is hardly *his* responsibility.
Luckily I didn’t have to dwell too long on all this. With a whole con going on around me, I finally bumped into Kate again whose shift as a steward had finally finished. We decided to get a bite to eat and headed to McD across the road before the evening’s entertainment – the costume competition. The costume competition was open to all, and I had expected a larger number of people to take part, but in the end the 20 or so costumes made up for the lack in numbers by the quality and work that had been put into the garments. Scott, Aaron and Jeremy were the judges, and they made a terrific decision when they awarded top prize to a young disabled fan who was “the flaming wheel chair”. I have to confess that I felt tears in my eyes when “Noah” was wheeled across the dance floor to thunderous applause – that moment encapsulated the whole con experience for me: You can say what you want about commercialised fandom experiences such as a con, but this fandom is special. Ok, disclaimer, I do not have that much experience with fandoms other than my own. But then let me look at the fannibals as an outsider and a non-fan. I loved that they were such a heterogenous group – in nationality, in ages, in backgrounds, in dis/abilities. There were people there who had made the trip all the way from the US, from Asia, from Australia. There was a general underlying goodwill and friendliness that also extended to fakes and frauds like myself. Even when I admitted to being there for Richard, really – I never once saw a raised eyebrow or felt unwelcome by the fannibals. In fact it felt incredibly inclusive and happy with people walking around exchanging little gifts, even complimenting interloper me on my Red Dragon flower crown. There were plenty of chats everywhere, and the general relaxed and easy-going atmosphere was simply a joy. I was glad I was there with Kate, and also had arranged to meet and hang-out with fellow fan armidreamer as well as hook up with Midori, but I have no doubt that it would’ve been easy to make new friends and experience the con with people I didn’t know before. I’ll probably come back to the fannibals in my last post in this series, but it can’t be said often enough: the Hannibal fandom rocks. Thank you for being so open, kind and fun.
Apologies for the ramble. I’ll get this done and dusted with a final post soon!