Sunday, June 10, 2007

OASIS 20: A Relax-a-con

First of all - if you're upset that the new Cartoon Geeks podcast isn't done yet - look at the kitten. Just look at the kitten. Breathe slowly. Feel better? Okay. The podcast will be up this week, I swear.

Now, what is OASIS? For those who don't know, this is the annual convention held around Memorial Day each year by OASFiS, the Orlando Area Science Fiction Society. This organization calls itself a "literary" science fiction group. They have taken great pains to differentiate themselves from cons that include "media" such as movies, TV and the like.

The upshot of this is that there are very few continuing members of OASFiS, and their group is predominantly old. There was only one video room, operated by a guy who pulled out his DVD player and 20-inch flat-screen, and his schedule was predominantly episodes of Heroes. The room didn't have much of a draw. My own Pre-Sweetened Playhouse had its first Orlando appearance during this con - at 8 AM on Saturday, where most of the conventioneers were still asleep in bed. If there had been a lot of kids in residence, it might have had a draw. As it was, only the video room operator and one other guy watched it (so I did have a quiz contest and awarded one DVD and one chocolate bar - a Cadbury's, by the way).

OASIS has survived, and stayed large enough to obtain a hotel contract, by involving gaming groups. When I worked with SunQuest Games, we brought in as many or more admissions for our games than the rest of the con. That was the case with OASIS 20; the "paper" role playing and miniatures gaming, run by a college-based group called FRAG, brought in at least half the attendees.

What were the main activities at the con? There was a panel discussing the final Harry Potter book. There was a design artist who worked at Disney who showed sketches of some of the things he'd done. There was a costume contest with only six entries, with the organizer telling everyone to "take your time, move slowly, don't let stage fright panic you." (Needless to say, taking their time would make the contest last longer.) There was also the "Cthulu Chili Contest" which occupied most of Friday evening. Like all such chili contests, there were no surviving entries, and much toilet paper was used that evening.

One of the possible reasons for the low turnout this year were the gas prices; $3.00 per gallon is steep, and may affect all kinds of events. For smaller community cons like this one, this can be devastating; some people may forget such cons in favor of one big one like Comic-Con or Dragon*Con.

Enough bad news. Here's the good news. This was the guest of honor at OASIS 20:

My friend Deb has been taking care of this foundling kitten. She couldn't leave it at home with her other cats, since it is still being weaned. She "snuck" the cat in; since she was already sharing the room with a blind woman and her service dog, there wasn't much complaint.

Everywhere she brought the cat, there were smiles, desires to pet and feed, and coos. There was perhaps the oldest person at the con, a frail woman who I fear was suffering an early stage of Alzheimer's. The one time she brightened up was when she saw the kitten.

There were other guests, too; Mary Hansen-Roberts the Floridian fantasy artist, Joe Haldeman the writer, and most important for me, comedy and filk musician Tom Smith.

Tom is an inspirational guy. He worked in the loan industry for years, during which he played filk at conventions. (For those who don't know, provides a definition of filk.) He was laid off - without notice - and spent half a year trying to get another paying desk job. Then, he realized that by attending many conventions, he was able to pay his bills without another job. Since then, he has produced multiple albums; he's set up several web sites for his music; he's produced a musical comedy opera, The Last Hero on Earth; and he's been a peer and father figure for comedy musicians.

To show you how odd the audience was for OASIS 20, Tom did a two-hour concert. About a third of the audience walked out halfway through, because there was a room party offering desserts. I repeat that: desserts. The ones who stayed were nourished far better, with music that made us laugh.

And cry. The song "A Boy and His Frog" has Kermit mourning the death of Jim Henson. Tom wrote it at a convention the weekend Henson died. He stayed in his room and rehearsed it until he could sing it three times without breaking into tears. He still choked when he first sung it for the public. I choke up every time I hear it.

I did what I could for Tom. I brought soda to keep him hydrated, I recorded his concert from the mixing board (and I'll send it to him - it's his recording and music) and, of course, bought some of his swag. I also videotaped the show and will get the video to him. And not just for the usual reason.

Tom did a song called "Tech Support for Dad." Anyone with computer knowledge, who has a father from the pre-computer age, knows what this is about. This time was different. Tom's father, and his entire family, were seated in the room for the convention. And Dad did his part, reading his own lines. I'll probably cut this piece separately for him to send to his family.

I'll see Tom again at Dragon*Con, most likely, but at this venue he was much more approachable, much more relaxed, and I think a little bit happier. And that is the best tribute I can offer to the "local cons" such as OASIS.

Oh, it would be wrong not to mention his web sites: is his main site.

Tom is also a founding member of The FuMP - The Funny Music Project, at - where you can download free music, with two new uploads a week, and maybe throw the artists some money for their trouble. And curiously enough for a convention with a cat - the latest song on The FuMP is a bizarre little song called "Cat Macros" which has already spawned two homemade videos.

One Cat Macros video
The other Cat Macros video

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