Now that Spring is here (in the northern hemisphere), con season is starting. Whether you're preparing for your first convention experience, or you've been to a few before, I have some tips to help make it an out of this world experience.
As background, I've attended the Las Vegas Star Trek convention every year since 2002, plus other Star Trek and general sci-fi and comic conventions in Vancouver BC, Seattle, Portland OR, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake City; I think around 80 or so in total since my first one in 1992. Although these tips are specifically for Star Trek Las Vegas, my suggestions apply for most other conventions as well.
Talk to people in line around you. I've met people from all over the US and from all parts of the world, including Japan, England, Scotland, Germany, Australia, Chile, Canada, Spain, Peru, Argentina... A big part of the fun of the convention for me is just talking with other fans, and I see many of them again year after year. If you have business cards, or you put some together on your home computer with your contact information, it makes it easy to trade email addresses or Facebook information, and to share photos once you're back home.
Bring some snacks. There is food available in the hotel in a number of restaurants and quick-service areas, but if you throw a few granola bars, some fruit, beef jerky, or whatever you like to munch on into a backpack, you can save money for purchases in the dealers' room, and save time not walking the hallway and waiting in line to eat. The hotel provides large jugs of ice water and plastic cups in the actual convention hall, in the dealers' room, and outside the convention hall, so you don't have to worry about bringing bottled water unless you really want to. The Rio has some nice buffets and restaurants, but the queues can be long sometimes.
Bring extra batteries and memory cards (or film) for your camera, or a power pack for your phone. Besides getting shots of the stars while they are on stage, you'll see a lot of folks in some cool costumes. Most of them don't mind at all if you take a photo with them. It's always polite to ask permission to take photos of cosplayers before snapping away-- more on that later.
Dress up if you can-- it adds richly to the experience. I'd say that at STLV, about 20% of the attendees wear a costume of some sort, or at least a uniform top with jeans. About another 20% wear a Star Trek t-shirt or baseball cap with regular casual clothes, and then the rest are mostly in shorts, jeans, and T-shirts. I like to bring a different costume for every day and really go all-out. In the past, I've dressed like a Klingon, an Andorian, Captain Kirk, Mr. Data, Lore and a Borg. Creation Entertainment and CBS set up several set reproductions in the hallways, like the Guardian of Forever, a Borg Alcove and a transporter pad, so many fun photos are possible by yourself, or with other convention attendees.
Wear comfortable shoes. If you buy shoes or boots a half to one full size larger than you normally wear, and you use inserts/arch supports, you’ll have happier feet at the end of the day. Break them in if possible BEFORE you arrive.
If you Cosplay, bring some props. As Data, I carry a phaser, a tricorder and a mechanical toy cat that I use as Data’s pet cat, Spot. As a TOS Andorian, I use an era-appropriate phaser, communicator and tricorder. Props add to the overall “look” of your costume, add interest to photos, and allow you to interact in a fun way with the other people posing with you. Make sure to bring batteries if your props light up or have other electronic parts.
Carry a small repair kit, like some duct tape, some safety pins, a needle or two, and some thread that matches your costume, for quick repairs. In past years, the Las Vegas convention has featured a "Garak's Tailor Shop" cosplay repair booth.
Use hand sanitizer.
If you’re using cosplay makeup, bring some to do touch ups to your lips and face after eating or drinking. Keeping it inside of a plastic Ziploc sandwich bag or two keeps it from accidentally leaking.
A few baby wipes or makeup removal wipes in a Ziploc bag can help to clean up spilled food, makeup, etc. from off of your costume.
If you take medication, think you might get a headache, etc., be sure to bring what you will need for the day.
That SOUNDS like a lot to juggle, but you can be strategic to transport your stuff “in character.” As Data, I carry a plain black backpack with a Starfleet Academy patch sewn on. A backpack or bag is also useful to stash items from the dealers’ room, the program guide and objects to use for autographs.
As far as rules of etiquette that non-cosplayers should know when approaching those in costume at conventions, it’s always nice to ask permission first before taking a photo. If you see a cosplayer eating, taking a drink, on a bench with their shoes or mask off, etc., please let them finish before asking for a photo.
Some costumes and makeup jobs are delicate, so please don’t “glomp”, or violently hug a cosplayer unless they say it’s okay. In the same way, please ask before touching a cosplayer or their costume and accessories, and avoid tapping a cosplayer on the shoulder from behind-- it can be unnerving, and some people don't like to be touched.
There have been times that I’ve been in the restroom changing costumes, or applying makeup, and someone begins a conversation asking me about my costume or makeup– right as I’m trying to concentrate on my quick change and makeup application. It would be helpful– and appreciated– if you really want to know about the costume/makeup, if you would wait outside the restroom and approach the cosplayer after they are done and ready for the world.
If you see a cosplayer hurrying somewhere, they may be on their way to a panel or a photo op that they don’t want to miss. It’s helpful to have your camera already out and ready to go for a quick photo, rather than in the bottom of a bag, inside of a case, with batteries that you forgot to change first.
If you know the name of the character and you’d like a photo, but you’re across the room or down the hallway, instead of yelling, “Hey, can I get your photo?”– when you could be addressing ANYONE there– it’s helpful instead to say something like, “Hey– Mr. Data!”– then wait for the cosplayer to turn around– “Could I get a photo?” With so many people there and with so much going on at once, and with cosplayers wearing helmets, masks, effects contact lenses, etc., it’s NOT that your request is being ignored– we may just not even realize that you’re trying to get our attention.
Despite the Las Vegas location and August date, the actual convention hall tends to be on the chilly side because of the air conditioning. If you get cold easily, you might want to consider a sweater or a long-sleeve shirt.
The dealer's room is large and has a nice variety of treasures for sale, from actual screen-used costumes and props (these can get pricey) to models, toys, patches, fan-made uniforms, action figures, videos, books, art, t-shirts, 8x10 photos, posters, CDs, etc., and not all from just Star Trek. There is merchandise from Star Wars, The X-Files, Battlestar Galactica, etc. Most of the vendors are equipped to take credit cards, but having cash on hand doesn't hurt (and can be better for bargaining).
I am not really into autographs or photo ops, but the lines for the most well-known stars can be REALLY long (sometimes over an hour). Photo ops and autographs can sell out quickly, so if there is someone you would really like to get, buy your ticket for them sooner rather than later.
Other supporting actors can be found at booths in the dealers' room or in other ancillary rooms nearby, and generally you just walk up to their table if you would like a photo or an autograph. The Creation website has the price list for each person appearing signing through them, while those actors who have their own booths set their own prices.
I look forward to the Las Vegas convention all year long, and I start preparing months in advance. If you follow these tips, you'll be well prepared for a stellar time with thousands of new friends from around the globe. See you in Vegas!
Eric Allan Hall has been costuming since 1987. A lifelong Star Trek fan, he's been featured in his Borg costume in the documentaries Trek Nation, by Rod Roddenberry, and in William Shatner’s Get A Life. Transplanted to Utah from the Seattle area in 2001, Eric has attended about 80 conventions since he first started cosplaying – often with his family.