Interview with Jeff Power Founder of Avalon Expo 2017

July 18, 2017 by Daniel Allen
Interview with Jeff Power Founder of Avalon Expo 2017
Daniel:

We are here today, in hopes of learning who the mind, or company, behind Avalon Expo is, and hopefully a bit more about the origin of your convention.

Jeff:

I'm Jeff Power, the creator or founder (I don't really like to have a title) of Avalon Expo.

Daniel:

Your modesty gives the impression that by 'hiding your title' that you are more interested in letting the event be about the visitors and fans, than about yourself. Would you mind telling me a bit about how Avalon Expo was conceived please, Mr. Power?

Jeff:

I can agree to your description of being more interested in letting the event be about the visitors and fans. That's a large part of the drive behind it.

The origin of Avalon Expo goes back to another sci-fi/etc. convention here, Sci-Fi on the Rock (SFOTR). I had known about it since the beginning, but only finally went to the 6th Sci-Fi on the Rock, and I volunteered there. I found the atmosphere to be so welcoming, so pleasant and just accepting of everyone with their various fandoms and interests. Just a place for everyone to go and enjoy their individual fandoms, together (even when the fandoms are different).

I wanted to help build and protect that sort of a good thing, so I joined the committee for SFOTR right after that. I was on the committee for the 7th, 8th, and 9th conventions.

Meanwhile, a lot of folks had mentioned separately how great it would be to have another convention like SFOTR, but in the summer (SFOTR is traditionally in the spring, in April or May).

I thought about the idea and how to go about it and so on, and discussed it with a handful of folks, but never really did anything serious with it - until a friend approach me and another person about a renaissance faire they were thinking of doing.

They approached us because we were involved in the Steampunk community (and knew us), and wanted the steampunk folks to participate. One of the things I had thought of for this yet unnamed summer convention was to have a renaissance faire aspect at some point, gradually adding as it grew. So, I felt it important to let my friend know of the idea for the summer convention and that the renaissance faire had been part of the plan - and if they did a renaissance faire, I'd leave the renaissance faire out of the summer general convention.

They were quite excited by the idea of another general convention and encouraged me to go forward with it. So, I did. I found a venue, decided on a name, did the social media and website stuff, asked a few friends to join in a planning team with me, and I spent most of the next year promoting it and putting it together. People loved it, and we've continued from there. The friend with the renaissance faire plans has since said they aren't doing one, so we've begun to add some renaissance faire aspects too.

The third AvEx is going to be the most interesting for a number of reasons. We've sort of forced it to grow into a much, much larger event than it probably would have naturally gone.

Daniel:

Oh? Id love to hear why, and jeeze... A steam punk renaissance faire makes me want to hitchhike from AB to NL, starting yesterday!

Jeff:

Year two was at a great venue, just too small (I had to turn away so many vendors for no other reason than lack of space - broke my heart.) A lot of folks mentioned they had trouble finding it. So these were things I wanted to fix for the third AvEx.

Early on after AvEx 2 we booked a couple of Sailor Moon guests, Linda Ballantyne and Katie Griffin, voices of classic Sailor Moon and Mars. I went to Hal-con in Halifax in November and Linda was there - she was great. I saw her panel and the room was to capacity, all amazed to meet her. So that made me realize just how much of a draw they were really going to be for us, and that I really, REALLY needed to book a bigger venue for this year.

There aren't a lot of ideal venues around St. John's for this kind of event, and those that were were booked up every summer weekend more than a year in advance, or were also the venue for SFOTR - and I wanted to avoid confusion.

Eventually (and I don't know why it wasn't something I thought of sooner) I approached our main hockey/events stadium here, Mile One Centre. They were very interested and I could see a way to make everything work - so we ended up there.

It's, much, much bigger than other venues. So, I/we decided to go for other well-known guests this year too, like Colin Baker, the 6th Doctor, Sean Gunn of Gilmore Girls (a demographic that hasn't been traditionally sought after by conventions) - also of Guardians of the Galaxy fame, and Rene Auberjonois of Deep Space Nine, etc.

We have a huge vendor area, laser tag, a "Village" area (that's the seed of the Renaissance Faire aspect), the local gaming group is joining us, and so much more.

Daniel:

That's awesome, I'm sorry to hear your troubles with Avalon Expo 2, but at the same time am glad that it forced you to expand. Honestly, up until today, I had no idea that Linda and Katie were Canadian!

Jeff:

There's quite a few Canadian voice actors - including other Sailor Moon voices. So, we may seek them out in the future.

There was a temptation to try a "cast reunion", but we do have to consider the size of our market and other realities.

We've since started another convention in the centre of the Island, Central Pop Con, which was June 10-11 in Gander. And we do a small half-day mini event in Marystown - Burin Expo, the 3rd this November. Both are about 3.5 hours away from St. John's. Another group runs a convention on the other side of the Island, called Atlanti-Con, 6th year this September.

On the mainland, as you know, it's pretty normal to have lots of opportunities on lots of weekends to go to a convention in driving distance. Just trying to make that happen here - and people are enjoying it.

Daniel:

I'm sure that the residents of NL are grateful for the opportunity to experience these events, make new friends with common interests, and get out and explore their ' own backyard' in ways they never had before.

I saw that you have a MS walk team, will your team be going in Cosplay, or (I really hate this term) 'punked' out to promote yourselves, while supporting the MS Walk?

Jeff:

The MS Walk team did the MS Walk, and we'll have a charity auction in support of the MS Society. As well, a card towers-knock down area in support of the Boys and Girls Club. We didn't cosplay.

Daniel:

What's going to be happening at the Village? What sets it apart from a traditional Renaissance Faire?

Jeff:

The Village is where most of the cosplay groups will have their setup, all arranged around a central square (which will be more of a circle). As well, some relevant vendors will be in there selling their items. The cosplay groups include Steampunk NL, several LARP groups with different themes, and the local Furries. Also in the Village the different cosplay groups will be doing various activities related to their cosplays and the steampunk group will have a tea and some other small workshops. It will be very active.

It will be mainly set in a medieval style, but fairly loose. There'll be a main entrance off the vendor floor, and a semi-secret side entrance through a library set up by the local Writers Alliance that leads to and from the author area of the vendor floor. Another side entrance will go to a demo stage area that will have a section of seating left in place in front of it (all the seats move back in the arena to double the floor space).

The demo area will have various groups (especially the LARPers) in there at different times doing demonstrations, such as a martial arts club, an aerial silks and ropes act, a children's performance, the costume contest, a variety show, and several other events.

Something new that sets us a bit apart from other conventions, is we're introducing an "Avalon Expo Scholarship" for folks going to post-secondary in the fall. This will be essay-based, with $500, $300, and $200 awards.

Well, there may be others like it, hardly anything is new, haha - but it's part of the whole "social enterprise" model we're going for here.

It starts with that welcoming atmosphere I experienced at Sci-Fi on the Rock several years ago, and continues with the goal of the event to be an overall positive contributor to the social and economic threads of the community here.

That’s probably a little too philosophical. As long as we can make a weekend where thousands of people have a great time, we're doing good.

Daniel:

Wow, you guys aren't messing around! Admittedly the card tower smashing makes me want to cry, but at least it's for a good cause! Your dedication to not just ensuring you thrive, but helping the community grow, and giving back, is truly impressive, and heartwarming.

There's quite a few conventions only interested in the bottom line, so it's refreshing, and inspiring, to hear your story and goals.

Jeff:

Absolutely.

Daniel:

How many unique visitors do you project coming? Vendors?

Jeff:

We expect 3,000-5,000 unique visitors. We have over 100 vendors (I haven't counted lately).

We'd love to see 10,000, and we think that's the potential. We're just realistic that's not going to happen this year, haha.

Daniel:

Thank you, for your dedication to such an awesome event, and thank you for your time tonight, Mr. Power. I hope that AvEx continues to flourish, and keeps entertaining and giving back!

Jeff:

One more thing that's important for me to say - I do a lot for this, of course, but none of this could happen without the members on the team, and the dozens of volunteers, and the many, many convention-goers that have supported this for these few years. Not to mention the amazing guests we've had and are about to have.

Thank you!

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