Tom Wang is one of the Otakon staff out of roughly nine hundred for this year. He generously took time out of his busy day to sit down with me for an interview. Like many attendees, I am vastly ignorant of the gears that keep our beloved convention running on all cylinders so I wanted a peek behind the scenes to gain a better understanding.
As a veteran staff of several anime conventions, with his first back in 2008, Tom revealed some fascinating tidbits. I was especially delighted by his answer to my last question.
The Paper: My aim for this interview is to shed some light into the inner workings that make Otakon run so smoothly. To begin, what exactly is your position? Please tell us a little about your duties.
Tom Wang: I am part of the team at the Otacafe. It’s basically karaoke. People can request songs from our database but they must be anime or game related. Attendees are welcome to bring their own MP3 player if we don’t have a song. This is highly discouraged but we may even resort to YouTube.
TP: How does your job differ from con to con?
TW: That’s hard to say because I have different positions at each con.
TP: Oh ok. Let’s focus on Otakon then. I understand that the Otacafe is part of Operations?
TW: Actually, it’s Programming. We have a staff of eight and one gopher. We have several gophers throughout the weekend but just one at any given time. The Otacafe will host several hundred songs over the course of the con. On Saturday, we had 189 people who signed up.
TP: Oh wow. That’s a lot. Must be a long line. Is there any plans to perhaps add a second room?
TW: Well, waiting is actually part of the experience. And some of the regular patrons even have fans in the audience so if it was split into two places, a fan could potentially miss a singer.
TP: What are some challenges you face? Is there something you like to see improved?
[Tom didn’t bring up any specifics but he touched upon logistics.]
TW: The Otacafe is located at the far edge of the convention center by Charles Street. In the event that we need something or assistance, it could take longer than average to reach someone.
TP: What was the best or most memorable experience? Worst?
[He had to mull over this and we went off tangent slightly where he mentions Otacafe’s Facebook group, how he got started staffing cons, etc.]
TW: The best would have to be meeting Carl Macek and Tommy Yune. I ran into them at Chibi-Pa, we got to talking then it was dinner time so we all grabbed a bite together! I had interactions with other guests before and since but something felt different from that encounter. It felt more intimate.
TP: What about worst?
TW: Hmm. Staff turnover means that it’s sometimes difficult to identify the right staff member for a certain question. You might go around in circles when person A directs you to person B who in turn directs you back to A. We had an issue during set up. Otakon offered radios to staff this year but gave the impression that it was only for those who wanted one so we didn’t pick one up. When we finally did, there’s a limited number of channels so usually you can only radio a department, not a specific person.
TP: One more question. Is there anything attendees can do to make staffs’ jobs easier? Perhaps be more understanding?
TW: There is always an issue so those in the senior staff do not sleep. I won’t ask attendees to be understanding though. There’s too much to go into so it’s not fair to ask that of them. If there’s one thing… please do enjoy the con!
TP: Thank you so much for granting me the interview.
TW: You’re very welcome.
The interview ended on an amusing and ironic note. As we were leaving the room, we found that we got locked inside. We had to call the hotel to rescue us. We were only stuck for maybe ten minutes.