In 2016, I attended the very first BroadwayCon. What an exciting weekend (despite the huge blizzard that was covering NYC) this was. For years I have watched friends go to ComicCon and thought it would be great to have something like this for Broadway and then poof, there was. I am so honored to have had the chance to interview BroadwayCon's co-creator Melissa Anelli.
If you are a fan of the theatre, BroadwayCon is the place to be! From workshops with Broadway actors to panel discussions (like the one I attended last year called "Ghosts of the Palace Theatre," moderated by Untold Stories of Broadway author Jennifer Ashley Tepper, which told some behind-the-scenes hauntings of Broadway theatres) to merchandise to autograph sessions, BroadwayCon has it all!
This year's convention will take place at the Jacob K. Javitis Center in NYC (655 West 34th Street) from January 27-29! BroadwayCon will feature a host of Broadway's brightest including Whoopi Goldberg, Chita Rivera, Anthony Rapp, Josh Groban, Joel Grey, Michael Cerveris, Darren Criss, Jeremy Jordan, Kelli O'Hara, and so many more! Click here for tickets!
1. How did you decide to develop BroadwayCon? Our company, Mischief Management has run several conventions, which we started because we were a bunch of Harry Potter fans. We did our first Harry Potter convention LeakyCon, in Boston in 2009, which we thought was going to be a one-off thing. We didn’t know that something big was starting. But, we ended up doing another LeakyCon and realized we had something. That lead to the creation of Mischief Management.
Our conventions focus on fans, content, and immersion. The typical convention model is not very fan friendly. Most conventions just look for a way to get a lot of people in the door to pay for autographs, which is not what we do. We want to make sure the fans have a true choose-your-own-adventure, whirlwind experience where they can find their own way to have their own best time while getting a lot of value out of the weekend.
In 2013, my then business partner said to me, "Hey, has there ever been a Broadway convention?" She happened to ask me this on the night Audra McDonald dropped the mic on the Tony Awards, it was literally at that moment. I happen to be at Anthony Rapp’s house that night. I’m friends with Anthony because I was a major Rent fan back in the day. I was one of those people sleeping outside the theatre waiting for tickets. Anthony & I became stage door friends then kept in touch over time and we have maintained this friendship. After Anthony attended one of my events, we cornered him and said, "Now that you see what we do, how we are different from other conventions, what do you think about us doing what we do for Broadway?" He was like "Whhhatever you need, I’m in." He saw that we were not trying to make the convention transaction based (not trying to get the most money out of an attendees), but having one fee cover the entire cost of the weekend so you can go and enjoy. We only want you taking out money if you are buying food or merchandise.
The convention industry is so full in the TV/Film area, it is really sometimes a challenge with our other conventions for big time talent to come. But with BroadwayCon, the Broadway community understands why actual interaction is more valuable than a quick signature, so the support has been incredible from them.
2. The great thing about BroadwayCon is that you have different kinds of panels and workshops, so attendees can really learn from Broadway-working actors, whether they are a Tony Award winner, Tony nominee, or just starting out. It’s such a unique experience for fans. The list of guests is incredible and so varied. A few scheduled to be in attendance are Whoopi Goldberg, Chita Rivera and Josh Groban. How do you decide whom to reach out to? It’s a wide variety of things. We look at the kind of programming we want as well as the shows coming to Broadway this year. We brainstorm with our programming team which is a host of volunteers, headed up by Sierra Fox, whom along with our director David Alpert, work together, to determine what the Broadway community may want to see by looking at what anniversaries are coming up and what the big moments of the past year were. We also contact the current shows to say there’s space on our stage if you want to promote your show on our site. We focus on putting together the "BroadwayCon First Look," which is a preview of the upcoming season. Additionally, we receive a lot of requests and inquiries which we look at and see how we can add them in.
3. Last year was the inaugural BroadwayCon. How long did it take you from creation to inception to put it all together? It was 2½ years from inception to BroadwayCon's debut. Now, it’s a yearly event.
4. How do you want BroadwayCon to grow in the coming years? Now that we have the tail of the tiger, how do we grow it? What capacity does it grow? Those are the big questions for us. The Javitis is undergoing a lot of construction, so we may not be at the Javitis next year, but location is secondary to making sure we keep the ideals of the convention, celebration of Broadway & celebration of the community, in tact.
5. What are some of the challenges to putting BroadwayCon together and what are some of the rewards you get from doing it? The sheer number of moving pieces. You are talking about 400 special guests which means they all have itineraries, a track that they are traveling throughout the weekend, transportation requirements, and people coming with them. It takes a ton of people to manage them and we are a seven person company that all work in one small office, so we rely heavily on our tremendous volunteers, who spend a lot of time helping us. That’s the biggest challenge. We also face some challenges communicating to the Broadway community just who we are and what we are. Even though we are in our second year, it’s still not 100% known.
The rewarding thing is when I see people who look like they are at home in their own skin when that is potentially not always the case. At any convention we do, when I see people especially the young ones, smiling and making friends during this three-day wonderland, it’s really something else.
6. One thing I noticed at BroadwayCon last year was a lot of fans come dressed up as their favorite characters from a show. What were some of your favorite costumes and which ones surprised you? I loved the Side Show sisters, the "King Georges," "Ozians," and Cats. I loved the "Heathers," the "Rentheads," and the Hairspray characters. At one point there was a "Tracy Turnblad" and a "Penny" who did not come together, they just happen to be dressed up as those two characters and found each other during the convention and just became friends. I thought that was great. It’s very exciting because theatre cosplay is not something you get to see very often and BroadwayCon is really the first place where you can really showcase it.
8. If you could star in any current Broadway show, which one would you want to be in and out of all the Broadway shows produced, which one would you have liked to be part of? Pretending that I have the acting and singing talent, currently, I’d love to play "Evan Hansen" in Dear Evan Hansen. I’ve been that person who felt alone and found community almost by accident. I think a lot of what we do in this industry touches many people.
If I could be in any show in history, I would be "Glinda" from Wicked because who doesn’t want to get in a giant bubble, wear a tiara, giant ball gown and fly all over the stage singing those songs.
Melissa Anelli is the CEO of Mischief Management and co-founder of BroadwayCon. She has been creating conventions since 2007 for fans around the world; she is also the owner of The Leaky Cauldron web page and author of the New York Times bestselling Harry, A History: The true story of a boy wizard, his fans, and life inside the Harry Potter phenomenon, which features a foreword from J.K. Rowling. Melissa served as a creative consultant for the launch of Pottermore and founded GeekyNews. She's a devourer of books, aficionado of theatre, and devotee to the art of creating safe spaces for geeks to fully enjoy the things they love.