How a Convention Surprised Fans With "Pop-Up Programming"

Find out why LeakyCon mixed clever, unscheduled moments into its five-day program.

By Mitra Sorrells August 7, 2014, 7:00 AM EDT

At the end of the opening ceremonies, a makeshift gospel choir sang a parody rendition of “Love Is an Open Door” from Frozen. The 40 choir members were LeakyCon attendees who had responded to a request on Twitter for “choir geeks” to bring their robes and attend a rehearsal.

Photo: Cheri Root Photography

Nearly 5,000 fans of fantasy films, TV shows, and books gathered at the Orange County Convention Center July 30 to August 3 for LeakyCon, an annual convention that offers panel discussions, celebrity appearances, live performances, and a vendor market. New this year was what organizers called “pop-up programming”—nearly two dozen carefully orchestrated, whimsical occurrences that were not part of the official schedule.

“We wanted to evoke the feeling that you never know what’s going to happen,” said Melissa Anelli, co-executive director of Mischief Management, which operates the event. “There’s lots of stuff going on and you can’t miss a minute. You have to be in it and present. So these were little moments that if you see it, you see it, and if you don’t, you don’t.”

The pop-up programming varied from small-scale activities such as costumed actors showing up in the new gaming area to play board games with attendees to a 50-member pep band that performed more than a dozen times at various locations around the event. The band comprised attendees solicited through social media.

“We put out a tweet asking if any of our guests are marching band geeks. So we have about 50 people who are bringing their instruments and we’ve sourced all sorts of marching band music,” Anelli said.

LeakyCon began in 2009 as an event for fans of the Harry Potter series, but in recent years organizers have expanded the content to other series of interest to attendees, such as The Hunger Games and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Noting the popularity of the movie Frozen, organizers created an area where guests could build snowmen out of Legos and then planned a pop-up moment in which actors dressed as the characters Anna and Elsa appeared and began singing “Do You Want to Build a Snowman.”  

“We try to live by the rule that we put on the show that we want to attend,” Anelli said. “So when these crazy ideas come up during meetings they are never met with, ‘We can’t do that.’ It’s always, ‘Well, can we do that?’ We create a lot of extra work for ourselves this way, but this creative stuff is just the most important work we do.”

Also at this year’s event, organizers announced a rebranding of the convention to GeekyCon and that it will return to Orlando next summer, while LeakyCon will return to its origin as a smaller, Harry Potter-only event held in different locations around the world. In addition to Orlando, past LeakyCon events have taken place in Boston, Chicago, Portland, and London.

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