Tekko Brings a New Sense of Community to Downtown Pittsburgh

Convention goers attend the 14th annual Japanese Pop Culture convention at David L. Lawrence’s Convention Center in Downtown Pittsburgh.

By: Autumn Barszczowski
This video contains interviews from the attendees featured throughout the article as well as clips from the wedding ceremony, attendees dancing, the Masquerade skits, and more.

With Tekko convention attendees by their side, Shawn and Michelle Gallant got married dressed as video game characters during the annual convention here last weekend.

Meanwhile, others among the 7,600 in attendance, including Dominic Malloy and Stephanie Guerdeen, praised Tekko’s improved sexual harassment policies that prevents unwarranted advances.

Also for the first time, Tekko expanded the support of its own community by creating new policies, a cosplay repair room, expanding the game room, and much more.

“I think Pittsburgh is really accepting of the Tekko community, mostly because… it’s a weird thing,” said Malloy, explaining why Pittsburgh is so supportive. “If we are going to be weird, we are going to be the best at it.”

The convention, in its 14th year, was staged from April 7-10. It had a 30% increase in attendance from 2015.

This year, Tekko, which cost $50 for a regular pass, $75 for a premium pass, and $150 for the limited 25 “Rockstar” passes, hosted a number of voice actors and musical guests, including Marisha Ray, Matt Mercer, Micah Solos, Austin Tindle, Chris Patton, Back-On and DJ Bass.

This year saw an increase of awareness as well, including an appearance by Mayor Bill Peduto, who declared the weekend to be Tekko 2016 Week.

As Tekko’s city wide recognition grew, the officials of Tekko worked on making the attendees comfortable, including the Gallants, who were the first couple to ever be married at Tekko.

The couple was dressed as Talon and Cassiopeia from “League of Legends” during their ceremony. It was officiated during the annual Masquerade, where attendees danced, did walk-ons in their cosplays, and put on skits in character. Their bridesmaids and groomsmen were also dressed as characters from the game.

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Shawn Gallant and Michelle Gallant pose outside of the Main Stage on April 9 2016 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. This is shortly after their on stage ceremony during Tekko’s Annual Masquerade. – Photo via Autumn Barszczowski

Tekko had been supportive of the couple getting married during the convention, going as far to create them their own bride groom badges, with unique badges for their wedding guests as well.

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This is Shawn Gallant’s custom Rockstar Badge for Tekko 2016. This was made special in order to include a groom character made specifically for Gallant. – Photo via Autumn Barszczowski 
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This is Michelle Gallant’s custom Rockstar Badge for Tekko 2016. This was made special in order to include a bride character made specifically for Gallant. – Photo via Autumn Barszczowski 

“They were on-board 110% from the very beginning… this, by far, the most-organized and most receptive [convention I’ve been to],” Shawn said.

As for the rest of the convention, other cosplayers, like Malloy and Guerdeen, were enjoying the individual attention given to their cosplays by the Tekko Community.

Being dressed as Alexander Hamilton and his wife Eliza attracted the attention of “Hamilton the Musical” fanatics all over the convention.  While the pair of friends gloried in adulation stemming from the attention given to their cosplays, they were happy to turn the attention to Tekko’s new sexual harassment policy and how it has improved over the past few years.

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This badge was created with a bride and groom character specifically for the family and friends of Shawn and Michelle Gallant. These badges were only created for those who knew the bride and groom in order to make the ceremony unique. – Photo via Autumn Barszczowski 

In the past, there had been incidents of harassment in which attendees had felt beleaguered in their cosplay. This year, Tekko chose to address those past problems by making it clear in their new policy that harassment is defined by the victim.

“The harassment policy has been very clear and has been… very everywhere,” said Guerdeen, “I can’t speak about other cosplayers, but I always feel happy and welcome here.”

Both Malloy and Guerdeen went on to discuss how not only the attendees have supported this policy, but how much this policy means to cosplayers and the development of the cosplay culture.

Along with improved policies, Tekko also worked to expand activities provided to attendees, including a larger game room that hosted Tekko’s first “Escape Room,” in which attendees worked through a series of puzzles to find their way out of a wooden room.

Scott Swank was a part of a Saturday team that went through the Escape Room, a day in which all the time slots had been sold out.

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This is Scott Swank’s Escape the Room team on Saturday night after they escaped within 44 minutes. Swank is featured in red on the right of the group. – Photo via Autumn Barszczowski

While he was not in cosplay, he was there because he was a fan of escape rooms and he was excited for the convention to host this activity, as well as the expansion done on the game room this year.

“They are just offering a nice experience, which is a great way to support the people who go,” said Swank.

Tekko also hosted their first cosplay repair room, which fixed a variety of cosplays throughout the convention. It run by Louisa Fan, who was cosplaying as Nephthys from “Puzzles and Dragons” and had worked at other convention’s repair rooms in the past.

The room had characters such a stormtroopers gluing helmets, Thor adding felt to his fabric, and anime characters repairing cosplay props with glue.

At closing ceremonies on Sunday, she spoke of the positive response that attendees had of the repair room, including comments such as “Jesus was saved by cosplay repair,” referring to a cosplayer who chose to dress up as Jesus.

Most of Fan’s staff had previously worked at or attended Tekko and say that this had been their best experience.

“I love cosplay repair, so having other people be like, ‘I think I had even more fun working as a volunteer,’ that was just really awesome,” said Fan.

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This is Louisa Fan and Lane Ryan working to hot glue a Storm Trooper helmet during the convention on Saturday afternoon. – Photo via Autumn Barszczowski 

 

During a social hour on Friday night, Maegen McMillen discussed the process of putting this convention and other Pittsburgh Japanese Cultural Society, or Pitt JCS, events together, including how she has come to discover the importance of anime conventions to others.

Being apart of the Table Swap Project management means that McMillen is constantly on the go, making sure to advertise for Pitt JCS and Tekko during other local conventions.

“I’ve driven thousand of miles for conventions… [but] you do it for the kids,” said McMillen, discussing how many attendees have spoken to her about how the Tekko family has helped them to keep moving forward and to find their own support system within the convention.

Some of the attendees who have praised the support system included the Tekko Gakkou panelists Chelsea Marshall dressed as Ayase Eli and Brea Ross cosplaying as Nozomi Tojo, both from “Love Live.” The couple worked with Tekko Gakkou, the educational track at Tekko in order to create LGBT+ informative panels this year.

In their panel, the couple discussed the importance of LGBT+ representation and the historical backgrounds of Japanese culture that influence these particular representations.

The influences for their first panel came from their own personal experience and connections to the LGBT+ community and they made it clear that panels like these were important to have, especially in a community that has a large portion of LGBT+ people.

“We decided to debut this panel here [because of the support] and it was an overwhelming success. It went so much better than we ever expected it to,” said Marshall.

The two believed that the success stemmed from the support Tekko has given to their large LGBT+ community, including by advertising at Pittsburgh Pride.

As for the future, the couple believes that they will look at LGBT+ representation in other areas in order to continue to educate the public on the issues and history.

“We are really interested in running panels that have a look at nerd culture and fandom culture and how those things intersect,” Ross said.

Outside of panels, people like Emily “Gale” Smith work to support the LGBT+ community at Tekko in other ways, including creating the Nightengale Needles booth found in Artist’s Alley.

Nightengale Needles has a large variety of LGBT+ products ranging from scarves, to blankets, and even pride pals, a monster that has a pride heart that depict the pride flags for a variety of sexual and gender identities.

Smith has been a vendor at Tekko for seven years and says that meeting people through her booth has been inspirational.

“My booth inspires a lot of deep and sometimes really emotionally loaded conversations. I like to think I learn as much as I am able to impart,” Smith said.

Along with a number of artists and dealers like Smith, there were also 250+ volunteer staff members that worked operations like bag check, security, registration, and much more.

One staff member, Josh Palmquisd had been attending Tekko for over eight years, but this was his first year working the convention.

He had heard from other friends about what it was like to work at Tekko and found that during this year’s convention, he grew a new appreciation for all that staff members do for attendees.

He believes that these volunteers go above and beyond by dedicating their time to making the convention run smoothly and to address any issues that are reported.

One of his experiences this year included helping someone to find their badge, because he knows that as an attendee, he himself would have been upset to lose it and wanted to go above and beyond to help them out.

“We all volunteer our time and I think we are all a bunch of good people trying to do the right thing,” said Palmquisd.

Meanwhile, Tekko not only inspires its own volunteer members for the convention, but for volunteers in the Pittsburgh Community.

Convention attendee Rachel Makary, founder of Volunteer Princesses and cosplaying as Judy Hopps from Disney’s “Zootopia,” discussed how her own cosplays made for conventions have brightened the lives of the kids that she has met through her organization.

She no longer just uses cosplay for herself, but she uses the cosplay to help bring the community together, both inside and outside of the convention.

After winning last year’s Masquerade in the Western Category, Makary also gained more confidence not only in her cosplays, but in herself by performing a skit as Drizella Tremaine from “Cinderella.”

“We didn’t think that our cosplays were popular, and I didn’t feel very confident in mine, but we went out and everyone loved it,” said Makary, discussing the best experience she has had at Tekko.

The support of people’s cosplays is a common theme found in Tekko, and the new policies and resources have only reinforced the need to support Tekko’s inner-community, as well as the Pittsburgh community.

At the end of the weekend during closing ceremonies, the Pitt JCS team announced the Tekko 2017 will be held from April 6th to the 9th. Tickets were available at ceremonies and will be available online in the upcoming months.

Originally Published on Her Campus – Point Park

 

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