I met Polish dan Olga Matej during one of my trips to Pyrkon, but I do not remember which one. Might have been the first one, while my head was still trying to wrap around the fact that this huge event – more than 50 000 people! – was being run by volunteers alone.
This has since changed, and rightly so, but what I loved most about the change was the fact that, unlike big expos in the Western world, Pyrkon did not go professional all the way and has managed to retain not only a huge number of volunteers but the volunteer run feel as well. It still for fans by fans and I am quite sure Olga is one of the many people who have made that happen.
She also, with some help from her colleague Anna Nowicka, organized my Short Story in English Workshop at Pyrkon in 2017, for which I am very grateful.
1. How did you discover SF?
My favourite childhood tale was about dragons. My parents read it to me so often, that I knew it by heart. I also watched Star Wars on a videotape with my sister a lot! When other kids played with dolls, I wanted to fight for lightsabers. Later, we had a lot of luck as a generation, growing up with Harry Potter, and The Lord of the Rings in cinemas. I think that my parents gave me a lot of opportunities to get to know SF and fantasy 🙂
2. What’s the best thing about SF fandom for you?
In fandom, I like people’s openness the most. It does not matter how old you are, you get along equally with everyone. A few years ago, I was a very closed person and it was difficult for me to make new friends. The fact that people from the SF fandom allowed me to enter their group changed a lot in my life. I think I’m not the only one.
3. What was your first convention like?
This is probably not a typical story. My first convention was quite late for my age. After graduation, I went to a meeting of people playing RPG in my hometown. Some people from that group were talking about Pyrkon. We thought that in total we might try to make a small convention in our city of Białogard in the West Pomeranian Voivodeship.
During my school years, I was involved in volunteering, so it was a new challenge for me. We had a lot of help from a community centre, one of the schools and other organizations from the city. So that was the first convention which I went to on my own. 😀 Is this the moment when I admit that it was a convention of manga and anime fans? 😛 The first one had less than 200 people. The next one, over 300. But it’s pretty good for a tiny place in the middle of nowhere.
And the first convention I went to after that was Pyrkon, of course. It was in 2012, when I volunteered at PyrShop. This experience made me want more of the same.
4. And how did you get sucked into organizing?
For two years I worked as a helper in the PyrShop at Pyrkon. I was also a volunteer for other conventions in Poland. In 2013 I moved to Poznań and became friends with people from the Association Klub Fantastyki Druga Era. At the beginning of 2014, my colleague Basia had a lot of work at the Literature Section. I just happened to suggest some helpful things and that is how I accidentally became a Pyrkon organizer… two months before Pyrkon 2014!
It was very exciting but also quite stressful. A year earlier Pyrkon had 12,000 attendees, and that doubled to 24,000 members in 2014. Pyrkon was big! (Now even more so!)
Everything was new to me. After the convention was over, I called my mother and told her about all about it and what it was like for me. And she told me: “It’s great, but maybe you should build your own life because you will not do it at the conventions.”
I took her advice, kind of, and here I am now: I have been Pyrkon Program Director for three years! Pyrkon is my job now 😀 Thanks, Mom!
However, all this disappears when I enter the Poznań International Fair. Adrenaline starts to work and everything goes high. I have a really great team of volunteers (29 people). Everything works like clockwork and for a week you can actually see all the work we’ve done all year long. This and the positive feedback from our members are my fuel.
5. What con-running job do you hate the most, and what do you love the most?
Paperwork is the worst. Drowning in papers brings me to the ground – most of my work is office work. It’s also difficult to maintain a work-life balance while you have to work with partners from corporations and volunteers.
6. What do you think makes the fandom so huge in Poland?
We have several really well-organized conventions in Poland. You can see a generational change very well. There are a lot of young people, but still, very often you can meet people my parents’ age at conventions. We also have a lot of very cool fantasy writers in Poland, both from the older and the younger generations.
7. What was this year’s Pyrkon like?
This year’s Pyrkon was huge! Last year’s edition was technically ready for 50,000 participants, but now we are reaching the lowers sixties… I have the pleasure to be working with really professional people, so even inside, this difference was not felt.
For several years now, we have been using the entire conference space at the Poznań International Fair. We are not able to do more lectures, so we try to make them better. This year, the scientific program was entirely run by academics.
We still can and do develop the convention, creating new programming parts and items. This year, we created Fantasium Ludicrum, a part of the program that features film screenings, theatre performances and concerts. We had over 20 of them. This may not seem like a lot for an event that features over 930 programming items in total, but it did require a lot of work and preparation from me and my team. Even for a professional theatre performance at Pyrkon, it was a challenge. For me, it was stressful because there were times when I was not sure if Pyrkon members were an already established and eager audience for this type of art or not. It turned out to be really amazing and we will definitely go in that direction again.
I’m really proud of my team and Pyrkon’s program this year.
8. What are your fandom plans for the future?
A year ago I got promoted to Chief Marketing Office of Pyrkon. So, I will definitely be staying a little bit with this project. 😀 I have a lot of ideas that I want to implement. We’ll see what time will bring. Ten years ago I did not even dream about my work being connected to science fiction and now SF and fantasy are my day job. I am loving it.