By Alexa Batitis
"Can all of those dressed as Castiel go to the back of the line, please?"
Along the east wall of the convention hall stood a lineup of people dressed in suits with trench coats; some had feathered wings attached to their backs and some had blood splatters all over their clothes. It would have looked funny to an outsider; however, I stared, drinking in the details of each costume.
Three rows of people filed onto the stage: 30 bodies or so. The host lifted the microphone to his mouth and announced that the Castiel costume contest would be judged by none other than the incredible Misha Collins, who plays the awkward angel on the TV show Supernatural. That was when Misha popped out from behind the stage curtains, and the crowd erupted with screams and cheers.
My sister clutched my hand in a death-grip; Misha Collins has been her favourite actor since he first appeared on Supernatural. The show, now in its ninth season, was hosting its third annual convention, TorCon 2013, at the Westin Harbour Hotel in downtown Toronto.
Supernatural was created by Eric Kripke and first broadcast in 2005. It stars Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles as Sam and Dean Winchester, two brothers who hunt ghosts and demons as part of the "family business." The show has garnered a cult following with an active and dedicated fan base that exists mostly online.
The first Supernatural convention took place in Nashville, Tennessee in October 2006, and the next one followed in London, England in May 2007. Since then, the conventions have expanded throughout the United States and Canada, as well as Europe. The stars of the show, as well as many members of the guest cast, are usually in attendance. The conventions give fans the opportunity to ask for insights on the show and its characters as well as photo ops and autographs.
My sister first introduced me to the show less than a year ago. After months of nonstop bugging from her end, I agreed to watch the DVDs with her. It didn't take long to get hooked. We raced through eight seasons over six months, starting in February, so that we would have time to catch up for the season nine premiere in October.
What began as a twice-a-week tradition turned into all-day marathons. Our conversations consisted of: "Do you want to watch another one?"
As we continued to watch the show together, I re-evaluated my role as an older sibling. I identified with the emotions that Dean, the older brother, experienced in his quest to protect his younger brother. I admired the way he carried that responsibility with fierceness and determination. It was jarring to see a character filled with the same purpose I felt I had throughout my life--though I admired Dean to the point of jealousy. In recent attempts to find myself, I had inadvertently pushed my sister away. Although the show was bringing us together, I felt that the rift I had caused in our relationship still existed. So, when she showed me Creation Entertainment's website and begged me to go to the convention with her, I found myself unable to say no.
We arrived in Toronto on Saturday afternoon. After checking into the hotel, we eagerly went to our room to put our bags away and get to the convention hall as quickly as we could.
We didn't have costumes, so we couldn't enter the costume contest, although we did make an effort to look like Sam and Dean, clad in jean jackets and clunky boots. Most of the convention-goers had the same idea. People who weren't costumed were dressed in plaid, army green, and occasionally (as one of the biggest fandom inside jokes) in antlers--a tribute to Sam Winchester's nickname, Moose.
We scrambled to find two chairs close to the stage. After the costume contest, we saved seats for a panel with Misha Collins and Mark Pellegrino, who plays Lucifer.
I couldn't believe that I was in the same room with them until I heard their voices booming through the loudspeaker. The convention host, Richard Speight Jr., bounced around the stage and teased Misha and Mark before they answered fan questions.
The panel lasted an hour, and then they started calling ticket numbers for photo ops and autographs. I bought an autograph for a classmate, whose favourite character was played by Mark Pellegrino and waited in the theatre to be called. As the numbers climbed into the 200s, I told my sister to go up to the room and get ready for bed as she was complaining of fatigue. After a two-and-a-half-hour wait and a three-second meeting with Mark, I raced upstairs to tell my sister how it had felt being so close to someone who had previously only graced my television screen. We became giddy; on Sunday, we had photo ops with the stars of the show, and we began imagining what meeting them would be like.
Of course, it was hard to fall asleep that night.
My sister and I woke up the next morning to register for 9 AM. More people were in attendance that day. We found seats in the very back row of the room. We weren't bothered though, because this meant we could stand on our seats and have a better view of the stage.
Our ticket numbers were called, and we raced downstairs to wait for our photo ops with Jensen Ackles. The photographs were being taken in a separate room while we all lined up in the hallway. As we approached the small room, we could hear rock 'n' roll music and the blowing of a wind machine. By the time my sister and I reached the door, which was blocked by the actor's bodyguard, Clif, we were puddles of excitement.
As soon as we stepped into the room, we could see Jensen taking pictures with other fans. I was star-struck. Our turn quickly approached. We squeaked, "Hi!" and he greeted us with a polite "hello." My sister and I attached ourselves to his sides, and the photographer snapped a shot of our silly smiles.
We were dizzy. I documented the aftermath in a shaky video that was almost unusable as evidence. Then it was time for our photo op with Jared Padalecki. Jared, the taller one, stood at the back of the room, posing with fans and making them appear miniscule. I was excited to stand next to him and see our height difference (I'm 5'1'' to his 6'3''). My sister and I had practised our smiles, but that was in vain. We thanked Jared as we were leaving, and he replied, "Oh, of course. Thank you!"
Then came the panel with Jensen and Jared, the main show for the day in the packed room. After some banter between the two men, who not only play brothers on the show, but act like it in real life, they started taking questions. In between questions, they shared anecdotes about other actors, and their families--Jensen had recently become a father. Jared had time to take a video and post it on Twitter (later, I tried to find myself in the crowd).
My sister and I were looking forward to our photo op with Misha Collins, which we purchased last minute as a result of his convention schedule being lengthened. While we waited, I braved the rain to go get us lunch from a hot-dog vendor. When we came back into the hotel lobby, we passed Jim Beaver, who plays Bobby Singer, the Winchesters' mentor. We eagerly chatted about his character's return, watching others around us become equally giddy about Jim's presence.
"Con virgins," a pair of anonymous interviewees labeled my sister and me when we met. Upon discovering it was our first time attending a convention, and that I would be documenting the experience for a school-related feature article, the two older fans happily agreed to let me ask them a few questions.
The first woman, who I nicknamed "Dot," was dressed in a blazer patterned with peacock feathers. She took a picture of my sister and me with the Supernatural logo projected onto the wall. The second fan, who I nicknamed "Sue," had graying hair and was dressed in a pink coat. She chastised her friend for not being able to use an iPhone camera (unfortunately, I was too shy to ask if they were sisters as well).
Dot explained her favourite part of TorCon: "Here, everyone is like family. If you go to a convention like, say, FanExpo, you might not be in the same fandom as the person sitting next to you.
"But we all speak the same language here."
Sue added, "Going to conventions is addicting. Once you start going, you'll always want to go to the next one. It's an experience you can't get anywhere else."
The pair shared stories from Friday night's VIP karaoke party with various members of the Supernatural cast. They burst into teen-like giggles. "Ask Ty Olsson where his phone is," said Sue, speaking of the actor who played a vampire on the show. "It's at the bottom of Lake Ontario."
By the end of the day, fans were trickling out of the convention hall, photographs and autographs in hand, to make their way home. My sister and I had one more night at the hotel. We waited in the lobby to see if any more cast members would appear; only Richard, the convention host, hurried by. We headed back upstairs to our room.
I let my sister fall asleep first (she complains that I snore), so I did some last-minute packing up, taking time to reflect on our weekend voyage. Watching her sleep in the hotel bed echoed scenes from Supernatural where Sam and Dean are packing up at the end of a hunt. I felt a deep sense of pride swelling in me; I was able to keep her safe on our first trip without our parents. I'd never felt closer to Dean Winchester.
My sister is thinking of moving to Toronto next year to continue her nursing studies. I won't be there to protect her. But I know, in her future, she will save lives. It is a lesson Dean has yet to learn: Sometimes you have to let the people you love go.