Q&A with Melissa Anelli, Creator of BroadwayCon

Melissa AnelliMelissa Anelli may be known for her love of all things Harry (Potter), but this pop culture fan’s event company Mischief Management has their hand in numerous conventions. Next up is BroadwayCon, which will be held at the Javits Center January 27-29. In its second year, BroadwayCon is bigger and better than ever (and hopefully blizzard-free!) We spoke to Anelli over the phone and discussed BroadwayCon, her favorite musicals, online harassment, and so much more.

Tamar: I am really happy to speak with you, and I just wanted to hear how did BroadwayCon get started?
It started as an idea that we had in our company Mischief Management and once we had the idea, we went to my friend Anthony Rapp about it. I have known him since I was 16 and he knew my event company. He knew the conventions that we put on and we said, “now that you see what we do in person, what do you think about doing this for Broadway?” And he just said, “whatever you need, I am in.” And that kind of buy-in gave us the confidence to go forth and say okay, “let’s book.”

Master Class with Anthony Rapp - BroadwayCon 2016
Master Class with Anthony Rapp – BroadwayCon 2016

T: Have you always been interested in Broadway? Because I know you as a Harry Potter person, but you said you knew Anthony Rapp since you were 16.
Yes. Oh, yes. I was one of the original like sleep outside the Nederlander people back in ’96. Yes, I am a hardcore theater fan. It’s not just that we found that opportunity to make something amazing. It’s just that we really do love Broadway.

T: Well, don’t we all? And I know that there is a new venue for BroadwayCon this year, so what else are you looking forward to?
I am looking forward to expanding on the community that we started to build last year. The community around these events is incredible; people come and they realize that they are not alone, that loving things as intensely as they do is never a bad thing, and we get to celebrate that together at these events. It’s just so special.

T: Did last year’s BroadwayCon exceed your expectations? Was it what you envisioned?
Yes, it was what I anticipated it being. I never can quite expect the level of amazing that happens when people get together and are open and good and passionate and communicative about the things they love, and I am never quite prepared for seeing thousands of people come together and celebrate in the way that only can happen at these conventions.

Attendees compare trading cards in the BroadwayCon Marketplace
Attendees compare Lights of Broadway trading cards in the BroadwayCon Marketplace

T: Yes, definitely. I am excited to see how many more people are coming. Are you expecting a lot more people than last year?
We don’t know. The proof is in the pudding, but we definitely are aiming for a bigger year.

T: Is there anything on the program that you are particularly excited about?
M: There is so much on the program that I am excited about. It’s really shaping up to be completely insane. I mean, Chita Rivera, Joel Grey, Jeremy Jordan. The range of incredible talent is just crazy. Our BroadwayCon First Look is the thing we are doing on the Sunday of every year where we have looked at the incoming theaters so the shows that haven’t even opened that and — Oh, my God is just full of stuff. I mean, I can’t remember. There is a whole list of every incoming show or list that we know about [and] they are all coming to preview their shows, sing songs, and get people excited. So that’s super special to me. We just added this year “Star To Be,” which is our version of The X Factor, kind of American Idol for BroadwayCon. Because we realized last year… Well, we already knew. But it was definitely made even clearer to us last year that the audience was full of incredibly talented theater kids, and so we thought, “Why not? Why not give them an outlet to perform for this audience?” So we are having a contest for that. We did a design contest this year. We got some amazing work that we are going to showcase in a poster. God, Dear Evan Hansen is coming. There is just so much.

Krysta Rodriguez performs on the BroadwayCon MainStage
Krysta Rodriguez performs on the BroadwayCon MainStage

T: Yea, it sounds very exciting. Do you think there are any surprises that people will come in and find out “oh, woah! I didn’t expect this?”
Always. That is always our aim and I can’t, you know. It wouldn’t be a surprise if I did that now, if I told you now, but always our aim is to make sure that what you know is going to happen at the convention is only the beginning. So last year, for instance, we had pop up programming. We had people showing up in the vendor hall and doing an impromptu dance class. We had Lena Hall popping up someplace and just singing a song with her guitar in the middle of the hall. We had lots of little fun takes on the Broadway experience that just pop up, and the aim is that you never quite know fully what you are going to get.

T: I know you run a bunch of other Cons like LeakyCon and GeekyCon. As someone who is best known as a Harry Potter fan, did your success with LeakyCon have anything to do with it, or is it just that you wanted to expand your convention love to another fandom that you are part of?
It’s definitely part of it. So our hypothesis with our first convention was that if we plan it from the perspective of being a fan at the event, if we make an event that is what Harry Potter fans want at an event, will that work? And it did. It worked like crazy for seven years now. Yes, seven years we have been doing LeakyCon. So once we knew we applied that working formula to BroadwayCon, I think that was a pretty strong way of knowing that it was going to turn out this way. We only do the things that we really want to do. We are very lucky like that as a company we only do events that we feel a passion for. So we are doing one called Con of Thrones in June. We are doing BroadwayCon. They are all things that we really feel passionate about, and that’s part of the secret sauce. That’s part of the reason why we have been able to be successful.

Attendees dance at one of the BroadwayCon Singalongs
Attendees dance at one of the BroadwayCon Singalongs

T: Do you find that there is any crossover between the fans of Broadway and fans of Harry Potter? Are the same people attending your cons?
Oh, at several LeakyCons and GeekyCons we saw people dressed up as Elphabas, and as soon as we knew we were going to be announcing BroadwayCon we couldn’t wait because we knew there were a lot of theater kids in [those] audiences too. And part of the reason that there is always a sing along [is] because the fans just wanted it at GeekyCon. The fans just wanted a Broadway sing along. So we made one and the ones that I went to before the first BroadwayCon, I remember standing there thinking, “Man, this is going to be so intense at BroadwayCon.”

T: Can I ask why you are having the Con in New York City rather than bringing Broadway somewhere more remote to people who aren’t as involved in Broadway? I feel like New Yorkers go to Broadway, so are there ever any conversations about making–
We couldn’t possibly do this particular event in another city. Yet. This event works because everybody is in town and they are able to come. Nobody gets paid to be a guest at BroadwayCon, unless we are asking them to perform for us or to do a workshop, so if we are asking them to come out to a different town that involves flying them out. So that isn’t to say that BroadwayCon couldn’t be in a different city. It can. We just have to look at what that would mean, and it would be a different event.

Andrew Keenan-Bolger makes a surprise appearance at the Disney Musicals Singalong
Andrew Keenan-Bolger makes a surprise appearance at the Disney Musicals Singalong

T: Definitely something different.
But literally, if we had to fly the number of guests that are coming to BroadwayCon to BroadwayCon, we would have no money to run the convention. We don’t want that, yes, but Broadway is New York, right? So it had to start in New York. That doesn’t mean it’s the only place it will ever go, but it had to start in New York.

T: How has social media influenced how you run events, and how are you hoping to incorporate it into BroadwayCon?
Social media is such a great way to stay directly connected. You don’t have to rely on press to do everything that we do, rely on press to get our message far and wide. We use social media as a way to get direct contact so we can have fun with the guests at the actual convention. So I think you will see a lot of that during [BroadwayCon].

T: I know you had a traumatizing experience with online harassment, but you overcame it and it was so encouraging. Do you have any advice to people who are subjected to cyberbullying?
Yes. It’s different with online bullying and like all actual stalking. For online bullying, I would say that you have to protect yourself and your identity. Shut down your identifying factors. You know, like where you live, et cetera, like that and make a safe space for yourself. If that means somebody needs to check things for you, if that’s the way you feel safe, the priority is making sure that you feel safe. Otherwise, you are going to retreat from interacting with the world this way. If it moves to actual harm, if it moves to something that feels like it could come off the screen, then you need to go not only to your direct police, but to the police of the area where you think the person who is threatening you is. Your first line of defense is the police in the town of where the person is because they are the most interested in stopping their person from committing horrible, violent acts. And the police in your town can only do so much if that person is not where you are. So if you ever feel unsafe, like actually in real life, no matter what you have done before, you call 911. If you feel like somebody is near you, you call 911. Period. And then you work to create your online persona in a way that has safeguards. For a long time, well, actually still, I have other people reading some of the social media messages I get. I shut down the ability in most places for people to contact me anonymously at this point, and I made sure that my Facebook feed was closed off. If I put things publicly, I have to keep an eye out for a weird message that rings a bell. It’s just a matter of being constantly alert. And unfortunately, it’s still going on right now. She is still doing it. There comes a point when you have to figure out how to live..

T: Where do you seek comfort from when you are dealing with something like that? Do you go to Harry Potter or theater? What do you do when you need to get away from all of that?
Definitely culture. Definitely Harry Potter and theater, and definitely friends, family, and my wonderful significant other. The first line of defense are the people around you and the things that bring you comfort. So Rent, Harry Potter, Hamilton. These things, when I have not felt great, these things have definitely brought me joy.

T: Do you remember your first time feeling joy from the theater? Did you attend a lot of shows when you were little?
The first show that really made an impact on me was Crazy For You. I was 12 and we got front row seats from TKTS and it was just such pure beauty and joy. I remember it just filling me up and thinking I need to be around this always. And it’s just been that way ever since. I did listen to A Chorus Line a lot when I was a kid.

T: Do you have any favorite shows?
Oh, God. I am a big Sondheim nut, so Merrily [We Roll Along] is one of my favorites. Sunday In The Park With George is my absolute favorite, but I don’t really even consider that a show. I consider that more of an experience. Rent, obviously. I mean, is Hamilton a gimme? Are we allowed to say Hamilton anymore? Sweeney Todd is one of my favorites, but I love the big flashy stuff too. I love Gershwin. I love Oklahoma. I am a mixed bag. I like them all.

BroadwayCon 2016 Opening Ceremony Finale
BroadwayCon 2016 Opening Ceremony Finale

T: Well, I guess you are going to be able to see some of them all mixed together at BroadwayCon. So what are you going to be doing? What’s your day like at BroadwayCon?
Oh, you never know. The entire idea is that I am around as the failsafe for all the operations that are already in progress. It used to be I was running around putting out the fires myself, but now we have a staff that does that and I am there for them. So I am managing from a higher level at this point, but at some point something is always left to manage. Last year it was the blizzard. This year we don’t know what it will be, but if we can make it through the blizzard, we can make it through anything. I am not worried.

T: Well, I think that’s just about it. Is there anything that you want people to know about BroadwayCon, about you, about what you are up to?
BroadwayCon is going to be amazing, and people should get their tickets before are gone. They should not miss this. It’s going to be fantastic.

Transcribed by Yaffi / Interview by Tamar & Serena
Tamar is a freelance editor and pop culture writer. She spends most of her days writing about Korean music for Billboard and roaming the streets of New York City seeking out the next trend. Tamar can be reached via email or spotted on Twitter under the moniker @Tamar__Herman.

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