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Unity Days: Unifying a Fandom

The TNWU Girls’ Roundtable Discussion on Unity Days 2017

Photo Credit: Jin Media Inc.

January 13th-15th was a weekend that will go down in history for The 100 fandom.  Hundreds of fans descended upon Vancouver from all corners of the world – Australia, France, the UK, the USA, Canada.  They were all coming for the very same thing, one particular thing that they had been waiting for for months.  Unity Days.

The event, focused entirely on The 100 and set amidst the very backdrop of where the show is filmed, was a culmination of the hard work and dedication of three women and one very special man: Leana Santos, Miah Bannerman, Linda Suurhoff, and Shayne Bannerman.  Months, which I’m sure consisted of many sleepless nights spent planning, came to fruition when the registration tables opened, and lines of fans poured in.  They gave us a weekend that we will never forget, and one that we are still trying to get over, because yes, it was truly that amazing.

Unity Days was exactly what it sounds like: unifying.  The convention united a fandom that has been going through tumultuous times, and by the end of the weekend, nobody was ready to leave.  It was the summer camp that we all needed and one that we are eagerly looking forward to going back to.

Caitlin Walsh, Kelsey Juntwait, and I had the honor of attending Unity Days, and we’ve tried our hardest to put our thoughts on the weekend into a post.

 

What did Unity Days mean to you?

Caitlin: Going into this, I was excited, don’t get me wrong. I’d never been to a con, never been out of the country, haven’t been on a plane since I was nine and went to Florida. I was excited to see friends from Twitter and speak on a panel and, of course, meet the cast that I’ve loved for so long.

But it was so much more than that. It was nerd camp times 10; it was like college without the workload. It was this fantastic bonding experience, and I’ve never felt quite so at home. I felt like I belonged – and that was maybe a first for me.

I also got the chance to meet friends and cast members who were everything I expected and so much more. This show, this fandom, has given me a family and the best weekend of my life.

Kelsey: Let me start off with this- I got home from Vancouver three days ago, and every time I go to write something about this weekend, I find myself staring at an empty word document, unable to type. Not because there’s nothing to say (boy, there’s a lot to say), but because I realize that it’s physically impossible to thread any kind of words together to correctly describe what exactly Unity Days meant to me, what it meant to all of us. And as a writer, I don’t experience this feeling very often.

I start writing a sentence but then quickly delete it, telling myself that those words wouldn’t do it any justice. And I’m not wrong; anything I write down right now will absolutely not be worthy of the experiences and emotions and memories that this weekend gave us, but I’m going to try.

So, what did Unity Days mean to me? To put it simply- this event, quite literally, unified an entire fandom, and easily changed my life.

Allison: Answering this question is so much harder than it probably should be, but I think that Unity Days holds a special place in each of our hearts now.  Is that too cheesy to say?  It was such an amazing experience, and no matter how many times I am approached with the question “How was the convention?  Tell me all about it,” I find that I am speechless because there aren’t words to adequately describe it.

It was so much more than a mere convention focused on one show.  It was truly a healing experience that brought the fandom together and rejuvenated not only my interest, but also my love for the show and the fandom as a whole.  To be honest, I think that the only way to understand what Unity Days means is to have actually attended it.

 

What made it different than other cons?

Caitlin: I’ve never been to another con, so I can’t say exactly, but from what I’ve read and seen, it was much more together, unified and intimate. It was a smaller crowd, there for The 100 and The 100 only. We were there for the same show, and it felt so together – something that maybe you don’t get at SDCC or another major con with hundreds or thousands of attendees. You felt visible.

Kelsey: I had never been to a con before this one (I know, I know, and I call myself a TV nerd), but I would pick Unity Days as my first con a million times over again. The organizers, who deserve everything in the world and more, worked their asses off to give us something we would remember forever, and that’s exactly what they did. They gave us a convention that was truly and completely about unity, a convention that healed some of us. I can simply and wholeheartedly say that this con will forever be my favorite.

Allison: The size.  I’ve been to two other conventions before, each that had upwards of 1,000+ attendees.  Unity Days only had a couple of hundred attendees.  It was so much more intimate and relaxed.  I think that it really helped contribute to the overall experience.  The actors seemed more relaxed, and at ease, and because of the small size, they were able to actually spend time with the fans rather than just signing something and moving right on.  The actors were able to start discussions with the attendees and get to know them, and it was unbelievable being able to walk around and just bump into a cast member.

 

What was your favorite part?

Caitlin: Picking one favorite part is impossible, I’ll just say that off the bat. From Bob Morley shaking my hand and introducing himself before a panel, casual as any day, to Chelsey, Katie, Sachin and Jess coming down to the first-night cocktail party and dancing and drinking with us…it was all like a dream. I ran into Chelsey, Katie, and Jess multiple times over the weekend, and they each made you feel like you were their best friend in the world – they have that unique ability that I can’t seem to put my finger on, but it made me (all of us) feel like we’re noticed. It meant a lot.

Hearing from the panels how everyone feels about their characters and their work, you can tell that they put their entire heart and souls into this – and that they’re a tight-knit cast, genuinely. It’s special. Lindsey saying, “F**k the glass ceiling and the glass slipper,” and being there to hear it in person? I got chills. Hearing Eliza talk about how important it is to her, how much it means to her, that she gets to be a beacon of hope for LGBT viewers, firsthand….that meant a lot.

Mostly, I just loved seeing this cast genuinely enjoy being together. They’re goofy and all in love with each other. They are so clearly and palpably a family, and I think that’s rare with casts.

Kelsey: I could go through every single aspect of this con and tell you exactly what I loved about it- meeting people from Twitter was surreal, watching the cast react to excited fans was heartwarming, channeling energy to raise money for Cancer Gets Lost was empowering, and watching Leana, Miah, and Linda run around like the lady bosses they are was inspiring.

And although everything about Unity Days was memorable and fantastic and incredible, there’s one thing that stands out to me the most. And that’s the fact that I fell in love with this show all over again; maybe that sounds cliché, but that’s exactly what happened. I didn’t even know I could be more in love with The 100, but I left Vancouver with that exact feeling. Hearing stories from other fans of how it’s impacted them, getting to talk through theories of season 4 with random people I met at the bar, watching the cast’s connection with one another. There’s no other place to experience something like that, to feel your adoration for a television show physically grow after each conversation you have with someone. It was remarkable.

Allison: I’ve said this time and time again, but my favorite part was meeting the other fans.  Meeting the cast was fantastic, but it was waiting in line for autographs or photo ops or sitting and waiting for a panel to start and starting conversations with the people around you that was the best.  I got to meet people like me.  I got to talk about a show that I love with people who love it just as much.  I was able to discuss what I liked and didn’t like and have actual conversations about the show and where it could be headed.  And I got to actually know these other fans who are just as crazy and nerdy as I am.  You may have come to Vancouver alone or with only one or two people that you knew, but you left Vancouver with more friends that you can count.  I know that I’m not the only one that’s waiting to be reunited with them when Unity Days 2018 rolls around!  I think that a lot of us have Unity Days to thank for introducing us to people that we otherwise wouldn’t have met.

 

Who were you most excited to meet?  What was your experience like meeting the cast?

Caitlin: Honestly, some of the people I was most excited to meet weren’t from the cast. Jo Garfein has been such an inspiration and role model to me for a long time now – especially since I interviewed her over the summer for her Cancer Gets Lost charity auction. Getting to meet her multiple times over the weekend, getting the chance to chat with her (yes, she really is that funny and cool in real life), watching her moderate every panel with such cool and ease, and getting the chance to tell her how much she’s inspired me – that meant the world to me.

I also got the opportunity to meet so many friends who I interact with a lot on Twitter, some of whom I’ve met before and some I haven’t. The Meta Panel girls – Erin, Claire, Brittany, Robyn and Sam, Twitter friends like Jen, Marcie, Frances, Shannon, Caitlin, Agathe, Evelyn who runs Groundersource like a boss, and Leanna, Miah and Linda who were such queens organizing this phenomenal weekend…this list is endless, and I hate to leave anyone off of it, but just know you all made a difference in my life. Seriously. (And of course, getting the chance to spend so much time with my co-panelists was fantastic.)

Cast wise; I honestly can’t say who I was most excited to meet. Bob, who is so down to earth and kind, Lindsey who is exactly the boss queen I thought and literal sunshine, Eliza who just gives off this vibe of cool girl that I hope to reach someday. Chelsey gave this really deep and heartfelt explanation of her tattoo that resonated so deeply with me, someone who’s felt similarly, and that just meant the world. Meeting Katie made me miss Monroe more than I already did – which was a lot. She’s so fun, so in tune, and gave me some serious travel goals. And, of course, Jess Harmon, who I can only dream would someday want to be my best friend – but in the meantime, us having drinks together will forever be one of my most favorite memories ever.

Meeting them was, quite simply, a dream I never want to wake up from.

Kelsey: To be completely honest and sappy, I was just most excited to meet other fans. I was excited to be surrounded by people who’ve cried over the same character deaths, who’ve been kept up at night by unwanted plotlines, who’ve probably had someone at some point ask them “why are you so obsessed with this show?” or have heard the “it’s just a character, you’ll get over it.” I wanted to be fully immersed in those people, my people. This metaphor may be a stretch, but walking into that room the first day to register was like opening up Twitter, like entering your safe haven. You walk through, and it’s full of conversation about the things you actually care about. You walk through, and you see familiar faces who’ve helped you through tough times. You walk through, and you just feel overwhelmingly and entirely at home.

Allison: There were so many people that I was excited to meet, and I can’t narrow it down to just one or two.  There were so many people that I had been following and communicating with on Twitter, and meeting them was a dream come true.  Brittany, Agathe, Nicole, Dayno – you girls were literally the best, and I found a family with you.  Caitlin and Kelsey – I mean, who wouldn’t want to meet those girls?  Jo Garfein – meeting a woman that I have the utmost respect for and who I cannot thank enough for all of the good that she does.  It was all a dream…the best dream.

Who was I excited to meet from the cast?  Lindsey and Eliza the most.  I had met them both at Wizard Columbus over the summer, and they were hilarious together and so down-to-earth when I met them.  Those few months hadn’t changed them, either.  Each time that I saw them, they made me feel so welcomed and at ease, like I was talking to a friend rather than the actress behind my favorite characters.  And kudos to Lindsey for wanting to pick me up during our photo op.  I’m still convinced she just wanted to show off how strong she really is.

 

Which panels did you enjoy the most?

Caitlin: Again with the impossible question. Every panel was great. Eliza’s panel (formerly the Princess Mechanic panel before Lindsey got delayed filming) which was crashed by Jess Harmon was fantastic. The 100 Boys panel was so fun, and seeing the guys really so together and with it – I’ve probably never laughed so hard. The Delinquent Panel (with just about everyone) was equally hysterical, but you could just see how much they all rely on each other and work together – it was really interesting to see in person.

And while I feel a little biased about it – I have to say that Talk Nerdy With Us Panel was pretty great, too. (Special shoutout to the Meta Panel women who blow my mind with how smart they are, are some of the best people I’ve ever met and who came to our panel because they rock.)

Kelsey: Well, I hear the Talk Nerdy With Us panel was a fan favorite… Okay, I kid, I kid. But I did enjoy the hell out of doing it, being able to openly speak about the things I write about and connecting with fans over common opinions. Magic. But I digress, for now.

I can’t pinpoint one specific panel that stood out to me the most because each one was so uniquely perfect. The pairing of different people on stage was nailed every single time. The bromance between Bob Morley and Richard Harmon. The subtle humor of Christopher Larkin. The inspirational words from Lindsey Morgan. The bicker between Jess Harmon and Sachin Sahel. The perfectly timed commentary from Luisa d’Oliverira or Jarod Joseph. The ability that Katie Stuart had to connect with an audience. The absolute ray of sunshine Tasya Teles had when she’s in anyone’s presence. And of course, Eliza Taylor, who is clearly honored by the dedication of her fans.

Can we just get a huge round of applause for panel moderator, Jo Garfein? Her relationship with both the cast and the fandom is special, and nobody deserved to do this more than she did.

Allison: I may be a bit biased, but the Talk Nerdy With Us panel was pretty sweet and definitely one of my favorites.

Now, the not so biased side of me has to admit that every panel that I attended was amazing.  I think that it’s such a special thing being able to hear the actors sit down and talk about the show that they’re on and the characters that they play.  You get so see how passionate they are about what they do, and I think that it creates this special moment between the fans and the cast.

There was humor.  There was joking.  But there was so much passion and enthusiasm regarding the show.  It was seen in every panel.  From The Princess Mechanic panel, which became The Princess panel and was epic, to The Healer’s panel.  Every panel made me fall that much more in love with the cast and with the show.

Huge shoutout to panel moderator Jo Garfein who worked her butt off the entire weekend!

 

Explain the Talk Nerdy With Us panel.

Caitlin: Well, for one, it was the single greatest experience of my life, and with two other women who I have the utmost respect and admiration for. We were nervous, I won’t lie – but we came up with a great list of topics, had some questions submitted to us, and knew that we wanted to open up the discussion to attendees. Because while we’re writers and reporters who enjoy the show – we’re also fans, just like everyone else there, and that’s what fans want to do. Talk about this show that they’re so passionate about.

It was this awesome opportunity to dig deeper. We talked about favorite characters, but also why, and representation – and I found myself getting comfortable and more profound than I usually do. It felt like a safe space, and it felt like a room of people that all understood. That was really cool.

We had plenty of funny moments, too – Finn, Pike, and Ontari are actually more controversial characters than you may think.

When the volunteers waved the red paddle at us signifying that our hour was up, we were shocked. We had plenty more to discuss, had cut some short, and we had gone into the whole thing wondering how the hell we’d fill an hour. It turns out; it was easier than we thought – in the very best way.

Kelsey: Although I like to think that everything that happened during Unity Days was my favorite, this panel holds a special place in my heart, and always will. All three of us went into it a little nervous, unsure of why people kept filtering into this room to hear us talk. We kept it casual. We kept the conversation open.  We wanted people to yell out (shout out to our meta panel gals) and to fight us about an opinion and to get involved in the banter.  And that’s exactly what happened. I think it’s exactly what we all needed.

No matter who you ship or what characters you hate or who you think deserved better, this fandom, as one, finally got to sit in a room together and just talk. We got to explain to one another why we felt a certain way. We had people listen and understand and counter our opinion. We sat in a room and could disagree about something but respect where the other person was coming from, and in fandom, that’s important. We might have walked into that room with one way of thinking, but I can honestly say that we all walked out a little differently.

Allison: To put it in one word: epic.  I was able to share the stage with two women that I respect more than I can say, and I was able to sit in front of an audience of fans just like me who actually wanted to hear what we had to say.

Going into it, I’m not going to lie; we were nervous.  None of us had ever done anything like a panel before, and even though we’d talked about it together, when we sat down on stage and saw the sheer number of people entering the room, we were jittery.  But we decided to keep it casual, and instead of just spewing words at the audience, we thought it’d be better to get them involved.  We’re nerds, and they’re nerds, and as nerds, we love to talk nerdy with people.  Everyone sitting in the room participated in the panel, and we had a conversation with them rather than just talking to them.

I think that the panel was exactly what Unity Days was: unifying and healing.  Everyone in that room was able to discuss topics openly and freely without having to worry about being attacked for what they believed.  The discussion was fun and constructive.  I think that we all learned things and all gained new perspectives on certain storylines and characters.  I, for one, know that I left the panel rethinking some of my former opinions.

 

If there’s a next year, would you go again?

Caitlin: Without a doubt. No questions, nothing – I will be booking the plane tickets the second it is officially announced. There was nothing like Unity Days, and I would never miss a repeat for the world.

Kelsey: HELL F*CKING YES. NO QUESTIONS ASKED.

Allison: Hands down, without a doubt, YES!!!!  It was such a bittersweet moment when Sunday finally ended, and I realized that Unity Days was over.  It was one of the best weekends of my life.  I’m already beginning to plan for next year!

 

What are you most excited for in season 4 now that you’ve heard the panels?

Caitlin: I’m really excited for Niylah and Echo’s storylines – they both seem to be coming back in big ways, and really getting their own storylines, and I’m excited to see what they do, especially Niylah. I’m also really excited to see the gang back together – from every panel, it sounded like that season 1 group feel is back, and that was what made me love the show in the first place. Give me all of it. I’m so ready.

 Kelsey: I’m pretty excited to see some female underdogs rise. Not that Emori or Harper or Echo or Niylah were ever an underdog, but they didn’t play as big of a role as, let’s say, Clarke Griffin did the past three seasons. I think that’s about to change in season 4. Tasya Teles and Jess Harmon both hinted that we’ll be seeing a lot more of their characters, and who wouldn’t want THAT. Look at them…

Allison: I’m assuming that “everything” isn’t an acceptable answer here.  I think that I’m most excited to see the females this season.  From the trailer that was released and from what the actors had to say, it seems like the women will be more prominent in season 4 (I’m looking at you Echo and Niylah).  But I’m also excited to see the characters dealing with what happened during the City of Light.  That storyline took some of them down a very dark path and forced some of them to do things they otherwise wouldn’t have done – that’s something that they’ll have to deal with now.

 

From the TNWU girls and every attendee, we cannot thank you enough Leana, Miah, Linda, Shayne, and all of the staff and volunteers for putting on a convention that brought us all together.

Unity Days 2017 may be over, but this isn’t goodbye.

May we meet again, Unity Days.

Written by Allison Schonter

Binger of TV. Writer of words. Forever daydreaming about fictional characters. My current obsessions include The 100, The Walking Dead, Fear The Walking Dead, and Wynonna Earp. So go ahead and talk to me about those.

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