The Art of Programming Exposed

So, I’m having this adventure… called Programming.

I used to produce an event called BodyBound in the NW, a 3-day bondage conference for 50-80 people to dive into doing rope, rope and more rope… and a bit of non-rope bondage too for variety.  I did the whole thing myself.  Sent out notices, invited presenters, paid for them out of my own pocket if the event did not go well, arranged hotels, etc.  It was crazy.  I had half-comp folks work volunteer shifts, and I even had my mother cater.  Yes, my biological mother, who was fantastic at the job.

Running a 400+ person (once staff is included) like Dark Odyssey: Summer Camp is a slightly different beast (not to count Fusion- 700, or Winter Fire- 1000).  This year for Summer Camp I am the head of Programming.  Not spiritual programming, or daytime programming, or special events.  Programming.  All of it.

Back in November Greg (one of the producers for Dark Odyssey), Lolita Wolf, and myself had a hot 3-way… phone call.  We looked through the applications of interested folks, brainstormed a giant list of who we each loved as presenters, added those both to the massive list of past presenters and past request folks (the list now has over 450 names on it combined last I looked), and we began to divvy up the year.  Who we wanted on our individual event rosters, who should be on 2 events, and in the case of a handful, who should be on all 3 as pretty much the voice of this D.O. thing we are doing.

Divvy’d up, the planning for each event begins, with overlap between events.  Summer Camp, taking place September 14-19, is our last event of the calendar year.  I had my main lineup set 2-3 months ago, so that we could have fliers built in time for Fusion.

Fusion has 70 daytime programming slots (not counting Swap & Shop or D.O. Orientations) and 20 nighttime programming slots (give or take one or two, not counting Munches/meetups, except the GenderQueer/Queer mixer which does count due to space IE fuck space needs 🙂 ).  That means 9o items that need to have a description, host/teacher, bios, headshots, programming needs, and then to plug them all into a grid and make it all have some semblance of flow.

Now, before a grid can get built (that massive schedule everyone looks at and highlights what they want to go to, and bitches about there being 2 things they wanted to go to in that time slot), we have to decide what to even include.

Bodybound was easy in this regard.  Each time slot had 2 classes.  One beginner, one advanced.  I booked popular people opposite each other so that you weren’t choosing between Midori and unknown local guy (literally, though he is far from unknown now, aka Boss Bondage), and instead had small name opposite small name, big name opposite big name, to evenly split the rooms.

But D.O. is a much more complex event.  The population is BDSM/Leather/Swinger/Queer/Pagan/Tantra/Cuddle/Poly/Fetish and thus the class list has category needs.  Sex and sensuality skills, SM skills, bondage skills, relationship skills, D/S stuff, pagan/tantra stuff, gender/identity theory, fetish topics, role playing… and then those random items pop up like “Maintaining your Authenticity” and I don’t know which pile to put it in.

I sort through.  I contact educators who said yes to an initial class list and ask if I can massage it because I realized I booked not enough relationship stuff and too much gender theory… and oh, can you make that stimulation with fingers class hands-on?

Then we get all the class details for all of those classes.  Which classes have specific AV and tech needs?  If that self-defense in sexual situations class needs wrestling matts, I know they need to be in the Dungeon.  Needs three slings?  Let’s put that class in Sex-O-Rama.  Requires the ability to burn things in a fire… can we please *not* have that in the Barn that will burn down in a firey death?  Thanks.

This is an especially strange balance as the placement begins because you can’t put bondage classes opposite bondage classes or D/S classes opposite D/S classes as there are folks there just following that “track”.  But you are also balancing A/V needs, and space needs, and then of course not all presenters come in on the same day, and some of them will burst into fire if you put them on a 10a class slot.  Mix in the fact that presenter A is fine with a 10a class but they were up the night before running a special event that went until Midnight and then there is Midnight Snack (hosted by Diva at 12;30 sharp every night)… I just won’t do that to someone (especially having had an event not look day to day on me once and book me for a class that ended at midnight, and I began teaching again at 8a the next day.)

Then, we track down handouts and special needs items.  You know, the two sham-wow floggers, 20 yards of bucher paper, and 6 large containers of sidewalk chalk?  Or the 10 cans of pudding?  Or 2 dozen eggs and a large bag of raffia?  No, really.   Yes, we can build you a giant human sacrificial altar- but only if we have enough lead time (it turned out very sexy).

Now it is time to arrange all volunteers, make sure all needs are set, find you someone to stick those giant needles in, and arrange all human needs.  handouts are printed, email confirmations sent, we double check everyone is arriving in some manner of on time, we pray that we only loose one presenter to illness and one airport run person to the flu.

And we brace ourselves for the chaos.  The storm of the event itself.

Our tiny team (usually only 1-2 people, this year I may have 3, wow!) runs around and makes sure each space is set, each presenter has their needs, each special event has everything built.  We fill the floater volunteers in on their jobs, print last-minute fliers, make announcements at meal times, make runs to Wal-mart, home depot, and the liquor shop for 4 more bottles of wine and a dozen apples.

Inevitably, someone breaks up with someone else, a flight gets delayed, someone can’t make it because of some very good reason… and we get to figure it out on the fly.  If I did my job well, the DJ can tolerate me and my AV needs list, and the MODs don’t want to shoot me, and none of the events suck.  Sometimes, stuff happens beyond my control, and other times things slip through the cracks (who knew we had no DVD porn on location, and that streaming would suck from the Barn).

And someone will complain.  And three other someones will tell you the event changed their life.  And it will all be worth it.

I stare now at 90 pieces of paper.  It looks like it will be a good balance.  Of genders, of identities, or perspectives, of desires, of orientations.  It looks good.  I has a few holes, but not too many.  The presenters are happy with what got chosen, and are building up for a wild ride.  The attendees are throwing last minute requests in, and I try to figure stuff out.  I search around for a few more special event hosts, cross my fingers that the brothel will have enough whores, and say a prayer.

As an artist, Programming is a strange artform to fall for.  It never quite dries, and yet it can also crack.  It mixes well with so many other media, and yet it is a form all unto itself.  It’s tone is a curious one, but I adore it.

I say a prayer, and look forward to folks joining me as we unveil the art of Programming…

See you all at Dark Odyssey: Summer Camp!
September 14-19, 2011
Northern Maryland

Registration is open.  Early bird special runs until Sunday night, and registration is expected to sell out again this year, as it has for the past few years.


Lee Harrington

Lee Harrington is an internationally known sexuality, relationships, and personal authenticity educator. Having taught in all 50 states and in 6 countries, he brings a combination of playful engagement and thoughtful academic dialogue to a broad audience. An award-winning author and editor on gender, sexual, and sacred experience, his books include “Traversing Gender: Understanding Transgender Journeys,” and "Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of BDSM and Beyond," among many other titles. He has been blogging online since 1998, and been teaching worldwide since 2001. Welcome to his world, and your chance to expand your mind and heart alike.

One Comment:

  1. Thank you for posting this. It’s a very useful look at the behind the scenes work that needs to happen to pull of an event.

    I’ve done similar programming work on a much, much, muuuuuch smaller scale, but the task break down, issues, and struggles all pretty much boiled down to the same things. My giant spreadsheet of logistics will sort out a lot of the issues for me, but in the end it takes some artistry to make it work out. The things you said about last minute glitches that pop up out no where and throw wrenches into the works is so true as well.

    It’s good to know that some of the struggles with programming are universal, whether you’re working with a 3- person gathering or a 1000 person gathering. 🙂

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