Beth Nelson is 2008 Chair of the Browncoat Ball, an annual roaming gathering of fans of the science fiction space western series Firefly and major motion picture Serenity created by Joss Whedon. This year the Browncoat Ball is being held in Austin, Texas on the weekend of October 10th-12th — ed, N.E. Lilly
Interview with Beth Nelson, 2008 Browncoat Ball Chair
published: September 21st, 20088 minute read
Elizabeth Nelson, known as Beth or Haldira to most folks, has been active in the Non-Profit and volunteer sector since 1990. By the time she was 14, she held a leadership role at the Prince Street Soup Kitchen in New York City. Beth has been a fan of all things Joss since Roseanne, and a lover of the Firefly ’verse since she saw the “not the pilot” pilot episode in 2002. She combined her love of Firefly and charity work in 2007 when she incorporated the Austin Browncoats, a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization working to end violence and discrimination in all sectors of society through education and policy reform. Beth is currently the Chairman of the Austin Browncoats, as well the Global Organizer for 2008’s Can’t Stop The Serenity and the Chairman of the 2008 Browncoat Ball Committee. Beth can be heard on the podcast Joss’d interviewing Joss fans about the shiny things they’re doing in the ’verse. She is also a Writer and Crew Manager for Between The Lines Studios, which produce Buffy Between the Lines and the upcoming Angel Between The Lines.
More information about the Austin Browncoats can be found at www.austinbrowncoats.org.
More information about the Browncoat Ball can be found at www.browncoatball.com
How did you get involved with the Browncoat Movement?
I have always been a Whedon fan, since before I even knew Joss Whedon existed. (Some of my favorite episodes of “Roseanne” were written by Joss.) So, I was indoctrinated into Joss fandom from the very beginning. I loved the campiness of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, so I was already sold on the series once I saw a commercial for it. That led to Angel, and then by the time 2002 rolled around, I was pretty much hooked into anything Joss. My love of Joss’ work grew immensely when I first saw Firefly. It was a brand new love affair for me. Sadly, I was out of the country when the series was cancelled, so I didn’t know about that tragedy until I finally got internet connectivity (Ã¡ la a brand new wireless cafÃ©) in Russia.
It was the first time that I was truly affected by the cancellation of a television series. It was the first time I really cared about a television show. I started campaigning with everyone else; I wrote postcards and letters demanding that Fox bring back Firefly. In 2005, I saw the premier of our Big Damn Movie, Serenity, in an audience with Summer Glau and Jewel Staite at the recreation of the Alamo used in the recent film. An Old West town and a bunch of geeks—can it get any better? In 2006, I heard about Can’t Stop The Serenity but was too busy to run an event. It wasn’t until January 2007 that I really got active in the Browncoat Movement. I got involved (and jumped head first) with Can’t Stop The Serenity and organized Austin’s event. I was also able to assist the global movement by getting a few Global Sponsorships for 2007. Since then, it’s been a non-stop Browncoat movement, including the incorporation of a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization, Austin Browncoats.
What was your first introduction to Space Westerns?
Like a lot of folks, Star Wars was my first introduction to Space Westerns. If you are part of the camp that considers Star Trek a space western, then that would be a pretty close tie with Star Wars. Heinlein was my first foray into space western literature, and I believe my first real space western game was StarCraft, which I helped beta test for Blizzard.
What was your first introduction to Firefly?
I watched the “not really the pilot” pilot, “The Train Job” when it aired.
What is the attraction to Space Westerns?
I’ve always been a huge science fiction buff, and I adore anything western, especially “cowboy-like” characters, so when you combine my love of the futuristic science fiction genre with western frontier themes—I think it was a match made in heaven. I love the ambiguity that good and evil has in the space western themes, as well.
What was the inspiration for hosting the Browncoat Ball in Austin?
We’ve always believed that Austin is where the Old West meets the Final Frontier, so it seemed like a perfect fit. Austin has so much industry here—a lot of high tech companies, but it is also the heart of the Texas Hill Country, which greatly contrast with one another. Austin is located dead-center of the only state that ever was its own country as well, so we are the definition of independent. The history on this state, and especially this city, made it feel like a good fit for the Browncoat Ball. And once all the pieces fell into place, we knew for certain that Austin was the perfect location for an event like this.
What is the Browncoat Ball?
It’s a fan-run, fan-done shindig based off the episode “Shindig” from Firefly. But, really, it’s much, much more than that. Everyone knows that Browncoats love to shindig, right? Well, this is a huge convergence of Browncoats from all over the ’verse getting together to enjoy one another’s company, while getting to learn about their host city and hopefully have a really great time. It gives folks a chance to see Firefly and the fandom through the eyes of that city. When folks come out to Austin, they will learn what being a Browncoat means to the Austin Browncoats.
What events will be happening during the weekend?
On Friday, we’re having a Cocktails and Crafts night, as well as karaoke, video gaming, dance instructing, a belly dancer for entertainment and snacks for when you’re mingling. Saturday starts with breakfast, and then goes straight into Tracks. We opted to give folks tracks with activity options under three themes: The Signalers (Technology), Companion (Cultural) and Bad Guys (“Hands-on” Track). Basically, we give our attendees the chance to learn a piece of the ’verse, but in a more practical way. We teach you how to fight reavers, play mahjong, how to create your own podcast (because you can’t stop the signal), and so on. After two activities, you get a break to tour Austin, as well as eat an optional catered lunch. Then you head back to the host hotel for your third activity. After you finish, you have time to get all dolled up and then head down for cocktails and mingling. Once everyone is ready, we’ll set up a themed banquet which is more like a feast, and then the party begins. We have three musical acts for you and lots of prizes. On Sunday, you can join us for a southwestern brunch, and a few more prizes. And if you think this is it, you are mistaken! We have a lot of tricks up our sleeves.
How can people register for the event?
They go to http://www.browncoatball.com/2008/registration.htm and fill out the registration form. The website has all the info you need for your hotel reservations, as well as event merchandise we’re offering. Base rate for rooms at the host hotel is $169.00 plus normal taxes. For folks needing less expensive lodging options, we’ve listed alternative hotels as well. For the entire event, tickets cost $150.00, but we also offer tickets for 1 or 2 days of the event at a discounted price. For $160.00 you get a lot of food—Friday hors d’oeuvres, Saturday breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as a Sunday Brunch. So remember to come hungry!
What’s the most important piece of information about the event, right now?
This is going to be the best Browncoat shindig of the year, so why miss out on hanging out with over 100 of your new and old best friends? Browncoat Ball is not a convention. This is a huge Browncoat shindig run by fans—why? Because we’re too shiny not to shindig together. And believe me, you don’t want to read people’s posts and see their photos online and regret not making the trip to Austin.
Can you let me in on any exclusive information, unknown insights, or trade secrets?
We have some really awesome prizes to give away through-out the event, but the shiniest prizes go to the best dressed Browncoats. Want the prize? Wear your finest! We also have a really awesome keepsake that we’ve been working on, with the assistance of one of our sponsors, QMx. And that’s not all, but I can’t give too much away!
What can we expect to see from you in the near future?
Well, on the Browncoat Ball front, we are currently working on choosing the next location, so there will be shindiggery in 2009. Austin Browncoats, which you can find at www.austinbrowncoats.org, is opening up non-voting membership, as well as an online store, Whedon Wares, which will contain all kinds of verse-y goodness, including items from QMx and Dark Horse, as well as custom made Jayne hats from our own Ma Cobb, Claudia. For folks who become members of the Austin Browncoats—you will get special discounts on merchandise from our store. And we are also creating custom blend teas, called Sereniteas. Something to keep in mind is that all proceeds go to our support charities, like Kids Need To Read, Equality Now and Emancipet. We’re also planning to host a number of large-scale events, as well as smaller, local ones in 2009.
Other works by N.E. Lilly
- Interview with Phil Foglio (Nov 8, 2009)
- 10 Most Influential Space Westerns (Oct 25, 2009)
- Space Western Most Wanted (Jan 25, 2009)
- Interview with John G. Cawelti (Dec 7, 2008)
- Fiction Clemens Review (Aug 31, 2008)
- more by N.E. Lilly
- 10 Most Influential Space Westerns by N.E. Lilly (Oct 25, 2009)
- Finding Serenity Review by Kenneth J. Newquist (Feb 10, 2008)
- Space Western Holiday Specials by N.E. Lilly (Dec 16, 2007)
- Interview with Jane Espenson by N.E. Lilly (Dec 9, 2007)
- Interview with The Bedlam Bards by N.E. Lilly (Oct 7, 2007)
- Interview with Matt Black, 2007 Browncoat Ball Chair by N.E. Lilly (Sep 2, 2007)
- Interview with Keith R.A. DeCandido by N.E. Lilly (Apr 22, 2007)