Here is a brief history of conventions in Poland: in the beginning was... not chaos and in fact quite the opposite: a meticulously structured Eurocon. The idea was brought to Poznań by Czesław Chruszczewski, acting on behalf of the Poznań-based Association of Polish Writers, after he took part in the first event of its kind, held in Italy. The general idea was to establish regular conventions through international cooperation. In effect, 1976 saw Poznań's and in fact Poland's first convention named Eurocon, also called the 3rd European Science Fiction Congress. The format and organisation of the event resembled a spick-and-span scientific conference rather than a joyful rally of fantasy lovers.
For that reason, asked about Poland's first proper convention, the fans tend to mention the 1985 Polcon event held in the village of Błażejewko near Poznań.
What were Pyrkon's early days like? Back in 1999, long before anyone even dreamt of giving fanstasy buffs the run of extensive fair grounds, the Poznań-based Druga Era Fantasy Club held its Fantasy Day. Despite the largely confined space of the Słońce club in the os. Przyjaźni housing development, the participants recollect these beginnings with great sentiment.
The idea of conventions arose largely out of interest in fantasy literature and readers' desire to talk to Polish authors. This precisely was what inspired Fantasy Day. Even then, the Polish fans felt the need to hold their own rally with a unique name and concept. By that time, Kraków (Imladris), Nidzica, and Toruń (Copernicon) also had their separate conventions. Fans in Lublin and Wrocław were about the join the trend.
"Pyrkon was to be a temporary name that remains in use until a more serious replacement is conceived. Life showed that makeshift creations, especially in fantasy, can be quite lasting. The "kon" part of the name comes from the Polish word for convention, whereas "pyr" is derived from the Poznań dialect word for a spud or potato, recollects Piotr Derkacz.
The following rally held by Druga Era came not only with a name but also with a new venue: Grade School 21 at ul. Łozowa, which fantasy buffs held onto for the following seven years and which they continue to tenderly refer to as "that school in Dębiec".
Once Pyrkon moved to the Poznań International Fair grounds, it was time to change the event's format. "The convention became a festival. We found that the vast spaces of the new venue offered immense possibilities. In addition to meetings in lecture rooms, we could stage concerts, exhibitions, and art shows and set up large communal areas for socialising", says Piotr Derkacz.
Paweł Matuszak adds: "The word "festival" itself sounds more approachable, which is precisely what we were going for to reach out beyond the core fan base. After all, the mission of fantasy conventions is not to stick with the same old crowd but rather to spread fantasy around. Pyrkon reached out to a wider audience in pursuit of that very mission.
One of the best recognised sub-events, which began as early as 2008 but did not become a fully-fledged gala until Pyrkon moved to the fair grounds, has been the Mascarade. It is not called Poland's most prestigious cosplay contest without a reason. Mascarade is a large ceremony with cosplayers sporting their self-made constumes on stage in a musical and visual display and with jurors selecting the winners. As the number of people willing to watch Mascarade is ten times above the Earth Hall's capacity, the gala is beamed to screens throughout the fair grounds.
Pyrkon's round anniversary
In 2022, Pyrkon is celebrating the round anniversary of its establishment with a two-year delay caused by the pandemic. It does so with a flair although the cliché phrase "we have something for everyone" happens to be true in its case.
"Pyrkon's literary and scientific segments, which are its two strongest, have been vying for primacy for years. Both fill the room and are going to bring an exceptionally strong lineup this year. The literature block features Rebbeca Kuang (The Poppy War), Samantha Shannon (The Priority of the Orange Tree, The Harvest) and Graham Masterton (The Manitou, The Pariah, House of Bones). The science one responds with Tomasz Rożek (Nauka. To Lubię) and Andrzej Dragan (author of Poland's leading popular science book Kwantechizm), and "heavy reinforcements" made up of the Rzecznicy Nauki (Advocates of Science) group. The winner will soon be known!", says Remigiusz Zygarowicz, Program Coordinator at Pyrkon.
What else is in store? For the fantasy fans who love flair, there's the grand Masquerade gala, concerts (finally back after a break) and shows, including themed costume shows and Japanese one-actor theatre. The traditionalists will get to meet Pyrkon's well-known and well-liked guests, such as Andrzej Pilipiuk, Łukasz Orbitowski and Marcin Mortka. For the night owls, there are outdoor cinema night shows offered in collaboration with the Ferment Kolektiv group. For active people, there are workshops in dance, calligraphy, costume preparation and even dubbing. This year's Pyrkon programme features over 700 attractions and over 100 guests. Not bad for an event that started with a single day of meetings advertised on bedsheets!
"We never expected to get this big or to go where we're going. When organising Pyrkon, all we thought about was to make an event we ourselves would like to attend," comments Piotr Derkacz modestly.
"This said, we are very proud of how Pyrkon has grown. It is currently Poland's largest fantasy event. One of its greatest achievements is to have preserved the original spirit of the old convention. One can now meet a writer in a food queue, talk to the host after an event, remain with one's favourite block and, for instance, never leave the game room, or see a little bit of everything," adds Paweł Matuszak.
They both admit that Pyrkon would not be where it is now were it not for the contribution of the entire fandom community, which has always formed one team. "We act together. The organisers of other Polish conventions invite us over, and we invite them back. Not everything you can see at Pyrkon has been invented there. We would not be here today were it not for the great support of club members, participants, and volunteers. Pyrkon is definitely a part of a larger whole, which is the fantasy lovers community!
translation: Krzysztof Kotkowski
Pyrkon Fantasy Festival
© Wydawnictwo Miejskie Posnania 2022