By Mikkel Hyldebrandt
The Dragon Con Night at the Georgia Aquarium has grown to become the biggest party event of the sci-fi and fantasy convention – and with good reason! Since it was conceived over a decade ago by John Walker, Director of Group Sales at the aquarium, the evening offers partygoers the opportunity to immerse themselves in a fully realized universe where you can live out your wildest costume fantasies. We spoke to John about how the party came about, its links to Atlanta’s Pride, and what’s in store for this year’s party.
John, the Dragon Con Night at the Aquarium has grown to icon status over the years. Can you tell us how the party started? How did you come up with the idea?
In 2009, I walked through the central atrium of the Aquarium before opening to the public. The design, the light show, the effects, and the atmosphere of the atrium reminded me of another future world. Then, instantly I thought of Dragon Con and how this world-class attraction could complement their incredible international convention. I began cultivating a wonderful and personal connection with the founding family of Dragon Con, and together we gave life to an incredible extension of their programming. This is our 13th year hosting this party.
The grandeur and scale of this event is only matched by one other party at the aquarium: the Pride kickoff. Are the two signature events somehow linked?
Yes, at the same time, the lights went off in my head for the potential Dragon Con Night, the light show inside the Aquarium projected the Pride flag rainbow colors as I was brainstorming Dragon Con. Dragon Con is an already extremely diverse convention attracting even more diverse attendees, so it wasn’t a stretch to imagine a large-scale Pride party happening at the aquarium. So, both parties were conceptualized from that same inspiration because the Dragon Con world and Pride world do crossover and co-exist.
Can you talk a little bit about how the party has grown over the years?
The first Dragon Con night in 2009 started with 500 attendees and basically no production or added entertainment. Today, we are approaching 3500 attendees, an enormous VIP area, and DJs scattered throughout the Aquarium.
Looking back, what are some of this party’s highlights and biggest moments?
One of my favorite memories was when the event crossed over to a sold-out event. That is a huge milestone to achieve 3500 tickets sold. The event also has hosted many iconic stars of the sci-fi, horror, and fantasy entertainment world. I am a huge fan of horror movies, and when I got to meet Jason from Friday the 13th, I was seriously starstruck. Another fun memory was when someone on my team told me a guest wanted to speak with me. I went to meet the guest, and it was actor Brendan Fraser who wanted to thank me for creating such a magical event, and he was in “awe.” That really hit me.
And looking forward, what can people expect from this year’s party? Can you disclose any details about the theme?
This year’s event will be the most extravagant production with new entertainment elements, four DJs, and an expanded futuristic intergalactic VIP space. That’s all I’m saying for now – the rest you’ll have to come and experience for yourself.
You obviously do your utmost to create the complete fantasy. Do the guests go just as far when it comes to dressing up?
The guests are the feature focus of the event. Let’s be honest; many of the guests upstage the event. They truly “bring it”! KUDOS!
What are some of the best costumes you’ve experienced over the years?
The attendees are just so talented in designing their costumes. The aquatic-themed characters like Aquaman and Little Mermaid and the subtle tongue-in-cheek like Yellow Gorton’s Fisherman were so sarcastically funny.
You’re obviously a visionary when it comes to creating a party experience. Where do you find your inspiration?
My mind is crazy. Everything that I look at, I dissect it and reimagine it. Fantasy worlds, alternate future dimensions, bright lights, and space visuals always get my attention.
Ok, last question – and this is important: What will you be dressing up as at Dragon Con Night at the Aquarium?
UGHHHHH. I tried that one year, but I am seriously working hard at the event, and some of the employees and customers thought I was just a guest trying to be pushy and pretend I was working the event. I also thought of dressing as a World of Coke employee to confuse my team. It’s a fine line that I am ok crossing. We will have to see what vibe I’m feeling on 9/3/22.
Dragon Con Night at the Aquarium | Saturday, September 3, 2022, 7pm – 11pm | Tickets (general admission) available at georgiaaquarium.org/dragoncon