HILO — Sci-fi, pop culture and STEAM is converging in Kona as HawaiiCon beams in for a sixth installment.
This year’s convention started Thursday and is running through Sunday at a new West Hawaii venue, the Sheraton Kona at Keauhou Bay.
Each year, celebrities from science fiction, fantasy, comics, gaming and cosplay are invited, as are professionals from different science fields, such as astronomy, biology, sustainable living and robotics, she explained.
“We bring together fans and professionals to have a fun, four-day educational and pop culture convention together,” said convention chairwoman Jessica Gauthier. Kids are really inspired by meeting people who do these things for a living, which I think is really important for the Big Island.”
Held each September, HawaiiCon is a nonprofit organization that supports and promotes STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics) education on the Big Island.
It also gives kids an opportunity to see professionals up close and personal, which can be motivating for young minds.
“If you’re a kid growing up here on the Big Island, you don’t necessarily have access to meeting someone who, say, is a screenwriter, or who is a science adviser for ‘Star Trek,’” Gauthier said. “The reality is there’s all kinds of amazing ways to use kids’ talents in arts and science and technology.”
As a nonprofit, Gauthier said, HawaiiCon aims to “broaden the horizons of kids growing up here to all the things that are possible in STEAM endeavors.”
Big Island schools can bring up to 30 students and three chaperones free for one day of the convention, which draws a lot of school groups Thursday and today, she said.
This year’s featured celebrity guests include actor John Rhys-Davies, who played Gimli in “The Lord of the Rings” franchise and Sallah in “Indiana Jones”; Actor and voice actor Mindy Sterling, who starred as Frau Farbissina in the “Austin Powers” movies, among other roles; Eddie McClintock, star of Syfy’s “Warehouse 13”; fantasy author Terry Brooks; and Luke Gygax, son of “Dungeons and Dragons” creator Gary Gygax, along with other actors, artists, writers, gamers and scientists.
The new location isn’t the only change visitors can expect.
“We’re always trying to add to the programming so that it’s a dynamic event,” Gauthier said.
Feedback, she said, has shown people want more evening programs.
Tonight, HawaiiCon will team up with the Wave radio station and Aloha Theatre in Kona for a “Zombie Night.”
Gauthier said there will be free tables for zombie makeup, followed by a zombie promenade through the Sheraton and a “Rocky Horror” sing-along led by the Aloha Theatre. The night culminates in a Zombie Ball, during which a Zombie Royal Court will be crowned.
The Zombie Ball will have a live DJ and cash bar. It is free for all HawaiiCon attendees.
For non-zombie fans, there will be a dinner with some of the convention’s celebrities, which will require an additional ticket.
Saturday night is Quark’s Bar and Casino Night, a fundraiser for the Aloha Theatre.
Gauthier said HawaiiCon raised enough funds last year to send 10 Big Island kids to theater camp at the Aloha Theatre, and the hope is to double that this year.
And for the first time, HawaiiCon will have a mascot — a manta ray designed by Hilo artist Shane Molina.
The convention also has a “full vending hall” with vendors and exhibitors, as well as tours with celebrities.
Gauthier said HawaiiCon is expecting 2,000 guests during the course of the convention’s four days.
“This year we initiated a discounted four-day pass for military veterans and Hawaii first responders, so we’re hoping to reach out to that community and see more of our veterans and first responders attending,” Gauthier said. “We’re continuing the school program, so we’re expecting to see students from schools around the island.”
Individual day passes and four-day passes are available.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit hawaiicon.com.
Email Stephanie Salmons at email@example.com.