Take Back the Sky: What sets Browncoat Ball apart from other fan gatherings like sci-fi conventions and CSTS events?
Matt Black: You know how sometimes you’re at a convention and you’re waiting in a long line for a long time, but you end up having so much fun talking to and geeking out with other people in line that you almost forget what you were in line for in the first place? That’s what the Browncoat Ball is like the whole time. It’s not a convention. It’s not a screening. It’s not even about the food and tourism that play a big role in the weekend. It’s about fans connecting with fans. Some that you’ve met online or at a previous Ball, some you’re just meeting for the first time. It’s like a huge family reunion where you realize that these cousins you’ve never met before are the coolest people in the world. This is because Browncoats are some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet.
Take Back the Sky: As someone who has been to many Browncoat Balls, what is it that you like best about the event?
Matt Black: I’ve been to 8 Browncoat Balls. Gettysburg this year will be my 9th. To be fair, I may be biased because I’ve been the chairperson for 2 of them. What I like about Browncoat Balls is the Browncoats. I’ve met dozens, if not hundreds, of new people through the Ball over the years, and made lifelong friends that I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for the Ball. Yes, I want the food at the banquet to be good. I want the excursions and activities to be interesting and fun. What did Shepherd Book say? “The journey is the worthier part.” (sic) In this case, what makes the journey is the people. Fans of Firefly. Browncoats.
Take Back the Sky: Firefly is nearly 15 years old, and Serenity is almost 12, yet the Browncoat Ball is still flying. What do you think is the driving force behind its longevity?
Matt Black: There’s a core group of people who go to the Browncoat Ball whenever they can. Many of them helped run a previous Ball. Some of them are crazy and have helped run more than one Ball. But it’s a good crazy. What did Jayne say? “We’re just happy to be doing good works.” So there’s that core that keeps it going. But because the Ball is in a new location each year, there’s also a whole bunch of people, 50-75% of attendees, who are local and it is likely their first time at the Ball. They’ve heard of it before. They’ve seen photographs. Many have wished “if only”– and that wish has come through because the Ball is close by and they finally get to go. The Browncoat Ball isn’t just an event with a small “e”, it’s an Event with a BIG “E.” It is a happening. It is a phenomenon. It is a force of nature. And people are excited to get swept up into it.
Take Back the Sky: What do you think will make this year’s Browncoat Ball in Gettysburg, PA unique?
Matt Black: Every Browncoat Ball is unique. Different people run it each year. Different people come to it each year. Even though some of the core committee members from Browncoat Ball Philadelphia 2007 are on the committee for Browncoat Ball Gettysburg 2017, it’s not going to be the same event. Those people have changed over 10 years. We have a lot of new blood on the committee and energized volunteers. But what makes Gettysburg different? Firefly was born there. Sort of. Joss Whedon read the book The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara about the Battle of Gettysburg in the U.S. Civil War, and then came up with the idea for this little space western– Firefly, and later Serenity. So, in a sense, we are bringing Firefly back to where it began.
Take Back the Sky: There will be a Take Back the Sky petition for Browncoats to sign at the welcome reception at this year’s Browncoat Ball. What would it mean to you personally so see a real American spaceship named Serenity?
Matt Black: Trekkies were thrilled when the first NASA Space Shuttle was named Enterprise. I was one of those Trekkies. As much as I love Star Trek, I am also a Firefly Fan, a Browncoat. I think, in many ways, Firefly has been more true to Gene Roddenberry’s original vision of “a wagon train to the stars” than most of the recent additions to the Star Trek franchise. In the backstory of Firefly, the human race set out to space and colonized other planets. The work SpaceX is doing today is paving the way for colonizing Mars, and beyond. I can think of no better name for the manned Dragon capsule than Serenity.