How to Survive a Hiatus: A Chat with Outlandish National Capital Area

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[All photos courtesy Starz.]

Hello there, Outlander fam!

As you may have noticed, there was no episode this week. And that’s because all of the Americans were off cramming hamburgers down their throats and setting off colorful explosions of gunpowder everywhere. Including me. Because America.

But now it’s almost time for the Outlander season finale and the subsequent crushing despair that we will then be immediately sucked into, never to return. Until the premiere of season three, that is, when we will unwrap ourselves from our Sad Blanket Burritos and come to life once again.

Luckily for you, I’m here with something that should prove very helpful in surviving the impending Droughtlander. A couple weeks ago, I had the singular pleasure of sitting down with Rachel Goutos, Administrator for Outlandish National Capital Area (ONCA). ONCA is a thriving group of Outlander fans that serves the Maryland,Washington, D.C., and Virginia area. As you’ll see from our conversation, ONCA is a great group of folks, who just may be able to keep you sane while the Frasers are on hiatus. Take a look!

Allison: So you’re the administrator for the Outlandish National Capital Area and that’s part of Outlanders United?

Rachel: Yes, I am. Outlanders United came a little bit afterwards. So we do work with other groups across the country and around the world. So at the Tartan Week Parade, we had members of our group linked into the Outlanders United Group. But for most of our programming, we are our own standalone group. We do sometimes do some things with a couple of the other area groups, but for the most part, it’s just us. But we do have a consortium [with several other organizations].

Allison: Can you tell me a bit about the history of your group–how you got started and how the idea came about?

Rachel: Sure! It was about three years ago. I can’t remember the exact time. But right when the announcements came out that Outlander was going to be in production at some point soon, there was a lot of social media frenzy and a lot of people were on Twitter, just talking with each other. Through Twitter, I had found a whole bunch of other folks who lived around the general DC Metro area, so I thought it would be really cool to get together and meet people in person.

So in 2013, our first in-person event was actually at the Maryland Renaissance Festival. We had a group of around ten to fifteen people. Most of us had never met in person, yet we had been talking online for a couple of months about the show as well as Sam Heughan being cast. (Because at the time, he was the only cast member that was confirmed.) So from there, we’ve just grown.

Sam Hueghan as Jamie Fraser.
A helpful reminder of what Sam Heughan looks like as Jamie Fraser

Allison: About how many members do you have now?

Rachel: Right now, we’re about 560. We started off with about ten to fifteen people in the first baby weeks of the group. We’ve slowly grown and over the last six months, it’s really blossomed. Not every one of our 500+ members is completely active every day, but people have heard about the group either through friends or something like Sam Heughan’s fan group (the Sam Heughan Heughligans), or through a couple other, larger groups.

People will hook into a group because of an actor and say, “I live in this area. Is there anybody else in this area?” And people will say, “Oh yeah, there’s a group. Come join us.” It’s sort of word of mouth, social media, that’s really how people have heard about us, through word of mouth and social media.

Allison: What sort of activities do you guys have normally? I know that you have viewing parties for premieres and finales. Is that something you do every week or just for big episodes?

Rachel: The one big viewing that we did this year was part of the Tartan Week, which is an event that we sent a lot of members to. My coadmin for Outlandish National Capital Area is also an admin for Outlanders United and she did a great job coordinating a large screening for Outlander fans that were in New York for Tartan Week.

But for the most part, folks do a lot of smaller viewings for people they’ve met through the group. So people will say, “Oh I need a place to watch the show, is there anybody who wants to watch with me?” We had someone post a couple of weeks ago and say, “I’ve read the books, but I haven’t been able to keep up with the show.” And someone responded and said, “Oh, where are you located? I live over here and I have a viewing party with my friends every week. Do you want to come over and we’ll bring you in?”

So we don’t have any huge organized viewings, but every so often, people say, “I’d like to open up my house for a party.”

We do a lot of things more so in the community as well, that aren’t necessarily Outlander-related. We have one member who is a volunteer who washes the Vietnam Memorial wall. She’ll get members to volunteer to do that. We have one of those [events] coming up soon.

Every year, we go to Arlington National Cemetery for Wreaths Across America. We’ve been doing that with a member from one of the Ohio fan groups that we connected with through social media. She posted and said, “I come down to Arlington every year; is there aWashington, D.C., area group?” And so we make that a tradition now.

Oh man, there's Jamie again! Weird how that keeps happening...
Oh man, there’s Jamie again! Weird how that keeps happening…

We’ll also be walking in the Scottish Christmas Walk in Alexandria [Virginia]. This will be our second year [doing that]. We try to go to the Celtic Weekend at the Maryland Renaissance Festival every year. Since that was our first in person event as a group, we make a point to get people together to do that.

We do try to get to at least a couple of the local Celtic Festivals to meet other fans. We meet people [at events] who say, “Oh, there’s a group? This is great! My family doesn’t want to hear me talk about Outlander anymore! I can go online and I can talk to people who don’t mind me going on for who knows how long about it!”

One of the other big events that we did recently: Two and a half months prior to this season’s premiere, we did our own little Droutlander Trivia Contest. I came up with a whole bunch of different Outlander trivia and every week, we would have different questions and at the end, we tallied them all and people won Outlander-related prizes. So we try to keep people engaged in different ways, when the show’s going on and when the show’s not going on.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we did a Wine and Paint event. One of our members contacted a paint studio and we did an event where we made paintings of thistles.

So we do things that are Outlander-related and we do things connected to Scottish and Gaelic culture. One of our members is learning Gaelic and she’ll post stuff about that. We try to be a really well rounded group. Even though we were brought together through a love of Outlander, we try to expand on that and use that to have just a really fun group.

Allison: Are you guys doing anything for the finale?

Above: What I’ll be doing after the finale.

Rachel: We don’t have anything planned per se. I do have plans to do a marathon, but it’s something I’m working on. In order to do that, I need to find somewhere that has a space for a decent size group and either someone who is willing to let us invade their home for awhile or somewhere that’s willing to let us stay for a very long time for very little to no money.

We’re sort of a self-sustaining organization. We don’t charge dues for membership, so we try to do things on the cheap or when some of our members are generous enough to help us pay for things for the overall group.

(Author’s note: ONCA will be hosting an Outlander Finale Potluck Pool Viewing Party on July 9! Check out their Facebook page for more details.)

Allison: So what’s your next big event?

Rachel: We’re trying to go to at least one more big festival by the end of the summer. But the next definite big event is the Wreaths Across America and our holiday party that we have in conjunction with that. But we do have some other big things in the works.

Allison: It sounds like you guys get around a lot!

Just like Louise (played by Claire Sermonne). Hey oh!
Just like Louise (played by Claire Sermonne). Hey oh!

You’ve talked a lot about how these events can connect fans with each other. What would you say your group specifically adds to fans’ experience of the books and the show? What is the most powerful thing you can contribute to these experiences?

Rachel: I would say the personal connection. This was actually a [discussion] post in our group not too long ago. I myself have made a couple of very, very good friends through the groups. Just having people to talk to and socialize with, just to have that personal connection.

Everybody has a different reason why they love the books. Or maybe they don’t like the books; there are some people who don’t! But maybe they love the show and people have their own personal reasons for their various scales of liking the show and the books. What keeps people engaged and what is unique about our group and the other fan groups that are socially active is having that personal connection with other people.

I think in a time where social media is strong, it’s always nice to have that personal connection. So regardless of what kind of event it is, it’s always nice to have an event to go to and, from having that core connection from the book, have people to connect with. That’s what makes groups like ours memorable and special.

Allison: So for someone reading this interview and wanting to join your group, what would you recommend is the best way to get involved?

Besides becoming an actual Jacobite. (Jamie, standing with his Jacobite men.)
Besides becoming an actual Jacobite.

Rachel: Just click “Join”! Most of our members live in Maryland,Washington, D.C., and Virginia. But we do have people living elsewhere and for people looking to connect to a local group, we do have ways of connecting them to groups where they live. We have people do that all the time. We have group members who say, “I have an aunt or cousin or insert relation here that lives in this place, do you know if there’s a group there?” And one of the cool things that’s happened is that there’s a core group of administrators from the different Outlander groups. We’ll post [that request] internally and usually within a few minutes, we’ll have that information back.

Even though ONTA is a smaller community- we have over 500 members, but we’re by no means one of the larger groups- there’s collaboration across all the different administrators and across all the different groups. Even though our group is more inclusive of Maryland, Virginia, and DC, there is a Virginia group and there’s also a Maryland group and we work a lot with them. Even though those two groups aren’t as active in the community, we always reach out to their members, so we’re always very inclusive in our membership. We’re always happy to have more people.

The one thing we try to maintain is a drama-free environment. People don’t necessarily have to agree on things, but they do have to be respectful of each other and we’ve been very lucky that all of our members have maintained that. Other than that, there’s nothing that would prevent us from accepting someone’s membership.

Allison: Do you ever come across people who contact you who don’t have a group in their area? What’s your advice for them?

Rachel: What I would say to them is definitely to contact us and see if there’s already a group established. And if there’s not, do what so many of us have done and create one! It doesn’t take that much time and it’s free on Facebook. You never know how many people there are in your area that you can connect with, based off this one book or this one tv show.

When I started the group, I had no idea that we would have over 500 members. I just wanted to connect with people in the area. And it started off small and gone somewhere that I never thought it would go. It’s going in a very positive direction, which is great. So for somebody who doesn’t have a group in their area, I would say there’s no time like the present. Start one, because you’ll never know.

Some people are hesitant because they’re concerned that there isn’t anybody in their area. But you never know, there could be five or ten or fifteen or more people in their area who might be thinking the same thing. You don’t have to be a huge group to have programs and to get together and to attend events. You just need one person, at least, who will take the initiative to start the group.

(Author’s note: Rachel later pointed out that Starz has a fan club directory of their own, which is also a useful resource. Thanks, Rachel!)

Allison: So you mind if I ask you a few personal questions about your relationship with Outlander?

Rachel: Sure!

Allison: What is your favorite Outlander-related memory? And that could be something from watching the show or reading the books or with the group, whatever comes to your head.

Rachel: I would say that my favorite Outlander memory would have to be Scotland. I love Scotland; I went to school there. So when I read the books and when I watch the show, it really brings me back to how beautiful the place is and all the happy memories I had when I was there. That’s one of the things that I connect with when I’m reading and watching.

Above: Pretty people in the pretty Highlands. (Jamie and Claire riding across the countryside.)
Above: Pretty people in the pretty Highlands.

Allison: Yes, they definitely have plenty of those very long and loving shots of the Highlands on the show! It’s really great! Where did you go to school?

Rachel: I went to the University of Sterling for a semester abroad as an undergrad.

Allison: How are you feeling about this season so far?

Rachel: This season is going by so fast! The first half was a little bit slow. But it’s certainly starting to pick up and it’s sad that there’s only two more episodes when it’s really starting to pick up and, I think, really gaining momentum. But with the announcement of seasons three and four, we’re very, very excited about what the production has in store for the show and what the writers have in terms of changes from the books. That’s my next favorite thing about the show right now–that it’s not exactly the same as the books. People disagree, but I think what they’re doing, for the most part, is really, really great.

Allison: Who’s your favorite character and why? You know, everybody’s gotta ask the question!

Rachel: Well, my favorite character … oh gosh … it’s tough. I have to say right now, probably Murtagh. As much as I love Jamie and Claire, the way that the production has built up the secondary characters has just been great. Even in the first season, I really liked Murtagh. What they’re doing with him and how he’s involved and the way that they’ve evolved that character has just been pretty brilliant. Some of the other characters as well, but he’s a standout in my mind right now.

Adorable Teddy Bear and All Round Great Guy Murtagh Fitzgibbons (played by Duncan Lacroix).
Adorable Teddy Bear and All Round Great Guy Murtagh Fitzgibbons (played by Duncan Lacroix).

And back to me: regular readers of my Flail Sessions (aka Recaps) know that I agree with that view 100%. And many thanks to Rachel, who couldn’t have been kinder or more pleasant to speak with.

So if you’ve been dreading the end of this season and if you’re looking for a friendly group of similarly obsessed fans, check out Outlandish National Capital Area at their Facebook page!

And don’t forget to join me at 9/8c tomorrow night, July 9, over on the SciFi4Me Twitter, where I will be flailing at you in real time. Also probably crying. Because Fergus. PROTECT FERGUS 2K16.

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