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Slanted Fedora:
The Ferengi Tour
aka "The COLD Con!"

Waterbury, Connecticut
January 22, 2000

Report by Marguerite Krause

This Slanted Fedora convention took place at the Sheraton Hotel in Waterbury, Connecticut, located about half-an-hour south of the city of Hartford. The adjacent conference center is similar to many others around the country: a huge central ballroom, with a corridor along one wall that connects the hotel lobby to the ballroom and to adjoining, smaller meeting and banquet rooms. To reach the convention, you could follow the corridor from the hotel lobby, or enter directly from the conference center parking lot, through a set of glass doors that open onto the corridor about halfway along from the lobby. The Slanted Fedora registration table was at the far end of the corridor; next to it, a door led into the big ballroom, which was divided into two sections. The first held the dealer's room (so every time you entered or left, you walked past all the t-shirts and photos and other goodies), and the second held the audience seating and stage for the day's talks. 

René well dressed for the cold (photo by June)

Guests for the convention, in addition to René, were Armin Shimmerman, Max Gorodenchik, Aron Eisenberg, and Chase Masterson. Cecily Adams ("Moogie") was also supposed to be there, but had to cancel because of upcoming surgery (something minor, according to Dave and Jackie, the Slanted Fedora organizers). Also present was Lolita Fatjo, DS9 script coordinator, Richard Arnold, former assistant to Gene Roddenberry, and surprise guest Mary Kay Adams, who played Grillka, Quark's Klingon wife.

My roommate for the weekend, June, and I arrived on Friday night. The weather was COLD - about 0 degrees Fahrenheit, with blustery winds that gave a wind-chill effect of about minus-55! I didn't think we'd be bothered by the weather, though; after all, we planned to spend the entire day Saturday in the cozy confines of the hotel and conference center. Little did we know . . .

On Saturday, June and I set out to have fun at the con (we specifically wanted to see René and Armin at their Q&A session at 3:15 in the afternoon, and then in their after-dinner theatrical performance) and we also ran a fan club table for ORACLE. In addition to giving out info about the club, we sold photos for autographs, with all the proceeds going to charity. We also needed to collect a whole bunch of autographs from the guests, also for charity purposes. Gayle Stever, who provided the photos, wanted to take advantage of having all of the Ferengi actors in one place on the same day, so she sent us a stack of script covers and press kit photos that needed their signatures (the full kits and scripts are sold at various fan club charity auctions). By the end of the day, we mananged to collect almost all of the signatures, thanks to the patience and cooperation of all those generous actors.

The con opened at 10:00 a.m. By that time, June and I had set up the ORACLE table in that long corridor outside the ballroom, near those glass doors that led to the parking lot. It was an ideal location in a lot of ways: plenty of light from the doors and ceiling-high windows gave us great visibility, and everyone had to walk past us to get to the rest of the convention. We had lots of traffic all day. We also noticed, within about ten minutes of setting up, that the corridor was freezing cold! Especially at the beginning, people were arriving for the con and, every time someone opened those doors, we felt a blast of cold air from the parking lot. Even when the doors stayed closed, the chill leaked right through the glass. June and I started the morning in comfortable indoor clothing . . . then June
ran back to our room and put on an extra sweatshirt . . . and a little while later she went up again and brought down our winter coats! I went into the dealer's room for a while to warm up, and then a little after noon June went into the ballroom to listen to Max, Aron, and Chase give their talk (and warm up while she was at it).

Around noon, René came to visit the ORACLE table and see how we were doing. He added some of his own photos and "Chef Louis" cartoons to the collection of things we were selling. The other nice thing about René's visit to the table is that, while he was there and we were commenting on how cold the corridor was, one of the fans from the local Star Trek club (the U.S.S. Nautilus), whose members were helping with general security and errand-running at the con, heard us talking and offered to loan us a wonderful wool blanket that he kept in the car. I suspect that he was mostly loaning it to René, who actually stayed at the table for less than five minutes, but June and I got to enjoy its warmth for the rest of the afternoon. We told this nice man that we were closing the table at 3:00, so that we could go hear René, and he said that was fine, because he had to leave early anyway.

June worked at the table while I stood in line with charity items that needed Ferengi autographs. When I finished that, we sat under the blanket for a while, and finally three o'clock came, and we packed up the table in preparation for moving all of the photos to wherever the autograph line was going to be, so that we could sell some more stuff during René's autograph session.

If you ever get a chance to see René and Armin share a stage, GO! They were wonderful together - very comfortable with one another, and very, very funny. Here are some of the things I remember from their talk. 

René and Armin onstage (photo by June)

René started by saying it was great to be there, and told about coming out of his hotel room that morning to find Armin waiting for him, and that Armin had just arrived, because he'd flown all night from LA - at which point Armin interrupted with, "And boy, are my arms tired!" The audience cracked up, and Armin and René were both grinning, and then René shook his head and said something like, "I tell you, this is the easiest audience in the world," which only made people laugh more. 

René chatting (photo by Marguerite)

René had not seen the movie Galaxy Quest yet, but people had been describing it to him, and some had warned him that he might not like it, because it hit too close to home. He asked if we had seen it, and the audience applauded and cheered and encouraged him to go see it. Armin apparently has seen it, because every once in a while he would shake his finger at René and proclaim, "It was never the art with you!" and they would both crack up. 

Armin listening (photo by Marguerite)

René admitted that he had a terrible cold (to which the audience replied, "Awwwww!") and explained how he caught it. His Mel Gibson film, The Patriot, officially wrapped on Friday (Jan. 21) at 7:00 a.m., after an entire week of night shooting. . . in bitterly cold weather. . . in a swamp! They would work from dusk to dawn, which is exhausting anyway, and the cold and damp only made things more uncomfortable. René described two of the scenes he filmed: in one, his character, Reverend Oliver, had to ride his horse through the swamp, so René's feet were wet all night, and in the other, the reverend was lying in his tent (on the cold ground) reading his Bible, while the effects crew laid down smoke to make the encampment look properly misty, or something. The movie is officially slated to open June 28, 2000 -- looks like they're aiming for another Braveheart-quality blockbuster -- hope they're right!

René also talked about his horse, "Turtle," which he pointed out was an ironic name. The horse, René said, had more experience than he did, and knew when they were about to start filming. As the production assistants started walked around yelling, "Places!" Turtle would start to quiver in anticipation, and then dance in place. . . and René was hilarious as he half-described, half-mimed the horse's antsy behavior. Finally, the moment someone called "Action!" Turtle would take off as if he'd been shot from a cannon. 

Do I ride? (photo by June)

That led René and Armin to talk about how they respond whenever a casting director asks, "Do you ride?" Young actors, just starting out, who really, desperately want a certain role, will always say, with total confidence, "Oh, yes, of course," even if they've never been near a horse in their life. René said that at this point in his career, when he gets that question, he is comfortable with saying, "Yes, I ride, in the movies," but he doesn't consider himself a rider, and doesn't ride for recreation.

People asked Armin a variety of questions - about his roles in Beauty and the Beast and Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and his work with the actor's union. One interesting tidbit: the last episode of DS9 aired the same week as the end-of-season episode for Buffy, in which Armin's character gets eaten by a giant demonic snake. René and Armin both seemed amused that Armin could lose two television roles so close together!

A child asked Rene to sing “Les Poissons,” from The Little Mermaid. He sang a little more slowly than usual, and in a lower key, because of his cold, but it was still as delightful as always. 

René at the Q&A (photo by Marguerite)

As their talk ended, June and I snuck out to prepare our charity photos for the autograph session – and discovered that René’s table was set up in that frigid corridor! It wasn’t the same spot that we’d used earlier; this time we were farther from those glass doors, and we soon had a solid line of bodies standing between us and the windows, so it wasn’t quite as cold as it had been earlier in the day. People were ushered out of the ballroom, went past our photo table and René first, and then around the corner to Armin. I’m sure the autograph line was planned that way for logistical reasons, because René signs faster than Armin and they thought this would provide the best traffic flow. But it was NOT a comfortable couple of hours. René was wearing a warm shirt and a fleecy-looking jacket, and he had some hot tea to drink, but he was rubbing his hands together a lot to try to keep them warm. I wished we had kept that blanket!

June and I had good seats for the evening dinner and play. The food was your usual hotel banquet chicken and rice, nothing memorable. During dinner, Max, Aron, Chase, Richard, and Lolita came around to every table to chat with the fans and pose for photographs. At some point, I don’t know why, Aron started offering to clear away people’s dessert plates – the first I heard of it was a loud laugh from a table near us, and when I turned around Aron was saying to a man, “Can I take that for you?” and whisked his empty plate away. When Aron got tired of that, he picked up a coffee pot and started refilling people’s coffee. June suggested that maybe he gets bored with making small talk, so this gave him something to do! Whatever his motives, it kept people amused.

Finally dinner was over, and Dave introduced René and Armin, who launched right into a hilarious two-character scene, part of Beyond the Fringe by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. From there, they continued through a whole series of small scenes and readings, some serious, some comic, some for two voices and others for just one. René started out by explaining that this was a work in progress, and that we should think of it as an evening of theatrical “jazz” – improvisation for actors instead of for musicians. They had rehearsed all of the pieces, but only lightly, and they weren’t quite sure yet what order they would do them in; they would decide based on how we reacted to things, and how they felt about how the evening was going. They read most of the pieces from scripts, which they placed on rather rickety wire music stands. Armin had all of his in a dark blue three-ring binder, while René juggled loose sheets of paper; when he finished one story, he would put that script down on the stage and pick up the next one.

When they came on stage they were wearing small, wireless microphones, but very early in the performance something caused the whole system to feed back, and the sound technician never could get it working again, so they did most of the evening in just their theatrical voices. When the mics died, René and Armin both asked the audience, “Can everyone hear?” and everyone said, “Yes.” From where we were sitting, they sounded fine; the room was small, but it was also a dining room, not a stage, so hopefully no one at the back tables missed anything.

Once or twice, both René and Armin lost their place in what they were reading, but always turned the goof into a comic moment. Also, at least twice (or was it three times?) René’s loose pages tried to slide off of the music stand (one of those was one of the times he lost his place), and a couple of other times, when he went to move his music stand, he managed to pick up only the top part and leave the legs and upright pole sitting on the stage. He always turned those flubs into physical slapstick, too – picked up the bottom of the music stand and started singing into it, as if it were a microphone, or pretended to trip and get his legs all tangled up in it.

One of the stories they read was something called “The Macbeth Murder Mystery.” To introduce it, Armin started to tell us the bare-bones outline of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, so that we’d be familiar with the characters in the short story. Of course, Armin referred to it as “The Scottish Play,” and then he and René explained about the superstition among theatre people that it’s bad luck to say the name of that play in a theatre, unless you are actually performing the play, or another play in which the name is an actual part of the dialogue. They said that, since this dining room was being used as a theatre for the evening, the superstition was in effect, and if a person said the name by mistake he or she was supposed to go outside, spin around three times, and spit to ward off any bad luck.

After that digression, Armin went back to describing “the Scottish Play” and told us about King Duncan, and how the Thane of Cawdor (Macbeth’s title) covets the throne, and so on and so forth. . . and then, in the midst of his description, he let slip the name, “Macbeth.” The audience half-gasped and half-giggled before Armin himself realized what he’d done: then he gave this big, resigned sigh, and jumped down off the stage and left the room. Once in the corridor he spun around three times, to the great amusement of the audience, said, “Ptooi!” over his shoulder, came back, and picked up where he left off.

They did a scene from Huck Finn, in which the King and the Duke are sizing each other up. Armin played the Duke (the role René played in Big River on Broadway), which gave Armin a chance to do a hilarious, garbled version of some Shakespearean solioquies. Armin also did a creepy rendition of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” while René did a delightful reading of James Thurber’s “The Night the Bed Fell.”

At one point, even though they had been reading everything, Armin declared that he was going to do something from memory, and introduced a short piece that he used to use for auditions in New York, called “Bernard.” René looked surprised, and said, “Do you want me to be on book?” and Armin said, “You bet I do!” Armin got a few lines into the piece, then took a breath and said, “I forget the next line!” but before René could give it to him, Armin stepped back to his music stand and glanced at the script. Then he started over and got through the whole piece, which was quite funny.

Then René took up the challenge and said he would do something from memory! First, he explained that he had done Under Milkwood by Dylan Thomas when he was first out of school, at the Arena Stage (I believe). The part included a long, poetic speech full of Welsh names and words. Then, a few years ago, on a visit to Wales, he and Judith were hiking in the country and found themselves near one of the castles named in the poem. They were walking with some local young people, and René recited the poem for one of them, because he had never been sure, when he first performed it, that he had gotten all of the pronunciation right. He asked her to stop him if he mangled any of the words, but he recited it through and she didn’t interrupt. She was quiet when he finished, and he wondered if he had offended her, a foreigner tackling something in her language, but when he asked how he had done, she said it was good – in fact, she was moved that anyone who wasn’t Welsh could nail the pronunciation as he had.

Then he did the whole poem for us, in a lovely, lilting Welsh accent. It was absolutely gorgeous, and he didn’t hesitate or miss a word! We all applauded, of course, and he said that he actually wasn’t surprised that he still remembered it, because it was so difficult and he had worked so hard to learn it he would probably never be able to forget it!

For their second-to-last piece, one of them said, “This needs no introduction,” and then they sat down and launched into the “lip-smacking” scene from “The Ascent”! It was odd to hear Quark’s and Odo’s voices, without seeing the make-up and costumes. . . but it was wonderful, too. Like a surprise visit from an old friend you haven’t seen in a long time! As the end of the scene approached, they got up from their chairs and crossed over to an imaginary access panel in the floor of the imaginary shuttle, and René/Odo bent down and “opened” the hatch, and they both stared down at it. Armin/Quark said, “Is that what I think it is?” and René/Odo said, “A bomb.” And, after a beat of silence, Armin said, “And then we cut to a commercial.”

We all applauded, and a few people started to get to their feet, thinking that was the end, but René waved everyone back and said, “We have one more!” He thanked us for coming and being so generous with our appreciation and patient with them when they stumbled through some things.

For their final piece, they read this, alternating lines at first, and then saying the last few in unison. And I think they meant it sincerely, a gift and a challenge from them to us:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are
powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, talented and fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel
insecure around you.
We were born to make manifest
the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.”

That concluded the show. It was a totally different experience from watching René and Nana perform Love Letters – but also totally marvelous! Part of why it was so much fun to watch was because René and Armin really looked like they were enjoying themselves. All in all, it was a wonderful end to an emotionally warm and delightful – although physically COLD! – day.

Photos as indicated by June McGrath and Marguerite Krause

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