Report by Tracy Hemenover and Marguerite Krause
The Slanted Fedora con in Fort Wayne, Indiana, was a very interesting day, and I don't mean just the con.
First there was the weather. On Friday, we had thunderstorms throughout the state all day. They were followed by snow on Saturday. The combination caused a delay in the arrival of some of the stars. (Armin Shimmerman and René both made it okay on Friday, but Aron Eisenberg, Max Grodenchik, Lolita Fatjo, and Cecily Adams barely made it in on Saturday, and had a harrowing tale of airport delays and flight cancellations to report.)
Then there was the van. My husband Don drove it up from Indy, about 100 miles. At some point midway, the alternator decided it was a good day to die, and we made it the rest of the way on battery power. We managed to finally find a parts place, then Don spent the first part of the con out in the lot, replacing the alternator.
Just before I went in to register, however, we had a late breakfast in the hotel restaurant. And right behind us in the line waiting to get seated, who should it be but Armin? He must have seen that familiar look of recognizing-but-not-wanting-to-bother-the-star in our faces, because he proceeded to chat with us a little. When we said we were from Indianapolis, he said that was where he proposed to his wife, while he was doing repertory theatre. He was also behind us at the buffet. After we separated, I could see him reading as he ate. I believe it was probably one of the pieces he was going to do with René at the dinner.
I registered. The dealer's "room" happened to be a patio area by the hotel's indoor swimming pool. Shrieks and splashes, accompanied by a strong chlorine smell, filled the air all day, making it hard to hear conversations. There wasn't any merchandise of interest to me, just the usual cards, toys, photos, and licensed doodads, so aside from a few turns around the tables, I mostly hung around the ORACLE table, which was manned by Marguerite and Mike. There was only one other RAFLer, Judy Jankowski, present at the con. But it was great seeing them.
To do two conventions in two different states in two days, Mike and I arranged to fly into Detroit and rent a car for the weekend. It hadn't occurred to us that we'd have to cope with a spring snowstorm! During the day on Friday, the storm dumped snow and icy rain all over the Midwest, but our flight wasn't too badly delayed. The drive from Detroit to Fort Wayne took about four hours, also not bad. However, check-in at the Holiday Inn was a bit annoying. They had lost our reservation, and the confirmation number Mike had gotten when we preregistered came up on their computer system with someone else's name attached to it! We arrived at 1:00 a.m., and it was close to 2:00 before they finally gave us a room -- smoking instead of the nonsmoking we'd requested. At that point, though, we just were glad to have a bed to sleep in.
Saturday at the con went pretty smoothly, under the circumstances. As Tracy mentioned, this particular Holiday Inn had a big, central, indoor courtyard. In the middle was a swimming pool, with a huge children's play area on one side, and a "patio" sort of area on the other. The whole courtyard was encircled by glass walls and a corridor which led to the hotel rooms and, on one side, the ballroom/meeting room where the Q&A sessions and evening dinner theatre took place. The autograph lines took place in the corridor. The dealer's "room" was set up on the courtyard patio, just a few yards from the swimming pool -- and that's where we had our ORACLE table. It made for an interesting ambiance: the humidity, the smell of chlorine, and the shrieks of children (or shouts of "Marco!" "Polo!") playing in the pool. From the ORACLE table we could look across the aisle to another dealer, and behind his back had a clear view of the pool area. He was just far enough away from the pool that the splashing couldn't quite reach his merchandise!
The effects of the bad weather on Friday night had repercussions on Saturday. The convention guests were scheduled to start doing Q&As at 11:00, followed by autograph sessions. However, the convention planners had arranged for everyone to fly from LA into Chicago and then drive from there to Indiana. René and Armin made the trip fairly early on Friday and arrived in good time at the hotel -- but the other four came into Chicago on a later flight, and ended up driving in the worst of the snow, rain, and ice, and didn't get to Fort Wayne until something awful like 3:00 a.m. on Saturday! Therefore, they didn't get started on their Q&A until later than planned, and ended up doing all of their autographing at once (instead of in staggered sessions) which made the lines longer and slower than they could have been.
As I've done before, I was carrying a pile of items to be autographed by various people for future charity sales and auctions. Mike and Tracy and Judy kept an eye on our ORACLE table whenever I had to dash off in an attempt to corner one of the actors to sign charity items. Since I didn't want to take my substantial stacks into the regular line and hold everyone else up, I tried to catch the actors either just before they started, or just after they ended, the normal autograph line. By the end of Sunday I had gotten everyone, but it took some maneuvering!
I missed Richard Arnold's talk, because frankly, I haven't been too interested in new Trek since DS9 ended. I came in at the tail end, and then Dave Scott went up and vamped, because Max Grodenchik and the others had finally arrived but were taking some much-needed time to rest and shower after their arduous journey.
Finally, they all came out together (they had been scheduled to appear separately, but it was better this way, I think). Their talk was very interesting; they seemed upbeat and energetic for having had to drive from Chicago in the snow all morning. Max had brought his Rom teeth, which he had used all during the series (the same set, which was also the same set he used in both his TNG appearances). He put them in and demonstrated how wearing them forced him to talk like Rom.
They all had stories of how they got their parts, and their first jobs (not acting jobs, but regular jobs). Though they were all funny, Aron was the cutup of the group. He kept inserting little comments while the others were talking. He also talked a bit about the Voyager episode he did, and challenged the audience to name the actor he worked with both on Voyager and on one DS9 episode (he said no one had ever got it). Well, I can't resist a trivia challenge. So with the hint of which DS9 episode it was ("Siege of AR-558"), I raised my hand and guessed that it was Patrick Kilpatrick. I was right. Aron seemed impressed, though whether it was by my intellectual prowess or my geekiness, I don't know.
At the end of their talk, Max, Lolita, Cecily, and Aron all sang a song to the tune of the Mickey Mouse Club theme ("F-E-R, E-N-G, I'm a Ferengi"), which was apparently made up on their drive over. Then Aron took pictures of the audience, for an upcoming website about Star Trek fans. Fortunately, by that time, Don was finished working on the van and was able to see the rest of the con with me.
After the auction, René and Armin did their talk together. It was the first time I had seen them together, and also the first time I had seen Armin on stage (because it was the first time he had come close enough to Indy for me to be able to go). Just before their talk, I was at the ORACLE table when René came by, and I sort of hovered around while he talked to Marguerite and Richard Arnold. It was better than listening to Dave, I figured. However, I missed when Armin came out. Lolita had to come and tell René that Armin had started. (Jackie Scott was supposed to come get René, but she didn't.)
When René went on stage, he and Armin hugged each other. You know how you often hear an actor say what good friends they are with another actor? Well, when you hear René and Armin talk about their friendship, you can believe them. Their affection was obvious in the way they teased and one-upped each other.
There was nothing particularly startling in their talk, but it was entertaining. They talked about their other work, and DS9. There was someone in the audience carrying an Odo mask for some reason, and at one point René borrowed it and put it on. Armin immediately fell to his knees with his hands in the Ferengi "pleading" position (wrists together, hands spread), while René folded his arms in his best disdainful Odo pose.
Among their stories, Armin said he had just filmed a guest shot as "Principal Snyder" for the final Buffy episode of the season! He said when his agent called and told him the Buffy people wanted him back, his reply was, "But I'm dead!" Then he realized that's not really an issue on Buffy. René also talked a little about his visit to Australia, and mentioned that he liked the wireless microphones they used there, because it allowed him to walk out into the audience and get close to all of the fans, even the ones way in the back in the "cheap" seats.
After the talk, René and Armin signed autographs for over two hours -- there were about 400 fans in attendance. The interesting thing was that very few of the fans were first-time con-goers, so they mostly brought things from home to get autographs on. That meant they didn't spend a lot of money in the dealer's room, or in buying René's charity photos and cartoons. By the end of the day we had raised about $500.
The dinner was okay -- the usual "banquet-style" chicken and luke-warm veggies and such. Afterward, all of the actors arrived and went from table to table, posing for photos.
At the dinner, after the usual mingling, Max, Lolita, Cecily and Aron left with a song, to the tune of "Vaya Con Dios", only it was "Viacom Dios". Then René and Armin did their show, a collection of short skits and pieces of plays, most funny, a few serious. There were three or four Beyond the Fringe skits, a bit of Don Juan in Hell (René solo), a scene from Galileo by Bertolt Brecht, a scene from Big River, a reading from The Telltale Heart by Poe (Armin solo), and the piece de resistance for Trek fans, an Odo/Quark scene from "The Ascent" (the lip-smacking scene leading up to the discovery of the bomb on the runabout). It was great seeing Odo and Quark played on stage and getting laughs live, especially when Odo went "bzzzzzzzt". The show ended with an inspirational message from an unstated source.
The theatrical readings by René and Armin were great fun. I saw the same show in January in Connecticut, but there were several subtle variations, and it was still entertaining. And it was Mike's first time to see it. One thing that was fun was that in one of the pieces, a selection from Huckleberry Finn, René and Armin switched roles from what they'd done in Connecticut. When René did the musical Big River on Broadway in the mid-80s, he played the role of "the Duke," and the scene he and Armin read was between the Duke and the King. In Connecticut, Armin read the Duke, but this time René did it.
After the show, Mike and I got our stuff gathered up and prepared to drive from Fort Wayne to Lansing, where we had our room reserved for the night. On our way to the lobby, I met another ORACLE member and one of her friends, and we stood talking for a few minutes, and I wrote down some ORACLE contact information for the friend. While I was doing that, René came down to the lobby, too -- it turned out he and Armin were also driving to Lansing right away, with Jackie and her husband Dave. The other actors had already left; Jackie and Dave weren't taking any chances with travel schedules this time! I complimented René on the evening's performance, and he asked how it compared to the first time I'd seen it, and we talked about the differences and so on. One thing he mentioned was that, back when he was first rehearsing the role of the Duke for the Broadway production, the scene that he and Armin had just performed was not in the script! René knew it from the book, and thought it was too good to leave out of the play, so he prepared it on his own time, and when they got to that point in rehearsals, he asked the director to please take a look at his idea. The director loved it, they put it into the script -- and René was eventually nominated for a Tony for the role!
The drive to Lansing was lovely. Only two hours, and no bad weather, just clear, starry skies and a young moon setting in the west. When we reached the Lansing Radisson Hotel, our check-in experience was also a complete contrast to the hassles we'd had on Friday night/Saturday morning. It was about the same time, around 1:00 a.m. We walked in, Mike said, "We're here to check in, we have a reservation." The desk clerk said, "Your name, please?" Mike told her, she punched a key or two on the computer, nodded, and said, "I'll need your charge card." Mike gave her the charge card, she scanned it, handed it back, handed us our keycards, and said, "Have a nice night." What a pleasure -- an efficient, two-minute check-in process! The room was also lovely, and non-smoking as we'd requested.
On Sunday morning, René met us to sign his portion of the charity items. Then he said, "I don't have anything to do until this afternoon, would it be all right if I came and sat at the table for a while, what do you think?" Of course we said "Sure!" to that, so we went to the dealer's room, and René made himself comfortable behind the table, and Mike and I set out photographs and things. ORACLE members Chris and Jeff and their friends also arrived, ready to help, and Judy was there, too, and later we encountered another ORACLE person, Sue (and another new person, Beth, signed up!). There were only about 190 fans in attendance at this con, and this was still the very beginning of the day, but people were already starting to come into the dealer's room. It was great fun to watch them -- they would be walking along, looking at the toys and photos and things on the tables next to us, and then they'd get to our table and get a kind of startled expression when they realized that they were smiling politely at René Auberjonois, and he was smiling right back and saying, "Hi! How are you?"
René must've sat with us for well over an hour. He not only signed the photos and cartoons (his own and the sketch of the Chef from The Little Mermaid) that we had for sale, but Mike went and got some blank paper from the hotel desk, and René drew Odo's bucket cartoons right on the spot, and personalized those for people. A few people came by who had small kids, and told their children that René was Odo and that he'd done the voice for the Chef in The Little Mermaid, and then René would sing a few words of the song for the kids. One little girl was really cute; she was maybe four or five, and very doubtful about what her father and this strange, bearded man were telling her. She looked at René, looked at the photos of Odo on the table, looked at René again, and frowned and shook her head....and only got more suspicious when he started singing "Les Poissons!" It was so funny!
Around noon, René went back up to his room to rest a bit, because he was scheduled to do autographs at 1:00. All of the actors had to get back to Chicago to catch their flights home, and now that Dave and Jackie realized just how far that was (it would take them a good four hours from Lansing), they didn't want to risk running late. We continued selling stuff at the ORACLE table, and at 1:00 I went and set up a "branch" table right next to René's spot in the autograph line, and sold a few more things there. With the attendance so small, the autograph lines were pretty short, which was nice.
René and Armin did a fun Q&A at 3:00, another very brief autograph session at 4:00 (to catch the few people who hadn't had a chance earlier in the day), and then they did their theatrical readings performance at about 5:00, which was earlier than the original schedule. Mike and I had to catch our flight in Detroit and had figured on leaving Lansing by around 6:00. If the con attendance had been as big as on Saturday, the autograph lines would have still been going on at that point, so we had not planned on seeing the performance again, but because of the shortened day, we were able to stay. The crowd for that was pretty small -- maybe 50 or 60 people? -- which made for a different feeling in René and Armin's performance. It was really interesting to compare it to the Saturday night show, and the January show, so I'm glad we got to see it.
We ended up raising about $650 in charity sales on Sunday -- much more than we'd collected on Saturday, from only half as many fans! René's "personal touch" at the table in the morning made a huge difference!
We got on the road by about 6:15 (while we were loading our car in the driveway in front of the hotel, Dave and Jackie and René and Armin were settling into their car just a few feet away), and were a little late getting to the airport, but our flight was running late, so we arrived with time to spare, and got home without incident.
A lovely, lovely weekend all around!
Photos provided by Mike and Marguerite Krause