by Sharon Kirkland
My Raffle with René
Nexus 2001 took place July 6-8, 2001 in Bristol, England. This is a con run by fans, for fans -- there might have been 400 people registered over the three days, but less than 200 were booked in for the whole thing. There was a main hall for viewing clips and for Q and A sessions, two interactive rooms for panels, comics, model workshops, an SF racing room (daleks on wheels!), a separate video room, a fancy dress/masquerade disco event, and a small dealers room, maybe 10 stalls.
Paul and I drove down to Bristol on Thursday night, so as to be fresh for the con, which started at 1:00 on Friday with a kind of "Refreshments on the Promenade". The weather on Friday morning was lovely, so Paul and I decided to walk the shortish distance between our hotel and the Jarvis, since we weren't sure what parking arrangements there might be for con-goers who were non-residents. This was an especially inspired idea, since the centre of Bristol is very hilly, and I use a wheelchair. We're none of us as young or as thin as once we were, and I had three DS9 Companions and a "The Begotten" script in my bag. The laws of physics being what they are, we arrived at the Jarvis a bit quicker than originally intended (and fairly startled two guys at work near a zebra crossing)
We made our way to registration, and thence to Interactive I, the conference room given over to "Cosmic Coffee Club," and found seats at one of the four tables set up for con-goers and guests. Arriving early made for distinct advantages, since on Friday the number of folks in attendance was small, and everything about the event was relaxed and friendly . First to arrive at our table was Sylvester McCoy, who was delightful. I'm not exactly a Doctor Who fan, so I can't remember what questions might have been asked about which bit of the series. He did talk a little bit about the forthcoming online episodes, and I asked about theatre, and learned that Sylvester is scheduled to appear in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe at Christmas, (Lillian Bayliss Theatre, London, Adrian Mitchell directing) Sylvester also spoke with Lenelle about his travels in North America. Lenelle was a con steward from the United States, who now teaches film and drama at an American school in Surrey. As is custom at these events, we all switched guests when the allotted time was up. The next people to join us were cutaway artists Hans Jenssen and Graham Bleathman. I didn't know what a cutaway artist was, and to be honest I wasn't exactly interested when I'd had it explained to me. "So did you go to art school?" Paul was very much taken up with their work, mind you," Look, there's Darth Vader!" "Where?
And then René (and Richard Arnold) sat down with us. René sat opposite me dressed all in blue. Paul passed René some photos and the Harry Potter booklets that JK Rowling had written for Comic Relief. We then started talking about the advisability or otherwise of film adaptations and René remarked that he was "nervous" about the forthcoming Potter extravaganza. I told René about the Channel Four/RTE Beckett productions, and he asked close questions about lighting, set design and camera work on "Godot"). René then fixes me with *those* blue eyes and says, "Did you see Gormenghast?" but I haven't. René then asked if anyone had any Star Trek questions and the guy sitting next to me asked what the Cardassian Neck Trick involved - René made some morphy neck gestures. After that we said hello to Phil AtCliffe (techy expert) and the comics man whose name escapes me.
The Opening Ceremony was at 3 pm, and here I want to mention the MC, Laurie Sage, and all the stewards and crew, who ran themselves ragged the entire weekend without getting grumpy. They were doing it for the buzz, because they love sci-fi - good soldiers who wanted to do something lasting and meaningful with the source of their own joy.
At 3:30 I went to get my photo taken with René and Sylvester, both of them the soul of patience, since Phil (who was doing the snapping) had trouble getting the flash to work. At one point I'm sure Sylvester volunteered to fetch a Box Brownie this pretty much typified how he was the whole weekend. Sylvester's quick as lightning, but it's not just about quick wittedness you know? You can tell he's steeped in theatre, because his mind is everywhere at once. It was lovely to see René laughing at so many of his antics.
Afterwards we waited for the first of the autograph sessions, and then Paul and I went to the bar for a "great think." (sorry)
"Trials and Tribble-ations" was up next, then at 8:00 p.m. René and Sylvester appeared on stage again, this time accompanied by Richard Arnold and Gareth Thomas - and Chase Masterson who was totally lovely and told a great story about how she and her son made off with Doctor Bashir's medicine cabinet on the last day of filming. They got it home, left it on the kerbside, only to have their landlord ring them in a state of absolute panic because its contents were so volatile
René's first clip was from "T and T", and Sylvester made as if interview him, "This is like the news" and wanted to know how they managed to have TOS and DS9 actors in the one episode "oh it was the blue thing!" Sylvester then told us he was a fan of TOS, and that he used to write regularly to one of the cast, "the rock" (referring to the paper mache boulder that appears in so many episodes). Audience breaks up with laughter and René picks it up seamlessly saying that the rock is still doing conventions in Blackpool. Paul then asks René about his hair in "T and T". "There was quite a bit of talk on RAFL etc. etc." René says that he was wearing a hairpiece but he really doesn't remember because by the time he got to the hairstylist he was usually falling asleep. This was followed by something from Doctor Who, lots of crumbling walls and diving bell plant potty aliens. Sylvester began by telling us about melted daleks and mistaking gun cotton for cotton wool - he put it in his ears?? René then spoke briefly about Walker, which surprised me a bit, but then we were discussing explosions. Gareth "temporal anomaly" Thomas certainly talked about his explosions. He went out of his way (then came back again) to explain to us how vital stunt men and women are to the day to day business of filming. I can't speak for anyone else in the audience, but I think I knew that already.
Saturday was going to be busy, since we had intended being in place for Sylvester's talk, but he was scheduled to be on stage at 10 am, which was too early for us when we had already decided to go in for two interactive discussions in addition to René's Q and A and auction. We went straight to the Jarvis for breakfast and René was sitting in reception (you guessed it) deep in conversation with a little girl. A bit later off we went to the DS9 panel, where I also bumped into Harriet, fellow Garak devotee and fan of all things Andy Robinson. The panel was the usual... is there too much violence, is it incompatible with the Roddenberry vision etc. etc. We more or less decided that even if you stuck to the limitations of the question, we could show that it wasn't. There's nothing very remarkable in that, but what was lovely was that Neth, aged about fourteen, arrived with her incredibly switched on dad Mark (who of course never watched the programmme ) and for the first twenty minutes she didn't say a word, and then she found her feet a bit and pretty soon you were hard pressed to get her to shut up. She talked about how great it was to get positive feedback about fanfic etc etc and it was just so FAB, you know?
Paul and I went to both of René's Q and A sessions, and since I couldn't take notes, I'll just post the bits that appealed to me the most and that'll have to do cause its my report anyway . I should say here that both René's Q an A sessions were preceded by a sweet montage of clips, which was soundtracked by the song, "Bend me Shape me" (sample lyric "You can make this beggar a king, a clown or a poet"). Only fans would think to employ that kind of gentle scrutiny, and it did my heart good. I mean they could have used Holst or (horror of horrors) Fat Larry's Band or something but they didn't and it was just sooo right.
René was "candid" when discussing con appearances, and said that now he only really likes to do events like Nexus. At some point he also said that Colm Meaney lived up to his name and drove René and Armin mad because he was always late in arriving at the studio and then sat there moaning when René and Armin had been waiting around for hours.
Paul asked René how long he'd been given to prepare for the Chicago Hope episode (wherein René gives a truly epiphanous performance as Walter Kerry, a cardiac surgeon with Tourette's Syndrome) René asked how many of the audience have seen it, then started in to an explanation and said "…I don't want to call it a disease."
Me: "It's a condition"
René: "a neurological condition…"
Then he went on to demonstrate the kind of tics and movements that can occur in a person, and says how tiring it was and how much he wanted to get it right. He had five days to prepare, for goodness sake, and think what he does! René told us that the producers/directors had sent him a tape of a programme called "Twitch and Shout" which featured six case studies which he had playing nonstop for hours… René told us that he considers Chicago Hope to be among his best work ever, and thanked us for asking the question.
There were a couple of questions about Coco, and René was especially interested when audience member Lorraine asked if David Holliday had been in the same production.
René said something like, "Yes, he did, and you're the second person to ask me that, why don't you tell us who he was?"
Lorraine: "He was the voice of Virgil Tracy in Thunderbirds."
René also talked about Coco in respect of Katherine Hepburn, and the not very good director who was always stopping an eager René from trying out new ideas:
René dropped effortlessly into the accents of Katherine Hepburn: "Don't make him stop, he's the most interesting thing on the stage!"
René's way with voices amazes me, likewise the "This microphone's not working" routine, as often as I've seen it done before, René's turn was special.
René mentioned me by name (!) when someone asked him what he thought of fanfiction, "In fact we have a poet here now, Sharon…" is what he said - and René once again praised the intelligence and creativity of Trek fans as compared to other folks who greet him in the supermarket with:
René (dropping into voice that is part Wayne's World, part Boo Boo): "Hey Man, I saw you in Police Academy Five. You rocked!" This is truly hilarious.
René was also asked if he'd like to do another Frasier episode and I'm sure he said he would like to, since Tewkesbury had just got involved with Roz, but he was uncertain as to what was going on with the SAG potential strike (I thought I heard later on the World Service that everything was now sorted).
René got into something of a pickle when he was asked what Trek and non-Trek items he'd take to a desert island (this being a reference to the BBC Radio Four's Desert Island Discs). I think René decided that Kira wasn't an object! He was on altogether safer ground when he said he'd also take a CD player full of the Beatles. This I love, since if ever there was an Odo/Kira track, it's "Here, There, and Everywhere" from Revolver.
When it came to the auction on Saturday, René bought some very special items. He donated five presskits, a "Nobody knows I'm a changeling" shirt, and (this will wake everyone up) René auctioned off his DS9 audition script! René's items alone raised approximately £650 ($900), every penny of which went to Leukaemia Care (www.leukaemiacare.org.uk).
He said he wasn't at all sure about parting with the audition script, so it had better raise lots of money. René read aloud from the cherished pages, and scolded the guy at the back who shouted for him to read in the voice of Odo.
Bidding got off to a good start and got higher and then a bit higher and I'm not going to say what it went for because Paul and I bought it to give to somebody else. We then went to put a down payment (since we needed more cash from the bank) and René was sitting at a table and said, "I've told them they can trust you" René wrote his own message in the inside cover of the script.
In Sunday's auction, René told folks they'll have to bid higher for the bucket he's autographed if he's not to sing Chef Louis, but then he sang anyway to real applause.
I'm starting to lose track now, but I think this was when the last autograph session was held.
We stayed for the closing ceremony, this included a "play" which was very funny but to me made about as much sense as Dennis Hopper enrolling as a Starfleet cadet. It was a DS9/B7/Doctor Who crossover! From what I could gather, Odo's incompetent deputies had arrested the Doctor for smuggling people into the TARDIS on the Promenade. René refused to say his lines whilst eating a jelly baby, Sylvester burped, René threw confetti about and did a Dirty Harry impression (!) then Sylvester and René and the by now especially florid Gareth Thomas read out raffle ticket numbers, with René saying "Bill stay still!" (this to a guy with a disability who wasn't best pleased at the thought of having to schlep it over to the prize table on a pair of crutches) Bill in fact went on to win the pub quiz, and each time he heard his name read out he expended a lot of energy in getting to his feet, only to have everyone tell him to sit down again. (Why must able bodied people do this? Answers on a postcard please!) The limerick competition went on for far too long and Sylvester brought the house down (when he collapsed in mock embarrassment at his own swearing, this I couldn't see but Paul says "René loved that!") Each guest received a present from MC Laurie and we all went home.
Photos by Paul Hancock
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