Las Vegas, Nevada
Thursday, August 9 - Sunday, August 12, 2007
by Lynne Transue, Talia Myres, Marguerite Krause, and Linda Burnett
Creation held its annual big Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas on August 9-12. I went on August 11 because Creation announced that this was to be "Deep Space Nine day" and that René Auberjonois was expected as a guest this day. Other Star Trek personnel included Nana Visitor, Marc Alaimo (Gul Dukat), Casey Biggs (Damar), Andrew Robinson (Garak), Avery Brooks (Captain Sisko), Penny Jerrald Johnson (Kasidy Yates), and Cirroc Lofton (Jake Sisco). Also featured that day were Jonathan Frakes (Commander Riker), Brent Spiner (Lt. Data), Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway), and Brannon Braga.
The announcement was especially exciting for me as I have been a René Auberjonois fan for a long time and the convention was going to be held in my own backyard (I am currently a Las Vegan). I hadn't seen Rene since June 2006 in Los Angeles when I attended the Selected Shorts reading he gave and I also saw him perform as Emcee at the MacGathering's version of "Jeopardy."
Up until this weekend, I have never seen so many people gathered together for a Star Trek convention. I had always been told that Grand Slam and Las Vegas were two of the biggest conventions in the United States for Star Trek fandom, but my imagination never pictured a con on such a grand scale. I arrived at the Hilton Friday afternoon and was instantly buffeted by Starfleet personnel, Klingons, and the occasional Andorian as soon as I entered the northeast entrance where the Star Trek Experience is housed. It was quite entertaining to watch men and women in business suits walk by and then do a double-take as an equally professional-looking Admiral in Starfleet red passed them. Seeing the amazing, detailed costumes that fans display is an experience. While some are relatively basic, most exhibit an amazing caliber of design. They are truly stunning, and it becomes even more stunning when you realize that most are hand made! It wasn't uncommon to see several people cycle through various costumes throughout the day, either!
I'll confess to being completely oblivious to the many famous folks who passed by, but fortunately, my traveling companions were kind enough to let me know that "Nichelle Nichols just passed you" and "there's goes Marc Alaimo!" Talk about rubbing elbows. These great men and women of Trek were out and about milling with the crowd, not at all shy to be surrounded by legions--and I do mean legions--of adoring fans.
Saturday was the main event for my money--seeing René and Nana on stage together. The last time I'd been fortunate to see these talented people together was February 14, 1999 in Champaign, Illinois. I know several of you guys out there got to see that stunning performance along with me. But for those of you who have never had the opportunity to see these two interact together, let me tell you that it's definitely a treat! The camaraderie and evident affection they have for one another is easily discernable. These two people genuinely like each other and it came across to the fans as they went back and forth filling the audience in on what they've been doing during the past few years--Nana working on the series Wildfire and René on Boston Legal, though he'll be scaling back some during the upcoming season.
The Barron convention room where the Q & A sessions took place was massive and literally filled with wall-to-wall people. Once every seat was filled, people lined up against the back wall to watch and listen to their favorite actor. It was unbelievable. Because the room was so large, two projection screens flanked the stage where the actors spoke. This was great, as it allowed those us of us not fortunate enough to get the VIP tickets an opportunity to still see the celebrities as they interacted with the crowd.
There are bound to be far better recounts of the great Q&A session than this, so I'll gloss over and simply point out that both the actors and audience had a good laugh when the first five or six questions were all for René. Poor Nana just sat there listening, and then good-naturedly turned to René to ask her own question. The audience loved it!
First on Saturday's program was a Q&A session with René and Nana Visitor. When they first came on stage, they performed the familiar "Odo/Kira" kiss to screams of delight from the audience. They spoke for a few moments as to their current activities and then a Q&A session followed.
One of the questions asked was about Clayton on Benson. René stated that that show just doesn't show well today. I respectfully disagree with Mr. Auberjonois. In this world today of "instant" everything, including DVDs, DVRs, and the Internet, a lot of things in the world seem anachronistic and it is fresh to see something like Benson. There is a simple kind of comedy to it that I find refreshing. The show isn't so sarcastic and the humor isn't so sexually oriented as on a lot of situation comedies today.
After their Q&A session, René and Nana left the stage to sign autographs. The autograph tables were set up in the same large ballroom where the Q&A sessions were taking place. René and Nana each sat at their own tables by the back wall of the room, behind the stage where they had just answered questions, with dark curtains screening them from the view of the audience. Talia and I sat next to René, in front of a spread of photos and cartoons and other items we'd brought from our ORACLE stash of goodies, which we sold to raise money for Doctors Without Borders. People waiting for an autograph formed a long line that stretched back from the tables along the side wall of the ballroom.
The nice thing about this arrangement was that people standing in line were able to watch and listen to the events taking place on stage while they waited. Also, the sound system for the actors doing their Q&As was good enough that it drowned out any sounds of conversation from the autograph area. It was also possible for those of us sitting behind the stage to hear snatches of what was being said on stage, when we weren't talking with the fans standing right in front of us. (At one point, Nana overheard Casey Biggs talking about Kira…read on for Lynne's description of what happened then.)
The main drawback to the arrangement was that the lighting was a bit strange. When the lights in the main ballroom were turned off during a Q&A session, leaving the actors on stage nicely illuminated but the audience area dark, the autograph area also got very dark. René had a light set up behind his back, shining over his shoulder onto the table in front of him, but it cast sharp, black shadows, and of course anytime someone needed to move around behind the table, they would temporarily block the light and make it difficult for both René and Nana to see what they were doing.
After René and Nana left to do their autograph session, next on the docket were Casey Biggs, Andrew Robinson, and Marc Alaimo: The Cardassians of DS9. It was interesting to see the three actors work off each other in the Q&A session.
One question was about Andrew Robinson's authorship of A Stitch in Time about the Cardassian Garak. Mr. Robinson stated that an actor will often explore and create a back story for a character that he is going to play/is playing and that the novel came out of that creativity.
Andrew Robinson is currently head of the Masters Program at The University of Southern California School of Theatre and is busy building a curriculum. He believes that it is important for an actor, no matter how experienced, to go back to their sources and roots of learning his trade. He told the audience that Gates McFadden taught a class in comic movement last year and that she was a "brilliant teacher." He hopes the she will return to teach.
Mr. Robinson stated that Garak was the writer's creation and was a very provocative character. Garak's past needed to remain covered; he was a spy, after all, and loved subtext. There were always undercurrents of tension and dynamism in the character. The writers on DS9 loved to write for Garak and Andrew looked forward to every script. He was in approximately 39 to 40 episodes. The creation of a character in television is a team project. The character is only partially developed for the first script the character appears in; once the actor plays the part, the writers see what the actor brings to the part and start to write the character for the tones the actor provides. Much like music and the instrument that plays it. Thus, the character becomes multi-dimensional because there is a relationship that is developed between the actor and the writers, each supporting the other.
Mr. Robinson stated that the make-up was a "pain in the ass" though and that the makeup originally took four to four-and-a-half hours to apply. At the end they sped up the process to two-and-a-half hours of application, and then one-and-a-half hours. Andrew Robinson did a Shatner impression that was oddly accurate. Mr. Robinson stated that he loved doing Garak.
Casey Biggs told a story about the episode in which Damar dies--he wanted to die in Kira's arms but instead died in Garak's. As he was explaining how tough a lady Kira was, Nana Visitor came on the stage and gave hugs to all of the "Cardassians." Moments later, after Nana had disappeared from the stage, René came running across in front of the stage, waving to his fellow actors.
Casey Biggs (a writer, director, and actor) stated that he is teaching directing in New York and has created a "reality" show that shows his creation of a curriculum for a first-year MFA program in how to be a professional in theatre.
Marc Alaimo stated that the writers loved to think of Gul Dukat as a Nazi, but Mr. Alaimo demanded that there had to be moments that Dukat showed that he was a human being. Marc Alaimo conveyed that he is basically retired. He has gotten the chance to "do it all" and is not seeking work, but will act when requested.
For me, the best part of any convention is getting to sit back and watch René interact with his fans, especially at the signing table when he's raising money for Doctors Without Borders. His line was humongous and snaked around the entire eastern wall of the convention center and then along the back entrance, and each fan was waiting for their moment of "face time" with René. The generosity he shows to each person is amazing, and I know from my own experience, he makes it seem like you're the only fan that matters at the moment, which is an amazing feat when you stop and think about it.
As the line went by the table, the ORACLE DWB team let people know that they could purchase various René memorabilia--particularly the hand-drawn Odo buckets--to support the important charity. I was amazed and impressed by the generosity of the many, many fans who took the time to listen and then contribute to Doctors without Borders. Many times, someone would comment that they'd love to donate because it's such a great charity. And there were several times when donations were made and the René memorabilia refused. There was one young man, who couldn't have been older than 16, who slipped the team a $100 bill and then quickly made his way away before any recognition could be given to him. Aren't Trek fans just absolutely amazing? By the time René worked the entire line, two hours had passed and ORACLE had raised $1,600! What a great way to start the morning!
Toward the end of the autograph session, and again after it was over, René commented that he didn't think he had ever drawn so many Odo's Bucket cartoons in one session, and he was sure that a lot of the credit had to go to Talia. She was the first person fans encountered as they came to the autograph table, and she patiently and cheerfully explained about René raising money for Doctors Without Borders (over and over again as new people came past the table) and described what sort of things they could buy, from photos to bumper stickers to a cartoon personally hand-drawn by René right in front of their eyes. At several points during the morning, René overheard her giving her sales pitch, and chuckled and made admiring comments about her sales skills.
All in all, this was a fabulous weekend. It was nice getting to see familiar faces and meeting new ones. The great thing about ORACLE is the easy familiarity that instantly appears when meeting a fellow member. Even though many of us have only met via the Internet, there's a decided bond and affection for one another. I've said it often, but truly, there isn't a better group out there than ORACLE!
Never Let a Romulan Call Bingo… and Other Tales of the Las Vegas Star Trek Convention
by Linda Burnett
A few highlights of this, the biggest of the Star Trek conventions:
- I didn't get a chance to gamble (that's a good thing.). Oh, except for Borg Bingo, which was great fun, especially caller Malachi Throne, who obviously has never called bingo before. Or played it.
- Getting my photo op with René and Nana, both of whom seemed to be giggling over something René had just said.
- Jonathan Frakes telling us that this year is the anniversary "of the worst career decision ever made by Denise Crosby." Frakes and Brent Spiner were hilarious on stage.
- I loved it when Leonard Nimoy talked about the discrimination large women receive in this country. "It's cruel!" he exclaimed.
- Armin telling the story about asking Wallace Shawn why they didn't get to see the Grand Nagus more. Wallace replied, "Armin, it takes me that long to forget how bad the makeup is!"
- Taking over Quark's Bar with a thousand other Trekkies. And then offering my table to a starving Max Grodenchik as he held his plate, looking for a place to sit.
- New mothers Terry Farrell and Nicole deBoer, going on about their babies. Nicole: "I love it. Except I haven't slept for six-and-a-half months."
- The fan who related a tale of being at Yale with René's daughter, and saying a belated "Thanks for the beer, Odo!" because René had bought a round for the students that night.
- Chase Masterson telling me that she's sorry she never answered my email when I have never sent Chase an email. Seems there's a director's wife with the exact same name as mine.
- Nana admitting that her acting process is sometimes painful. "You have to go to the dark places. I don't know how to pretend."
- Watching Nana perform in front of the Las Vegas Symphony, singing "All That Jazz."
- Hearing Kate Mulgrew on stage. Always eloquent, always surprising. She held the hand of one young woman, making her promise that she won't go to young men. Obviously Kate is living her role in her stage play, Iphigenia 2.0.
- Hearing René talk about his grandson Julian. "It's one of the great miracles of life when your daughter has a child. I'm just ga-ga with love."
Photos provided by Lynne Transue (LT), Jo Beth Taylor (JBT), Linda Burnet (LB), and Michael Krause (MK)
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