I had never been to a convention before in my life. In my opinion, conventions were for Trekkies, not for people like me who had always liked Star Trek but would not dream of learning Klingon or dressing up as a Vulcan. However, the chance of getting to meet René was too tempting and so I found myself on the way to Collectormania in Kensington Olympia!
Unfortunately, my night had been rather short and therefore I could not seem to remember that there was more than one train station in Streatham--I got off at the wrong stop and spent one rather chilly hour on various platforms hopping about to keep warm before I finally arrived at Collectormania. There was a big queue but I did not have to wait for very long because I had arrived much later than planned. Meanwhile, I chatted with a lady who was into rock'n'roll. I loved her enthusiasm and began to relax a bit. The venue was smaller and less crowded than I had imagined and, to my surprise, most people looked rather normal. There were only a couple of fans who had dressed up as characters from Trek, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and other films and shows. I went to look for René and found him on the second floor, signing photos. There was not a big queue but I was not ready to approach him yet so I looked at the stands for a bit. After pretending to browse through the items at one stand near René's table for about the tenth time, I pulled myself together and joined the queue before the vendor lost it with my faked interest in his wares.
Finally, it was my turn! I took a deep breath, introduced myself, and shook René's hand. I told him I actually was a dramaturge but due to the minimal demand for dramaturges in the UK I was currently working as a (feared) theatre critic. That got his attention! We talked about theatre, and René admitted that he had not done a lot of Shakespeare but he had played Edgar in King Lear some years ago. (The production is available on DVD at www.amazon.com). René also mentioned that he was hoping to do a play in Washington next autumn--Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme. I said that Washington was quite a way from London but that I would try to come see it. There were other people waiting, so I got my picture taken with René and said goodbye, with the firm intention of returning later.
I met a lot of interesting characters at the convention--Jedi Knights, the Alien, the Predator, R2D2, Klingons, and Lady Fox, who kindly let me take her photograph and then gave me a big hug. How nice! Darth Vader stopped right in front of me and expected me to tremble with fear. However, it is not too easy to scare somebody who shared her bed with a glow-in-the-dark pirate skeleton doll when she was a kid. Perhaps he should have brought his light sabre?! One passerby made a rather disparaging remark and Darth Vader quickly moved on. I did not try for any more autographs but I did go to talk to Stephen Pacey, who had given such a great performance as Victor Fleming in the hilarious Moonlight and Magnolias at the Tricycle Theatre--a play about the hectic rewrite of Gone With the Wind. Neither of us could understand why the production had not been transferred to the West End--audiences loved the show! Thankfully, Stephen is going to be in a new play at the Old Vic quite soon--Six Degrees of Separation. When I later asked René whether he would not like to do a play in London he replied that he would love to if he got the chance. I hope he does. We are deprived here because we cannot see René on stage! I will have to write to Kevin Spacey about it. After all, he is inviting American actors to his theatre all the time!
My second meeting with René was longer and we discussed a variety of subjects. I am afraid that I did most of the talking because I was so nervous, although there really was no need to be. René is a genuine person; there is no pretense. He is very kind and warm and makes you feel welcome. We talked about DS9, acting in computer games, politics, Texas--where I lived for a while--and many other things. It is very difficult to tear yourself away from him--you feel there is so much more to talk about--and you really do not want to leave because René is so genuinely nice and relates to you as an individual person. I did leave eventually because I noticed that he was getting rather tired and could use a break.
On the next day, I got tickets for the Star Trek talk right away and then sat down to queue for good seats. (The first four rows were reserved for gold pass members.) The talk included René, George Takei, and Chase Masterson. I asked the first question--"Have you seen the new Star Trek movie and if so, did you like it?" René admitted that he had not seen it yet. However, his kids had gone to school with Chris Pine and he had known him since he was a young "shrub"! George loved the new Star Trek movie because "I look so young in it!" Somebody wanted to know if they would accept a part in the next Star Trek movie if it was offered to them. Nobody would say no to that.
One member of the audience inquired what actor they had most enjoyed working with. This is one of the most dreaded questions because if you reply and name one colleague, the others will feel hurt, so it is better not to say anything at all. No answer to that one. Another question concerned the influence of the actors on the script in Trek. Obviously, their input was rather limited. René said one had to stick to the text, there was no room for improvisation--one had to be letter perfect. What other character would they play in Star Trek if they could not play their own? George went for the young Sulu in the new film. René chose Chief O'Brien because the character did not require a lot of make up. Whereas Armin and René endured eternal make up sessions, Colm Meaney stopped by briefly, got some powder on his face, and dashed out. When they did the episode which required them to change into Klingons, Colm kept on complaining about the long hours which he would have to endure for a whole week! Eventually René and Armin told him to just shut up. A fan wanted René to tell a funny story about Armin. René managed to avoid answering the question altogether, but somebody else volunteered a story about how Armin drove off in his Quark make up during an earthquake and scared a lot of innocent people half to death.
Were they content being identified with Star Trek or did they feel resentment? René had no problem with his taking part in Trek. Actually, he had expected not to be recognized anyway because he was wearing a mask. But obviously Odo looked too much like René--it was René's face without the wrinkles!--so no luck there. However, René did not think it affected his career. George Takei stated that the only person having an issue with Star Trek was Leonard Nimoy, who had written a book called I Am Not Spock, years later followed by another book titled I Am Spock! George sensed an identity crisis there. (I know for a fact that Leonard denies that.) Why was Star Trek still so successful? Everybody seemed to agree that this was due to its optimism, the hope for a better future.
After the talk, I went to see René again. I had purchased a piece of clothing from a lady who sold t-shirts and sweatshirts with unique designs. Mine was a black hoodie with a bright green dinosaur printed on it going "Rah!" I loved it--and so did René! I told him that I had bought it to get into the spirit of the convention and René smiled. I then gave him some "Lebkuchen," which is a special treat we have in Germany for cold winter nights, a bit like gingerbread but with a lot of different spices. You usually have it with mulled wine--"Glühwein." It is a Christmassy fare really; my friend sent a lot of it for my birthday and I decided to share it with René and his team. He would not accept it at first, but when I assured him that I could not eat all of it by myself he was very pleased. When he did my drawing of Odo's bucket he added, "Thanks for the cookies." I then proceeded to take some pictures for the website. René got ready and I tried taking a photo but it did not work--I had not switched on the camera! I told René that I would try again with the camera switched on and he responded: "That might help."
I did not want to say goodbye at all but I felt it was time and I promised to see him in Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme next year, even if it meant swimming all the way to America! René smiled and told me to make sure to stop by after the performance.
What a great weekend! It was wonderful meeting René--I miss him already!--but I also enjoyed encountering all the other nice people at the convention. If I had known that conventions were so much fun I would have gone before. I felt that I had come home. Perhaps I am a Trekkie after all!