and "Cross Our Hearts" show
Sunday, October 2, 2011
reports by Carolin Kopplin, Marguerite Krause, and Lisa Bartelment
There were two very good reasons for me to attend the Creation Con in Chicago--René would be there doing his wonderful show "Cross Our Hearts" with Nana and I'd have the chance to do an interview with Brent Spiner. It also was to be Leonard Nimoy's last ever convention, so there you go--I had to attend the con!
The flight from London to Chicago went really well. I was sitting next to a nice lady from Texas. When she sat down I introduced myself to her: "Hello! My name is Carolin. I will be sitting next to you during this flight." And she responded: "Hello! My name is Diane. I will be sitting next to you, too, unless I get upgraded to first class." We had a fun time together. And we got to see Greenland! Although I've been to America often I'd never seen Greenland before because it was either too dark or overcast. That was really something else!
Brent had said that the convention hotel was in "Offthehighwayville" and he was right. It was near the airport but in the middle of nowhere really. It takes about an hour to get to downtown Chicago. Friday evening was pretty uneventful. My pal Klara and I went to look at the vendors' stalls but there weren't really a lot of them. The vendors' area was quite small actually. Thankfully, there was an Italian restaurant nearby so we had the famous deep dish Chicago pizza. It was more like a pie but really good.
My pal slept in on Saturday but I was out and about--and whom should I meet but Brent! He was getting a cup of coffee and we chatted for a while but I didn't want to keep him. I just wanted to say "hi" and he had to get ready for his signing marathon. And a signing marathon it was. Brent and Jonathan Frakes signed from 10.00 to 19.30, only interrupted by a photo shoot and a talk. I was waiting for the line to grow shorter but it didn't happen until after the photo shoot. Meanwhile I got John de Lancie's autograph. When I went to take it upstairs I met Jonathan Frakes. I held the elevator door open for him and said: "Hi, I'm Carolin." Jonathan replied: "Hi, I'm Jonathan," and he shook my hand. He saw the picture of John de Lancie and said: "That's an old photo. But he still looks really good." I responded: "Not as good as you." He didn't believe me but I meant it. I kept checking on the line but it just seemed to get longer, not shorter. Brent, Jonathan, and John eventually moved to a different place because people were lining up outside and the weather was rather nasty. Klara and I then attended Nichelle Nichols' talk. It was mainly about her career but intriguing.
After the photo shoot with Brent the line did not look that bad so I joined it. I really wanted to talk to Brent. It took a while before he and Jonathan came back because they grabbed a bite to eat before doing more signing and then their talk. I went to Jonathan first to get his autograph. Brent saw me talking to Jonathan and told him: "This is my friend Carolin. She is from Germany." I remarked: "Well, I live in London." Brent insisted: "But you are from Germany. She is a theatre critic and reviews shows every day for free." I said: "Not every day, I couldn't possibly do that. It is fun at least." We talked for a while and Brent said we would do the interview the next day.
Brent and Jonathan's talk was absolutely hilarious. They were introduced as "The Two Merry Pranksters" and we were laughing most of the time. Brent did his Patrick Stewart impersonation again after dealing with a chair that seemed to be coming apart whenever anyone as much as looked at it, let alone tried to sit in it. Then they were singing songs including a tune from Brent's first musical. Brent also did Patrick as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Now I won't have to see it any more. We were laughing our heads off but Brent and Jonathan were in stitches half of the time, too. They should really have their own show. I hadn't laughed that much in ages. Later, I went to get my autograph from Nichelle Nichols. The poor woman signed for five hours. It was my turn at around 22.00. I thought that was a bit much. She was so tired, she could hardly keep her eyes open.
On the next morning my pal Klara and I went to the expensive Celebrity Breakfast. What a joke! The food was all right but we got René and Nana for maybe 5 minutes each before they were shuffled along to the next table. When René joined our table and saw me he smiled and said: "We are old friends." That was neat. René talked about his work schedule for the next few months and asked everybody where they came from. When Nana joined us she asked lots of questions. Both were really nice and really interested in meeting their fans. I briefly talked to René after the breakfast event but he had to rush off to his talk.
René's talk was with Nana and it was fun. I took notes but I was too far away to take any decent photographs.
First René announced that he and Nana would be retiring from conventions. This got a big laugh. Then Nana talked about her new show, Rent. René said he was going to be really busy having to film Criminal Minds on Tuesday, then off to Washington, DC for an event at the Shakespeare Theatre with Patrick Stewart and others, after that an Austin recital about censored literature, followed by a one-man show about Tom Wolfe written by Judith in New York City, then flying home.
When asked what their favourite part of going to conventions was, Nana replied: "The conversations, meeting the fans." René then talked about his first convention following the DS9 pilot.
Somebody asked what song René would pick as a soundtrack for Odo--an "ode for Odo". There already was a Creation Con song called "Bend Me, Shape Me". Then Jonathan Frakes entered, hugging Nana and René. Next a fan asked: "How did you create Kira who is so unlike you?" Nana responded that Kira was not so unlike herself. When she was walking around the block with her Bajoran nose people approached her: "What's wrong with you?" This made her defensive: "It makes you different, it gave me an edge just walking around Paramount." Then somebody asked about King Kong. René stated: "I have no memory left." But he did remember a few things. There were lots of helicopters, a Yellow Bird carrier, and a lot of people. René got a ride in a small helicopter and loved it but another guy who rode with him was terrified.
A question was posed to Nana about 9/11. Nana recalled that Giuliani told people to go back to work. She was working in the theatre at the time, taking her kids along to see scantily clad women. After 9/11 happened, Nana went back to work and left her kids at home. One of Nana's kids now is a Marine in Afghanistan. When asked what got them really excited when they were kids, Nana replied, "The Original Series." René responded: "Elvis Presley and the Stratford Shakespeare Festival." René had to hide his love for Elvis from his parents.
What was their favourite line/scene? René didn't remember, but Nana favoured Kira saying to Quark: "If you don't take your hand off my hip …" Somebody then wanted to know how to get started on a TV show. René didn't really know because the business has changed. Nana replied that your attitude needs to be, "I'm going to act where I can, for whoever I can." The next question was what working with Majel was like. René said to Nana: "You answer that. You make me do all the work." Were they having fun filming DS9? Nana replied that they were very serious actors. René added: "We were a bunch of nervous tic actors stuck on a space station." What was the worst Star Trek episode? René insisted that he wasn't in it. Nana replied: "Heart of Stone. The director told me to look more attractive."
Nana and René agreed that Marc Alaimo was a special case. René said: "Marc Alaimo is in a class of his own. He really took it seriously." Then René explained once more why a mask will not hide but project emotion because you've got your body, your eyes, and your voice and they tell it all. Somebody asked René to sing "Les Poissons" and he did sing part of it. Regarding his voice work as Mr. House in Fallout: New Vegas, René had to admit that he really had no idea what he was doing as he didn't play the games.
What was the difference between work on TV and theatre? Nana replied that on TV you needed to be a sprinter and for the theatre a long-distance runner. René said that for TV and film your focus and concentration was intense for a very short time. In theatre, the rehearsal process helps actors learn their lines: "The play evolves, it just comes. You have to sustain it over a length of time." Somebody mentioned It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia where René was playing an alcoholic teacher. René declared: "I wasn't acting in that one", and added: "It was a funny show, the character was fun to play."
Right after the talk, René and Nana did their performance of "Cross Our Hearts". I really enjoyed that. It was a wonderful show with René and Nana reading poetry and thought-provoking quotes and finally performing a scene from DS9. The auditorium was not really full. Well, people will never know what they missed. But not all Star Trek fans are into the theatre or poetry, I guess.
After the performance, I stopped by Brent's table. He wasn't busy and gave me a big smile so I had to go up to him immediately, and he said we could do the interview there and then, about ten minutes before Leonard's talk. I said, "fine", and ran to the bathroom. Then Brent grabbed a sandwich and we sat down somewhere round the corner. It was his one chance to get something to eat, I guess. The interview went well, although I was almost comatose with jet lag and lack of sleep. You can read the interview at:
http:// www.uktheatre .net/magazine/read/an-interview-with-brent-spiner_1186.html
We talked for over half an hour and I loved talking to Brent for so long. When Leonard's talk started, Brent thought I might leave but I told him that the interview was more important to me, which was absolutely true, although Spock was the first character I ever had a crush on and I was eager to see Leonard Nimoy.
After the interview I went to the remainder of Leonard's talk, which was interesting but not absolutely overwhelming. Then I rushed off to the room party with René. There were only a few people there, and Nana was there as well. It was nice and cozy. Later I went to get René's and Nana's autographs. When René had finished signing he gave me a big hug and I thought that was that. But later, when I was at the hotel's computer in the lobby, writing a message on Facebook, René stopped by to print out his boarding pass and we talked some more. And I got another big hug from him.
The convention was over then and Klara and I were moving to downtown Chicago, away from "Offthehighwayville", to see some sights of the Windy City and to join the crew of a pirate ship. But that is another story.
It was a great pleasure to see René and Nana at the Star Trek convention in Chicago. The trip started out as more of an adventure than we expected, but in the end we had a great time!
Living in the Midwest, my husband Mike and I are used to having to spend several days and fairly substantial sums of money in order to fly to conventions in California, Las Vegas, or East Coast cities to see our favorite DS9 actors. So we were delighted when we heard that Creation was bringing Nana and René to Chicago, within driving distance of our home.
The weather that weekend was very nice for driving: blue skies, mild temperatures, and lots of beautiful fall colors as we passed through the rolling forests and fields of Wisconsin. In fact, it would have been a perfect day, if we hadn't gotten a flat tire on a stretch of rural highway three hours outside of Chicago! A quick phone call to AAA got us assistance in changing our tire and directions to a shop where we could buy a new one….and then the real adventure began. I won't recite all the details, but it took an absurd amount of wild goose chasing on our temporary spare tire before we finally found a shop that could sell us a proper replacement tire, and in the end it was over three and a half hours before we finally had everything fixed and could resume our trip. Fortunately, the rest of the drive was uneventful, and we got to Chicago without further delays.
On Sunday morning, René and Nana started their Q&A session a little after 10:00 a.m. Nana talked about filming a guest star role on the new TV series Grimm, and then she made René rattle off all of the projects he had coming up in the next five weeks, including shooting a guest appearance on Criminal Minds, doing a performance at a fundraising gala for the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, DC, presenting previews of a new play based on the writings of Tom Wolfe in DC and New York, and traveling to Austin, TX to perform readings from the Banned, Burned, Seized, and Censored exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center. After that, they invited audience members to come up and ask questions, and the fans responded by enquiring about a variety of interesting topics, splitting their questions pretty evenly between Nana and René, and often asking both of them to discuss the same subject.
They talked about how nice it had been doing their "Cross Our Hearts" tour and how much they enjoyed working together again on a semi-regular basis. After DS9 ended, they normally had not seen each other very often, but since starting "Cross Our Hearts" they'd gotten to meet up every month or so to perform their readings. They both agreed that it felt odd that this was going to be their last performance, at least for the foreseeable future, and that they were going to miss it.
One fan asked them about their memories of September 11, 2001, and Nana spoke at length about her experience. She was living in New York then, appearing in the musical Chicago, and she described getting a phone call from her son Buster's school that morning, requesting that she come pick him up. Traffic was impossible, so she went running across the city to get to him. Then, the day after the attacks, the mayor requested that all Broadway plays go back to their usual performance schedule, a gesture of defiance to the terrorists. Nana said that, at the time, people had no idea if another attack was imminent, and there was fear that the theatre district around Times Square could be another target. But she went to the theatre as requested, because that was her job. She talked about how difficult it was to do the show, both for the performers and for the small audience, because no one was in the mood for an evening of comedy and music. But the experience made her realize that what she did--being an entertainer--really was important, and had value. People need entertainment, in difficult times maybe even more than in easy ones.
Then Nana pointed out that the little boy she had picked up from school that day was now an adult who had joined the Army and was serving in Afghanistan. The audience responded to that news with a long standing ovation.
A fan asked them to each describe their worst experience as an actor. Both were silent for a moment, but then René pointed out that he knew what Nana's worst experience was on DS9: filming the episode "Heart of Stone." Nana agreed, and described a little of how difficult it had been, trying to act as though she was turning to stone, and how the director complained at one point that the faces she was making were too "grotesque", basically implying that even if she was wanted to convey how horrible her situation was, she still needed to remain "pretty".
Another fan asked them each to talk about "What excites you?" René immediately leaned back in his chair a little and took a long, appreciative look at Nana's lovely legs, which set Nana and the audience laughing.
Toward the end of the Q&A, someone asked them to talk about the charitable work they do, which gave René the opportunity to explain that some of their "Cross Our Hearts" readings would be brief quotations, which he had printed up on nice paper. During the autograph session, people would be able to buy the printed quotes, and Nana had graciously agreed that she would sign them, as would René, and all of the money raised would be donated to Doctors Without Borders.
There was a break after the Q&A, and then Nana and René returned to the stage to present "Cross Our Hearts". This was my first time seeing the performance, and I loved it! It was presented in a casual way, with Nana or René briefly introducing each piece. Some of the readings were the short quotes René mentioned earlier, some were short stories, and some were dramatic scenes. René read a piece ("The Lanyard") in which a man describes making a lanyard as a boy at summer camp and presenting this gift to his mother, and how insignificant that was next to all the marvelous, incomparable gifts of life, love, and support his mother had given him. Nana followed that by reading "To William," a lovely meditation on the parent-child relationship from the mother's point of view.
Nana was captivating in a scene from The Good Doctor, in which she played an aspiring actress auditioning for a gruff director (read by René). Those few minutes provided a perfect example of the fact that good actors don't need props or costumes or fancy scenery to work their magic: Nana created a character and told a story entirely with her presence and her voice. Marvelous!
For their second-to-last piece, they performed a scene that everyone in the audience knew: the first meeting of Kira and Odo from "Necessary Evil." And then they finished with a poem on the subject of endings, and remembering. Before they began, Nana got up from her chair and went to stand behind René's chair, and they explained that she had to read from his script because she'd forgotten her pages. She put her hand on his shoulder and leaned into him, and he turned and wrapped both arms around her waist in a warm hug--and they remained that way as they read the poem. The words of the poem were beautiful and bittersweet, and their embrace fit the mood, and the moment, perfectly.
After "Cross Our Hearts", René and Nana went to pose for photos with fans, and then had a couple of hours to relax before their autograph session, which was scheduled for 4:00. They cut short their break, though, in order to meet with some members of their official fan clubs for a room party. According to the con schedule, this wasn't supposed to conflict with anything except Leonard Nimoy (the "big" guest of the day) doing his photo ops. However, events fell a bit behind schedule, and when the time of our get-together arrived Nimoy was still on stage speaking. But most of us skipped the talk, or ducked out early, in order to attend the gathering; we have our priorities, after all!
The fans at this party were an interesting group. Some of those present have known René and Nana for years, while others were experiencing their first-ever in-person conversation with them. Although I've attended a lot of conventions and room parties over the years, this was my first time being at a room party with Nana--and what a delight it was! Even though I'm sure that several of us were complete strangers to her, she was warm and curious and open with all of us. It was a true pleasure to be able to share some time with her.
The convention was interesting in and of itself, but sitting in that hotel room for the room party was an experience, to say the least!
Personally, it did not bother me that René didn't do a majority of the talking. It felt more "real" to see him just being part of a group and not necessarily the center of attention. That was actually what I did expect. I had not expected to see Nana, but was glad she was there, and I agree that she has an open personality, as well as being really pretty! She seemed quite relaxed around everyone and I was actually pleased that she made an effort to get me involved in the conversation just by asking me where I was from. I didn't talk a great deal among the group, not so much because I am shy, but more because I was really interested in just listening to what everyone was talking about and was just enjoying the flow of the conversation among those people who already seemed to know one another. If I thought there was something I could have really added to the conversation, I definitely would have!
I was glad that I had just a bit of one-on-one time with René at the end. I got to tell him that I was the one who missed out on meeting him three years ago in DC when I came to see his play, The Imaginary Invalid. He was sorry for the mix-up and said he was glad I was there that day. Also, I got to tell him that I loved him in Benson. That's the role I truly associate him with. Yes, I have seen some Odo, and yes I have seen some Paul Lewiston, but to me, he is still (as he says, "that nitwit") Clayton. I am probably the only ORACLE person who can say that! I really wanted to hear his trademark, "Benson, Benson, Benson!" but maybe another time. I did enjoy René's story of how his son Rémy was just 6 when he started that show, and for Halloween in René's first year playing Clayton, Rémy dressed in a three-piece suit with glasses hanging from his neck. When René asked him what he was supposed to be, Rémy replied rather emphatically, "A business man!" He did not admit that he was really dressing as Clayton. That was amusing.
The other Benson-related thing I asked him about was in regards to an answer he gave during the Q&A session earlier, when he commented that for every part an actor plays, there is some part of himself in that character, whether or not he wants to admit it. So I asked him what part of Clayton is part of himself, but I don't think I really got an answer. (I guess he did not want to admit it!). I think I got a laugh from the question, which was just as well. It probably would have gone over pretty well had I asked it during the Q&A session.
Overall, I had a wonderful time and met some really nice people. Thanks to everyone and I am sure at some point I will see you all again.
The final event of the day was the autograph session, which started around 4:30 p.m. I sat next to René at his table while Mike and Mary sat at a nearby table to collect the charity fundraising money. They sold the prints of quotes from "Cross Our Hearts", most of our remaining "Cross Our Hearts, 2011 Tour" t-shirts, and blank paper for fans who wanted one of René's "Odo's Bucket" cartoons. By the time they finished signing, just after 6:00 p.m., Nana and René had raised close to $1,200 for Doctors Without Borders. Mike and I were in our car and on our way home by 6:30, and had a blissfully routine trip home.
That was the Chicago 2011 convention--and I'm already looking forward to my next opportunity to see René and Nana again!
Photos by Carolin Kopplin -- René and Nana stopped to visit with Brent and Jonathan on their way to their autograph session.
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