Fans from around the four Quadrants descended on the beautiful Westin O'Hare in the Windy City yesterday for Creation Entertainment's annual Official Star Trek Convention. There was a huge buzz preceding the event, as it would offer an exclusive TNG 25th anniversary event featuring the seven lead actors of the groundbreaking series as well as reminiscences celebrating the 20th anniversary of DS9.
Friday morning as the show opened, fans were immediately treated to a sprawling set of vendors areas, spread over several meeting rooms and foyers. This reporter marveled at the wealth of rare Trek collectibles, original and fine art prints, intergalactic paraphernalia, apparel, books, magazines, models, toys, Tribbles and autographed and matted collages of sci-fi and Trek shows and characters.
The Westin has recently undergone a $20 million renovation and is looking magnificent in both its public areas and guest rooms. The main theater in the hotel's Grand Ballroom was no exception and fans rushed in as it opened to the sight of an expansive stage area, beautifully lit and adorned with theatrical velour, LED lighting and multiple video imagery/projection. Soon Creation Co- CEO Adam Malin came on stage, and in obvious high spirits and energy welcomed everyone to the show. Malin, a self-confessed fan boy, was clearly excited by the prospects of an amazing weekend chock full of guests, contests and activities. First guest on deck, he introduced Jeff Combs, one of Trek fans’ favorite actors who, amongst several roles, is famous for the notorious Weyoun, the Vorta from DS9, and Shran, the conflicted but noble Andorian from Enterprise.
Combs, looking fit and happy, reflected on the differences between film and TV work. When first asked to audition for Weyoun without makeup or costume, he replied that it's like the first day of school with a test. You don't really have a frame of reference and therefore you have to synthesize and show gusto to make strong acting choices from the get go. That confidence helps sell them on you. On Chicago: he did early work in regional theaters here. He is a fan of sci-fi and original Star Trek because the genre examines the human condition in an imaginative way. He felt Roddenberry used the Klingons to represent the Soviet Union and the Romulans the Chinese during the Cold War. He says horror found him, not the other way around. He was doing a play in LA and a casting director recommended him for Re-Animator, being directed by a Chicago native, Stuart Gordon. The rest is history. Jeff also delivered a spot-on imitation of Bill Shatner. Jeff left the stage to a rousing applause.
Next up was sociology professor and Trek scholar John Tenuto, who presented a wonderful slide presentation on the making of “Space Seed,” which included rare archival shots of Ricardo Montalban from his life and the filming of the classic Trek episode. Originally, Carey Wilber, a writer for Lost In Space, submitted an 18-page treatment for the episode. In it, everyone thought Kirk was dead, but Spock was able to sense, using his "peculiar powers," that the captain was still alive. We see that the original concept evolved considerably over several script writes/rewrites. It was Joseph D'Agosta who thought of Ricardo Montalban for the eventual Khan role. They needed a guy who could pull off romantic, intellectually and physically imposing. John showed a remarkable a photo of Ricardo as a baby (Spanish parents in Mexico). He was the first Hispanic actor featured on the cover of Time Magazine. We were blown away by a photo of a memo from Lucille Ball congratulating Gene Roddenberry on season one getting picked up for a full season.
Next up, DS9's favorite cadet, Nog, a/k/a Aron Eisenberg, came on stage to talk about his career and his role on the show. Aron opened by praising the new J.J. Abrams Trek film. On getting the role of Nog, he reflected on how he looked much younger and was therefore able to play a young man. Casting Director Ron Surma asked him to research Ferengi to prepare for his audition. He faced a ROW of producers and directors including David Livingston. Fortunately, he had read the script ahead of time. He read for them twice and got the role. He likes the way Klingons fight and thinks they would be good on hockey teams! He enjoyed playing baseball on the wonderful DS9 episode “Take Me Out To The Holosuite.”
Following Aron, scribe Morgan Gendel spoke about the making of his landmark TNG episode “The Inner Light.” As a freelance episodic TV writer, he pitched the concept that a probe could beam an entire experience into your head, in this case Picard's. It was the actual memories of another society into which Picard was implanted. The recurring motif of the episode, the Ressikan flute, formed the motivic kernel of Jay Chattaway's gorgeous “Inner Light Suite,” an orchestral work beloved by Trek fans. The episode also featured an appearance from Patrick Stewart's son, Daniel. Perhaps most memorable is the moment of realization when Picard's 98-year-old counterpart recognizes that he has been the instrument of revelation for the lost civilization. An incredibly emotional moment and an incredibly wonderful performance from Sir Patrick.
After Morgan it was time for the appearance of two Trek favorites, Casey Biggs (Damar of DS9) and Vaughn Armstrong (Admiral Forrest of Enterprise). Much to the audiences' delight, the two performed some numbers from their music project The Enterprise Blues Band. They also answered questions. When told his character Damar would be killed by a generic alien (Jem’Hadar), Casey asked that at least he end up in the arms of someone he could have an exchange with. It ended up being Andy Robinson. Vaughn evidently was on an episode of Quantum Leap playing the father of Donald Trump opposite Scott Bakula. Twelve years later, Bakula remembered him when they first met on the Enterprise set.
Next up was the first of Creation's famous No Minimum Bid Auctions. Host Adam Malin blew us away with some unique items that went for great prices, including a set of wine bottle labels from Picard's vineyards (original production art), an Enterprise shooting script autographed by Scott Bakula, an original gold Mr. Spock liquor decanter, and a stage banner that would ultimately be signed by all the attending celebrities.
Following the auction was Max Grodenchik, the witty actor who played Rom on DS9; he started as a Ferengi on TNG. Turns out Max and Armin Shimerman both tried out for the role of Quark, and met on the Paramount lot after their respective auditions. Max has moved to Austria to be with his Austrian wife, but reflects nostalgically on his character. The makeup application (if only one artist was working) started at about 3 hours, but by season 3 they had it down to about 2 hours. Sometimes it took as many as four makeup artists to get the job done in the time frame they had. The glue of the appliances helped stiffen his face, which in turn helped to physically inform his creation of the Rom persona. Then Max launched into a couple of his hilarious song parodies, starting with "Rom DMC,” an amazing rap styling. One standout was his unveiling of a new tune, “Autographitis.”
The final celebrity of the day was Chase Masterson, who actually came out at the end of Max's segment to sing “I Got Two Babes” (to the tune of “I Got You Babe”) with Max and TNG script coordinator Lolita Fatjo. Dressed elegantly in a sequined dress and looking beautiful, Chase didn't disappoint. On attending her first convention, she discovered that some fans didn't recognize her. Garrett Wang and Jonathan Del Arco were in an acting class with her when she tried out, successfully, for DS9. Avery Brooks recognized her from a NordicTrack infomercial. On relationships with Bashir vs. Rom: she felt coupling with Bashir was too much Barbie/Ken style, and the comic possibilities of Leeta/ Rom would have a much better impact on the show. Her hunch turned out to be right. Her role became more enduring than she had expected. Chase also has experience in musical theater and loves the genre. She has been the lead in shows like Oklahoma.
A couple of bonus features concluded the day: first off, Richard Arnold, Gene Roddenberry's longtime assistant, offered a fascinating look at the making of DS9 on the celebration of the 20th anniversary. Using rare archival images, Arnold wowed the audience with shots showing the evolution of the look of the characters. Some factoids: Alexander Siddig is Malcolm McDowell's nephew. Michael Westmore hand painted Terry Farrell's Dax spots every day. Bob Justman came up with the idea of bringing a Klingon onto the bridge, i.e. Worf. Four days after her departure from DS9, Terry landed her role on Becker. Aron Eisenberg appeared in 47 episodes, Max Grodenchik in 37, and speechless Morn (Mark Allen Shepherd) in over 90 episodes! Jeff Combs was in 32 episodes as various characters. Vaughn Armstrong holds the record for playing the most characters on the various Trek incarnations: 16!
Last event of the day was the Creation game show format Star Trek Trivia: Yes/No. Host Adam Malin led dozens of audience contestants through some challenging trivia questions and awarded hundreds of dollars in cash prizes. And with that, Day One was complete, with the crowd energized in anticipation of the arrival of the TNG cast on Saturday.
Be sure to visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow for a recap of Saturday’s events.
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