Creation Entertainment beamed into Nashville, Tennessee, for their Official Star Trek Convention over the weekend of June 9-10, 2012 at the gorgeous (and enormous) Gaylord Opryland Hotel. This venue, one of the finest hotel/convention center complexes in the entire world, was a suitably grand location for what promised to be an epic weekend. A huge opening line attested to the electricity in the air over the celebration of the 25th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and several of the cast members would be attending and speaking at the show. This was all a prelude, however, to the world celebration planned for Aug. 9-12 in Vegas at the Rio Hotel that Creation has had in development for several years (StarTrek.com will provide complete coverage of that event as well; for more information go to www.creationent.com).
As the show opened fans, were treated to a sprawling vendors area, a testament to the renewed fan energy and interest attracting more vendors back to the Trek marketplace. Gorgeous Trek and sci-fi artwork, rare collectibles, props, a myriad assortment of T shirts, caps, drinkware, as well as a beautiful space sciences exhibition featuring scale models of the International Space Station and other spacecraft, all created a wonderful showcase for attendees.
Activities in the cavernous (and elegant) Presidential Ballroom kicked off with a welcome from Creation Co-CEO (and host for the weekend) Adam Malin. Malin, along with partner Gary Berman, carry the honorable distinction of having produced live genre events for the longest time span of any producers, a whopping 41 years. When asked what sustained his interest, enthusiasm and longevity in the marketplace, Malin responded, "It's simple: I'm a lifelong fan boy. Gary and I have loved sci-fi, and especially Star Trek, since we were kids, and it's been amazing to live out our dreams and be a part of this amazing fan community which has grown into a huge worldwide audience over the years. It's also a validation of the dream of the Great Bird of the Galaxy (Gene Roddenberry): life is beautiful and mysterious, and it's just going to get better for humanity as we move forward and mature." Seeing the diversity of ethnicity, age and gender at this event, one could only agree with that assessment.
First celebrity of the day was John de Lancie, who emerged onto the formal proscenium stage to a rousing welcome. Looking trim and fit, John seemed energetic and positive as he talked about a new documentary he has in development about the reboot of the property My Little Pony. A fan subculture has developed for this, and they call themselves "bronies" (brothers for ponies).
One fan asked if he would like to be omnipotent like Q. He said his kids certainly felt like he acted that way! Yes, he would be glad to be omnipotent, like a benevolent dictator (citing the flawed examples from around the world). Seriously, he would try to make things better. One young man asked an endearing question, which is, if Q has immortal powers, why doesn't he use them for good? John rationalized that Q meant well, but was sometimes misunderstood. Regarding Q as a recurring character, Gene wanted what became the pilot to be the first regular episode, but the studio wanted a 2-hour pilot. So Gene had to create a second half, in which he introduced the character of Q. The character was supposed to be a one-shot, but then after the success of the character, Gene then a decided he wanted to bring Q back from time to time.
John also reflected on his childhood as a true fan of science-fiction films. On having also appeared on Deep Space Nine and Voyager, he felt the best work was when he was philosophical, mainly with Picard. He felt his work with Kate Mulgrew was hampered by the creative decision to have Janeway emotionally aloof from Q. He would have preferred more emotional and sexual tension between the characters. Suddenly, an attendee in a spot-on Q costume emerged on stage, and as John closed his segment the two posed for a great photo op.
Next up, Creation presented a fabulous music video montage to all five Trek casts set to Jay Chattaway's immortal “Inner Light Suite,” a perfect set-up for guest Morgan Gendel, the man who wrote the Hugo Award-winning episode. Morgan presented an entertaining slide presentation about his inspiration for the story. Gendel was followed by Geordi La Forge himself, LeVar Burton, who was greeted with a huge audience welcome. LeVar started by praising the Gaylord Opryland Resort, which was recently rebuilt (to the tune of $200 M) after the devastating Nashville flood. He loves the place, just can't find his hotel room because the place is so huge! Reflecting on his fellow cast members, he mentioned that Marina loves to give the rest of the cast a hard time. He also asked fans to be sure to get Jonathan to do his dance.
LeVar then asked if there were any Reading Rainbow fans in the audience (major screams and applause). He announced the re-launch of the show, as an online subscription service, including books, contests and games. Initially it will launch as a tablet application which can be downloaded for free. It contains hundreds of digital books, done in the Reading Rainbow style, with many interactive features that kids will love. LeVar also revealed he has a new TV series coming on TNT this summer called Perception, co-starring Eric McCormack as a schizophrenic neuroscientist who helps the FBI solve crimes. The show runners were writers from Enterprise. LeVar spoke highly of the show's concept and writing, and urged everyone to watch the show come July.
One young fan asked if it hurt to wear the VISOR. LeVar said yes. She said, precociously, that it was no surprise to her. LeVar noted that it WAS a surprise to him, and uncomfortable. There were actual screws that he had to screw into his temples, where he had pasted magnets. That's how the VISOR stayed on in action scenes!
LeVar also had some harsh words for the current state of education, and shared his vision for a future where no child is left behind in terms of learning and the digital divide is closed. He sees the tablet computer as an important evolutionary step in the right direction. After all, Geordi carried one. He also declared himself "a huge fan of TOS" and science fiction in general. Gene Roddenberry's vision of the future, of infinite diversity and infinite combination (IDIC), inspired him as an African American, as did Nichelle Nichols’ Uhura on the bridge of the Enterprise. He revealed himself to be a huge Jeopardy junkie. He also cited various technology concepts from Trek that are a reality today (in addition to the tablet): Uhura's earpiece (Bluetooth), Kirk's communicator (flip-top cell phone), etc. Finally, he accepted well-deserved applause for his role of Kunte Kinte in Roots and left the stage to a standing ovation.
Next up, a group of scientists, engineers and technology professionals representing the Tennessee chapter of the Space Society offered an interesting and entertaining slide and clip presentation on space science. Fans viewed exclusive imagery from the International Space Station, and clips of the Aurora Borealis, city lights from 200 miles up, and global storm systems. The group brought some amazing pieces on display in the vendors’ room, including a 16-pound meteorite that was 4 billion years old. They paid tribute to deceased scientist/ author Carl Sagan. They also showed some of the benefits of NASA science research in our everyday lives. Fans were also treated to footage of Nichelle Nichols speaking on behalf of NASA, and a recording from Dr. Stephen Hawking was equally inspiring. An interview with Leonard Nimoy as the shuttle Enterprise arrived in New York City was very enjoyable as well. They also covered the SpaceX launch and payload that recently docked at the International Space Station, including a narration from Elon Musk, the company CEO who also created PayPal.
One of the things fans noted throughout the day was the execution of the event: scheduled events running on time, seating for everyone (no one turned away from the theater because of overcrowding, despite the size of the group), and the quality of the meeting space and the friendly professionalism of the Creation staff. That, plus the tremendous diversity of attending talent and presentations, made for a very positive mood and happy attendees.
The day was punctuated by several enjoyable and inspiring Star Trek music videos from the Creation vaults. Afterwards, it was time for Chase Masterson, the perky and enjoyable Leeta from DS9. Ms. Masterson was as lovely as ever. Chase spoke about her tenure on DS9, and her convention experiences. She started in LA in an acting class in which Jonathan Del Arco (Hugh the Borg) and Garrett Wang (Harry Kim) were classmates. The producers of DS9 actually created the role of Leeta for Chase, but they still made her audition for it. At her first convention, she discovered how great Trek fans are. She feels an obligation to give back to her fans in any way she can. Gene Roddenberry inspired her to do charitable work. She also spoke highly of show runner/producer/writers Ira Steven Behr and Michael Piller. Ira wanted to make Leeta and Rom the happiest couple on TV. He felt they could be interesting as a happy couple, as opposed to constantly at war. Chase finished out by singing the song “Pure Imagination,” which the audience loved.
Following Chase, Gene Roddenberry's longtime assistant Richard Arnold offered a wonderful sideshow of behind-the-scenes glimpses from the production of TNG. Many famous personalities visited the set over their seven-year run. Particularly impressive was the quality of the set work, the makeup and costumery, and the production standards overall, to say nothing of the wonderful ensemble. Next up was Sandra Piller, widow of the late Michael Piller, one of the principal creative forces behind TNG, DS9 and the series The Dead Zone. Sandra and her band mate Jane Bach (Nashville Writers Round) performed some wonderful country music songs for the audience, which was met with vigorous applause and support.
Following Sandra, host Adam Malin offered up an entertaining and high-energy No Minimum Bid Auction, which had the audience successfully grabbing great Trek and sci-fi items at a fraction of their retail value in a whirlwind of motion. Some of the notable items included a photo art print signed by all 5 Star Trek captains, an authentic TNG Technical Writers Guide (supplied to everyone who wrote for the show as a sort of technical "bible"), lots of signed sci-fi cast shots from various shows that were exceptional values, and some collectible signed shots of the cast from the last J.J. Abrams Trek film.
The final speaker of the day was Riker himself, Jonathan Frakes. After a rousing chorus of “Volare” with the audience, Jonathan launched into a tirade about how at his first convention he was amazed at how action figures of Geordi, Picard and Worf were going for premium prices (Jon stayed down on the audience floor for most of his presentation). Then, much to his chagrin, he saw a sign saying, "buy any two figures, get a Riker for free!" He complained about Patrick Stewart not attending the show (Patrick had dropped out for work conflicts): when told Patrick was working, he screamed that HE was working, not Patrick! He also continued to savage "Old Baldie" with a series of digs, including an imitation of Patrick's "American" accent for car commercials. He also refers to Stewart as Captain Pecan. He recounted a prank on set where Michael Dorn smashed an egg on Stewart's head (didn't really happen but would have been great if it did)! He recalled Marina, his beautiful Imzadi, and Patrick on set, enduring a bumping ship (they had to rock around like the ship is being hit), and Patrick muttering, "25 years in the Royal Shakespeare Company and now this!"
In one episode, he played Little John, holding a staff made of balsa wood. The stunt coordinator (beware of stunt coordinators named Danger) was holding a metal sword. It shattered Jon's staff, pushing wood shards into his head. Director Cliff Bole said, "Great, that's a take, now get Frakes to the hospital!" He was also proud to say he has been together with actress Genie Francis for 27 years. A precocious young attendee (whom he brought on stage) asked him if after Riker went to Risa (the pleasure planet), this was the normal way things went with women! He answered that although he was no Captain Kirk, Riker did OK! He also praised Armin Shimerman and Michael Dorn for enduring endless hours of makeup. He also mentioned some of his favorite episodes, including “The Best of Both Worlds,” “The Inner Light” and “The Outcast.” One attendee asked who was the best captain, Kirk or Picard. He gave props to Bill Shatner, the "godfather of us all," while giving it to Picard. He mentioned he was directing upcoming episodes of Burn Notice, and ended with a thanks to his TNG cast, as every day he looked forward to going to work with a prepared, wonderful group of professionals. Jon left the stage to a huge standing ovation.
The last event of the day was Creation's famous Costume Competition, a 41-year-old tradition. Almost 50 contestants vied for gift certificates totaling $500. The winners: an amazing Andorian, a stunning Deanna Troi, and a whimsical Capt. Picard's replicator!
It was a fitting fun end to an epic first day at Creation Entertainment's Official Star Trek Convention. Be sure to visit StarTrek.com again tomorrow for a recap of Day 2.
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