On Stage At Calgary Expo's TNG Reunion
It was Sunday, January 29, when the world was told that the principal cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation would soon land in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, for an extraordinary 25th anniversary reunion -- actually, the only one of its kind planned anywhere in the world. When tickets went up for grabs three weeks later and sold out in less than 24 hours, the Calgary Expo team knew they had created something momentous.
During this last weekend, April 27-29, over 50,000 fans flocked to the BMO Centre on the grounds of the Calgary Stampede to converge on Western Canada’s second-largest comic expo. Many of the fortunate few were humming with excitement about what they were about to experience at 7:00 p.m. Saturday night during TNG: EXPOsed.
The stage, set with three leather couches and three moderator chairs, looked cozy despite its size. The crowds poured into the venue and enjoyed the live jazz music performed by Johnny Summers’ Little Big Band. They were hyped for the experience. Backstage, staff, technicians and volunteers were putting last-minute elements in place to ensure everything went off without a hitch.
Emily Expo, content manager and special events coordinator for the Calgary Expo, served as the Calgary Expo’s mascot and host of the evening. She recalls some of the highlights:
The hallway behind the arena was relatively empty compared to the main auditorium where 5,000 people converged together. I paced this hallway, reviewing my notes, rehearsing my lines and preparing for the inevitable “anything” that could happen on stage. I made my way to the backstage area, observing the busy production staff, reminding myself that amidst the flurry of excitement we were all here for one reason—to celebrate a television show that has changed lives for people all around the world.
The moments both flew and crawled by – although I’m not sure which, and I stepped onto the stage to take my role as the MC, forgetting my nerves and remembering my desire to see these 5,000 people experience an event that would be unforgettable. I stood there, a lone woman in front the blinking of camera flashes and the hollers of electrified fans, and the evening began. Sponsors were thanked, volunteers were acknowledged, and gratitude was given to guests, agents and attendees.
So far so good.
Next, I invited Star Trek: Voyager’s Garrett Wang to the stage. Personable and funny, he regaled the audience with his experience with TNG and how, without TNG, he may never have ended up on Voyager. It was a humorous glimpse into both shows and Garrett’s presence resonated with a profound respect for the franchise, which translated into hilarity and veneration.
Also included in the line-up was Star Trek director of photography veteran Marvin Rush, who poignantly spoke of how we, as a generation, are living in the age of Star Trek. His words eloquently captured the all-too-true observation that Star Trek has facilitated changes in science and technology. A powerful and thoughtful speech, it certainly did justice to Gene Rodenberry’s vision of a utopian future.
Following Mr. Rush’s address was a video montage of various celebrities that were interviewed about TNG. Although the 18-minute-long video was lighthearted and funny for the most part, Robert Picardo spoke movingly of the secret to Star Trek’s long lasting success: Hope. It was a moment that was nothing less than stirring as the audience demonstrated their agreement with applause and cheers.
During intermission I found myself backstage, this time feeling a buzz of energy now that the nine cast members, the hosts from InnerSPACE, production crew and volunteers were all there, waiting with anticipation. There was a slight panic as Jonathan Frakes disappeared into the audience to check out the jazz band performing on stage, but apart from that brief moment of anxiety, I felt strangely at ease, knowing that something wonderful was about to take place.
I conversed briefly with the three moderators: Teddy Wilson, Ajay Fry, and Cynthia Loyst, from InnerSPACE, and made sure to take note of a darling couple, Cameron White, 33, and Megan McLauchlin, 31, both dressed in Starfleet uniforms, who got engaged moments before in front of fans and volunteers.
Finally – the time had come. The music faded, I was given my cue, and onto the stage I went. I introduced our talented moderators and proceeded to escort each of the cast members out onto the stage along with event director Kandrix Foong.
Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe the flow of the evening. Gates McFadden and Denise Crosby danced their way onto the stage; Michael Dorn, Brent Spiner (who grabbed me to dance on stage to the beat of the music), and Patrick Stewart were nothing short of charming. LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Wil Wheaton and Jonathan sauntered into view, encouraged by the roaring cheers of the sold-out auditorium.
The panel commenced, inciting both laughter and nostalgic recollections. Memories of bloopers and pranks aside, tears emerged when Wil spoke about his feelings on leaving the show. He admitted to regret over his departure, that he felt ashamed to visit them on set, and even to invite them to his wedding. The crowd hushed. It was clear this moment had touched everyone in the building. He added that being with them all again, “felt like coming home,” a statement that warranted a hug from a tearful Marina Sirtis and other cast members reaching over to hold his hand in reassurance.
The panel included a few surprises, including an appearance by Canadian actor Aaron Douglas (who played Galen Tyrol on Battlestar Galactica and is great friends with Wil Wheaton). Douglas joked with Wil about a scientific question on neutrinos, much to the surprise and delight of the cast and the audience.
The highlight of the panel discussion was an astonishing appearance by one of Star Trek’s best-loved characters, “Q” portrayed by John de Lancie. Our team had arranged for him to be a surprise guest, unbeknownst even to the cast. When our guest moderators asked the cast to name the best enemy on the show, Patrick identified Damon Bok (Frank Corsentino), the bitter Ferengi leader, as the prime pain in the side. As an invisible voice came over the loudspeaker protesting Stewart's choice, the cast recognized John’s voice as he rekindled the famous line “I’ve got a delivery here for a Jean-Luc Picard.” The audience came to its feet again as John walked through crowd, up to the stage, and handed Sir Patrick a bouquet of orchids.
I found myself feeling the sting of tears in my eyes, as I observed the deep-seated love these people had for one another. The term “cast reunion” does not properly exemplify what I observed on stage. This, more accurately, was a family reunion.
The panel drew to a close, with Wil thanking the organizers and volunteers for making it all happen, LeVar thanking Calgary for the gracious hospitality and for the effort to bring the cast together in such a unique city and setting. The moment left the fans, staff and volunteers feeling an innate sense of pride about what had happened on this night, here in Calgary.
In a discussion between Wil Wheaton and InnerSPACE’s Cynthia Loyst, Wil said, “I’ve been looking forward to this reunion. When we were done we walked off stage and I cried my way to the car.”
Jonathan Frakes, in an interview also with InnerSPACE, stated, “It’s been very emotional. Things creep inside your heart and behind your eyes.”
My breath had effectively been taken away and I savored every second of the evening’s festivities; from positive comments from the cast regarding the artfully put together Souvenir Guide given free to attendees, to the kiss on the hand I received from Sir Patrick. This was truly an event of epic proportions and I feel nothing but sincere honor, pride and a certain measure of satisfaction to have been a part of it.
Signature moments and funny quotes from the evening:
When questioned about the one thing the cast wanted to do on TNG but never got the chance, Sirtis responded. “I know, I know. Troi has an affair with Jon Bon Jovi.” Stewart replied, “Thought she did.”
Denise Crosby walked on stage wearing a Calgary Flames NHL toque (knitted winter cap), cheering for Calgary to the great applause of the mostly Alberta-based crowd.
After a fan yelled out “I feel sick!” to McFadden, she responded with “I’ve got my tricorder. Come to my room. After much laughter, Stewart stated, “That is what Jean-Luc wanted to hear Dr. Crusher say.”
After receiving flowers from Q (John de Lancie), Stewart took the orchids from the package and gave a flower to each cast member, kissing the women on the lips, the men on the cheek. After he sat down, McFadden got up, took each flower from the cast, and gave each a kiss. She stopped at Stewart, and held a kiss with him for several seconds, much to the delight of everyone.
After Wil had confessed missing his cast mates on set after leaving the show and that the reunion felt like coming home, Burton piped up: “You were a pain in the ass, but you were our pain in the ass.”
The group commented on the bravado of Frakes, who was willing to do off-the-wall stunts such as eating mealworms made of Metamucil and black printer’s ink as well as jumping into black slime. Sirtis chimed in: “Johnny was amazing. He ate stuff and did stuff that none of us would have done.” Burton added, “And he slept with stuff.”
Stewart commented about his famous derriere scene, which he kept quiet from the rest of his cast. Marina Sirtis commented: “If I had known, I would have been there with my camera, and those shots would have been on my table this weekend.”
When asked about unforgettable and somewhat unglamorous moments on the set, Michael Dorn piped up about a scene of Stewart and himself crawling through dirt on a backlot at Paramount. “Patrick and I were having this moment where he was being tortured,” he said. “We were crawling through dirt on a sound stage. And at Paramount, we had a lot of (wild) cats. All of a sudden, it’s late and we’re between takes. I look over, and he just starts laughing uncontrollably. He says to me ‘I don’t know how I got here. I was in a seminar in Santa Barbara, and the next thing I know I’m crawling around in cat sh-t.’”
Sirtis said she’s impressed with those who have been inspired by their characters—some becoming engineers, doctors and psychologists. “It’s the biggest tribute you could give to us,” she said. McFadden added that the full impact of their roles as influencers was when she connected with the commander of the space shuttle, a huge fan of the show. Stewart added his moment was communicating with International Space Station Captain Frank De Winne, who showed Stewart a photograph from space of the crew dressed in Starfleet uniform.