Star Trek fans awoke to thunderstorms and rain in Nashville, Tennessee, on Saturday, the second day of Creation Entertainment's Official Star Trek Convention, but it didn't matter because inside the gargantuan (and beautiful) Gaylord Opryland Resort, vast climate-controlled atriums filled with exotic plants, trees and flowers promised another perfect day. With headliner William Shatner expected Sunday, the convention was filling up with attendees buzzing about the imminent arrival of the Captain.
Attendees flooded into the spacious vendors area, filled with Trek, sci-fi and genre-related merchandise. In addition to T-shirts, action figures, jewelry, photos, collectors cards and other traditional memorabilia, some beautiful higher-end items were spotted, including beautiful art prints, matted first-edition envelopes/stamps, and autographed cast shots. There were Klingon teddy bears, Tribbles and plenty of hardcover books written by William Shatner.
The programming day opened with a hysterical visit from Max Grodenchik, DS9's own Rom. The stage in the Creation theater was a formal proscenium, with huge "Austrian" curtains that hung down from the ceiling to the foot of the stage. On cue, Max was introduced and the curtains lifted to reveal Max sitting regally in a director’s chair. As self-deprecating as ever, Max proceeded to tear up the audience with his stories and recollections. He recounted his early auditions to be a Ferengi on TNG back in 1990. They were inventing what a Ferengi would be. Originally, they were supposed to be fearsome, nasty creatures, but Max's roommate and brother had other ideas and told him to play the character in a more humorous style. Michael Piller and Rick Berman told him after the audition that they might have jobs for his roommate and brother. He also described a friendly approach from Patrick Stewart, who said that if Max needed anything at Paramount, he should come to him. Patrick slyly said that "I seem to have a little clout around here!" Soon after, word came of a new Trek series, DS9, which would feature a regular Ferengi character. As the legend goes, both Armin Shimerman and Max read for the role of Quark. Although Armin got Quark, they asked Max to come in to play Quark's brother, Rom, right from the first episode. As he evolved the character with the writers, it was a process of making Rom ever more assertive, starting with defending his son (Nog, played by Aron Eisenberg), standing up to his brother, and even unionizing bar workers. Then came Leeta and the love affair with everyone's favorite Dabo girl. Ira Steven Behr (executive producer/writer) also gave Rom his intellect and technical proficiency. Another funny discovery came when Leeta first kissed Rom: actress Chase Masterson planted one right on Rom's cheek, and the makeup stuck to her lips, rendering them orange and rubbery. Max also affectionately referred to his head prosthetic as the "rubber butthead" (the subject of a Star Trek Rat Pack song -- more on the Rat Pack later). Over several seasons the makeup artists got the makeup process down from four hours (entailing a 4 a.m. arrival time on set) to two hours as they streamlined the prosthetics and process. He says the record application was only 51 minutes. Max finished his appearance with a rousing rap-music song "Rom DMC," in which he visualized himself as a gangsta Grand Nagus.
Following Max, makeup wizard John Paladin came on stage and offered a Character Makeup Workshop, in which he took a member of the audience and transformed them into a Klingon. John offered technical but understandable advice and details on the process and techniques. The blending of skin tones in layers over prosthetics is a truly artistic process, but the results were undeniable. Some solutions were low tech: the Klingon's eye brows were actually store bought Lando Calrissian mustache appliqués!
Next up, Vaughn Armstrong came out with a harmonica, slide whistle (which he used to play the famous opening Trek melody of Alexander Courage fame) and ukulele, and as a surprise, brought out special guest Casey Biggs, armed with acoustic guitar. These two fine musicians are part of the Enterprise Blues Band, and they didn't disappoint, launching into their classic "Enterprise Blues." Vaughn's blues harmonica really shined. Then the boys performed an amusing "Red Shirt Boogie Blues," proving once more the unfortunate nature of those doomed to wear the most unpopular color in Starfleet.
Casey beseeched, "Please Mr. Shatner, please don't let me go...!" Finally they performed Vaughn's perennial favorite, "Trekkie Deckie," a Hawaiian-style ukulele number he wrote on one of the Trek cruises bound for Waikiki. The only thing missing was a Mai Tai. Afterwards, Vaughn took some questions from the audience. He noted with some irony that every one of his characters on Trek got killed. Some were surprised to learn that Vaughn had appeared on a couple episodes of Babylon 5. And he had some serious praise for Scott Bakula as the on-set anchor for Enterprise. He also described the high-tech filming process on Enterprise, where film editors composited multiple camera shots in real time, virtually delivering an edited shoot for post production.
After Vaughn departed, Jeff Combs came on stage. Jeff's many and varied characters and performances make him a Trek fan favorite, and he entertained the audience with many fun stories and anecdotes. Although Marc Alaimo (DS9's notorious Gul Dukat) had worked extensively with Jeff as the two-faced Vorta, Weyoun, he didn't recognize Jeff as Brunt, the Ferengi commissioner. Jeff pestered Marc incessantly ("Mr. Alaimo, I love your work!") until Marc was ready to call security, when he revealed himself. "Don't do that again!" Marc bellowed threateningly. On the subject of the many Weyouns, it seems he was originally a secondary character with the focus on the Jem’Hadar, but the writers quickly realized they had gold in the sneering Vorta, but they had killed him! The solution: to clone him. Jeff enjoyed playing different nuances in the different clones. Weyoun was, after all, a corporate middle man. He'd come to visit, saying everything was fine, and then you'd get your pink slip the next day. Regarding Shran, the recurring Andorian commander character from Enterprise, Jeff enjoyed working with Scott Bakula. He recalled a scene involving sharp Bat’leth-like weapons and trepidation that he would accidently injure the leading man. Jeff finished out his presentation by reading one of Edgar Allen Poe's inspired pieces (Jeff is currently on the road with his one-man tour de force "Nevermore," and will perform it at the Las Vegas Official Star Trek Convention in three weeks). He left to a standing ovation.
Following Jeff, Creation opened up their music video vaults for a Salute to Shran, a beautiful video that showcased Jeff's acting artistry. After that, it was on to Creation's famous No-Minimum Bid Auction, where convention host and Creation co-CEO Adam Malin shot into an energetic and entertaining session featuring some fantastic collectibles. There were gorgeous signed banners of some of the attending talent and plaques and signed photos gathered from Creation's "Vault 22," a room Malin claimed "is only spoken of in hushed whispers." Other rarities included a 6" action figure of Troi signed by Marina Sirtis and a priceless item signed by James Doohan. Once again, prices went for a fraction of their retail value, and that seemed to suit Malin (and the audience) just fine. Creation was also raising funds for Arts High Foundation (artshighfoundation.org), a charitable organization that supports arts education for high-school kids.
The auction ended and Casey Biggs took to the stage. Everyone's favorite Cardassian freedom fighter gave a rousing session in which he talked about the integrity of acting, his own work training aspiring actors, his studies at prestigious Juilliard School, and the joys of working with a first-class ensemble like the DS9 crew. Casey clearly respects his craft and as an educator helps to pass that love of acting to his students, both professional and amateur.
After Casey, James Sawyer of A Piece of The Action.net gave an entertaining and informative presentation on 45 Years of Star Trek Collectibles. Sawyer clearly assembled a scholarly and interesting show with images from four decades of Trek products and collectibles. Among the many memorable items featured were the famed Mego action figures, phasers, tricorders and some of the original Lincoln Enterprises items from the early 1970’s.
Next up was Creation's famous Costume Competition. Nearly 100 contestants crammed the stage with amazing characters as diverse as Guinan, the Gorn, Andorians, Klingons, furry anime-style aliens, and officers of every rank and division. The winner was a remarkable Andorian, with home-crafted makeup (including antennae) and costume. Second place was the pair of Captain Kirk and the Gorn (who was a remarkable construct of full body suit and mask). This was truly a Costume Contest to remember. Malin noted that Creation has been running Costume Competitions for 40 years!
Afterwards, Malin hosted Creation's popular Yes-No Trivia Challenge, where close to 100 attendees competed over three rounds in answering tough trivia questions, including some nasty trick questions. One lady won both the second and third rounds and took home $750 in gift certificates -- not too shabby.
No Star Trek Convention is complete without an encore performance of the Star Trek Blooper Reels, and with the large number of first-time convention attendees, a new generation was introduced to these hysterical (and historical) clips. They never get tired, and Deforest Kelley, Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner are particularly funny. The scene of Ted Cassidy picking up Bill Shatner and carrying him out of the jail set is even funnier today, as is "dead" Dr. McCoy with an arrow rising up from his private parts while Shatner tries to pull it out.
This left the crowd primed for the arrival of jokester Ethan Phillips. Known throughout fandom for his dark humor and great stand-up comedy timing, Ethan seemed relaxed and in great spirits, landing one gag after another. He mentioned that he watched TOS and loved it as much as any other fan. On the subject of technobabble, he felt lucky that Neelix didn't really have any of that sort of dialogue, but poor Robert Beltran was cursed with it. On the makeup, he said applications took about three hours, and about an hour and a half to take it off. He also described the visceral impact of the Voyager episode "Mortal Coil" on him. In it, someone dies and is revived, and is disillusioned to find that there was no kind of afterlife. Ethan described himself as someone who doesn't know what to think about God -- earlier in life he thought he was an atheist, but as he got older decided he didn't know anything for certain.
After Ethan, came the much anticipated DS9 Reunion segment featuring Casey Biggs, Max Grodenchik, Vaughn Armstrong and Jeff Combs, moderated by Adam Malin. They began by looking at the relationships between Quark and Rom; Quark and Brunt (Jeff); and other interconnected members of the DS9 story continuity. It's obvious how much the members of the cast loved their work on the series, and several people gave homage to Ira Steven Behr.
Later that evening, the Star Trek Rat Pack performed a hilarious set for the audience; Vaughn, Max, Jeff, Ethan, Casey and keyboard player extraordinaire Bill Burchell delivered the goods. It was an amazing end to a fantastic day two of The Official Star Trek Convention.