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klwilbur

My Experience at the Chicago Convention

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klwilbur   

Hello all. This is my first post here. I am just back from the Chicago convention over the weekend and looking to bond with other people through our common experiences there.

I purchased preferred weekend passes 16 rows back to cover all three nights. I also purchase tickets to the TNG reunion about 10 rows back. My only other purchase was the photo op with the entire TNG cast. I decided to go ahead and stay at the Westin where the convention was held so I wouldn’t have to run back and forth in traffic to get to events.

I arrived late Friday unfortunately and missed all events including registration which ended at 7pm. Looking back, I wish I would have been at Aron Eisenberg’s talk (Nog of DS9) because I met him later on in the weekend (will cover that later) and he seemed like a cool guy. I might have been able to see the “Star Trek Rat Pack” at 9:20PM, but I’m not sure if I would have gotten in without registration. I’m not a big DS9 fan, but it might have been cool to see Ethan Phillips (I am a big Voyager fan).

We (my wife Melanie and I) registered and got into our room. Just a short rant about the Westin: no fans in the bathrooms, AC sounded like a motorcycle, forgot to leave towels after first room service and pretty expensive at $179 per night. But other than that, we got great service from all the staff we met. We even got a late 4PM checkout on Sunday for free.

Saturday morning, registration went VERY fast. They scanned our tickets and give us laminates and wristbands for the weekends. We didn’t see that many vendors…only a few by the ballroom when I thought there would be a huge room of them. Well, looking back at the schedule, it seems like the bulk of the vendors were in a different ballroom. If someone knows that is true, let me know. That sucks if we missed all the vendors.

So, I’ll go over all the presenters we saw:

Michael Dorn and Marina Sirtis at 9:50am Saturday

Before they came on, the moderator was reading some type of poem about Gene Roddenberry. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t what we came to see. I started to see that it was going over and the crowd started getting a little jittery. That is when Marina made an abrupt appearance from behind the curtain asking if he was ever going to be done with the poem. That brought on huge applause. Quickly she came on with Michael and they talked for almost an hour. It was pretty fast paced and they both interacted constantly. Marina was loud, irreverent, obnoxious (all in a good way) and extremely likable. Michael was a little more reserved but still fairly outgoing.

Nana Visitor at 1:30pm Saturday

As I said before, I am not a big DS9 fan, so I didn’t make any real effort to see the DS9 actors. With that said, I came in at the end of Nana’s talk. She seemed really cool, nice and engaging. However, I only saw a few minutes. At the end, LeVar actually came in and give her a tribute from the side of the stage talking about how great she was. She hugged him and it was very touching.

Gates McFadden at 2:05pm Saturday

Gates seems like a nice enough person. She just seems like she is still playing the career game (maybe they have to) and spends way too much time plugging what she is doing now. I am willing to forgive her for that, but I’m sure the fans are really there to hear about her Star Trek-related experiences. She spent the beginning of the talk brining up a fan to take a picture of her (with her back to the audience) holding a sign that I believe she is going to put on Twitter. It just seemed like a little too much self promotion for me. She is super big into this theater she is involved with and that doesn’t really interest me. She also forgot to speak in the mic many times and the audience had to remind her. I didn’t really find her talk that entertaining…she is probably second to last (which was LeVar Burton…more about him later). I’m willing to forgive this thought…I love TNG and Gates is an actor…not necessarily a comedian or speaker/entertainer. So if people aren’t so great up on stage at these things…it is OK with me.

Sir Patrick Stewart at 3:05pm Saturday

After the high energy of Marina, it is hard to see people like Gates and Stewart. Stewart is…well…stuffy, I guess. He’s an actor’s actor. I am sure other theater actors could listen to Stewart talk about his acting experiences and cronies all day. But I’m not an actor so I don’t find that stuff that interesting. Steward is obviously going through therapy or has recently gone through therapy…you could tell by the way he referenced things when he talked about his father. He talked about some of his causes and domestic abuse. But there were funny times too. Someone asked if he ever had nightmares about the Borg to which Stewart responded that it was just a TV show and also referenced one of his causes and said “there isn’t a hotline” for issues with the Borg. Another particular funny moment came in the question from a fan: “what did you think when Robert Picardo was cast as the EMH?” Stewart didn’t understand the question (and neither did the audience) until the fan clarified that Picardo sounds a lot like Picard. Yes, not the smartest question. But Stewart handled it very well stating something like, “I thought about how many coincidences there are.” It was a very kind answer to a very strange question and it really spared the fan any real embarrassment for asking.

Missed Rene Auberjonois and Ethan Phillips at 4:15pm Saturday

I’m kind of bummed that I let myself miss this. As a Voyager fan, I never got a chance to see Ethan speak.

TNG Reunion with all the TNG main cast at 6:45pm Sunday.

There was a pretty decent video interlude before the cast came on. The discussion was moderated by the same guy who was introducing everyone through the weekend. Everyone was sitting in fairly low chairs and even the cast could recognize that people throughout the audience couldn’t see.

Gates actually had some really high points during this talk…at first she suggested that the cast stand and then later as all the cast took turns telling what projects they were into, when it came to Gates, she said that she didn’t think the audience really cared about that stuff and that they should move on to take questions from fans. So that kind of cancels out the bad marks I gave her for self promotion earlier.

The initial conversation revolved around how small or big each actor’s butt was which was fairly entertaining. It was fun to see the cast jokingly insult each other. One particularly funny cut had to do with how many guest stars each cast member slept with.

Marina was funny throughout. When various projects came up in discussion, Marina would loudly characterize them as “the project/play/movie that Marina and _____ were not in.” At one point, Stewart mentioned that she harbors a lot of bitterness and that one project in question was something like 18 years ago. But it was all in good fun and they were all laughing about it.

There weren’t that many questions from the audience that were answered. Most of the time, the cast interacted with each other. At one point, Frakes abruptly left the stage…it almost looked like he waved goodbye to the crowd. But he came back a few minutes later without any attention paid to his absence.

One disturbing interaction occurred at the very end. The moderator made a segue into a spontaneous tribute to Michael Piller (a major contributing force to TNG as a writer and producer who passed away a while back). LeVar piped up after a minute with a very abrupt “why are we talking about Michael Piller?” It seemed kind of rude and insensitive even if it was warranted (which I don’t think it was). Then LeVar said something about how Piller was a “good writer” but that they should be talking Gene Roddenberry. To just credit Piller as a writer really makes it seem like LeVar had some type of beef with Piller. But LeVar’s outburst really just made himself look bad and ended the whole night on a bad tone. Additionally, LeVar really embarrassed the moderator. There was no need for that.

LeVar Burton at 10:20am Sunday

I still had a bad taste in my mouth from Burton’s actions the night before. And he didn’t get much better during his solo talk. He spent a long time almost preaching to the audience his own take on the meaning of life. It came off as very preachy and only the most hard core fans would be interested in this. At one point, an awkward question about LaForge and Barkley came up…something about whether he was friends with Barkley because of all the time they spent on the holodeck. It was somewhat of a cringe-worthy question, but you have to expect these types of more fanatically-based questions at a convention like this. While it should have been somewhat laughed off (like Stewart did with the Picaro question), but instead Burton seemed to make a big deal about how he wasn’t really friends with Dwight Schultz. He went so far as to say ponderingly “Dwight Schultz…I didn’t see that one coming” which I still don’t know what the hell he meant by that. Burton comes off as someone who is trying to be likeable but is fairly arrogant and self righteous under the surface. His answers and comments rarely seem to take in account the feelings of those around him…they are really centered around his thoughts and feelings.

Skipped Classic Star Trek guest stars panel at 11:05am Sunday.

Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spiner at 12:55pm Sunday.

After the low points with Burton, I am thankful to get what I got from Frakes and Spiner. It was HIGH energy from the very beginning. They came on stage and Frakes immediately walked out into the crowd and all the way back to the very back rows. He bantered back and forth with Spiner with Frakes asking funny questions while Spiner did imitations and acted as if he were taking to other cast mates behind the stage curtain. Frakes did come back on stage and told a few…shall we say…off color jokes (basically bathroom humor) which were pretty funny. Overall, they took only 3-4 questions and joked quite a bit with the individuals asking the questions as well as other fans in the audience. They would get a question and then go in a completely different direction for several minutes and then come back to the original fan and laughingly berate them saying “would you please get to your question?” which the fan had already asked twice. Spiner also had an incredible memory of the fans, brining up details about meeting them or tweeting with them earlier. Spiner told some great stories of how he used to be a cab driver (he asked the crowd if he had given anyone there a ride) and then another about how he was fired as a hospital intern after telling a patient that they weren’t dead yet after waking up from anesthesia and then breaking off a thermometer in their rear end.

Skipped Cirroc Lofton and Avery Brooks.

I left as Lofton was coming on stage. As I was leaving, I did see that Frakes came back on and gave him a hug.

OK, those were the presenters…now some other happenings…

Beside the ballroom was a fairly narrow hall that had vendors on one side and a line of tables for some of the celebrities to do signings. In a row, I could see Aron Eisenberg, Max Grodenshik, Chase Masterson, Nana Vistor, Rene Auberjonois and Ethan Phillips. Amazingly, there were never that many people in line to meet them…in fact you never really had to stand in line. You could simply walk up to them and start a conversation. I did this with Aron and Max. I actually spoke quite a while with them…they were both great and gracious. Aron played parts in both DS9 and Voyager, so I got him to sign pictures for both (the Voyager one for me and my wife and the DS9 one for my wife’s mother who is a big DS9 fan). Max signed one from my wife’s mother that said “thanks for watching the grandkids.” They both talked to us for as long as we wanted to. It was great of them. Aron actually recognized us at the end of the convention as we walked out and said goodbye.

My full cast photo op: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=4846888689445&set=a.1174515602413.2025772.1213759389&type=1&theater

I had thought the full cast photo op would be a high point...I guess because of the proximity of the cast to us. But it really didn’t turn out that way. At first, I was concerned they would even get all the pictures done. It was a really long line. The “sequence number” on my ticket didn’t mean anything. It was first come, first serve. But it looked like they were taking a picture every 15 seconds or less. Once you got into the room, you could see the line (now down to 3-4 people) snaked around the back of the room and up to the side of where the cast was sitting and standing. So you had a minute or so to get your bearings, observe the process and think about what you wanted to do. After the last “checkpoint” they essentially waved you on to the cast and you could stand where you wanted. It was funny to see the whole cast somewhat animated and talking and then snap perfectly still for each picture only to go back to talking as soon as the picture was taken. Mel had decided she wanted to stand by Brent Spiner and I decided to just stand in back between Frakes and Dorn (I’m pretty tall). When they waved us in, I asked everyone if I could stand in back and I think it was Burton who said “sure” and waved me back. Melanie walked across to stand by Brent. When I got to my place, Frakes turned and looked right into my face for a second. I’m not sure what he was doing as he just froze a smiling glance at me which I returned and then he turned right back to the front. After the shot, I patted Frakes and Dorn on the backs and thanked them, but there was no response at all. So really, for me, there was no interaction with the cast at all…somewhat of a disappointment but I understand the reality of it. Melanie had it lucky though. She said that Marina actually had several things to say about her dress and asked her if she had just gotten married.

Later Saturday night Melanie and I were walking around the hotel with nothing to do. We ended up with a hall where we saw the TNG cast had done their signings earlier in the day. The tables were still set up and there was some paper and a box of chocolates on the table with the “Marina Sirtis” sign. I found that one of the papers had a doodle and some scribbling on it with that metallic pen they use. It was just trash so I took it and assume I have a doodle by Marina Sirtis. Not too bad.

The doodle: https://www.facebook...&type=1

The high point was right before we left the hotel. We had already checked out but we decided to go down to where the TNG cast was signing autographs to try to catch a glimpse. We had tried this the day before, but the hall was so crowded that you couldn’t see anyone. This time it was practically empty. You could walk all the way down and no security was stopping you. So we stood there and watched as they talked with the fans at their tables. Soon, we saw Gates get up and walk by us to leave. I caught her eye and told her “thanks for coming” to which she replied “it isn’t over yet.” Marina then walked by to which I told her she was the highlight of the convention. She briefly stopped to thank us. Dorn walked by but made no eye contact with anyone. Then Frakes had to leave. He gave other cast members a hug and then walked by us. I was going to say something but he seemed to be busy coordinating with the Westin staff who was helping him. At one point, it looked like they were leaving and he stopped and loudly proclaimed “I have to pee!” He went to the restroom that was right there (Dorn was in there too). My wife told me that I HAD to go in there and use the restroom with Frakes and Dorn. But I told her that only the creepiest fan would ever do that and that I was not going to be the creepiest fan that day. I felt that I had already gotten more than I asked for with our interactions with the cast we had met and it was time to leave on a high point.

Overall, I was happy with my experience. I have been watching TNG since I was a teenager watching on my crappy tiny bedroom TV. I never would have guessed I would actually get a chance to see any of the cast in person let alone have even a short conversation with any of them. So I am happy I did it.

Anyhow, those are my thoughts right now. I’ll see if I can add anything else after talking with my wife more.

If there are problems with the links, feel free to FB friend me to see more at: https://www.facebook.com/KellyLWilbur

Thanks,

Kelly

Edited by klwilbur

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Zef'No   

Thanks for a good read.

I never get to these kind of things, but your post really made it sound like I had!

One disturbing interaction occurred at the very end. The moderator made a segue into a spontaneous tribute to Michael Piller (a major contributing force to TNG as a writer and producer who passed away a while back). LeVar piped up after a minute with a very abrupt “why are we talking about Michael Piller?” It seemed kind of rude and insensitive even if it was warranted (which I don’t think it was). Then LeVar said something about how Piller was a “good writer” but that they should be talking Gene Roddenberry. To just credit Piller as a writer really makes it seem like LeVar had some type of beef with Piller. But LeVar’s outburst really just made himself look bad and ended the whole night on a bad tone. Additionally, LeVar really embarrassed the moderator. There was no need for that.

This sounds terrible. Michael Piller was almost solely responsible for rescuing TNG after Gene Roddenberry alienated almost everyone who worked on the show. Piller was the head writer; even if he didn't write them himself, he had input into pretty much every episode of TNG from Season 3 onwards. He was responsible for hiring people like Ronald D. Moore, and gave the show its winning format.

Yeah, Roddenberry had the original vision, but it was people like Piller who actually managed and controlled it every week. I really do believe that, without him, TNG would never have been anywhere near as successful, and Star Trek would have died long ago. Not only that, but he went on to help in the early stages of both DS9 and Voyager. Voyager certainly got a lot worse after he left.

He is very much the unsung hero of Trek, and for LeVar to pipe up like this is bang out of order, especially when the poor guy is dead and cannot defend himself!

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rta-man   

Great con report! While reading it, I found myself reminiscing about the previous ones I've been to.

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