Monday, August 15, 2016

Lessons From the Las Vegas Star Trek Convention

Last week my wife and I had the pleasure of attending the Star Trek convention in Las Vegas. It was five days of fun and fandom. The convention was run by the great people at Creation. Trust me, if you have never gone to a convention run by Creation, put it on your bucket list. They know how to look after their fans. Unlike comic conventions, fan expos, and other such conventions, Creation makes sure that every fan has a seat in the main theater. These guys have been around for a few decades (since 1971), and they have perfected the art of the convention. Yes, the convention cost us some good money. Vegas is not a cheap place, and when there are over 100 celebrities and thousands of fellow Star Trek fans, you are definitely going to meet some great people.

Throughout the five days I immersed myself in my passion that is Star Trek. The Q and A panels were so very entertaining. Each I attended was memorable for different reasons. The Klingons and Ferengi were so very funny. Chase Masterson showed so much compassion as she spoke on her work to combat bullying in the gaming world. Whoopi Goldberg was as passionate as any of us fans in how she talked about her experiences with Star Trek. William Shatner was his usual exuberant self. The TNG cast were so tight and funny together. It was great hearing stories from how heavy the Gorn costume was to filming episodes outdoors during Voyager to Neil McDonough enjoying every minute swinging above the set of Star Trek: First Contact. There were great free photo ops that the fans could take advantage of. You could be jumping through the Guardian of Time portal, be assimilated in a Borg alcove, beamed onto the original transporter pad, or buried in a pile of tribbles. And the costumes, oh the costumes! Most of us wore our Starfleet uniforms, but there were dozens of Klingons and Vulcans. I found at least two pairings of Doctor and Wesley Crusher, a half dozen Borg (including the queen), and a mixture of Andorians, Ferengi, Gorn, Romulans, Betazoids, Bajorans, and Cardassians. I saw Weyoun and the Female Founder, a spot-on movie Scotty, at least four Troi-Riker couples, a couple tribbles, a Horta, and even the IDIC symbol. I was even given the opportunity to hold an Emmy award (it was just as heavy as I thought it would be).

As I look back on the convention, I thought about some of the things I learned, and thought I would share them here. I have had several choice experiences interacting with other fans and actors over the years, and I thought I would share some of my insights in how to do a convention. Here is my list:

  1.  Wear comfortable shoes. You will likely be standing in lines. Yes, for some of the    higher level tickets you can bypass some lines, but face it, you will be in a few lines  throughout the convention. I have worn both good and bad pairs of shoes, and  which kind you have does matter.

2.     Autographs aren’t free, and that is for a good reason. One complaint I have often heard over the years is the fact that the stars at these conventions charge a fee for their signature. I understand that people not in the industry may find this a bit strange, and possibly pretentious. I have heard them say “But if it wasn’t for us, they wouldn’t have a career!” I have reasoned that this is a bit unfair of us, to expect these celebrities to give their autographs away for free. The way I see it, when these guys are at a convention, they are not at an audition, on a stage, at a rehearsal, or in front of a camera. In other words, meeting us at a convention is taking them away from their livelihood. We cannot begrudge them from charging a fee for their signature. Plus, it gives us a few minutes to interact with them in a way that we may never have anywhere else, which leads us to…

3.     Conversations with celebs: if the star is having a nice chat with the next person in line, and you are four or five spots behind, please be patient. Some of the celebrities want to know more about the person that just plopped down $50 to get their autograph. Some want to make the experience special for each and every fan. Some will say a few nice words and move the line along. Regardless of whichever mood the star is in, let the other fans have their moments. This might be their only chance to say a few words to their favorite actor. Besides, you will get your chance for a quick 30 second chat soon enough. Keep it balanced, though. Don’t try to stretch your one minute into ten (unless you are the very last person in line).

4.     Respect the actor’s wishes. Some will happily shake your hand. Robert Beltran and Johnathan Frakes were quite happy giving us a handshake (Beltran even offered it to us). Others would rather you do a fist bump. When I received John de Lancie’s autograph I went to shake his hand. He held out the fist and said “If you don’t mind”. I said “Not at all”. Some would prefer to have no physical contact at all, while others will give hugs when asked. It doesn’t matter what their wishes are, don’t take it personally if they don’t desire to shake your hand or even touch you at all. They are in the middle of talking to hundreds of fans in a short period of time. Whether it is for health reasons or their own personal comfort, respect their wishes.

5.     Mention their work outside of Star Trek if you can. When I was a kid I was a fan of the fantasy adventure series “Dragonlance”. Several years ago I learned that Aaron Eisenberg (Nog) had written a short story for one of their anthologies. I told him that I really enjoyed that story. We talked a little about it and how he had wanted to do a live action movie and work with the original authors. He then warmly thanked me for mentioning that. Whether it is shows they are directing, a screenplay they are trying to sell, or a CD they just released, these people appreciate that we know them for more than just what they did in Star Trek. If you don’t know what else they have worked on, then feel free to ask. I learned a lot about J G Hertzler’s screenplay that he has worked on for close to a decade that is so very close to becoming a film.

6.     Q and A panels: keep your questions on point and fair. There are always going to be those fans that have long, rambling questions for the stars. There are also those that will ask very obscure questions in the mind of: “What color was the apple you ate in the episode you filmed 30 years ago?” Other fans seem to delight in asking about things that are a bit more controversial as if they are practicing for a journalism career. Try not to be one of these people. Also, and this was dealt head-on by Marina Sirtis, if you ask them in a public forum what it was like working with “insert name of actor/director here”, be prepared for the generic “they are lovely”. If you are looking for something juicier, they may not respond. They are professionals, and asking them to say something unkind about their peers is not only in poor taste but also could hurt their career.

7.     Don’t make assumptions. I have heard many people ask why this actress doesn’t do conventions, or why this actor only seems to work Comic Con. While I do wonder myself, avoid getting into the gossip mill. The truth may not be anything close to what you thought it was. It is easy to think that because so-and-so does not do conventions that they are too busy or that they don’t really care about the fans, but keep those thoughts to yourself. As an example, in last week’s TNG panel, Gates McFadden revealed that the reason why she did not do any conventions for such a long time was because prior to TNG she had a stalker issue. Being in crowds of strangers that all knew who she gave her anxiety. Never would I have guessed that about her, but it made sense. Someone next to us then started to speculate that perhaps this is why other actors did not do many conventions, and I shook my head. Don’t assume! That is how false rumors get started and spread. If nothing else, just hope that the actor you are wanting to meet will be able to find the time to come to a convention near you some day.

8.     Express gratitude to everyone. This means more than the actors after they sign your photo. It includes the security guards checking your badges, the hosts for the panels, the volunteers and employees that work behind the scenes to make sure the event runs smoothly. So many people are needed to make these conventions work well, so when you see some of them (especially on the last day), thank them for their work. Tell them you appreciate what they have done. While you are at it, thank the people you were in line with for chatting with you while you waited to get Brent Spiner’s photo op. Thank the hotel clerk and the waiter. Trekkies have a good reputation for being nice people. Keep that reputation valid!

9.    Be fair.  If something happens that you don’t like, be fair. Maybe somebody cut in line. You can say something about it, but be fair. Perhaps there were two lines that had to be merged into one (happened to me once). Perhaps the person was meeting up with a friend, or they had asked for someone to hold their place while they took care of something. Regardless of which, while you are entitled to feel a bit put out, if you make a huge stink over it (especially if you don’t know what the whole story is), you cause a lot of people around you to feel uncomfortable. Maybe there is one of those “socially awkward” fans that is hanging around and causing everyone to feel a bit uneasy. Be fair. All different kinds of people are Trekkies, and while the vast majority of us know how to act in public, a handful of us don’t. They need a place to feel safe too. They are every part of IDIC. Give them a break. You may need to ask them to move along and stop bothering you, but do your best to be nice about it.

10. Have fun. Do things you haven't done before. Introduce yourself to people in line. Attend Klingon karaoke. Dress up in cosplay. Get involved with the panel discussions. Whatever you do at the con, remember that what you get out of it depends largely on what you put into it, so go all out. Enjoy yourself.

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