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After 20 years at the University of Oregon, I have retired. So, I will begin posting about my new experiences here and hope you find them interesting.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Lifelong Trekker celebrates 50 years at Chicago Trek Fest

by Mary Harrsch © 2016

My son Ben (left) and I (right) share a moment with
actor Sean Kenney (Center) who portrayed a disfigured
Captain Christopher Pike in the classic Star Trek
episode "The Menagerie".
Since this year marks the 50th anniversary of the premiere of the original Star Trek television show, I traveled to Chicago to attend a 50th anniversary Star Trek celebration (after I couldn't get a ticket to the Las Vegas Star Trek gathering even though I tried to obtain a ticket nine months before the event!!).  After 50 years, I finally got to meet William Shatner, the original Captain James T. Kirk himself (Guaranteed by the purchase of a silver ticket of course!)

I have been a Trekker since the very first show.  In fact, some of my high school friends got really angry with me because I belonged to the Pep Club and Junior Varsity games were played on Thursday nights and I was expected to attend.  But when Star Trek was announced, I stayed home to watch "The Man Trap", the very first Star Trek episode broadcast in September 1966 and never attended another Junior Varsity game after that.  I was hooked and even made plans to major in biochemistry at the University of Chicago so I could work at NASA's Ames Research Center and search for extra-terrestrial life. But, life dictated another course and I wound up as an educational technologist instead.  At least I worked with computers like those depicted in Star Trek and were pure science fiction during its broadcast run.

I watched the first two seasons then got married and didn't see the episodes of Season 3 until Star Trek went into syndication.  When my son was born I would rock him to sleep while watching Star Trek episodes aired in the afternoons on the local TV station.  As it turns out, Ben, who now lives outside of Chicago, actually went with me to this Star Trek convention.  My love of the show must have worn off on him!

I was really excited when Star Trek: The Next Generation (STNG) was broadcast in the 80s, followed by Deep Space Nine, Voyager and finally Enterprise although family responsibilities often interfered with my ability to watch these subsequent shows. I always took a day off from work to attend the opening of each Star Trek movie, though.

I also explored "Star Trek: Federation Science" at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (a traveling exhibit ending in 2002) where I got to beam down to a planet as a member of an away team (My husband said he couldn't believe we stood in line for 2 1/2 hours for that!).  I actually got to sit in the captain's chair on Captain Picard's bridge at the Hollywood Entertainment Museum (sadly closed in 2007).  Then I jumped at the chance to attend Comdex (a huge technology trade show in Las Vegas) held at the Hilton where "Star Trek: The Experience" was installed (closed in 2008) and got to be accosted by a garrulous Klingon in Quark's Bar!  The Klingons must have it in for me because I ran into a couple more at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, too!

Then in the 90s, I finally had a chance to attend my first Star Trek convention held right here at the Hilton Hotel in Eugene, Oregon!  Michael Dorn (Worf) was the featured guest and the Hilton was so packed the fire marshal was having a fit!  When Michael Dorn plays Worf he lowers his voice dramatically and, as Worf, he recited the line he delivered in which he professed his love for his half-Klingon wife in a recent episode of STNG and the crowd went wild!

By the time I attended the next convention featuring George Takei (Sulu), I even fashioned a slightly modified version of the Star Fleet uniform featured in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and wore it, although I was too embarrassed to enter the costume competition!

At these Creation-sponsored conventions, there was always something going on - screenings of music videos, bloopers, contests, auctions, etc., The vendor hall was packed and the auctions included some really high-end collectibles. It was a lot of fun and everyone enjoyed themselves even if you didn't spring for the gold or silver reserved seats.  Everyone got a chance to meet the keynote speaker.  You just might have to stand in line for quite a spell to do it.

Sadly, I was to discover those attributes have become a thing of the past. I found the Chicago convention poorly organized and intentionally engineered to limit attendance - totally baffling to me considering the size of Chicago.  Furthermore, Creation Entertainment sponsored two conventions just across the street from each other on the same days - one for "Supernatural", a currently broadcast show in its 11th season with a decidedly younger fan base, and the Star Trek the 50th Anniversary tour.  Irritatingly, the Star Trek convention, with many older attendees, appears to have gotten short shrift.  Whoever was running the cameras did a terrible job, the microphones and sound systems were erratic and many of the top celebrities like Jonathan Frakes (Commander Riker from STNG) and Brent Spiner (Commander Data from STNG) supposedly canceled at the last minute.

We were told Frakes had to finish directing the last episode of "The Librarians" for this season.  I'm sure that had to have been known for some time, but we were not told until the morning of preregistration, probably to prevent cancellations and demands for refunds.  Furthermore, although I no longer have access to the extensive list of celebrities purportedly attending the show that I saw prior to my ticket purchase almost nine months ago, I remember it being far longer than the roster of those who actually showed up.

 At this convention there was less than a dozen vendors although I managed to find an authentic Tribble complete with action sounds and some collectible Star Trek Hallmark ornaments I'd never even seen before. The auction only included signed photographs or display banners except once when one of the volunteers was draped with various T-shirts (a tactic I remember from years ago). There were no blooper reels or music videos except for an amateurish video submitted by a fan. Apparently, on the convention website they had announced a fan music video contest but only had one taker.  I wish I would have seen that.  I think I've learned enough about ProShow Gold that I could have put together something!

Autographs and photo ops were all "pay to play" activities charging such "modest fees" as $25 - $100 each depending on the celebrity plus the cost of whatever it is you are having signed.

There were Q & A sessions with the appearance of each guest but "planted" questioners during the Q&A sessions - awfully similar to "reality" show productions.  Maybe Creation figured us old geezers were too old to notice.

There was a costume contest like in the old days but most people wore the standard Star Fleet costumes you can purchase online.  There were several outstanding exceptions, though.  A young college girl dressed up as Commander Data in the 19th-century ship's officer uniform he wore in the opening holodeck scene of the feature film "Generations".  She had her face made up with white makeup and her hair pulled back and looked so much like Data it almost made up for Brent Spiner's absence!  If I had been able to find a 12" action figure of Data dressed that way I would have bought it and had her sign it!  There were two men dressed as Khan Noonien Singh, one from the Classic Trek Episode "Space Seed" and the other from the feature film "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan".   There were several well-done Andorians and a couple of Klingons as well.  Two people even came as hortas, the silicon creatures from the Classic Trek episode "The Devil In the Dark!"

A young college woman (Center) dressed as Commander Data in the opening sequence of the Star Trek feature film "Generations".  Photo courtesy of  "The Chicagoist"
The Klingon Empire was actually pretty well represented.  Guest celebrities included Michael Dorn (Worf), the actors who portrayed Gowron and Martok from Deep Space Nine and Suzie Plakson who played K'Ehleyr, Worf's half-Klingon mate in the STNG episodes "The Emissary" and "Reunion".  Plakson also played a Vulcan doctor on the STNG episode "The Schizoid Man", a female Q on the Voyager episode "The Q and the Grey"and the Andorian Tarah on the  "Enterprise" episode "Cease Fire".  Michael Dorn's presence sort of brought me full circle back to the very first Star Trek convention I ever attended.  I smiled thinking about that as this convention may be the last I will ever attend.

Other guests included Gates McFadden who played Dr. Beverly Crusher on STNG (being a dancer she looked fantastic by the way!), Marina Sirtis who played Counselor Troi on STNG and Robert Duncan McNeill who played Tom Paris on Voyager.  McNeill now wears glasses and I honestly didn't recognize him.  He said it was the "Clark Kent effect!"

Nana Visitor (Kiera), Rene Aberjonois (Odo), Armin Shimmerman (Ferengi Quark), Max Grodenchik (Ferengi Rom) and Jeffrey Combs (Andorian Shran) represented "Deep Space Nine".  Jeffrey Combs also  played many different aliens on DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise.

Armin Shimmerman, who played the Ferengi bar keep Quark on Star Trek: Deep
Space Nine explains how a performance on the DS9 set had to be DLP
(Dead Letter Perfect).  Photo courtesy of  "The Chicagoist"
I was particularly impressed with Armin Shimmerman's presentation.  He now teaches Shakespeare and treated us to a little bit of Henry VI Part 2 although, to be honest, his depiction of a hunchback made me, like a lot of other people, think it was Richard III.  I was really surprised to learn from Mr. Shimmerman that, although there was hijinx on the sets of Classic Trek and STNG, by the time Deep Space Nine was put into production, Paramount ran the production like a well-oiled automotive assembly line.  Each performance had to be DLP - Dead Letter Perfect!  There was no ad-libbing allowed.

Rene Aberjonois played Security Chief
Odo on "ST: Deep Space Nine" and
Paul Lewiston on "Boston Legal"
Image courtesy of Kyle Cassidy.
I understand from Rene Aberjonois's presentation this stringent adherence to the script even applied to scenes where the actor was to cough or clear their throat.  Apparently, actors that could not perform at this level of precision didn't last very long on a Star Trek set or on the set of Boston Legal either. That really floored me as Boston Legal's story lines were often zany but they were apparently very precisely zany!

Sean Kenney as Captain Christopher Pike in "The Menagerie".
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
I was really glad to see Sean Kenney at this convention.  Sean played the disfigured Captain Christopher Pike in the Classic Trek episode "The Menagerie".  I found a Star Trek collectible Hallmark ornament in one of the vendor booths depicting him and he autographed it for me and had someone take our picture together with my camera.  So between Sean and William Shatner I technically got two captains' autographs!

An 85-years young William Shatner still with a twinkle in his eye!
Photo courtesy of  "The Chicagoist"
Shatner, of course, was the consummate showman and every bit the star of the show.  He talked about all of the projects he is currently involved in including a very physically demanding upcoming equestrian competition in Las Vegas, then discussed the importance of friendship.  He said it was particularly hard for actors to make close friends because they are always bouncing from job to job.  I had never really given much thought to the "piecework" nature of acting before.  When it came time for him to sign my Hallmark ornament depicting him in the episode "Trouble with Tribbles", one of his assistants pointed to the front edge of the ornament asking if this would be a good place for him to sign and I asked "Are you sure he can sign in such a small space?" whereby Shatner, with his eyes twinkling, told me "Why I could sign on the head of a pin!"      

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