Thursday - September 2, 2004
For Lori, R.J., and Hunter ...
Introductory Exposition'Twas the night before Dragon*Con, and all through the hotel, not a creature was stirring, not even ... ok, so there were Stormtroopers ... but not a creature was stirring ... oh, and Klingons and fairies ... but not a creature ... vampires, can't forget the vampires. Screw it. Creatures were stirring -- everywhere, in fact. Creatures were stirring all over the place and ruining my already thin introduction. So much for the calm before the storm. Don't these people know that the convention doesn't start until tomorrow? Even Nicole de Boer and Jewel Staite are having a drink at the hotel sports bar. Tomorrow, all hell will break loose, and 20,000 - 25,000 fanfolk will descend upon these two hotels -- the Atlanta Hyatt Regency and the Atlanta Marriott Marquis -- but even now, the night before anything happens, the costumes are out, the drinking has begun, and the anticipation is palpable as the four craziest days of the year are about to get underway. Welcome to Dragon*Con.
But what is Dragon*Con? That's a good question. I'm glad you asked. Initially, it was an outgrowth of an Atlanta gaming and role-playing group. Their first event, held in 1987 at the Piedmont Plaza Hotel, had an impressive 1400 people and focused primarily on literature and gaming. Over the years, they expanded their scope, incorporating the Atlanta Comics Expo into their mix and hosting a variety of events from the World Fantasy Convention to the International Starfleet Conference. What the event has become in recent years, however, really defies description. I'm often asked the question, "what is Dragon*Con?" I have no answer, but to say this: "Dragon*Con is something you have to see for yourself, and once you have, you'll return again and again." Vague enough for you? Dragon*Con encompasses nearly every facet of popular arts, from music to literature to art to film to costuming to comics to television to gaming to wrestling to robotics to technology law and everything in between. In fact, I would argue that if you cannot find something at Dragon*Con that captures your attention and piques your interest, then there is something seriously wrong with you. Officially, the attendance is 20,000+. Unlike most conventions that count by attendees per day (e.g. a person attending 3 days counts as 3 people), that's 20,000+ unique individuals. I suspect the "+" is quite a bit, because we've been at that number for a few years now, and it gets more crowded each time. And there's a reason for that; people come back, and they bring friends. Go to any smaller convention throughout the year, and you're sure to hear this at least once: "yeah ... but have you been to Dragon*Con?"
This year's event (as with the last couple of years) was held in two major locations: the Atlanta Hyatt Regency and the Atlanta Marriott Marquis. These two hotels sit across the street from one another and present barely enough space to contain the madness. And I assure you, it is most definitely madness. With 27 separate programming tracks, all running concurrently, there isn't an inch of these hotels that isn't crawling with con-goers during the day, and the party rages on until the sun comes up and the next day begins. If you think I'm exaggerating, keep reading. A person would be out of his mind to try and capture all of it; unfortunately for you, my sanity is not what it used to be. So pull up a chair ... we're going to be here a while.
10:00pm - 1.21 Gigawatts Of Fun!!!Anyway, it's Thursday night, and setting the tone with a pre-con performance is McFly, an '80s cover band whose show ranges from Pat Benetar to Black Sabbath. As there's really nothing else going on, their self-proclaimed "high energy entertainment" has a captive audience. Remarkably, they don't suck. In fact, they're actually pretty good ... as good as an '80s cover band can be, that is.
I could write a detailed review of the band to fill up the space to the left of this image so there isn't an annoying chunk of white space in this location, but I know you're not that interested in McFly or pretty much anything that happened on Thursday. I sense that you're annoyed enough that I spent the first few paragraphs describing the convention and hotels, and you're itching to see photos of scantily clad women. Patience, young Jedi ... we'll get there.
Friday - September 3, 2004
1:00pm - The Crossed SwordsWhat better way to kick off the first day than with an hour-long seminar on stage combat? Nicole Harsch and Mike Sakuta have been teaching and performing for 20 years, and their experience shows. The witty banter that accompanies their demonstrations would make you think they are married; I guess that's because they are married and have been performing as husband and wife for most of their careers. The presentation is really impressive as they demonstrate all the reasons many of the sword fights you see on film are -- Nicole's words -- total crap. First, they show a piece of combat that looks really cool, and then they deconstruct it, exposing just how silly it is once you think about it. Then they demonstrate the correct, and obviously more dangerous, way to choreograph a fight. As the hour progresses, they move from light rapiers to larger broadswords, then onto combat with a dagger or shield, and finally a Trek geek's dream: the Bat'leth.
2:30pm - Time to Go Meet the
Hidden deep in the basement of the Marriott Marquis and accessible by a single narrow escalator are two of the more popular, and therefore overly crowded, areas of the convention. In a clever arrangement, one must weave his way through the Dealers Room to access everyone's favorite destination: the Walk of Fame. I play along and check out a few of the dealer tables, particularly keeping an eye out for anything interesting to get signed by the guests, but nothing strikes my eye, so I make my way to the back of the room where I meet the incomparable June Lockhart.
Ruth Martin, Dr. Craig, Maureen Robinson ... Lockhart is an icon for the classic television fan. Still, I'll forever struggle to separate her from Dr. Lauren Rosen in Babylon 5's 'The Quality of Mercy'. Meeting her was a thrill for me, and I was in awe at how prepared she was for her fans. While most guests have a few different photos to sign, stacked individually on their tables, Lockhart had two folders filled with unique photos. Flip through the folder, find the photo you wanted to get signed, and she'd reach back into a makeshift suitcase-turned-file cabinet and pull out a fresh photo, sign it for you, and then place it in a brown paper bag to avoid smudging the ink while it dried. Classy and professional all the way. I was very impressed.
Hopping from table to table, I collected a few autographs and spoke with a few actors my friends have never heard of before making my way to (cue dramatic music) the Firefly table. Added as last-minute guests, this threesome would shortly be the talk of the convention. For now, though, they were still relatively unmobbed, and I had a chance to speak with each of them for a while. Adam Baldwin and I discussed a little known TV movie from 1985 called Poison Ivy (no, not that) starring Michael J. Fox and Nancy McKeon. I'm ashamed to admit that I've seen this thing nearly 50 times, and I was looking forward to scaring the poor man with my knowledge of this obscure work. I was shocked to find that not only did Adam have fond memories of the film; he actually recalled some of his dialogue and delivered it for me. I killed about an hour down here before returning to the Hyatt to scope out a good seat for the late afternoon activities.
4:00pm - Julie Benz *swoon*I've had the pleasure of meeting Julie Benz on a couple of different occasions, and I cannot speak highly enough of her or her cryptkeeping husband John Kassir. They are really wonderful people, and it was a treat sit and listen while Julie fielded an array of questions ranging from her figure skating youth to her star-struck encounter with Jack Nicholson on the set of As Good as it Gets, a role she mistakenly didn't believe had been offered to her by the great James L. Brooks. As the story was told, she was the first to audition for the role that day, and after her meeting Mr. Brooks said something to the effect of, "I look forward to seeing you on set." Julie, both skeptical of the Hollywood machine and in disbelief that the first person in the door would get the job, interpreted this as the Hollywood way of blowing someone off. It wasn't until days later that she found out he was sincere, presenting her the opportunity to replace her character's dialogue with, "Oh my God. You're Jack Nicholson!!!" during shooting.
5:30pm - Nicole de BoerOne thing Dragon*Con does really well, whether by accident or design I do not know, is book guests with multiple show connections. While Julie is known primarily for her role as Darla on Buffy and Angel, she also starred in Roswell and Steven Spielberg Presents Taken. Likewise, Nicole de Boer represents multiple fan-bases as a current star of USA's The Dead Zone as well as Ezri Dax from the last great Trek product, Deep Space Nine. I met Nicole for the first time in 2001, and it wasn't an overly positive experience. Accepting that we all have our bad days, I was hoping that this time would be different. It was. Not only was she very gracious in the autograph room, but her Q&A session was very interesting and informative. I was pleased that while there were a few Trek questions, most of the discussion was about The Dead Zone. One of the more interesting things she said was that she watched the Christopher Walken film when preparing for the role, but when she started reading the Stephen King novel, she quickly realized that what he had started with and what they were doing now were worlds apart, and it was best not to read too much further. Honestly, I had never given too much thought to her character of Sarah Bannerman, but after hearing her enthusiasm for the role and the content of the overall story, I see her in a somewhat different light. Her presentation ended a little early as she had just flown in from across the pond, so I had a little bit of time to wander around outside the ballroom.
6:15pm - Aimless WanderingUh oh ... what's that to the left? Am I teasing you with a costume pic? Why don't you click the image and see what else was wandering around the hallway during this break in the action?
As you enter the Hyatt Regency hotel's main floor, the Centennial Ballrooms are off to the right, and the escalators are to the left. In between is a fairly sizeable area where people congregate at all hours of the night. During the day, however, this area plays host to numerous musical performances. If listening to B-list celebrities drone on about their work doesn't appeal to you, then you can spend your time enjoying the stylings of some talented musicians. Currently, on "stage" is a Dragon*Con favorite: Voltaire. He entertains the crowd with sardonic folk tunes, love ballad satire, and -- you guessed it -- Star Trek parodies. Don't be fooled by the acoustic guitar and informal venue, though; this guy's good, and quite a few people have packed themselves into this crowded corridor to hear him spin his tales. I wish I could stay for his entire performance, but two Canadians and a man named Jayne are about to enter the building, and I must prepare.
7:00pm - You Can't Take the Sky From MeEvery year at Dragon*Con, something special happens, surprising the convention organizers and forcing them to scramble to rearrange room assignments to accommodate the fan response. A few years back, after the [formerly] Sci Fi Channel had completed airing the complete run of Babylon 5 for the first time, a large group of guests arrived to a monster response that created one of the most crowded and still talked about rooms we have ever seen: "Babylon 5 Whose Line Is It Anyway?". It was madness, and traditional powerhouses like Star Trek were drowned out by the enthusiasm for this incredible show. A couple of years later, many of the Farscape crew made the long journey from New Zealand, and again the response they received was incredible. This year, it was time for another breakout response, and unless they were just being really humble about it, it was a bit unexpected.
At this point, I should tell you that all three of these panels were in the same ballroom, and when I showed up a little before 4:00pm to hear Julie speak, I was planning ahead for this moment, wanting to get a good seat for what I expected to be a crowded session. To my surprise -- and delight -- I wasn't the only one taking this approach. In fact, the first few rows were packed with people prepared to wait 3 hours just to see the Firefly crew, and throughout that period and the ensuing panels, we did quite a bit of seat saving and shuffling to accommodate everyone. This was the first indication that we were about to be a part of something big, and as the hour approached, something happened that I had never seen before: they had to close Centennial I and stop letting people in. Although there are larger venues for concerts and wrestling and such, Centennial I is the second largest "panel" room in the convention, and they were past capacity with 30 minutes to go. With just minutes left before the start of the panel, I took a peek outside to see what things were like, and it wasn't pretty. Hundreds of angry fans unable to fit into the ballroom glared back at me like they wanted to tear the flesh from my bones, so I slowly backed away from the doors and returned to my seat. Clearly, this show has no audience. Good work, Fox.
For a solid hour, these three entertained the crowd to the point that we were all rolling in the aisles. Each actor expressed an incredible amount of satisfaction with the characters and the series and admitted that if their careers ended only being known for their roles on this particular show, it would be OK. "In my career I'm probably best known for three roles: My Bodyguard, Full Metal Jacket, and now Firefly; this one is by far my favorite. Put it on my epitaph," suggested Adam. Adam also discussed how when he was making Full Metal Jacket, he was only 23 years old and didn't fully appreciate how good the experience was. He looks at Firefly as somewhat of a second chance to work with talented and passionate people and be able to truly appreciate the whole effect. Prompted by a request from the audience, he indulged the crowd with a roaring performance of "The Ballad of Jayne".
Much of the discussion turned toward the upcoming feature film, where it was suggested that there are plans to make 3 films, and Universal will likely go forward with that project if opening numbers for Serenity are encouraging enough. Some audience members were curious how they will promote the film to a broad audience without retreading the steps taken by the television series. Jewel indicated that the film goes into background on the characters in a way that will bring new people up to speed but that provides some extra information that those of us familiar with the show will find interesting. Nathan indicated that watching the series before the film would be prudent as they won't be covering that material in depth; however, those introduced to this world by the film alone won't be lost either. The hour ended all too quickly, but it was a great experience for all of us. Little did we know at the time that it was just the beginning.
8:30pm - Mean ... WOOOOOOO! ... Gene!!!
Down the escalator, down the hall, down the other escalator, around a corner, and down another hall is a Q&A session with Garrett Wang, Ensign Harry Kim from that Voyager show. Across the hall is no-name wrestling. My choice is clear. I don't know who these two men are, and I don't care. Does that make me a terrible reporter? Of course not. Because I realize that you also do not know who these two people are, and more importantly, you don't care either. Now, I could tell you that the man in red is named "Hollywood Starr" and the other gentleman is named "Tights McGee", and you'd probably believe me because you don't know any better; but I've already filled the white space, and so we can just move on.
9:30pm - Hobbits and Pirates and ... Personal Slaves, Oh My!It's about that time. The next 8-10 hours will consist of mingling, drinking, partying, photographing, dancing, and -- time permitting -- standing your personal slave against a wall, and whipping him. While relatively tame, it's nighttime at Dragon*Con, and for the most part, anything goes. All kinds of madness is going on all at once. The Stargate folk are having a 10th anniversary party, the Buffy crowd has arranged some speed dating, and the Brobdingnagian Bards are putting on a concert. Deep in the basement of the Hyatt, the gamers will be competing all night long, and on the two primary floors, undeniably talented amateur costume designers will strut their stuff for all to see. The best part? Friday's pretty tame. The party really gets started Saturday night. Still, there's fun to be had, and it must be photographed.
10:30pm - Doctor Zathras's Traveling Babylon 5 Medicine Show: Diplomatic MixerSometime during the day, I was handed a flyer, inviting me to the Traveling Babylon 5 Medicine Show. "What is that?", you ask. Hell if I know. But I was invited, so I went. That's how it works. I was a little late to the party, so I missed some of the fun, but there were still plenty of people hanging out when I arrived, including some friends of mine from Chicago and Tampa. One of the best parts of Dragon*Con is meeting up with great people from around the country that you don't get to see all year, and we took advantage of that opportunity this evening. Meanwhile, some ladies took advantage of another opportunity: Jason Carter, and his affinity for social interaction. Talking with friends and eating the worst chips & salsa I've ever tasted, I spent a couple of hours partying with these folk before making my way back to the Hyatt.
12:30am - The Party Rages On ...
3:00am - Everyone in the Pool!
4:30am - I'm Not as Think as You Tired I am
Stumbling around incoherently at this point, I made some more new friends, although I don't remember their names, or their faces, or if they were real or not; but it was still fun. The party was thinning at this late hour, but there were still a few people around. I spent a good hour and a half talking with a guy from California, a safari Stormtrooper, and two women in need of a place to sleep.
When the whipping began, I knew it was time to retire for the
6:30am - Sleep ...
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