Whoosh! Issue 50 - November 2000

By Joanna Sandsmark
50th Issue Project
Content copyright © 2000 held by author
Edition copyright © 2000 held by Whoosh!
2102 words

Intro (01)
Generous Amazons (02-07)
Welcome To "The Xena Room" (08-11)
How Does It Work? (12-14)
Fun Facts (15-23)
Hey, Nice Lady! (24-27)
Gooooooals (28-30)

Sword and Staff: A Celebration of Xenite Generosity


Almost no S&S people have been bashed in the head with a chakram.

Sword and Staff has a keen website at http://www.sword-and-staff.com

[1] Does Xena fandom really need an organization like Sword and Staff? It is not like we cannot make charitable contributions on our own. So, why does it exist? What is it doing, and where did it come from?

Generous Amazons

[2] As Xena fans, most of us have had that moment of slight hesitation before admitting that yes, our favorite TV show involves women in skimpy leather costumes fighting computer-generated menaces or indulging in bathroom humor. The outside world just does not understand that this does not define the show, nor does the cleavage of the leads, the sexual orientation of some of the fans, or our most defining characteristic: living as Amazons. According to one New York City charity (an organization that benefits babies with AIDS) that is who makes up the audience for Xena: Warrior Princess. In addition, that charitable organization did not want to have anything to do with "a bunch of Amazons".

[3] In the spring of 1997, the very first New York XenaFest was a rousing success, and it netted the organizers a cool $4500 for charity. Debbie Cassetta, one of the organizers of the NYCXF, contacted the charity, offering the funds to their worthy cause. They declined.

[4] "You don't understand," Cassetta patiently explained. "I want to give you the money".

[5] The representative dismissed her with a quick, "No, you don't understand. We don't want your money. We don't want to be associated with a bunch of Amazons".

[6] One would guess from that response that they were doing so well they did not need the contribution. Yet a mere two days after Cassetta's offer, the director of that same charitable organization appeared on the Rosie O'Donnell Show, soliciting money and talking about how desperate they were for donations. What she forgot to mention was that they were not quite desperate enough to take $4500 from those weirdo Xena fans.

[7] It appeared that the reputation of XWP fans was so bad we could not give money away. Cassetta felt that something needed to be done, and quickly. "As fans watching a cult show, we were viewed in a very negative way, and it seemed pretty obvious that we needed better PR," she explained in a telephone interview. "The world was looking at us as if we were a bunch of crazies". Rather than whine and complain, Cassetta acted. She founded an organization that was designed to be not only a conduit for charitable donations by Xena fans, but also a means for them to feel good about themselves. It also let the world at large know who they were and what they were capable of doing. Charity in the name of XWP and its stars now had a name: Sword and Staff.

Welcome To "The Xena Room"

[8] The first auction was held online and consisted of some of the merchandise Cassetta had collected for herself. It was so successful that she immediately sold the rest of her private collection in a second auction.

[9] Obviously, this was not going to sustain the organization, so she needed a new method of getting auction material. She posted a message on a private Xena mailing list saying that she needed some help in the form of donations of Xena memorabilia. The response was overwhelming, and it was not long before donations began pouring in from all corners of the Xenaverse.

[10] One of the hallmarks of Xena fandom is generosity. Those who donate through Sword and Staff are not just the people who write out checks after successfully bidding. There are all sorts of fans who keep Sword and Staff stocked with merchandise by donating pieces from their own collections, making purchases with donation in mind, or contributing the results of their own labors. In addition, cast members and Xena production crews have been very generous when it comes to donating items or providing autographs for Sword and Staff auctions or for fan fest auctions. For years, Cassetta had a room in her apartment that her friends dubbed "the Xena Room". Visitors would ask to see it and then stand mouth agape at the accumulated treasures.

[11] "The generosity of Xena fans is mind boggling," Cassetta said with pride in her voice. "Many times, they'll send more money than their bid, or they'll pay for the item then re-donate it for a future auction. Some will even lose the bid, but send a donation anyway".

How Does It Work?

Alternative poster for SHEENA: QUEEN OF THE JUNGLE

Sword and Staff support a lot of good causes -- like saving the Rain Forest!

[12] It is a misconception that Sword and Staff is a charity. It is not. It is a funnel through which donations can be dispersed. It is a fund-raiser, holding auctions, running a small online marketplace, etc. It is a face for fan generosity, as donations are tallied, whether they go directly through Sword and Staff or not, as long as Cassetta is made aware of the contribution. Sword and Staff represents fan generosity. Think of it as our proof that we are not a bunch of crazies and that we are caring people, just like the rest of the non-Xena-watching crowd. It is a way to indulge our XWP collecting and make a difference.

[13] No monetary donations are made to Sword and Staff. Checks are written out to the charities it supports. The only things that should go directly to Sword and Staff are the postage stamps necessary to mail the item to the bidder. If those stamps aren't included, the cost of postage is paid by Cassetta, or perhaps by an extra stamp some other fan sent along "just in case".

[14] So how are the various charities chosen? "If there's a particular cause that a cast member supports, every effort will be made to support that organization," said Cassetta. "Lucy's support of the Starship Foundation comes immediately to mind. Other times, fans will also ask to have a specific charity supported by a particular auction, and in most instances, those requests are accommodated. But generally, I choose the majority of the charities that we support. They usually meet criteria that were set out for me when I first started Sword and Staff. I was told that both Lucy and Renee would prefer not to name specific charities, but was told that the actresses supported organizations that deal with children, women, and AIDS victims. Our efforts were (and are) geared toward those charities. Later, environmental causes, like the saving the rainforest and marine conservation, were added when it became evident that these causes were also supported by several individual Xena cast members".

Fun Facts

[15] So, what was the most money ever paid for a single item?

[16] "$2,000 for a black and white promotional still of Renee O'Connor," Cassetta said, still awed by the amount. "I spent a couple of hours on the phone over this one. I was concerned that the two people bidding against each other were just caught up in the heat of the auction. I wanted to give the high bidder a chance to back off that bid. When I was comfortable that the bidder wanted the item and at that price because of the donation aspect, I backed off and said fine. I've pretty much concluded that I'll never get a job at Sotheby's. I keep trying to talk the bidders out of buying".

[17] What was the oddest item auctioned?

[18] "ME!" said a laughing Cassetta. "This happened at one of our NYC XenaFests. Our auctioneer was holding up an item and asked if anyone wanted to make an opening bid. Someone stood up and said that they didn't want the item, but they'd bid $500 on me. I thought that was a joke, and it probably was. When the bidding hit $1000, the auctioneer (a good friend of mine) called off the bidding because, as she said, 'I can't chaperone this date, and I'm not sure what you want for that money.' I still don't have a clue what I could do that would be worth $1,000".

[19] What have been the most successful auctions?

[20] "Xena fan fiction auctions. We've done several, and Xena fan fiction auctions have raised in excess of $30,000 for charities. The bards are always extremely generous, and the fans are always delighted to participate. We also did a Xena art auction, and that did very well, too. Both did far better than the official merchandise auctions that we run regularly".

[21] What is the most rewarding aspect of running Sword and Staff?

[22] "Knowing that the charities we support have done a lot of good as a result of our donations, and also knowing that the majority of the fan base is behind what Sword and Staff does". [Note: Sword and Staff has raised over $175,000 so far!]

[23] "Also, I get to meet an incredible assortment of people," Cassetta continued. "That has truly enriched my life. Xena fans are such an amazing bunch. They'll give the shirts off their backs -- and have! Whenever I've asked for help with Sword and Staff, they're right there. This is truly their organization, and they've taken ownership. That's an incredible feat in a fan base that is so fragmented. Sword and Staff provides a common ground for those fans who want one".

Hey, Nice Lady!

[24] What is the most disheartening aspect of running Sword and Staff?

[25] "Knowing that there is a small but vocal element in fandom that is eager to knock Sword and Staff and what it does, and that they continue to question my motives for doing this. That gets very old, very quickly. There was a great statement Jerry Lewis used years ago when his association with the Muscular Dystrophy Association was questioned. He said, 'For those who understand, no explanation is necessary. For those who don't, no explanation will suffice.' I think he hit the nail on the head".

[26] What do you consider the most fun aspect of running Sword and Staff?

[27] "Doing live auctions or traveling to XenaFests and other fan events in other parts of the country or the world. I have a terrific time whenever I visit Canada, where there is a dearth of Xena material. I always go up there with boxes of merchandise to 'sell' at their fests. I sell the items in Canadian dollars so that it is not prohibitive for the fans up there. [Note: the exchange rate with the US dollar makes most XWP merchandise untouchable for many Canadians, Kiwis, Aussies, and some Europeans.] All the proceeds are then donated to the charity being sponsored by the local fest committee, so the donation stays in the country that actually donated the money. I also had the opportunity to attend a 'By The Gods' meet in London. That was terrific. I had a great time and I was treated so well by the gang at Page's Bar that I count it among my most pleasant memories of London".


Uber is busting out everywhere!

Many people have donated fabulous things to S&S. On the acknowledgements page is this cool artwork by Miguel Cura.

[28] Having just seen the women's soccer team play at the Olympics, I had to ask Cassetta about her goals for Sword and Staff.

[29] "I would like to continue, at least until the show runs it course. And I would love to reach the $250,000 mark before that happens. That's a long shot, but it is possible. What a testament to this fan base that would be, eh?"

[30] Yes, not bad for a bunch of crazies.


Joanna Sandsmark, "My First Party at the Convention" Whoosh! #5 (February 1997)

Joanna Sandsmark, "Amazon Talk Show" Whoosh! #12 (September 1997)

Joanna Sandsmark, "Bitter Treat: A BITTER SUITE Parody" Whoosh! #19 (April 1998)

Joanna Sandsmark, "How To Write Xena Fan Fiction" Whoosh! #25 (October 1998)

Joanna Sandsmark, "Armageddon Tired of Conquering" Whoosh! #46 (July 2000)

Ms. Sandsmark was also interviewed as both Joanna and Wordwarrior in the First All Fan Fiction Issue of Whoosh!, Whoosh! #25 (October 1998)


Joanna Sandsmark Joanna Sandsmark
Joanna writes and talks a lot.
Favorite episode: THE DEBT 1&2 (52-53/306-307)
Favorite line: Xena: "Go home. There are thousands more like me." ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/313)
First episode seen: WARRIOR...PRINCESS (15/115)
Least favorite episode: MARRIED WITH FISHSTICKS (105/515)

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