Whoosh! Issue 57 - June 2001

PASADENA DIARY
By Philip Tracy
Content copyright © 2001 held by author
WHOOSH! edition copyright © 2001 held by Whoosh!
9157 words

Page Two



The WHOOSH Panel

The Seven XENA Dwarfs -- Fiver, Buckeye, Queeny, Bossy, Smurfette, 
Clueless, and Thirsty

The WHOOSH Panel from very far away
(left to right: Philip Tracy, Beth Gaynor, deb7,
Kym Taborn, Katherine Fugate, Bret Ryan Rudnick, Jeff Lundrigan)
(photo by Carolyn Bremer)


[37] The WHOOSH panel had six people on it and the topic was "Six Seasons Of Xena: What Went Right And What Went Wrong". No way I am going to report what was said since I was one of the six, came last, and spent most of my time worrying about what I was going to say. Instead, I will report what little I can remember and leave it at that.

[38] Jeff Lundrigan writes media reviews for ign.com. Kym Taborn introduced him as being the oldest professional Xena reviewer. He said at the end of his talk that what went right with the show was the casting of Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor as the leads. The warmth of their friendship came across on the screen and led to the reading of subtext themes into the show, before the producers started overtly putting in references.

[39] Bret Rudnick, who is an editor and interviewer for WHOOSH (his interviews comprised the entire March issue of WHOOSH, (http://whoosh.org/issue54) did a statistical analysis of the shows ratings that showed the show actually got in trouble, ratings wise, during seasons three and four, not five as most believe.

[40] Katherine Fugate wrote the upcoming episode WHEN FATES COLLIDE (130/618). She was a fan of the show from the second year. She told the story of how she had to shut down her writing career to go back east to take care of her grandmother who was dying. She explained how hard that task became as her grandmother became increasingly debilitated and how, at times, she wanted to quit. She said one of the things that helped her the most was thinking about how Xena would take care of Gabrielle in similar circumstances and that watching her Xena tapes always renewed her enough to continue the task. And how, her grandmother buried and her episode in production, she was able to tell Lucy Lawless how much inspiration she had given her. Her story was the high point of the panel and she was subject to prolonged applause.

[41] Deb7, an on-line fan critic, had to follow Ms. Fugate and it was not easy. She said that as the show went on, the themes became more melodramatic and in conflict with what had been posited in the earlier episodes.

[42] Beth Gaynor, a WHOOSH episode reviewer, followed up that pointing out that in earlier shows, while Xena had a dark past, she still would not let a child be killed. But later in the show, she was portrayed as a mass murderer who killed women and children.

[43] Finally, I spoke and tried to reiterate a couple of points I made in my WHOOSH article. The show backtracking from the romance of the second season was a terrible missed opportunity for the show but it created an opportunity for the Xena fan fiction writers to exploit, thereby transforming X/G into a romantic myth. If I had said it as clearly before the audience as I just wrote it here, perhaps not so many people would have looked at me like I was crazy. I did not however, and they did.

[44] In the question and answer session, the fan fiction writer Rebecca Hall asked a follow-up question about why the show's themes seemed to turn back on themselves as the years went by. Nobody could offer an adequate answer.

[45] Ms. Fugate was invited to defend the characterization of the fans in SEND IN THE CLONES (128/616). She pointed out she had nothing to do with the writing of that episode and declined. Several people asked why the show's producers seemed to care so little for the fan's opinions and Ms. Fugate said that is not the way Rob Tapert seemed to her. That he always talked very respectfully about the fans. Bret Rudnick added that sometimes TPTB ("the powers that be", not his phrase) were dismayed at the opinions the fans did have but it was never a case that they were not considered.

[46] Finally, the discussion came around to the inclusion of a clip of the gabdrag from BITTER SUITE (58/312) in SEND IN THE CLONES (128/616). One woman in the audience said she did not understand why everybody was upset at the Gabdrag. That Gabrielle deserved it for killing Xena's son and if it were her (the woman speaking) she would have dragged Gabrielle around until she was dead. Several people held their breaths at that point, since it is traditional at this junction in the debate over that X/G episode that fisticuffs occur. Kym Taborn came to the rescue, explaining to the woman that many X/G fans are very passionate about the show and have certain buttons, which if pushed, can lead to unforeseen occurrences and that the lady had just found the biggest one. With that the WHOOSH panel was brought to a close.



Lunacy

[47] While I had certain regrets about my performance on the panel, they were washed away when Lunacy (Maribel Piloto) came up and introduced herself. I am a terrific admirer of hers. I found my way to fan fiction because of her recommendations and I am indebted to her for help in several areas. I had thought her an older woman, based on nothing more than the fact that she was a librarian but she is in her thirties I would guess and very attractive. I hope to see her again before the Convention ends.



Claire Stansfield

I just ****ing love this ****ing bottle of ****ing water!

Claire Stansfield, an amazing public speaker, at the Charity breakfast
(photo by Maria Mejia)


[48] The panel over, I made my way to the Main Hall, hoping to look for fellow Tavern Wallers. I never found any. I still do not know if they got together Friday night. I took my seat and tested the camera and binoculars I plan to use tomorrow. The auction man was doing his thing. After that Claire Stansfield came on to ferocious applause. Where Hudson Leick was vampish and playful, Claire Stansfield was earthy and vulgar. She used the f-word several times, which was unfortunate, as there were children in the audience. At the egging on of the crowd, she repeated her referral to Gabrielle as "Xena's B*tch". Then she turned around and complained about some show where she had to do a topless scene. So this is what we have come to, modest (well, almost) villains, who curse in public and revel in the public's acceptance. Give me a break.

[49] I did not stay for Ms. Stansfield's entire performance owing to prior social commitments. I also missed Alexandra Tydings, which I genuinely regret and Ted Raimi, which I did not.



DAY THREE: SUNDAY MAY 6, 2001

Missy Good

How much am I bid for this fanfic writer?  Anyone?

Missy Good and Debbie Cassetta of Sword and Staff
(photo by Donna Alexander)


[50] This is most exciting of the three days by far. I feel it as soon as I get out of the car, which is driven by my good friend Robyn, who has acted as my chauffeur, fed me nourishing meals, hooked me up with my other LA friends, as well as provide me with a free place to sleep. At the point that you read this will you please give a silent cheer for Robyn.

[51] I have found a shortcut to the main hall allowing me to avoid most of the crowds. We are a little late and I know Missy Good will start promptly. She is the first fan episode writer (with two credits to her name) and today she gets to address the convention, a singular honor for a singular woman. True to form, she is already talking when I hit the hall. (God, Missy I am only eight minutes late.) Someone has asked her if she knows the show's ending and if so, will she reveal it. Fat Chance.

[52] She is then asked a question on the status of her Uber Xena fiction, Tropical Storm, which has been written and sold as a pilot script and around which a deal is currently being put together. Her answer is that this is a Xena convention and she will only discuss matters relating to the show. She does answer a question from Lunacy however, who asks when she is going to write a Conqueror story. The entire audience laughs, since everybody knows Conqueror stories are usually extremely sexy and Missy Good identifies herself as a PG-13 writer of subtext. Missy tells Lunacy she hopes to get to it soon.

[53] Someone asks, if Missy has ever had a vacation where the company she works for full-time as some kind of computer trouble-shooter has not paged her. She confirms she has not and that EDS, owned by Ross Perot, was paging just before her going on. (They are paying you a lot of money Missy, you could have at least talked to them for another eight minutes.) Most of the questions are softballs, asked by Merpups (let's not go there), her own fan club, which is going to have a celebratory dinner after the convention ends tonight. Eventually, Missy gets tired of swatting Merpup softballs, so she tells the story of how she came to be asked to write for the show and introduces the man who asked her, Steven Sears.



Steven Sears

[54] Sears is one of the better-known writers for the show, having authored THE QUEST (37/213), REMEMBER NOTHING (26/202), and several other noteworthy episodes. He is considered subtext friendly and is given a big welcome. He was not scheduled to speak at the convention and has nothing prepared. He is wearing a modified Indiana Jones outfit with broad brimmed leather hat that hides his face. He made a few jokes, gave away a couple of signed posters to two small children, said a few passing words about what a pleasure it was to work with everybody, and disappeared.



Ebonie Smith

The absolute wrong moment for the hot peppers to kick in

Ebonie Smith
(photo by Lida Verner)


[55] Ebonie Smith was the next person to be brought on stage. She played M'Lila in DESTINY (36/212), the woman who served as one of Xena's mentors. She taught her the pinch. Ms. Smith is a lively, energetic young woman but as I already know I am going to be sitting in the hall for at least three hours today, I decide to take a walk around.



Costumed Fans

Budget crunch stand-ins

Gabrielle and Xena made it to the con. Did you?
(photo by Philip Tracy)


[56] The first thing apparent is that there are a lot more people here today. The second is that a lot more of them have come in costume. The first two days the costumes were strictly Xena and Gabrielle and worn by people who were clearly fans. Today the costumes are of all different characters from the show, as well as different costumes worn only once or twice by Xena or Gabrielle and now worn by people who may be fans or maybe professional costume makers/wearers. The costume contest is schedule to start right after Lucy Lawless and Renee O'Connor are done.



Oxygen Channel

[57] I decided to visit the Oxygen Channel and give somebody a piece of my mind. Their web site is for hunger, they change the episode line-up at the drop of a hat, and they are only on cable systems covering a tiny fraction of America's households. My opening gambit was going to be "Have you set this booth up to apologize?" but a charming young woman turned a broad smile my way and I said the h*ll with it. It was a great day and I can play curmudgeon anytime, so instead I let her tell me how Xena and the Oxygen Channel are creating a great partnership, never once mentioning that being paired with Oxygen is like being assigned guard post duty at a Nome, Alaska missile base. In the middle of winter. Nor do I mention the biggest drawback of Oxygen and all the channels that will run Xena in the future. Namely, five extra minutes of commercials they all play, time that comes directly out of each episode's hide.

[58] I have almost a complete set of Xena episodes but nearly all of them were taped off Oxygen or the SciFi channel. In my version of DELIVERER (50/304) we never find if Boadicea won her battle with Caesar, which appeared to be the focal point of the episode most of the way through. Instead, Gabrielle is raped by Dahak, the temple collapses, and Xena feels guilty for reasons I only found out about in fan fiction. Still, none of it is the fault of this budding public affairs specialist, so I leave her thinking she has won another foot soldier to her station's army of supporters.

[59] I notice Nancy, who is sister to fellow Tavern Waller smsolo, decorating the abdomen of another fighter for Oxygen. Nancy is doing an elaborate circular design around the woman's belly button, in henna, the stuff Gabrielle and Xena decorated each other with in BETWEEN THE LINES (83/415). Henna is a paste-like mixture that you apply directly to the skin. You leave it on a couple of days, keep it dry, wash it off, and the pattern left on the skin is light brown and can last up to a month. It is like a tattoo for those who find commitment difficult.

[60] This is Nancy's second Xena convention but her first doing Henna. She has only been doing it a year. "This is the first time I've done this for anyone other than friends or relatives," she says as she applies a chakram and sword to another woman's calf. Henna is a middle eastern art form that goes back a long time. In some cultures it is used to adorn couples getting married, in others warriors on the eve of battle. Nancy has the twin characteristics needed by a henna artist: a steady hand and patience.



Amazons!

Will the *real* Amazon Queen step forward?!

How many friends does an Amazon have?
As many as she wants!
(photo by Philip Tracy)


[61] On the way back to the main hall I encounter a tribe of Amazons. Well, perhaps tribe is not the technically correct term for three women dressed as Amazons, a fourth as Xena and a fifth in the costume of a Valkyrie. But either way they look impressive. Two are sisters from Anaheim and the other three are friends from Seattle. They all wound up sitting in the same row of a Washington State Xena convention. The three friends, Meridith, Nancy, and Janet were wearing modified Amazon costumes, and the two sisters from Anaheim, Jennifer and Lisa, thought they were cool.

[62] The Internet united them, their determination drove them, tapes of the Amazon and Norse episodes provided the example, and a fair amount of money for feathers, leather, and paint made it all possible. It took them almost a year. The outfits are stunning and so are the young women in them. "We worked very hard to make each costume as exact as we could," says Janet, the seeming leader of the group, "given the reference materials available." Janet explained how the tapes were fuzzy and they had to do a lot of guessing. Finally, a few months ago, they got hold of some still photos with Amazons in them and discovered several of their guesses had been wrong. Undeterred, they took what they needed to change apart and started all over again. "We just wanted to get it right," says Janet, the pride in her voice evident. And right they got it. The Amazon masks swing down at a right angle to cover the face and up to rest on the crown of their heads. Xena looks together and the Valkyrie seems ready to mount her horse at any moment.

[63] The Amazon leather costumes are beaded and fringed and display generous portions of flesh, a sure sign of Renaissance Pictures authenticity. Yet the women are utterly unselfconscious. They pose for pictures for the hundred or so people who asked to photograph them in the ten minutes I was with them. Their eyes were shinning, their smiles were real, and they were having the time of their life, all their hard work paying off in flattering attention. Whether they win or not, this group had a wonderful Convention.



Tsianina Joelson

A primary source of graphics editor heart attacks

My what a strong young lady
(photo by Marilyn Cristiano)


[64] Back at the main hall the energy is building. On stage, Tsianina Joelson is being asked by the crowd to take off her jacket. After some hesitation she complies. This turns out to be the critical moment in Ms. Joelson's appearance, as underneath the jacket, she is wearing a blouse that could be best described as a outsized dinner napkin held together by string. The crowd gives a guttural roar. Ms. Joelson visibly cringes. She is young, younger than she appears to be when playing Varia in Season Six.

[65] As a young actress, she no doubt wanted to please the crowd but finds herself in the awkward position of perhaps pleasing it too much. The crowd keeps calling on her to turn her back to the audience, which for some reason she is reluctant to do. There are numerous catcalls and whistles and soon Ms. Joelson is asking for instruction on how she should exit the stage. Finally, someone tells her to just thank everybody and leave. She does.



Darien Takle

I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. Tapert!

Darian Takle, geez that woman can sing
(photo by Debbie Cassetta)


[66] Darien Takle, who played Xena's mother, Cyrene, is an ardent contrast to Ms. Joelson. She is an older woman with rugged features and a strong New Zealand accent. She recounts her years abroad playing various role but allows that this is her first time to Los Angeles or the U.S. mainland. "I did a spot of work in Hawaii once," she mentions. She also had a starring role in a stage production of a play about Edith Piaf. When asked by members of the audience, she sings a beautiful rendition of a recognizable Piaf song but if I tried to write the song's title, the French would never forgive me.

[67] Darien has a beautiful voice and it is a shame she has been restricted to a 20-minute time slot and the audience question format. She could entertain a crowd like this with no effort and hold them in the palm of her hand. All too soon she is gone, and now it is getting really close.



Robert Field

William Shatner's stand-in

Robert Field, film editor extraordinaire
(photo by Lida Verner)


[68] Rob Field, one of the film editors, introduces a blooper reel and a six-year retrospective video that is incredible. There it is, the whole show in microcosm, everything that has attracted me to it. All arguments over what the show might have been, should have been, would have been if, fall by the wayside. The show was. It existed. It thrilled. It made you laugh. It gave birth to the Xenaverse and every person in this hall would be a little less if the show had never existed. The schedule says they played one final video and they may well have. For the life of me I cannot remember. The lights went down for the last time and suddenly there she was, shimmering in blue, Renee O'Connor. And the best show of them all began.



LUCY LAWLESS AND RENEE O'CONNOR

Seen in the golf clubhouse

Renee O'Connor, a singing fool
(photo by Marilyn Cristiano)


[69] Renee O'Connor and Lucy Lawless finished a two-hour session with Sharon Delaney at 6:05 p.m., and brought their husbands, Lucy's daughter, and other members of the cast and crew on stage for a fond and emotionally choking farewell. Just before calling the others out they waved and said "See you again", referring to the packed crowd of 6,000 fans. Light bulbs flashed and many fans were seen to have tears in their eyes, including this one.

[70] The session, which began about 4:15pm, opened with Renee O'Connor coming onstage wearing a light-blue blouse and black pants. Her hair was cut similar to the style she has been wearing this season. She cupped her hands around her tummy as if to say "See I'm showing" but anything she may have said was drowned out by a tumultuous standing ovation which went on for a full two minutes, despite Ms. O'Connor effort to cut it short. Later in the show, Lucy Lawless reveal that Ms. O'Connor was five months pregnant.

[71] Delaney asked a few opening questions and then asked, rather oddly, if Renee wished to sing. Odd, since Ms. O'Connor had alleged in previous interviews that she could not sing. Later in the show Lucy, referring to another matter, confessed, "Sometimes when people ask us questions we don't always tell the truth." Then with a hand to her mouth in an aside, "We make things up."

[72] Renee nodded her head yes to Delaney's question. Sharon then asked aloud, presumably to a listening production staff member "Do we have a musical accompaniment?" There was a several second pause and then the soft percussion beat was heard, after which Ms. O'Connor proceed to sing the first stanza of a song "The Last Chance ". For the record, Ms. O'Connor can sing.

[73] On the second stanza a second voice was heard, and Lucy Lawless danced her way on stage. The remaining of the stanza and the one following it were completely drowned out by the standing ovation accorded Ms. Lawless. Eventually, the crowd calmed down enough so that the end of the song could be heard. After a brief pause, during which both women walked back and forth on the stage so that audience members from both sides could see and photograph them, Sharon Delaney began asking both them questions.

[74] Lucy was dressed in a costume from Sam Raimi's Spider- Man movie. Rather than have me try to describe it, I suggest you go to Mary D's site under Lucy News. There is a photo of her in the costume. She looked thinner than on the series and her pedal-pusher pants had what appeared to be giant safety pins hanging off them. She was a total contrast to Renee, who looked adorable and very feminine.

[75] Sharon Delaney began questioning the two. Without the benefit of recording equipment, this report will be far from comprehensive. This is said with some bitterness as the man one row ahead and two seats over held a video camera and recorded the entire appearance without any objection from Creation Staff. Others had previously told me how Creation staff had vigorously stopped people from recording appearances of second string stars of the show at other fan conventions. None were in evidence today.

[76] Delaney asked Renee how she came to get the part. Renee said she had to audition for the role, twice. She mentioned that the first audition was the scene in SINS OF THE PAST (01/101) where Gabrielle defends Xena from the townspeople of Amphipolis. "I had to be the lawyer," Renee said. But Lucy intervened and said Renee was always the first pick. "The part was written with her in mind." They then went on to talk about how they first met at dinner in L.A. They then talked about their first few months together when everything was hectic and Lucy was so busy it was awhile before she had Renee up to her house for New Zealand food.

[77] Sharon asked Renee when it was that she recognized that Gabrielle was not going to be a ordinary sidekick who was just there for the hero to explain what they were doing to. Renee said she never particularly had that recognition and Lucy chimed in about how Renee was the one who got the hair cut, went on a quest to find her way, and become a warrior, the implication being that Lucy's character stayed the same.

Seen on the golf course

Lucy Lawless, one step ahead of the fashion police
(photo by Marilyn Cristiano)


[78] Sharon asked both of them about costumes, which ones they liked most and liked least. I frankly do not remember Lucy's answer about the costume liked most. Renee jokes about her costume in IF THE SHOE FITS (80/412) where her teeth are blacked and her hair was twisted into knots. On the negative side, Lucy mentioned the crucifixion costumes from IDES OF MARCH (89/421). "Oh yeah! We knew something bad was gonna happen when we got a look at them. You see, we'd get to see the costumes before we saw the scripts."

[79] After that I put down my notebook and just became a fan. So what I write from here on comes in random order with no particular logic to it. The two were talking about outsiders coming on the show. Renee is talking: "Sometimes people would come in and try make the characters (their respective roles) into caricatures and Lucy would say 'we try to play them [X/G] from the heart'. We try to make it real."

[80] At another point Sharon asked Lucy if she felt responsible for keeping the whole process going. "After all, if you don't show up none of the other people work," said Sharon. Lucy said she did and Renee chimed in how Lucy set the tone for the whole crew, how she always showed up, always cared about everybody.

[81] They both talked about how much a relief it was to be off the show. "I can get to do ordinary things like go shopping or laze around," Lucy said.

[82] They were asked about a movie and Lucy said she had not heard any talk about one. "Maybe in five years, things will be different."

[83] Renee talked about how strange it was at first in New Zealand. "They don't give Christmas presents or birthday presents and at first I was going around saying here's your birthday present and they'd look at me like there was something wrong with me."

[84] Both women seemed very much at ease on the stage although Lucy did drift into the shadows a lot, almost disappeared, when Renee was being questioned. At times, they interrupted each other and made slight gags, mostly for each other. It was not as if they were not aware of the audience. Lucy would periodically herd the two of them over to one side of the stage or another so the fans on either side could get a better look. But the way they interacted was more like what I saw on the fan kit #4 video when they were on the set, telling jokes to one another and whoever happened to be there.

[85] They have completely different senses of humor. Lucy's is exaggerated, full of gestures, and voices design to dramatize the humor of what she is saying. Renee does not gesture, except to bounce when she giggles. Her humor is more quick-witted. In an exchange with Delaney, both she and Lucy were asked if they had any upcoming projects. Lucy stood there a second, nonplused. Actors are often involved in projects that could go either way, made or unmade and speaking in public about them is a no-no. Renee did not hesitate. Rubbing her tummy she said "Yes!" That got a laugh from the audience that led Delaney to say "That's one point for the little blonde", to which Renee shot back "Oh, we're on point system, eh?"

[86] Toward the end Sharon asked Lucy if she engaged in practical jokes and Lucy told the story from Club video #4 about putting stuff from the makeup department, sword gashes or chopped off ears in a nicely wrap box and sending it off to someone as a present. Then she said O'Connor was a relentless practical joker, at which point Renee piped up "I have to be 'cause they never work". She then went on to tell a story about how she painstakingly put crumbs on a seat where Lucy was suppose to sit, only to have Lucy come along and brushed the stuff away without even looking at it. "They never work," Renee lamented, going on to explain how she slimed the door-handle to Lucy's trailer only to have her husband, Rob Tapert, the show's producer, reach for the door- handle first.

[87] They addressed the question of subtext but I am going to leave it to others to describe what was said, since I am certain it is going to be given a thorough airing.

[88] Finally, they talked about the show's ending. They said they tried to make it and all the remaining shows as dramatic and as entertaining as they possibly could. Lucy said she had not seen more than "tiny bits and pieces". But she also said Renee had sat through a rough cut 2-hour version and had cried the whole time, making it pretty decisive that we are not going to have a Hercules ending.

[89] Then the two did an encore performance of "The Last Dance", friends and family were called out, everyone applauded, and the show was over. I left, both very happy and very sad.



Articles

Philip Tracy. Armageddon For The Xenaverse In Pasadena. WHOOSH #56 (May 2001)
http://whoosh.org/issue56/tracy1.html



Biography

Philip Tracy Philip Tracy

The author was a full-time journalist for 20 years but has worked for a San Francisco nonprofit for the last 15. He stumbled onto Xena: Warrior Princess while surfing during a commercial break for a baseball game. Xena and Gabrielle were taking a bath together. He never went back to the baseball game.
Favorite episode: FINS, FEMMES, AND GEMS
Favorite line: Gabrielle: "Believe me. If I have to go the rest of my life without companionship, knowing myself will not be a problem." THE QUILL IS MIGHTIER
First episode seen: A DAY IN THE LIFE
Least favorite episode: I do not have one


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