I vividly remember the first con I went to, 18 months ago in Sacramento. Swept up in the enthusiasm, I waxed rhapsodic about the overall sense of community in the room that day; every conceivable person was represented and one presenter or another fulfilled every interest. It was everything a rampant fan could want. (see "The Pilgrimage" in the July 1997 issue of Whoosh at: http://www.whoosh.org/issue10/saccon.html. even though it's out of order you'll get the idea.)
I went to my second con in San Francisco last year (hell, I live here, to not go would be heresy). Met Renee, Michael Hurst and Ron Fields. Just perfection. So it seemed only natural that I would rush to this year's event with the same enthusiasm. I think we never get tired of reliving the excitement of that first public display of affection.
The Masonic auditorium stands at the top of Nob Hill. Looking to the right you can see San Francisco Bay. In front of you is the glorious Grace Cathedral and some of the most elegant hotels in the world. It is a spectacular setting for any event. This is no convention center or hotel ballroom; the theater has permanence about it that few other venues have.
By your third con, you pretty much know what to expect from Creation; the requisite t-shirt/photo/poster/action-figure/jewelry venders are in the lobby, the Xena soundtrack (from "The Bitter Suite") plays on the p.a. system. Fans of every description abound, though less in number this time. (I really wanted to sit in the balcony, but it was closed off.) But I had no real expectations. I thought it might be fun to see Hudson again, Alex Tydings is a total cutie and I thought seeing Ted Raimi as himself would give me a little insight into Joxer.
What a difference 18 months makes. Not to sound overly critical, but this San Francisco Con just didn't click. The rhythm was off, the notes discordant, the melody flat.
Speaking of flat melodies, from the opening bars of the "Bad to the Bone" Ares Video Salute, I just got a bad feeling about this. Now, I'm not saying that the whole music video thing is a bad idea, I actually like the concept; but after the videos have been once around the circuit, it's time for some new material. Hey, change the songs guys, please? Do we really need to be lead around by our emotional noses?
Note to the Creation folks: Communication is very important. I don't know whether you couldn't get anyone from the Renaissance production staff to come to the con, but we really need an opening act with a lot more information, behind the scenes stuff, gossip and stories. Someone who maybe spends a little time in New Zealand with the cast and crew and a little time in L.A. with the production team. We need a little more "inside skinny" for sticking with it through last season, ya know? If Renaissance can't send anyone, just make a little announcement or something, okay?
Sharon Delaney presented slides of the first four episodes from each show and admitted that she put the presentation together on the plane and didn't have much in-depth information. Most of the questions for her concerned the return of a favorite character rather than plot information. (P.S. Callisto is dead. She ain't coming back this time. Really.) Sharon gave it her all, but the opening presenter at a con gets everyone revved up, whets the appetite for more. Didn't get that here. Only thing in my notes is the following: Season Four is about Xena trying to rewrite the future because of the glimpse of Gabrielle's death in her vision in Sin Trade 2.
The Hercules Video Salute ("I Need A Hero"? AGAIN?) Enough, enough, enough, enough. Stop. I think the Hercster has developed into a little more than a two-dimensional cartoon character and deserves a little more subtlety when it comes to theme songs. Okay, maybe the blooper reel will pick things up... Why are the blooper reels so much better than the music videos and only half the length? C'mon guys, you goof up a lot more than that!!
So here's my thing about the Trivia Competition. If you're going to call yourself an expert and go onstage, you better know your stuff. Also, these things go on waaaay tooooo looooooong. There's a big difference between trivia ("What's the connection between X and Y" or "In what episodes was character Z introduced?") and really insignificant mindnumbing minutae which turns into a bad version of Abbot and Costello's Who's On First. ("What's the Point?" "What's your point?" "The point is...") Let's just move on from there, shall we? Speaking of moving on, here's an idea for the Costume Competition. Age groups. Kids first, then adults. And could we move it along a little, please? This one was just interminable, ceaseless, unending and too damn long. Cupid has a cute butt, blah, blah, biddy blah. When there are so many people that they can't all fit in one line onstage, you are approaching the DARK SIDE.
Just when I'm about to receive the "Bitter and Cynical Fan" Award, it happened. Something unexpected, unpredicted and downright surprising. Claire Stansfield walked onstage and started talking. Smart, funny, charming and old Hollywood gorgeous. Comparing Alti to Callisto would not be out of place here, since Hudson was at the Sacramento Con and Claire is in San Francisco (stepping in for Hudson at the last minute, what a little [6 foot 1 inch by the way] trooper). The most remarkable distinction was that Hudson stays in character onstage. Claire so unlike her character that she surprises you. Claire endeared herself to the audience because she so genuinely surprised by the audience response. Hudson seemed to know exactly what the audience expected and gave it to them. Which one came off better? Apples and oranges.
Claire notes: Upon first reading the script, she was certain she'd be up for the part of Cyane and was a little disconcerted that she'd be playing Alti, the "Bag of Bones Old Hag." But upon getting the role, she gave a nod to Natasha Richardson's portrayal of Morgana in Merlin and gave her voice that raw ragged edge (which had to be looped with several other voices to give it additional depth in several scenes). The shoot was difficult, being out in the middle of nowhere in the New Zealand winter, she was grateful for the heavy costumes she and Lucy got to wear. That is until her plaintive request to cast and crew alike: "Can someone help me go to the bathroom?" got a huge laugh from an appreciative audience. Alti's dancing around the fire scene scared her the most. She copied a tribal dance off of a TV documentary, practicing in her hotel room. She did her own wirework, but was really impressed with Lucy's enthusiasm: "This chick is out of her mind!" Welcome to the fan club, Claire. "I've never seen anyone who enjoyed jumping on a horse in the freezing rain half-naked." Really. Which was in what scene again? Not that there wasn't a downside: "I was really bummed out 'cause I die." So were we. But this is Xena-land. She'll be back, as someone else "with a better costume." Apparently, "they (Renaissance) like big girls." Who would she like to be paired with if she comes back? "I don't know, Lucy is kind of cute." She reminded us, "Sometimes you get lucky."
Next up: A Music Video Salute to the Sexy Stars edited to "I'm Too Sexy." Damn, I never would have thought of that. The Millennium beckons boys and girls and there is a wealth of music sources out there. We have a list if you need it.
Gabrielle's Video Salute: "The Wind Beneath my Wings?" Are you people serious? There is nothing that sends me into bitter and cynical mode like mawkish sentimentality. After season three, hasn't Gabrielle earned a little more than that?
Couple of notes on the whole auction-thing. Now, we all know the proceeds go to charity, but folks like to know at the outset who they're helping. There was some mention at the end that the proceeds of one of the auction items would go to the San Francisco Holocaust Oral History Project, a non-profit organization which videotapes the stories of Holocaust survivors, witnesses and liberators. But it felt too rushed. Fans are a warm-hearted lot and the information available in the lobby might not have gone unnoticed if Creation had plugged the charities a little more.
Callisto is gone. Yup, it just kills you to watch the Callisto Salute Video, remembering all the wonderful times we all shared, every sneer, shriek, flip, punch, sandpit and rock slide. Callisto was an awesome opponent, equal to Xena in every way. Her spirit never wavered, her determination was dogged. She will be missed. Could we please find another way to say goodbye than to the strains of "She's a Maniac?" Puhretty Puleeeze? I'm begging here.
If we learned anything from Alex Tydings it is that Aphrodite is not only beautiful, she's brainy. She knows exactly what she's doing at any given moment. Could we not reduce her to a stereotype by using "I'm a Barbie Girl" as her Salute theme song? For cryinoutloud folks, there are young girls present. Is this the role model you want for them? The winners of the costume contest were three little girls dressed as Callisto, Xena and Cleopatra, okay? Get it? Good, let's move on.
Alex, Alex, Alex. What is there to say? Major cutie. I walked right past her in the lobby and didn't even recognize her at first. But something said "Hey, she looks familiar. Where have I seen her before?" Must have been the short hair that threw me. I might actually watch Hercules if I knew you were going to be on more often. Loved the cake story. (Lucy dug in with both hands. Messy, sticky, hot lights, yucky smell, "They love to cover you in gunk on this show.") You get the picture. Bet you didn't know she was a feminist film theory major in college. Laura Mulvey and "The Male Gaze"; Foucault, Lacan, Barthes, semiotics. Walked around in black a lot. Take it from me, studying semiotics leaves you with just enough information to screw you up for the rest of your life. Acting's a wonderful outlet. Like writing, it keeps you off the streets. Downside is, you can never just answer a question. You have to get into the minutiae big time. It's a whole polysyllabic thing that a college education leaves you with. Makes you a hell of a storyteller, though. Next time Alex, more questions, less answers.
So what's the deal with this whole Joxer/Gabrielle thing? "Everything I Do (I Do It For You)?" What the hell kind of song is that to edit a salute to? Based on the Joxer Salute, all he does is follow Gabrielle like a love-struck teenager... Oh wait, that's what all that Love him/Hate him thing is about. Right. Oh yeah, by the way, he knows about the "Shoot Joxer" website. So what. Big Deal. He still gets to go to New Zealand and work on one of the coolest TV shows with two of the coolest actresses on TV... Guess that's not exactly mending fences, is it.
Ted seems like a pretty cool guy. It's a shame that the producers had to be such Three Stooges fans on this show. He's really a lot more versatile than most folks give him credit for. The question and answer thing can really put you through the wringer. I can't really give you the complete sense of this, but here's a few of highlights:
A statement from a guy in line: "Your character has replaced Captain Kirk in my heart." (Which means what, exactly?)
A little girl (and I do mean little, her head didn't clear the top of the stage) comes up to the microphone and asks if he likes working with Xena's horse. Now I have to interject here that I've never had this thing about horses that other girls I grew up with did. But this little girl knew Argo's real name! Another question regarding horses: "Does it hurt when you fall off the horse?" Answer: (Paraphrasing here, I don't type all that fast in direct light, forget it in the dim auditorium) "Well, I don't really fall off the horse, they cut the camera and another guy comes in and he falls..." (Looking into the girl's eyes and pausing a second) "Yes it hurts." Class act, that Ted.
What happens when your obscure object of desire now retails for $19.99? More and more, the fans feel a need to contribute, to make their feelings known to The Powers That Be. As if they're listening. But hey, it's my article and I'll bitch if I want to. Bottom line: You better know full well that you are there to put money in the coffers of Creation Entertainment. But, like all things show biz, there is an unspoken contract: We give them the money, they give us--what? Actually a pretty good time. Is it worth $20? If you don't need it for something else, sure. $65 for reserved front section seats? If it's your first con and your favorite star is there, go nuts.
Couple of notes for the merchandising department: Lose the glassware. Anyone who wants it already has it. Move on. The T-shirt thing, one word: Subtlety. Less is more. By the third season you don't need us walking around with an enormous Xena/Gabrielle/Callisto on our chests. Besides, some of us tuck in our t-shirts, okay? Xena looks pretty silly cut off at the knees. How about a nice black shirt (maybe long sleeve, this is San Francisco after all) with a little chakram over the pocket and the Xena: Warrior Princess logo on the back? Everyone I've suggested it to loves it. The 8 X 10 glossies. Good idea, lots of choices. But no third season stuff. Whatup wit dat?
Okay, wrapping it up. The rapture is gone, bloom is off the rose, call it what you like. But I still turn off my phone on Fridays at 9pm when Xena airs, okay? And I'll call the subtext as I see it, thank you.
See you next year.
Full-time: Webmaster: San Francisco State University Audio-Visual Center.
Part time: Pyrotechnician (I shoot fireworks shows).
Present obsessions: Tau neutrinos, faster than light theory, the origin of the universe, superstring theory (there's a few minor details I haven't grasped yet), movies made before Star Wars, the blues, Umberto Eco, Raymond Chandler, Angelique Kidjo, Invincible Asia from "Swordsman III: East is Red", Anita O'Day (who is one of the greatest vocalists of all time), Nikita (who will be missed very, very much), Buffy (who reminds me that I'm still 22 inside), the lost tribes of Israel, "Voyager" and the ever divine Janeway, my beautiful nieces Jessica Nicole and Emma Katherine, watching anything on TV with my surround-sound system.
Personal motto: "Forget the candles, eat the cake." -Edith Berk
Favorite XWP episode, etc. - I don't really do that anymore. It starts arguments. Who needs another argument?
Oh, one more thing...I liked the third season.