Whoosh! Online Edition Whoosh! On The Road

NYC CON '98:

By Carolyn Moriarty [31-88]
(5098 words)

PRELUDE [31-37]
SECURITY [57-69]
TED RAIMI [80-88]


[31] On February 21, 1998, I had the pleasure of covering the Official HERCULES/XENA Convention in New York City. This event was held in the Broadway Ballroom of the Marriott Marquis Hotel, located in the heart of New York's Times Square Theater District. The New York Con promised to be a surprise in more ways than one.

[32] On the surface, the New York Con appeared to be a "schedule filler." Sharing the bill with a Star Trek Convention, it may well have led some to believe this convention was just an occasion to fill the hall with additional ticket buyers. After all, the HERC/XENA Con was only slated for 10:00 am to 2:00 pm, with a 9:00 am registration.

[33] Furthermore, none of the four principal cast members would be present. Nobody from Renaissance Pictures ("The Powers That Be") would appear. Technical and writing personnel would not be available. This convention gave the outward signs of being a rerun of all the other Cons, albeit much reduced in length and without major events.

[34] To those who held this view, (and thus "skipped" the Con) let me suggest that the old adage, "Good things come in small packages." What emerged from the New York Con was anything but routine. There were several surprises, revelations, and first time events. There were also some reassuring confirmations of previous news.

[35] I would never tell our readers, "Nyah! Nyah! Nyah!". In that same spirit of mutual respect and admiration, I would not taunt, "Boy, did you make a mistake by not going!" Nor would I resort to the indelicate jibe, "I told you so!" Well, I would not do these things consciously. However, as Gabrielle noted to Xena in ONE AGAINST AN ARMY (59/310), "You'll work it in."

[36] Let me say that some very important information emerged from this Con.

[37] Should any of these items pique your interest, please feel free to read on.

Atmosphere at the New York Con

[38] If I had to use just one word to describe the New York Con, my choice would be, "Fantastic!" Everything from security to facilities, to fans was top-of-the-line.

[39] Each person I met (and there seemed to be thousands of them) was courteous and gracious. Since this was my first Con, and I was putting a lot of faith in the notion, "You can always geta ticket at the door," there was some anxiety on my part. (I was forming a back-up plan. If I couldn't get in, I could probably hang around the lobby all day, ride the escalators, and interview out-of-town shoe salespeople on what it was like to stay in a hotel that was offering a XENA Convention.)

[40] Mercifully, it never came to that. I saw a line forming at the registration booth and joined up. As fate would have it, I was behind sisters Anna and Liza from Queens. Both girls are college students who got up at the crack of dawn so they'd get good general admission seats. They patiently explained the ins and outs of getting and keeping good seats. (Arrive early. Bring a friend. Pack drinks and snacks. Spread out your stuff on your chairs. Go to the restrooms in shifts. Bring cash or a check book. Creation Entertainment doesn't take credit cards at the door.) Anna and Liza proceeded to evaluate my situation and determined I should buy preferred seating. (I was traveling alone; with a fairly heavy tote bag; and I needed to be able to move about freely so I could interview people. The reserved seat would be worth the extra money.)

[41] Having assured me I was in a great registration spot (about 20 people from the registration booth) they predicted I'd be getting a fabulous seat. (They were right. J22 on the end of the aisle, in the middle row, it was incredible. I could see and hear everything. Plenty of leg room. Easy access to security personnel, other conventioneers, and just enough ambient light for note writing.)

[42] Expressing my appreciation for their guidance, I proceeded to listen, and watch and interview the crowds around me. I arrived in line at about 8:45 am. By 9:05 am there were many more people and from 9:20 am on their numbers became legion. As I watched security continually realign and regroup all these new arrivals, it was like watching Caesar's legions prepare to march across the Rubican. The increasing number of people necessitated the formation of not two but three additional concentric "lines." (Massive perimeter rectangles was more like it.) I wondered if security ever got bored, and tried leading the crowds in flanking maneuvers, just for the heck of it. Of course they didn't, but it made me aware of just how orderly and polite these convention fans were.

[43] Security personnel spoke firmly and loudly. This was so directions (which were occasionally contrary to earlier ones , but necessitated by changing numbers) could be clearly understood.

[44] In some ways, security had an easy job, due in part to the cooperative and polite nature of the many fans. From my vantage point I observed and noted fan comments as people marched or milled by . I don't believe I have ever heard so many, "Thank you," "Excuse me," "Please," or "Let me get that door," expressions in one day. It speaks volumes about the nature of those fans who attended this convention, as well as those who could not come in person, but came in spirit.

[45] The greater New York-New Jersey area had the largest geographic representation. However, there were fans from many of the remaining states. There was also international representation from Canada, Greece, Mexico, Japan, England, and Spain. The New York area fans were especially gracious, each and every one serving as a goodwill ambassador. Legendary tales of New Yorkers being rude are way off the mark. These people were brimming with enthusiasm and generosity. They were proud of their city and rightly so. Each went out of his or her way to provide lists of good restaurants, interesting tourist activities, or concise directions. Their New Jersey neighbors were equally as considerate. The notion that people from these metropolitan areas are discourteous is an unjust slur.

[46] As this convention quickly revealed, there is a wide range of people interested in the TV shows, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS and HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS. There was no set age group present. Infants, toddlers, children, teens, and adults (the latter group running the gamut from 20 somethings to advanced senior citizens) were all present at the convention. There w ere men and women in comparable numbers. As for diversity, there were numerous cultural, economic, and lifestyle backgrounds represented.

[47] Perhaps the most significant area (and in my view, the one most difficult to categorize) was that of education/employment. Technicians, artists, civil servants, students, professionals, tradespeople, those between jobs, those "at liberty," and retirees were all represented. In the course of just 15 minutes I spoke to Marty Weinhardt (an airplane machinist), Stan and Molly (librarians), David (EMT), Meg and Terry (law enforcement), Nickie, Wendy, and Sam (paralegals), "Mr. X." ("No names please. I'm supposed to be at work today... chemical engineering."), Lynn (nurse), Jeff (plumber), Dr. D. (dentist), and Mike (lawyer).

[48] It is also interesting to note the many different varieties of groupings were found at the Con. Clusters of friends, families, couples, and individual attendees were present in significant numbers. Serena is a high school student who brought her younger brother, Brendan, to the Con. Serena hopes to attend Rochester Institute of Technology. Long interested in computer software design, she looks forward to courses she will be taking in programming. She is currently designing a new XENA web page, having previously done one for a class at NYU. Serena has several plans and ideas for XENA games, and has been working on the ideas with her friend, Raul. She noted that as her programming knowledge increases she hopes to implement these games.

[49] Serena was as enthusiastic as her younger brother, Brendan, about being at this convention. They are fans of both the HERCULES and XENA shows. Brendan shyly offered that the family originally watched HERCULES with him. When the XENA program began, they followed from one show to the other.

[50] The special effects and computer enhancements used by Flat Earth were appreciated by both youngsters. Serena observed that while HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS used special effects more frequently, and in more obvious ways, they were equally as impressive on, XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS. Serena thought it was interesting that special effects were used in more subtle ways for XENA. She felt this was in keeping with Xena's character, but laughed when mentioning some of the less subtle uses, such as Xena's ability to grab a pole and twirl around several times at tornado speed. Serena felt it did make the camera action more exciting. When some of the people around her agreed, Serena added that the flight of Xena's Chakram in BEEN THERE, DONE THAT (48/302) was another example . It wasn't subtle, but it wasn't a monster either. Serena said the use of slower camera speeds and fades (to set story moods) were more of what she had in mind when thinking of special effects on XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS. The use of cold blues in the background changing to hot reds and oranges (such as night turning to day) were other examples she mentioned.

[51] When asked if any adult family members were fans of HERCULES and XENA, Serena beamed with pride, "My mother is a XENA fan." Throughout the convention it became increasingly clear that the linking of one show to the other has been a successful technique for building and increasing viewer numbers. It was amazing how many people stated they enjoyed both programs. Even among those who professed hard core fan status, there was begrudging acknowledgment that elements or characters from "that other show" provided enjoyment. I heard a reoccurring theme among these particular fans.

[52] Among those attending this convention, XENA fans clearly outnumbered HERCULES fans. There were several who professed loyalty to other cast members or characters. Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor) had a sizable contingent, as did Iolaus (Michael Hurst). In addition to enthusiastic Joxer (Ted Raimi) and Ephiny (Danielle Cormack) fans, there were also groups dedicated to Ares (Kevin Smith) and Salmoneus (Robert Trebor). Carmen and Marisol were two such fans who formed a Kevin Smith group. Both were delighted to have the opportunity to attend this convention. (I believe Marisol stated she had attended the New York September Con. It was Carmen's first.) In many ways Carmen and Marisol represented the people who enjoy the XENA and HERCULES programs. Courteous, polite, and good natured, they were generous enough to be interviewed for this article while at the same time modestly laughing at the notion someone wanted to interview them. Clapping politely throughout the program, they were excited whenever something was offered regarding their hero, Kevin Smith.

[53] They never belittled or disparaged other people's favored events. They were attentive and polite throughout each offering. If someone around them expressed excitement, or happiness, about any aspect of the convention, they gave a smile or nod to that person. Whether it was the young brother and sister who were ecstatic that their teenage sister had stumped the trivia experts, or the woman next to Marisol who got up several times to take celebrity photos, Carmen and Marisol's patience and quiet gentility reflected the spirit of this convention.

[54] They were genuinely happy for those who won trivia contests, and both expressed pleasure that all children who entered the costume contest would receive a prize.

[55] When asked how they felt about THE BITTER SUITE (58/312) they expressed surprise and delight at the multi-talented Kevin Smith. Both Carmen and Marisol had admired his comic and dramatic moments on XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS and HERCULES: THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS. This, combined with his rugged good looks and boyish charm, made him irresistibly appealing. The added bonus of his magnificent singing voice, and incredible dancing skill, were just too good to be true. Both women expressed a heartfelt sigh at the memory of that fiery tango Ares danced with Xena. They enthusiastically agreed Kevin Smith could dance the tango with them any day.

[56] When Carmen examined her schedule of events, and remarked she was glad the music video salute to Ares was next, her neighbors extended the same smiles and nods to her. A gentleman behind her whispered, "You'll like this one. It's really good, I've seen it before."


[57] An important part of the New York Con's success lies with those individuals who provided security. Shortly after purchasing my ticket I was puzzled about which of the many lines to follow. That's when I officially met my first Creation Entertainment security person, Pam Burns. Not only did she help me find the right destination, she personally escorted me to it. When I mentioned I was going to write about the XENA Con, she burst into a wide smile. Pam was not only a member of the Lexington Ship STAR TREK Fan Club; she was also a XENA fan. Pam's exuberance and good nature would easily have qualified her for the position of morale officer aboard any star ship in the fleet. Her desire to do that something extra, to help fans get the most out of the convention experience, was in keeping with the Creation Entertainment emphasis on building a positive atmosphere.

[58] I asked Pam if she was a law enforcement professional. I was surprised to learn she wasn't. Pam said most Creation Entertainment security people were unpaid volunteers. Over the years they had been recruited from various STAR TREK fan clubs; and they covered a wide range of Creation Entertainment Conventions (HERCULES/XENA; X-FILES; STAR TREK).

[59] Pam escorted me upstairs to the ballroom's main entrance, and introduced me to Elizabeth Figueroa, another member of convention security. Elizabeth explained security for this particular convention was provided by several New York STAR TREK fan clubs. Both Elizabeth and her husband were invited by Creation to cover this Con, and per Elizabeth they enjoyed the job.

[60] It was at this point I met Albert Mar, volunteer head of the Ballroom Security Team. Albert was unusually gracious, and interrupted his busy schedule to take time to explain the security selection process, as well as the role security volunteers are expected to fill at the XENA Con.

[61] When selecting applicants, merit plays a key part. Applicants with good judgment and good people skills are sought. The ability to think quickly and calmly on one's feet, and to plan ahead are also important traits. Though Albert never used the words "tact" and "diplomacy" he was the embodiment of both. They were reflected not only in Albert, but in all of his assistants. Just as the convention fans come from diverse backgrounds and professions, so do the security members. Albert works for the Board of Education in New York. The security team members he supervises were equally as generous in explaining their role and security experiences.

[62] Larry Buffolino (New York City paramedic) is a physically imposing individual who looks like he'd be very comfortable on the gridiron. His quiet and gentle manner are in sharp contrast to his sturdy appearance. Those who believe gruff, antagonistic traits are desired in convention security are misinformed. The same quiet confidence Albert Mar exudes is shared by those on his Ballroom Security Team. Larry's soft spoken voice and calm demeanor were in keeping with the general tone of quiet understatement common among the security people I met.

[63] Larry did not flaunt his accomplishments or credentials. He did, however, generate a tremendous amount of confidence and competence. When pressed for details about his commendations and emergency experience, he demurred. Chuckling that he was just glad he has never had to use his paramedic skills at a convention (so far), he did note how much he admired Lucy Lawless.

[64] Larry provided security at the earlier September New York Con. Lucy was doing eight shows a week on Broadway (GREASE) at the time, as well as making numerous public appearances. Larry said many fans did not know Lucy was ill with the flu when she appeared at that New York Con. She could easily have begged off, claiming poor health, but she was determined not to disappoint her fans. He respected her commitment to them.

[65] It is this spirit of commitment from the celebrities featured at these Cons that is reflected in the security volunteers. As Albert Mar so aptly noted, "Volunteering is the heart of being a good fan." Larry's wife, Vickie, was also serving on a convention security team, out by the elevators in the merchandise display area. The same family involvement and community service which was prevalent throughout the ranks of convention security seemed to be reflected throughout Creation Entertainment. It is also found throughout the Renaissance Pictures organization. One cannot help but note how often those associated with the XENA and HERCULES programs comment on this sense of family. It is often cited as a factor in making hiring decisions. Willingness to go that extra mile, do that something extra, is strongly reflected in both companies.

[66] Albert provided some additional information about the levels and ranks of security. Upon joining the team, a volunteer starts on the outer rim of the Con, at the lower levels. Through demonstrated ability and competence, and based upon recommendations of supervisors, the volunteer rises and can reach the upper level of the Ballroom/ Main Convention Hall.

[67] Not every member of the security team is a volunteer. Cathy Boudreall is Creation Entertainment's security professional . As a paid staff member, Cathy had overall responsibility for convention security. At the time I spoke to her, she was already very busy. From what I could observe, she was handling everything from fan concerns; to merchants' display table issues; to smoothly coordinating hotel security and convention security team actions. In view of her many responsibilities, I appreciated her willingness to give me a few moments of her time.

[68] Cathy started her association with Creation Entertainment in a volunteer capacity. Moving from a membership position in a STAR TREK Fan Club, she coordinated a club. From there she brought in others and coordinated additional clubs. Her organizational skill and management ability brought her to the attention of Creation Entertainment management. Patient and courteous, Cathy went out of her way to be sure everyone attending the convention had a safe and pleasant experience.

[69] This commitment to making the New York Con a memorable and positive experience was reflected from the top of the pyramid to the bottom. The celebrities from Renaissance Pictures were equally as committed to making this a successful Con. Both Danielle Cormack and Ted Raimi went out of their way to accommodate their fans.

Danielle Cormack

[70] Danielle Cormack was in her element at the New York Con. (Others have written she was visibly nervous at the earlier Burbank Con.) It was obvious she had benefited from the Burbank experience. She now knew what to expect. When Danielle first spoke at the New York Con, her voice had a slight tremor. She was obviously awed by the influence she wielded on that stage. For one fleeting moment she did appear scared, and unsure of what to do. Using a camera as her gimmick, she turned the tables on the audience by taking their picture while they took hers. (I think she may have done this activity before, but she still seemed nervous.) She blurted out, "I don't know what to do. Ask me some questions!" From that moment on, she was in control. She began to relax, enjoy the experience, and have some fun.

[71] Danielle was comfortable with the fan questions. By the third or fourth she was positively bubbling. A little girl (around five years old) asked Danielle the name of the little boy who played her son, Xenon. Danielle's face lit up. Bursting with enthusiasm, she said, "Reese. His name is Reese." Then, with mischievous wink she said, "Do you have the hots for him?" The little girl giggled, "Yes!" Danielle laughed, and in a conspiratorial tone whispered, "I can fix you up." There was no longer any nervousness on Danielle's part. She was in her element. Relaxed and confident she breezed through the rest of the presentation.

History of the Amazon Retreat Call

[72] Nothing sparks a debate among Xena and Hercules fans quicker than asking for opinions about the dreaded "Amazon Retreat Call." Fans either love it or they hate it. (There doesn't seem to be an in between.) For the record: "I hate it," Danielle Cormack moaned. Someone asked for the history behind the retreat call and Danielle was eager to share this story. Apparently the director never rehearsed the call. In fact, it just seemed to fall through the cracks at readings and other meetings. It was written into the script, and just taken for granted that it would be given when needed. No one seemed to give the matter much additional thought. The day for principal filming came. The big moment arrived. The director told Danielle to make something up -- anything. Desperate, she said the first thing that popped into her head. "Coo Coo?" she asked the director. "Coo Coo!" he agreed. That's how the "Amazon Retreat Call" was born.

The Auction

[73] The merchandise was pretty standard fare, but the bidding was not. There were some intense rivalries. The bidding was rapid fire. It featured fast and furious maneuvering, along with some buyers who were high rollers. Those around me had catalogues, and were carefully plotting and gauging the amounts bid against the suggested retail (as well as predicted future value) of items. There were several enthusiastic fans withmoney to burn. (One gentleman was actively bidding against himself and had to be stopped by the auctioneer.)

[74] Of all those actively engaged in the bidding, Letty Colon stood out as an especially ardent XENA fan. A student at Columbia University's School of Public Health, Letty displayed a bidding zeal unmatched by anyone else. Letty placed bids on everything, getting into several intense price wars. Her disappointment at losing items was short lived. As soon as the next item went on the block she jumped back into the auction. Laughing and joking with those around her, she announced that she was determined to leave with an auction item as a souvenir. Her perseverance paid off . She snagged a XENA stadium jacket for $220.00. (Retail $300.00) The fact that it was a size XXX-Large only made her enjoy this trophy even more. "I could be pregnant with triplets and this jacket will still be way too big for me," she quipped. "My boyfriend says I spent way too much for it and he's right. But I love this show and I love Xena. I'm still glad I bought the jacket. I just don't know where I'll wear it."

[75] Letty's enthusiasm for the show wasn't limited to the auction. She and her boyfriend (under her coaching) were winners in the Trivia Contest. They entered two questions.

[76] Q: What name does Atalanta call Salmoneus? A: Psoriasis

[77] Q: Which Xena actress played the fake mother of Hercules? A: Alison Bruce (played Melosa on XENA) was Herc's fake mother.

[78] Even though some were able to stump the team, the trivia team members were good. They easily compiled the necessary points to win an assortment of T-shirts and other grab bag prizes for their efforts.

New XENA Blooper Video

[79] The New York Con had the added attraction of offering a brand new XENA Blooper video. I don't want to spoil this for others. Let me just say there's an extremely funny sequence where Lucy is supposed to walk and then run down this path. The horse wanders around. Suddenly, from out of the trees on the right side, this woman (wardrobe mistress I think) goes running like mad down the road, trying to get out of the scene. She winds up in this crazy race with Lucy. (It's funnier than a Keystone Cops race.) There's also a segment where Callisto gets a sword stuck in her hair. (That's hilarious.)

Ted Raimi

[80] Ted's reception was beyond anything he expected. At the mention of his name the ballroom filled with thunderous applause. The audience, acting as one person, rose to a standing ovation. The experience was electrifying. Ted was overcome with emotion. It took him a few moments to regain his composure. Gone was the comic mask of Joxer. In its place was a sincere and deep expression of gratitude.

[81] The man has had to endure a great deal of criticism over the past year. Some fans have been less than charitable in their comments about his role on the show. Others have been downright vicious in their personal attacks. The members of the New York Con audience were unrestrained in their applause and their appreciation of his efforts on behalf of the XENA and HERCULES TV shows. Once the initial shock of their warm and enthusiastic reception wore off, Ted assumed the more familiar attitude of Joxer. A fan asked him to sing the "Joxer Song." Ted led a spirited rendition.

[82] Another fan asked if the producers at Renaissance Pictures ever buy scripts or story lines from outsiders. Everyone expected the standard party line answer . ("No. Never. They only buy from insiders or through agents.") You can imagine the surprise and delight that shot through the room when Ted replied, "Yes, they do sometimes buy from outsiders." Ted provided the Renaissance Pictures business address (the standard corporate address listed at their suites on the Universal lot : Renaissance Pictures, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, California) and encouraged people to give it a try.

[83] Keep in mind Ted was not promising that everyone who sends in a script will achieve the desired sale. (Nor was he in any way suggesting he represents Renaissance Pictures in this matter.) He was, nevertheless, very positive and upbeat about the remote possibility you might make a sale.

[84] My impression was that it would be a long shot. Legal considerations, fear of lawsuits, etc. have made many producers leery about reading unsolicited material. However, in the spirit of , "Nothing ventured, nothing gained," I took it to mean: if you have a great script; it has a professional appearance; it meets some unique need for character or plot development; it is cost efficient; and it is read by the right person at the right time; than maybe you'll make a sale. This is a one in a million shot, but miracles do happen. (How many people in production circles imagined a kid from New Zealand, with the improbable name Lucy Lawless, would become an international star? Or that she would turn that island nation into a major TV, film, and production center?) Those who take a chance, and submit a script, might achieve success. Those who don't submit scripts can guarantee they will not make that sale.

[85] Ted's own life reflects several interesting accomplishments, and some interesting dimensions to his personality. He shared a few with us, and I'm listing them here.

[86] He has sold scripts to the program SEA QUEST, and he has finished one for XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS. (Ted hasn't pitched the XENA script yet.) He's an avid hiker and loves to take walking tours of every city he visits. Ted likes to create board games in his spare time. (He invented one that sounds really neat, "Escape from Hollywood." An unemployed actor going through the system.) He's a voracious reader, especially fond of science fiction.

[87] Both Ted and Danielle remained beyond the designated time so they could sign autographs and pose for pictures. They had recently completed grueling flights, and were still experiencing jet lag. Despite this, they were unfailingly patient and enthusiastic about meeting their fans. The general consensus among those at the Con was that Ted and Danielle are two wonderful people, and the Xenaverse is lucky to have them.

[88] The New York Con was a rousing success. The next convention will be in Boston, and it looks like a dandy. The only regret will be that Bret Rudnick isn't going to be there. (Meeting him at the New York Con was a pleasure. He is a great guy and it was a thrill to chat with someone whose witty articles and in-depth interviews have graced these pages.) Don't cry for Bret. He told me he's going to be in New Zealand, appearing in a XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS episode. (Could an Emmy be next?) Set your VCRs now so you don't miss him. In the meantime, get ready for Boston.

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