Rethinking Super Megafest

11-Nov-11 11:06 AM by
Filed under Celebrities, Potpourri; 2 comments.

For the past several years, I've made an annual tradition of attending the Super Megafest, a sci-fi and nostalgia convention held in Framingham, Massachusetts. It's not a massive affair, but for its size and location, it's still fairly enjoyable, with several aspects to entertain the showgoer: vendors of various geek goods; celebrities on-hand for personal autographs (not free or even cheap!); Q&A sessions with said celebrities; and more.

R2!But I found 2010 to be mildly disappointing, due to a variety of logistical decisions. The Q&A sessions are scheduled for specific times and days, but the event coordinator chooses not to publicize those schedules ahead of time, such as on the Super Megafest Web site; my email requesting this data confirmed that it is not available in advance. Although I realize celebrities' schedules often cannot be determined until the last minute, it's frustrating for me to not know if I should be at the conference on Saturday at 10 AM or 5 PM, or on Sunday. Without the Q&A, I need only an hour or two to absorb the event in its entirety; it's unreasonable to block out an entire two-day weekend for whenever the Q&As might be.

The comfort of the celebrities is of course the organizers' priority, so rather than have the stars stand for an hour during Q&A, they're allowed to sit. But the session is held in a conference room large enough that folks in the back can't see someone seated at the front. A simple riser that would elevate the celebrity would be a simple fix.

Last year, I calculated the cost of admission plus that of Christopher Lloyd's autograph and decided it was worth getting the "VIP speed pass", which included admission and autographs by Lloyd and Lea Thompson. The "speed" aspect allowed me to bypass the line for this celebrity, which would otherwise take hours to traverse. But there was no fine print indicating that this privilege was valid only from 9:30 AM to 10:30 AM! The Web site informed me only that I was paying for "a beat-the-line speed pass". Such vague terminology bordered on the deceptive.

Christopher Lloyd at the Q&A.Despite all that, I was still glad for the opportunity to meet the stars. Few people had paid for the speed pass, which also granted exclusive access to Lloyd's Q&A session, which made for an intimate setting. Everyone got to ask a question, with mine being: "Does an actor of your renown still have to audition for parts, or are they written for or handed to you?" Lloyd said that sometimes, the writers say to themselves, "Oh, this script calls for a drunk? Let's get Lloyd." But more often, he still needs to audition, as it's not always clear whether he or someone else will be right for a part. Lea Thompson never showed up, so my pass got me two Lloyd autographs instead.

I also met Marina Sirtis, better known as Deanna Troi from Star Trek: TNG. She was very friendly and fun, laughing and smiling and calling everyone "hon". When I saw the various 8"x10" glossies she had available to autograph, I chose an off-camera shot from First Contact, commenting, "You were so funny in that film!" She responded, "I was more myself in that Star Trek movie than in any other."

I had some time to kill between sessions, so I sat in on a Q&A by Kristin Bauer, who plays Pam De Beaufort on True Blood. I'd never seen this show so wasn't very interested, but she redeemed herself with the credit of playing Lt. Laneth on an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise.

I ended the show by getting Peter Mayhew's autograph. The taciturn Wookie didn't have much to say and didn't offer to personalize his signature, though he did do so after I handed it back with the request.

The headliners for this year's Super Megafest are Patrick Stewart and Sean Astin. After a month of waffling, and with just a week to spare, I coughed up the dough for another VIP speed pass. I'm a bit disenchanted with Super Megafest, though, and would not have been roped in for another expensive pass for anyone other than Captain Picard.

Super Celebrities at the Super Megafest

24-Nov-09 4:26 PM by
Filed under Celebrities, Potpourri; 2 comments.

The Super Megafest has become one of my many holiday traditions: the weekend before Thanksgiving, I head to the Framingham Sheraton for an unusual amalgam of sci-fi actors, classic celebrities, comic books, and cosplay. Though this year's event had fewer celebrities that personally appealed to me, those on the roster were ones I couldn't believe I'd have the good fortune to see in person. [photos after the jump]

Brent Spiner signs a photo for a fanUpon arriving, I made a beeline for the corner, where there was hardly no wait to meet Brent Spiner, who played Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Instead of a handshake, he offered a fist bump, citing a cold. Though I'm sure he was sincere, even if he wasn't, it seemed an effective tactic to avoid getting sick, given the number of fans I'm sure he was to meet at such an event. I had him sign a picture of Data as a poker dealer, though had I noticed that a shot of him as Sherlock Holmes on the holodeck was also available, I might've opted for that one. As he signed it, I told him how encouraging it was to grow up watching a show where an intelligent, socially awkward individual could be a respected and contributing member of a team. "Yeah, that's a neat thing they did there, isn't it?" he replied. While he next signed the insert from my CD of his 1991 album, Ol' Yellow Eyes Is Back, I commented that a film I rarely hear his fans mention is Out to Sea, a delightful 1997 comedy with Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and Dyan Cannon in which he played a fantastic villain. "I thought that was a great film!" I told him. "So did I!" he agreed.

James MarstersI next got in a rather long line for James Marsters, best known as the undead Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As with Mr. Spiner, I continued my trend of acknowledging the actors' lesser-known works, as I know from my limited experience in community theater that it's not always your best performance that's the one people remember. "I thought you were a great Lex Luthor," I told Mr. Marsters. He seemed genuinely surprised to hear that: "Oh! Thanks! It was particularly interesting to go back and do Smallville after that," he reflected, referencing his appearance on that show as Brainiac. He parodied a conversation with Michael Rosenbaum, that show's Luthor: "'So, you played my role, eh?'" Mr. Marsters told me he'll be doing more voice work on the Clone Wars animated series, though he doesn't yet know what part he'll play.

I hurried from Mr. Marster's table to the celebrity Q&A session, occurring every half-hour. I arrived a few minutes late to Mr. Spiner's session, at which point I was surprised to find fans asking not about his life on the Enterprise, but his life on the stage. Mr. Spiner is an accomplished stage actor, having appeared on Broadway before he did on Star Trek. He told us about his 1997 performance in the musical 1776: "We had the Tonies wrapped up… until Cabaret opened a week before the awards." Someone else also brought up Out to Sea, to which he said: "My life would be very different if people had seen that movie. My life would also be very different if Kevin Kline had never been born."

(more…)

The Return of Super Megafest

26-Nov-08 11:16 PM by
Filed under Celebrities, Potpourri; 5 comments.

The weekend before Thanksgiving has become a tradition of celebrities of sci-fi, wrestling, and nostalgia. A half-hour west of Boston, a Sheraton hotel again became the home of the annual Super Megafest, a convention for comic book dealers, cosplayers, and all manner of geeks and fans.

Having attended last year's Megafest, I knew what to expect: a small but full hall of merchandise, with a few smaller aisles of celebrity signings. I'm not a collector and, as appealing as the vintage toys, comics, and posters were, I wouldn't need to budget much time to peruse the various vendors' wares. I'd be there for the stars, who offered not only their autographs but also their time. A fee for their signatures meant the lines to meet these guests would be short, which equated to more time they could spend with each fan. There were actors, wrestlers, artists, and other big names to appeal to everyone, but I narrowed down my must-meet list just three.

Meeting them occurred more quickly than I predicted. Aside from the show floor, there was a too-small conference room in which each celebrity was granted a half-hour moderated Q&A session. No schedule was posted to the show's Web site, so I took a gamble and showed up as late as 2:30 PM on Saturday. At exactly that moment, the first star on my list was taking the stage, followed immediately afterward by the next. I could not have planned my first hour at the Megafest more precisely.

Dawn Wells, famous for her innocent portrayal of Mary Ann on Gilligan's Island, was happy to entertain questions from the fans. Though Ms. Wells now runs a film school in Idaho, most of the discussion was about the role and show she is best known for. Ms. Wells said that in the Sixties, Gilligan's Island was how the rest of the world saw America, though she made no allusion to another group that thought the show was real. More recently, she considered the 2004 reality show based on the series a travesty — "Why would you take anything so wholesome and have Mary Ann and Ginger mud wrestle?" Yet even the original series has its dark rumors, such as that the seven castaways were modeled after the seven deadly sins, with Mary Ann representing envy. "Preposterous," claimed Ms. Wells. During this short session, I did not get the opportunity to ask either of my burning questions: how did she and the Professor feel about the theme song reducing them to "the rest"; and why could the Professor build a radio out of coconuts, but he couldn't repair a hole in a boat?

I bumped into Ms. Wells again later when she was signing autographs, but she seemed preoccupied. I briefly mentioned the book Gilligan's Wake to her, but she'd never heard of it. We then both moved on.

After her Q&A, I kept my seat for Jonathan Frakes, prolific sci-fi actor and director best known for the role of Commander William T. Riker on Star Trek: The Next Generation. He paraded down the room to the theme of TNG, courtesy his own vocal talents — remarkable, since the theme has no words. "Sorry, but I love that song," he grinned. That introduction set the tone for the rest of the session, as Mr. Frakes seemed genuinely amused by absolutely everything: his history, his fans, their questions. I did not expect someone attending his umpteenth convention in 20 years to be so gracious, but there he was. He asked our opinion of the new Star Trek movie. I offered "cautiously optimistic", to which he replied, "I feel the same, except for the 'cautiously' part." He added, "I got to visit the bridge, and it is spec-TAC-ular" (emphasis his). "And the studios are serious about it. For the money they're pumping into it, we could've made three or four more Trek films — NOT THAT I'M BITTER!" Mr. Frakes also had a full portfolio of other roles he was happy to discuss: everything from having recently auditioned for a part on Reaper to his work as host for Alien Autopsy. "I was the spokesperson for the paranormal for several years," he reflected. "'We can't get Stewart, but call Frakes! He'll do anything!' I was the Mikey of sci-fi." This time, I got my turn to ask a question: "I loved Gargoyles. Could you talk about your work as a voice actor?" (two sentences which he interrupted with, "You have excellent taste.") "It's a dream job. You get to go to work in your pajamas." Also: "I don't understand why Gargoyles didn't last longer." That makes two of us.

I later caught up with Mr. Frakes at his autograph table. Just ahead of me was a young girl of six or seven to whom Mr. Frakes was enthusiastically recommending Seussical the Musical. As she left, he commented to me, "She had no idea what I was saying." I disagreed: "You'd be surprised what sticks at that age. I was only eight when my dad sat me down to watch the sequel to a show he'd grown up with." "And he made you watch every episode after that?" "Are you kidding? After that first episode, he didn't have to make me do anything!" "… You were born in 1979?" he asked. I expected this question to lead into an unoriginal crack about how old I made him feel. Instead he nodded sagely and commented, "That's a good age to get into Star Trek." I'd brought along my copy of First Contact for Mr. Frakes, the film's director, to sign, telling him, "This really was the best movie. You really understood what Star Trek was about." Another director might've taken that as an opportunity to denigrate Stuart Baird, who capsized the TNG film franchise with his direction of Nemesis. Mr. Frakes simply added, "We had a great script to work with." Before then, I'd already respected him as an actor; I did not expect him to exhibit such humility and grace as to leave me also respecting him as a person.

The final highlight of the day was meeting Carroll Spinney, the man inside the Big Bird costume since 1969. (Mr. Spinney also brings to life Oscar the Grouch.) Like my three older brothers, I grew up on Sesame Street and was moved to meet someone who had been such a good friend to me; part of me regrets not taking the opportunity to give him a big hug. When I told him I still remembered the day everyone met Mr. Snuffleupagus, he replied, "That was a Thursday." What a gentle and amusing sense of humor!

I got far more out of my two hours at this year's Megafest than one would think. Whereas Adam West and Burt Ward charged $50 per signature in 2007, this year was more reasonable, almost disproportionately so: $30 for Dawn Wells, $25 for Jonathan Frakes, and $20 for Carroll Spinney. But though I went home with fewer autographs this year, I took with me more memories. Sure, Ray Park and Helen Slater have an undeniable "cool" factor, but their performances didn't have nearly the impact on my upbringing as Mr. Spinney's and Mr. Frakes'. This weekend, they gave me more than their autographs: they gave me the chance to say "Thank you."