Super Megafest 2013: Celebrating celebrities young & old

02-Jan-14 11:25 AM by
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Super Megafest, an annual comic book, sci-fi, geek, and nostalgia convention held the weekend before Thanksgiving in Framingham, Mass., has exploded in popularity. When I arrived at 10 AM on the first of 2013's two-day event, the line to get in wrapped around the hotel, and parking was nowhere to be found. It's nearly to the point that the Sheraton can't accommodate all the dealer rooms, speaker panels, and autograph lines, or grow to offer a cosplay competition and other participatory sessions. But for all that, this year's Megafest, of all the seven I've now attended, was a surgical strike for me. Christopher Lloyd was the closest to this year's headliner, and I'd met him at Megafest 2010. I was instead able to focus on celebrities that were less renowned but no less admired for their work in cult hits.

One was Boston native Eliza Dushku, the "evil slayer" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and star of another cancelled Joss Whedon television series, Dollhouse. I didn't attend her panel (a video of which is available online), but I did get her autograph. In those brief encounters, I always make a point of telling actors how much I liked their less well-known performances, as I imagine it's frustrating for their entire body of work to be overshadowed by a single role. For Ms. Duskhu, I thanked her for the 2007 dark comedy Sex and Breakfast, which I found a fascinating look at the interplay between physical and emotional connections in relationships. She seem surprised to hear this and said the film was "interesting". But she really lit up when I mentioned her cameo on Freddie Wong's YouTube channel, which she said was a lot of fun to shoot.

Other than autograph sessions, hour-long panels of Q&A are often the highlight of any Megafast, but the only panel I was interested in attending this year featured Barbara Eden and Bill Daily, aka Jeannie and Major Healey from the 1960s sitcom I Dream of Jeannie. Both were very genial in their autograph sessions, with Daily especially taking time to chat with attendees. He seemed astonished when he got to his table to find a line of fans waiting for him: "Who are all these people here for?!" he asked. Whether he was sincerely surprised or just being humble, I appreciated his down-to-earth nature. The panel wasn't anything special, and even had a touch of melancholy for being held a year to the day that Jeannie co-star Larry Hagman had passed away, but it was still fun to hear the two actors banter and reminiscence like old friends.

I was going to leave the con at that point, but a new friend enticed me to stay for the next panel, featuring Tom Felton, who played Draco Malfoy in all eight Harry Potter films. He hadn't been on my radar at all until an encounter I had in the Super Megafest hallway, which I then related to Felton during his panel's Q&A: "I was on my way to this panel when I came across a teenage girl who appeared to be having a breakdown: she was crying, tears streaming down her face, and she was having trouble breathing to the point of hyperventilating. I asked her what was wrong — what had happened?!? She took a breath and said, 'I just met Tom Felton!!'" My question to Felton then became, "How do you explain your popularity?" Felton seemed a bit taken aback, saying he'd never been asked that question before. The moderator jumped in and said that I'd have to be a teenage girl to understand. That exchange aside, Felton was a fun and amicable guest, telling anecdotes from the Harry Potter set and, at one attendee's request, even reciting his most famous line: "My father is going to be hearing about this!!"

IMG_4463 For all these actors and their fame and draw, my favorite moment of the entire weekend was perhaps the quietest, and one which surely no one else even noticed. In attendance at Super Megafest was Carroll Spinney, the actor behind Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. I'd first met Mr. Spinney at Super Megafest 2008, but I left that encounter heavy with regret for not having asked him one important question. He was back at Megafest 2011, but having already gotten his autograph years before, I had no occasion to approach him just to ask one question. But I had another chance in 2013 — Spinney is native to this area, and attending Megafest coincides with spending Thanksgiving with family — and this time, I wanted his autograph again, this time as gifts for friends. While he signed, I mentioned that I was one of his Kickstarter supporters, having backed a documentary about his life, I Am Big Bird. The film will be a fitting send-off to the actor, who, at age 80, is nearing retirement.

After chatting a bit about the promising trailer, he handed me the autographed photos. I hesitated. It was now or never. "Mr. Spinney," I began, "I hate to put you on the spot like this, but… can I give you a hug?"

He smiled. "Well, sure! That'd be fine. Come around the table," he said, standing up to receive me. Relieved, I wrapped my arms around him, saying, "Thank you, Bird." For everything.

November was a rough month for me, with two massive, personal disappointments I'd been beating myself up over. It's magical and inexplicable how much that weight was lifted by a hug from Big Bird; I just suddenly felt that everything was going to be okay.

Thank you, Super Megafest, for this moment. I'll treasure it always.

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Super Megafest 2012: Superman, Hercules & TRON

31-Dec-13 1:29 PM by
Filed under Potpourri; 1 comment.

Super Megafest 2013 was held last month, and I've not yet posted my report from the 2012 event. Today being New Year's Eve, this is my last chance to not fall two years behind.

Super Megafest is held every November the weekend before Thanksgiving in Framingham, Massachusetts. It's an odd panoply of minor celebrities, comic book artists, former pro wrestlers, and nostalgia. This was my sixth time attending Super Megafest, with previous shows having brought encounters with Larry Storch, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Christopher Lambert, and Sean Astin, among others. Personalized autographs from each year's attractions are sold for anywhere from $20 to $100, depending on the celebrity's star power, but the one-hour Q&A panels are what really draw me to the event. Some celebrities (like Patrick Stewart) are better in a crowd than they are one-on-one, and it's fun to share in the knowledgeable yet zany questions an audience can ask.

The first panel I attended in 2012 starred Dean Cain, best known as Superman from the television series The Adventures of Lois and Clark. When I asked, he debunked the myth that Gerard Christopher, who'd previously played Superboy, had originally been offered the part. In fact, the final two candidates for the role of Clark Kent were Cain and Kevin Sorbo, who was also in attendance at that Super Megafest. Fortunately, there was no animosity between the two, as Sorbo not getting that television role in 1993 made him available a year later to star in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Unfortunately, a throwdown between Superman and Hercules was also not on the agenda.

Cain talked about the good fortune he'd had in life, from signing with the Buffalo Bills football team after college to a knee injury that led him to his successful acting career. Despite joining the cast of Beverly Hills 90210 two years after the show's launch, the cast made him feel welcome, an experience for which he is forever grateful.

Even when his acting career has encountered resistance, he's taken it with good humor. When he was cast as Superman, some critics decried his one-quarter Japanese heritage, saying, "We wanted Superman, not Sushiman!" Cain roared with laughter when recounting this tale, saying, "I love racial jokes!"

For those pursuing an acting career of their own, he recommended having a thick skin and not taking things personally. "You'll hear 'no' a million times; just assume they're wrong every time," he coached. Often, the decision isn't even a reflection on an actor's skill: "Nepotism is alive and well" in Hollywood, he said. The only slack he cuts his own family is in World of Warcraft, which he plays with his then-12-year-old son.

The next panel starred Bruce Boxleitner, who held the title role in TRON and was John Sheridan on Babylon 5. A sci-fi actor whose career spans decades, he recounted being on the set of TRON Legacy and pulling aside actor Garrett Hedlund, who played Sam Flynn. This movie's title is no coincidence, he warmly reminded Hedlund; it's what he and Jeff Bridges and will be remembered for. "TRON will live on long after us," he said. Then, turning cold, he warned: "Don't f*$% it up." Expect more TRON movies to come.

Boxleitner also commented on films that had come out that summer, such as the Alien prequel Prometheus, which he described as "a lot of promise and no delivery." For lack of better options when stuck on an airplane, he watched the in-flight showing of a Twilight movie. "Thank God [that series] is over."

Boxleitner has tried his hand at a variety of genres and media and continues to flex his creative muscles. When asked if he prefers comedic or dramatic characters, he replied, "I don't prefer. There's comedy in every character, and drama in every character." He did some voice acting for the video game Spec Ops: The Line, which he thought would "be much bigger and make me much richer." (Nonetheless, I was humbled when he recorded a segment for the Open Apple podcast, which can be heard at 5:40 into our June 2013 episode.) He's currently developing a steampunk television series called Lantern City, which so far has only a graphic novel prequel. He has also tried his hand at writing novels — he autographed my copy of Frontier Earth — but would says that his 2001 novel Searcher will be his last, saying that he is "not a natural-born writer."

Other stars I got to meet at Super Megafest 2013 included Kevin Sorbo and John Wesley Shipp, the latter having starred as the DC superhero The Flash in the 1990 television series of the same name. Both Sorbo and Shipp recorded Open Apple bumpers for me, free with their autograph, which I much appreciated. At an unhurried moment, Shipp also reflected on how fortunate he's been in Hollywood. Though he doesn't necessarily believe in a deity that favors him — that would be unfair to the actors who didn't get the parts for which he was cast — he does marvel at the fortune that has brought him steady work, both large and small. I appreciated hearing from Shipp, Cain, and others that actors, who themselves are often deified by pop culture, can still be humble and grateful.

Finally, I got Stan Lee's autograph, but he did not have a panel (at least one I attended), nor did he offer personalized autographs.

Super Megafest continues to offer a unique cast of celebrities with which to entice geeks a city 20 miles west of Boston. As you'll find in my 2013 report, it has its growing pains, but to which I am happy to contribute. In the meantime, enjoy the below photo gallery. I attended the event with my former co-worker Gene; visit his blog for more details and photos!

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Reflecting on Super Megafest 2011

17-Nov-12 11:41 PM by
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Every year's weekend before Thanksgiving is host to the Super Megafest, an annual convention of sci-fi, comics, wrestling, and nostalgia. I have recently returned from my sixth consecutive attendance at the event — but what about the fifth?

I report on every Super Megafest for Showbits, but the past few years I've taken procrastination to new heights. Before I can in good conscience relate my experiences at the 2012 convention, here I must finally reflect on the 2011 show.

The headliners of 2011 were two stars well-known to science fiction and fantasy fans: Sean Astin and Sir Patrick Stewart. I had the opportunity and pleasure to first visit their tables, where I paid handsomely for their autographs, then attend their free Q&A sessions. In that former one-on-one encounter, the two actors could not have been more different in their receptions.

Sean AstinAstin had a table in the common area, where no one minded the queue moving slowly, as it was the product of the actor taking his time to recognize each fan as an individual. He'd shake their hands, listen to their comments, and respond with stories. In my case, I told him how, in my sporadic career as an educator, I had a high school student who wrote a paper about his family movie starring Sean Astin. Goonies? Rudy? Lord of the Rings? Nope — Slipstream, a 2005 science fiction time-travel movie that got panned by critics. When I told Astin about this paper, his eyebrows shot up to accompany a disbelieving "Really??" He then quickly harrumphed and, trying to take more pride in his work, offered a casual, interested "Really!" Astin then suggested that Slipstream was the basis for Jake Gyllenhaal's more successful Source Code, though I consider the connection between the two films tenuous at best.

Sir Patrick StewartBy contrast, Sir Stewart gave me almost nothing to relate here. Rather than wait three hours in line for his autograph, I paid for a pricey "speed pass" that got me to the head of the queue. When I was finally face-to-face with Captain Picard himself, I held out my hand, as I did with every other actor I'd met that weekend. Stewart seemed intent on putting his John Hancock on my purchased 8×10" glossy, so thinking he hadn't noticed my gesture, I asked, "May I shake your hand?" "No, sorry," he replied. Fair enough; many stars are concerned about being introduced to too many fans and their germs. I offered as an alternative: "How about a fist bump?". "No, sorry." I persisted: "Elbow bump?" At this point, his handler stepped in: "Sir Patrick has arthritis." Both gentlemen then looked to the side at the next person in line, making it clear that my time had expired. It was an impersonal experience and a real letdown: The Next Generation was my first exposure to Star Trek and defined me and my life. I never even got to say "Thank you".

Despite the discrepancy in personal encounters, both actors proved entertaining in their Q&A sessions, in which neither had to deal with fans on an individual basis. With this being Stewart's first New England convention, he reflected on the first such con he ever attended after gaining fame as Jean-Luc Picard. He said that when he stepped on the stage and the crowd went wild, "In that moment, I knew what it felt like to be Sting." Stewart has rarely turned that fame to the silver screen, though, commenting that his movie career had been limited to Robin Hood: Men In Tights (a slight exaggeration) — but that he'd recently asked his agent to actively solicit movie options. Why not just retire completely? Because in 71 years of life, 54 of them spent acting, Stewart has found that "Actors are some of the most inspiring, respectful, generous people I know." Stewart went on to talk about his gardening — he'd recently produced 24 dozen cases of apple juice, a dozen cases of pear juice, and 16 pounds of damson jam — and about taking risks, The Inner Light, William Shatner, his workout routine, and more. (He also mentioned handing out diplomas at a college and shaking 800 hands… but he couldn't shake mine?)

Sean Astin, better known to some as Samwise Gamgee, was equally entertaining, sharing the stage with Sala Baker, who played Sauron in Lord of the Rings. The two recounted how the trilogy's cast were joined in a real-life fellowship through the art of tattoo. He laughed when the film's star found the experience painful: "I'm ten years older than Elijah [Woods]; he's a punk kid." As it turned out, Astin didn't have so easy a time with it, either.

In a turn of events, Astin even took a photo of ME! You can see me in the right rear in the red sweater.

I told Astin how unusual it is to have a career that spans so many decades and genres. Demonstrating the humility of any great man, Astin seemed even more amazed than I did. As many Hollywood veterans will tell you, nepotism is alive and well, and Astin couldn't help but be recognized during auditions due to his lineage, mother Patty Duke and adoptive father John Astin. A father of three daughters of his own (with the oldest playing his on-screen daughter in The Return of the King), Astin is glad to have a filmography in which each of them can find something to relate to, especially as they near the ages at which he began his career.

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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."

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Beantown Is Geektown

02-Nov-09 2:22 PM by
Filed under Potpourri, Star Trek, Star Wars; 4 comments.

The passing of Halloween means the holidays are nearly upon us — but if you're a geek in Boston, then there are far more significant festivities headed your way. The biggest and best celebrities of science fiction will be coming to Massachusetts for three different events this month:

• On Saturday, November 14th, the touring "Star Wars In Concert" comes to the TD Garden for both a 3:00 PM matinee and an 8:00 PM performance. The concert is described as "John Williams' breathtaking score from the epic Star Wars saga … performed by a live symphony orchestra and chorus, accompanied by a stunning video montage on an enormous LED screen." Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) has been narrating this concert, though it's unclear if that's only at specific venues. Us Bostonians are no stranger to hearing Mr. Williams' soundtracks performed live, as the composer is also the director emeritus of the renowned Boston Pops Orchestra and often serves as guest conductor, but a dedicated concert to this particular score is a rare treat. Tickets are $32.50, $52.50, or $72.50, plus applicable taxes and fees.

• That same weekend is the New England Fan Experience (NEFX) sci-fi convention. Star Trek headliners include Bostonian Leonard Nimoy (Spock Prime) as well as John de Lancie (Q), though the former will be available only on Saturday, competing with the aforementioned Star Wars concert. Online tickets (via a Web site that is remarkably reminiscent of a GeoCities page) are available through November 6th for $45 each, or for $50 at the door.

• NEFX 2009 is held a week earlier than in 2008, avoiding the conflict that occurred last year with the annual Super Megafest, traditionally held the weekend before Thanksgiving. That means this year, you can attend NEFX one week and Super Megafest the next! The latter is held in Framingham, less than a half-hour west of Boston. The expo — which features an unusual amalgam of sci-fi actors, comic book artists, TV show stars, and pro wrestlers — will this year present Brent Spiner (Star Trek's Data), Ray Park (Star Wars' Darth Maul and, more recently, G.I. Joe's Snake Eyes), and James Marsters (Buffy's Spike). In addition to signings, each star also has a half-hour Q&A session, though the schedule is unknowable prior to the event: an email from its coordinator informed me, "No, panels will not be posted on the site. Most celebs will do Q&A sessions both days. However sat is probably the better day to see more Q&A sessions." Last year I happened to show up just in time to see Jonathan Frakes; otherwise I would've been out of luck. The actual show floor is quite small but packs a lot into it. Tickets for the entire November 21-22 weekend are only $20.

Though the two conventions offer cheaper admittance than the orchestral concert, they also have the most potential to drain your allowance, based on how many celebrity autographs you want to go home with; typical fees range from $20 to $50 or more per signing. This will be my third Super Megafest, and I usually budget $100 for at least three autographs.

If you'll be attending either the Star Wars matinee or the Super Megafest, be sure to say hello to Showbits!

The Profits and Prophets of Star Trek

26-May-09 7:53 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; 1 comment.

Moviegoers have voted with their wallets: Star Trek is awesome. JJ Abrams' reboot of Gene Roddenberry's universe has been raking in the dough over the last three weekends. Box Office Prophets reports on the opening weekend:

… young Kirk and friends did blow the cover off the box office with an opening weekend take of $72.5 million, plus another $4 million from pre-midnight Thursday showings, which gives the movie a running total of $76.5 million so far. … The debut is huge for this franchise, as the opening frame is more than the combined total of the last three films' opening weekends (Nemesis — $18.5 million opening, Insurrection — $22.1 million opening, First Contact — $30.7 million opening). The debut throws out the trend of Star Trek films opening between $14 million and $23 million, when removing the top and bottom score. The average opening for Star Trek is about $19 million with all films included… The 2009 Star Trek outgrossed the last film (2002's Nemesis finished with only $43.3 million in domestic box office) in two days.

In its second week, Star Trek was second at the box office, where the "sci-fi staple earned an impressive $43 million, falling only 43% from its $75.2 million debut." It fell to third place over Memorial Day Weekend, ending with $183.5 million. Its fourth weekend will surely put it over $200 million. Previously, the Star Trek film with the highest domestic gross, and the only one to break $100 million, was The Voyage Home at $109.7 million; the film with the highest total gross (foreign and domestic) was First Contact, at $146 million.

Though it was agony a year ago to receive the announcement that this film was delayed from its original release date of Christmas 2008, it seems Paramount knew what it was doing. Star Trek is an excellent summer blockbuster, and I'm relieved the distributors showed faith in the franchise to position it to capitalize on the season. But it's not just my own hopes that were realized; earlier this month, my local newspaper reported:

While promoting an appearance at the Boston Super Megafest back in November, Jonathan Frakes (aka Commander William T. Riker in Star Trek: The Next Generation) said he was "cautiously optimistic" about the new take on Star Trek. So are many area Trekkers who have been faithful to the 40-year-plus phenomenon.

This is a good article, and author Craig S. Semon has done well in representing geek culture at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. However, as you may recall, I too was at the Super Megafest and remember Mr. Semon being in the same audience I was for Mr. Frakes' session. My recollection of the occasion is a bit different, as I reported back in November:

[Jonathan Frakes] 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."

It was therefore not Commander William Riker, but Blogger Ken Gagne, that Mr. Semon was quoting. (It's possible the quotation was based on a separate but similar occasion for which I was not present — but unlikely.)

But I'll let this misquotation go. Not only do we share a common goal — the success of Star Trek — but if I'm going to put words in someone's mouth, it might as well be someone out of this world.

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."