Las Vegas Star Trek Convention 2005

Dani’s Los Angeles Journal

August 1, 2005

We were supposed to leave Saturday night but
Delta called to tell us our flight was cancelled, so we ended up leaving REALLY early in
the morning on Sunday. We connected in Salt Lake and arrived in LA
in the early afternoon. After a stop at Grandma Marjorie’s house we all went to my parents’ favorite Mexican place for
dinner, El Cholo. I don’t like Mexican food much but it was pretty good.
They have cheese chips that are to die for. By five o’clock we had to call
it quits and head to the hotel.

We are staying at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel in Pasadena (about half an hour away
from Grandma) and it’s really nice. Our room is large and has a beautiful
view. Dad and I went for a swim, then came back to the room and vegged for
a while. By 8:30 we were ready for bed.

On Monday, feeling a little more human, we ordered a HUGE room service
breakfast. Even Mom had something (she never eats breakfast). It was
really good. I have some history homework I’m doing (really long boring
homework) so I did that for most of the morning.

At lunch Mom and Dad took me to an old haunt of theirs, Tommy’s
Hamburger Stand. They do nothing in moderation there. A burger has a
patty, two handfuls (big handfuls) of onion, ten or fifteen pickles, and a
giant scoop of orange goo they call chili. All in all it was a, unique
experience. Did I mention that the goo turns your fingers orange
permanently?

After we had consumed as much as we dared we went over to Grandma’s.
Her next-door neighbor Denny came home from work early and talked with us
for a while. I went next door and met his dog, Johanne Sebastian Bark
(they just call him “Sebastian”). He is a white German Shepherd and he is
BIG! Standing on his back feet he can look me in the eye. He weighs about
120 pounds and his shoulders come to my waist. He is really sweet though.
He has an old bucket he thinks is a toy. He holds it over his head and
prances around, then puts it down and rolls it across the yard with his
paw. At 7:00 we went to dinner with relatives at Shanhai Red’s at the
marina.

Wednesday we went to Farmers’ Market. My parents remember this place
from when they were kids. It’s a bunch of open stalls outside where they
sell everything from greasy pizza and French crepes to tacky tourist junk.
We had lunch there, Mom and I decided to partake of the greasy pizza, dad
had a ham and cheese crepe and Grandma had Chinese food.
Have you ever eaten coke bottle candies? They are the best invention
under the sun! It’s made of what gummy bears are but it’s clear. There is
coke injected into the bottom of them. They’re great! I have a small bag
of them that I bought maybe we can share when I get back. Oh, and guess
what they have in every supermarket and convenience store in California,
Squirt! They have Squirt! I have been getting it every chance I get.
Anyway, it was a lovely afternoon.
They’ve built a shopping area called the “Grove” next to Farmer’s
Market. We wandered around there for a while. They have a huge,
three-story Barnes and Noble. I bought the book version of Wicked, my
favorite play on Broadway.
For dinner we went to the Smokehouse. They have has the best garlic
cheese bread anywhere.
Dad bought some tickets to see the King Tut exhibit on Wednesday. There
were lots of neat treasures on loan from Egypt. They not only had lots of
gold treasures but also lots of really well-preserved wooden things. There
was one footstool that was made of wood but it was carved and inlaid to
look like an animal hide. A guided tour on tape interpreted it all.

For dinner we went up to an old building called the Saddle Peak Lodge,
up in the mountains. We sat outside and watched the sun set. The Saddle
Peak Lodge has been many things in its time including a hunting lodge, a
speakeasy, a brothel and a fine dining restaurant. They specialize in
game, so I had buffalo and dad had elk. Mom had ravioli, and man, are
those things hard to shoot.

 

Thursday Mom and Dad and I took a two and a half hour drive north to the
central coast wine country. It was good. The views were lovely, and there
was a nice breeze, so it wasn’t too hot. We stopped in Solvang, a touristy
Danish village, for some butter cookies. The movie Sideways was
filmed in and around the town of Los Olivos; it was neat to keep running
into places where they filmed. Mom and Dad did some wine tasting, and we
had dinner in a nice little restaurant imaginatively called “The Los
Olivos Café”.
We spent most of Friday at Grandma’s, and went to a new restaurant in
the historic Wiltern Hotel for dinner.
Saturday Mom and Dad went to Fry’s, a giant electronics store, and
selected a new computer for Grandma (her old one had a really weird
software problem).
On Sunday Dad finished setting up Grandma’s computer and we went to
Trader Vic’s in Beverly Hills for dinner. Trader Vic’s is where the Mai
Tai was invented, and they served that and all sorts of other wacky
tropical drinks, along with some excellent spare rib appetizers.

Steve’s Las Vegas Journal

Monday we packed and checked out of the Ritz
Carlton Huntington Hotel in Pasadena — after a week it had begun to feel
like home. We took the 210 freeway to San Bernardino and then 15 over the
pass to the high desert. The drive to Vegas took about six hours, and
carried us through mostly rocky, barren terrain on a surprisingly busy
four-lane road. A long, skinny ribbon of thunderstorm hung like a curtain
across one valley, and provided ten minutes of torrential rain in a
landscape that was otherwise parched and dusty.

We’re staying at the Venetian Hotel, our favorite in Vegas. Every room
is a suite, and there are 17 restaurants in the building!

 

Monday evening we had tickets to see Penn & Teller at the Rio, so we
had dinner at a Japanese restaurant in Masquerade Village there. While
waiting for dinner Dani was able to watch the Mardi Gras parade that I
worked on a few years ago. It’s a fairly complicated control system for a
dozen or so overhead floats on which the performers ride.
Penn & Teller were amusing, but it wasn’t a great magic show. Before
the show Mike Jones, a terrific jazz pianist, performed with a stand up
bass player who turned out to be Penn himself. During this preshow the
audience was invited onstage to inspect a box and sign an
envelope, both later used in the show.
Tuesday we had lunch at Taqueria Cononita by the Grand Canal in the
Venetian. Dani bought a magic trick at one of the shops and spent the
afternoon practicing. After some power napping we changed and drove to the
MGM Grand to see the new Circe de Soleil production, Ka.
I find myself at a loss to adequately describe Ka. Days later we were
still trying to absorb everything we witnessed. Here’s how the Las Vegas
Review-Journal described it:

 

 

 

Cirque Tops Itself: ‘Ka,’ the most expensive live
show in modern history, takes a new direction by telling a story

Seen from directly overhead, two opposing groups of
armor-suited warriors charge to meet in the middle. A fierce battle
ensues, the warriors using staffs, swords and kung fu. Some have an
almost-supernatural power to leap over their enemy.

That’s how the scene unfolds in Cirque du Soleil’s new “Ka.” But the
audience doesn’t see the overhead perspective on film, or reflected in
mirrors. They see it because the warriors are suspended in the air, their
feet rappelling onto a near-vertical wall, upon which the image of the
battlefield is projected.

Along with performing their stunt combat, the performers are squeezing
control units, hidden in their fists, to move the wires that suspend them
from a grid 90 feet above the stage.

In part, it’s the answer to the question everyone had: How could Cirque
top itself and deliver a distinct new product in its fourth show on the
Strip?

The $165 million “Ka” marks not only a watershed for Las Vegas
entertainment, but perhaps the creation of an all-new entertainment
medium: the live movie; theater that uses the language of cinema.

“In movies you will see a battlefield from different angles … We’ve had
the opportunity to give people a live experience about battle that is
completely different than what you would get in any other theater,” says
Lyn Heward, who oversees Cirque’s creative content division.

“Ka” has the rich, textured atmosphere of grand opera, except that nothing
is stagebound, not even the two stages themselves.

Scenes flow from one to another, changing perspective. When the nanny of
the young protagonist falls overboard during a turbulent storm at sea, you
first see the older caretaker swept off the side of the boat that spins
and bobs like a cork on the water.

Then the stage transforms to an underwater point of view, to show the
nanny sinking to the bottom — again by using aerial wires and film
projection — and the young heroine  plunging in to rescue her.

“It does focus the way a spectator can watch an activity. When I go see
`O,’ I have difficulty choosing what to look at,” Heward says. “But this
is a little bit different. We are giving you a point of view to look at
this from.”

Moreover, the signature Cirque music, acrobatics and overall aesthetic
have been focused into actual storytelling for the first time.

In lieu of a fixed playing area, the stage design
resembles a black void, where the two main stages move in and out of
position. One is the “Tommy deck,” a platform that slides in and out much
like a drawer. The other — the one hosting the vertical battle — is the
“cliff deck,” an 80,000-pound rectangle lifted in and out of place by a
230,000-pound gantry arm.

The cinematic feel of the show also introduces a new, home-theaterlike
dimension to the theater: Every seat has its own personal set of speakers.

“It is not as if sound always comes out of the seat. It is just another
pair of speakers,” says sound designer Jonathan Deans. In fact, there are
180 outputs of sound, compared to 60 for “EFX.”

“We take a sound and shred it into multiple sections,” Deans explains. “It
will go out and fly around the auditorium shredded, then come back into
that (original) sound. Will the audience know that is happening? No. But
they will feel something different is happening.”

Much of the music is recorded, but all sound effects are live. “If a
fireball comes up through the stage,” Deans explains, “we draw little
squares on the camera image (that monitors the stage action). So when the
fireball crosses through the squares, it actually triggers different
sounds, and places the sounds to different speakers.”

René Dupéré, who composed the soundtrack to “Mystere” and most of the
Cirque shows before it, returned to the fold at Laliberté’s request after
a 10-year break.

“It has to be a score, like a movie score,” Dupéré says. “The music has to
tell what’s going on, because there’s nobody talking.”

The most distinctive aspect of the score is a 42-voice choir, which sings
“invented lyrics” by Dupéré’s wife, Elise Velle, who was principal singer
for the first year of “Mystere.”

The choir and orchestral sounds are blended in with the live performance
of a seven-piece band, which the audience doesn’t see.

But, Dupéré says, in places “I had to soften (the music) a bit. It was so
dramatic, I couldn’t see the action. The music was too big.”

It’s a larger lesson the creators of the most expensive live show in
modern history are trying not to forget. One key special effect is created
by nothing more than the shadow of a candle.

“Human beings make the effects, and not machines,” Heward says. “The
technology is simply a support to the human performance.”

 

Click here for a technical article from Total Production.

Dinner at Nob Hill was as unremarkable as Ka was remarkable. Overpriced,
uninteresting, and with an amazingly extensive selection of incredibly
unappealing wines at absurd prices, this is the number one clip joint to
avoid in Vegas.
Wednesday began with a delicious room service breakfast. The
servers are exceptional at the Venetian, setting the table in your room as
if you were in a fine dining restaurant.
Then we walked across the
street to the Treasure Island, which has been destroyed by MGM Mirage, the
new owners. The name has been changed to the “ti,” and the skull and
crossbones sign, the most distinctive in Vegas, has been removed. The
exterior pirate ship theming has also been modified to make it “sexy,” and
the redemption gaming center that Dani and Linda were looking for is gone.
We took the tram over to the Mirage and purchased an admission to the
Secret Garden of Siegfried and Roy and spent a pleasant hour watching
lions and tigers sleep.
After riding the tram back to the ti we crossed the street to the new Wynn.
Steve Wynn’s latest upscale creation is even uglier than the Bellagio. The
outside looks like an office building behind a dyke, and the inside is
filled with the same garish mess as Bellagio. The only focal point, a
“water feature” that is a simply a wall with water running down it, is so
poorly placed that only a few dozen patrons can see it at one time.
Back at the Venetian we allowed our body temperature to return to
normal while waiting about an hour for an afternoon snack in the Grand
Luxe Cafe.
In the evening we drove over to the Hilton to pick up our wrist bands for
the Star Trek convention, which begins tomorrow.
Dinner was at Bouchon, an authentic Parisian Brasserie
in the new Venezia tower. It was indeed authentic, right down to putting
the bread directly on the table. It was also delicious. The fois gras
terrine appetizer turned out to be an entire 5 oz jar of pate de fois gras,
pricey at $41, but enough for three, and worth every penny.
After a delicious breakfast at Bouchon — best baked
goods outside of Paris! — we headed for the Las Vegas Hilton.
The Star Trek convention attracted an interesting cross
section of people, to say the least. On Thursday and Friday there
was a high ratio of Trekkers in Federation costumes. These are the fans Shatner was
was addressing in his Saturday Night Live sketch, “Get a Life.”
These people still live in their parents’ basements. It’s probably a good
thing.
By the weekend, though, when attendance peaked at over
3000, the audience was a cross-section of all ages, with women perhaps
slightly outnumbering men. If there was any demographic missing it was
young teenagers, particularly girls. Kids came with parents, older
teenagers rived on their own, and a lot of the audience must have seen the
original series when it first aired. But Dani was fairly unique, and as a
resulted attracted a certain amount of attention form the celebrities.
The format of the convention is: stage presentation
by celebrity, stand in line for celebrity’s autograph, go to dealer room
and buy crap.
I found the presentations almost uniformly
entertaining. The stars enjoyed talking about current projects, and most
were genuinely pleased by the loving reception they received from the
fans. Two open mics at the sides of the stage allowed fans to ask
questions, and the stars answered them with candor, and often with great
wit.

The standing in line was a bit tedious, but nearly
every celebrity made an effort to make eye contact or say a few words to
each fan, even if they were signing 600 autographs. These
autographs are the currency of the convention, as they — either directly
or indirectly — cost $20 to $80 each. This comprises the celebrities’
compensation
for attending, and also provides most of the convention organizer’s profit.

The dealer room was actually pretty interesting,
because in addition to many booths selling Star Trek collectibles and
photos there was also a large section devoted to minor celebrities. Here
was an opportunity to have photos personalized, buy CDs, or just chat with
a couple dozen minor stars. And some of these people weren’t that minor:
James Darren hung out for several days, as did a large number of other
characters from the five series.

Although there was more of an emphasis on autographs
than I’d have liked, I tip my hat to the organizers, who kept the event
running like clockwork for four days. No presentation ever started more
than a few minutes late, and the mics and video worked well.

Here’s what we saw during the four days:

The show opened Thursday with a mediocre
improv of TOS (The Original Star Trek) by some guys from Texas. Aside from
an amusing double take when the security guy realizes he’s wearing a red
shirt — and is therefore certain to be killed — it wasn’t that great.

It was followed by a presentation by Denis Russell,
who worked on the original opticals for TOS. Denis seems like a nice guy,
but is the world’s worst speaker, and I’m still not sure he knows what an
optical is.

Throughout the convention there were some
interesting lunches at Benihana, but although we had gold passes that
included almost everything, lunches weren’t part of it, so I won’t
describe them.

After
lunch things picked up with an amusing presentation by Grace Lee Whitney
(Yeoman Rand on TOS) and Robert Walker, guest star of the Charlie X
episode. Raised by aliens, Charlie has some trouble adapting to human
ways. In one famous scene he swats Rand on the butt as he passes her in
the corridor. Whitney has had a rough life, which she’s only recently
gotten back on track, and Walker talked about his (apparently famous)
parents. They had a good rapport.
Next up was LeVar Burton. He’s
an incredibly intelligent and well-spoken man, who talked about the impact
of Roots, and his rather extensive directing experience. He just starting
a new movie with Stan Lee. An amazing number of people thanked him for his
28 years of work on PBS’ Reading Rainbow.
John de
Lancie played Q on TNG (Star Trek the Next Generation), DS9 (Deep Space
9), and Voyager. (I don’t know if he was on Enterprise, as I haven’t seen
most of that yet.) He is very involved in producing classical music
concerts and legitimate theater, and is a long-time friend of Kate Mulgrew.
Robin Curtis
was a Vulcan in the movie The Seach for Spock. We skipped her
presentation.
Corbin
Bernsen played Q2 on TNG. We skipped this.
I couldn’t figure out who Dean
Haglund is until someone told me he was one of the computer guys on the
X-Files, a show I’ve never seen. So why is he at a Star Trek convention?
Apparently he makes a career of touring the various conventions (more than
one a month) doing improv. His show was hysterical! He began by explaining
that the plot of all X-Files episodes is the same: some weird creature is
discovered and then the government spend the rest of the hour denying it.
So he invited the audience to suggest the creature (I think we ended up
with a stoat-moose-rabbit) and then selected audience members to help him
perform
three sketches:

  1. Audience member attempts to make verbal sound
    effects as Dean describes the action — and comments on their sound
    effects.
  2. Audience member provides Dean’s arms as Dean acts
    out a scene — including taking questions from the audience: “Yes, you
    sir… no, not the one I’m pointing at, the one I’m looking at.”
  3. Audience member attempts to move Dean’s body as
    Dean — spastically — describes the climax.

Very funny stuff.

Thursday night was a private party for the gold ticket
holders — at least 500 of us — at the Star Trek Experience attraction.
Buffet food was served in Quark’s Bar, which looks a lot like the one on
DS9, and seats the same dozen people. Entertainment was mostly by Chase Masterson,
who played Lita, one of Quark’s Dabo girls, and is a pretty good nightclub
singer, and Vaughn Armstrong (Admiral Forrest on Enterprise), who has a
country band.
The Star Trek Experience
attraction was also open, with its astonishing transporter effect, which
makes it seem as if you are “beamed” aboard the Enterprise. Also open was
the new Borg Encounter, which is an excellent show incorporating live
actors, 3D Hidef video and effects.
Both are top notch shows.
Friday began before
lunch, but we skipped the presentation by Gwynyth Walsh. We did get her
autograph later, and she looks much better than this in person.

Garrett Wang
(Ensign Harry Kim on Voyager) was a delightful speaker and did some very
funny impersonations of Kate Mulgrew.

He hung out with the attendees later, and seems like a really nice guy.
After lunch
we met the first of four captains appearing at the convention, Kate
Mulgrew (Captain Janeway of Voyager). Kate is just back from two months in
Ireland with one of her twenty-something sons, where they were writing
poetry and stories. She’s in Tea at Five, the popular one-woman
show about Catherine Hepburn, and is
enjoying being 50 and slowing down a bit.
Max
Grodenchik and Chase Masterson played Quark’s slow brother Rom and Quark’s
Dabo girl Lita on DS9. They took the stage together, and couldn’t be more
dissimilar (well, maybe in makeup they could). Max is incredibly shy, and
Lita incredibly outgoing. We met them in person later in the dealer room,
where we bought photos and CDs. They were both very generous with their
time.
Gary Graham
plays Vulcan Ambassador Soval on Enterprise. We skipped this presentation.
Marina
Sirtis and Micahel Dorn played Counselor Troi and Klingon Warf on TNG.
Michael was busy finishing a photo op (pose with the star of your choice,
sort of like Madame Tussaud’s) so Marina came out first and told us all
the ways to tease Michael when he came out. They are obviously great
friends, and were very entertaining.
After the show we headed back to the hotel to change,
and went to Valentino’s for dinner. This was a bit disappointing, as the
Wine Spectator names it one of America’s top ten, but they must be
referring to the one in Los Angeles. The wine list, though extensive, had
no older wines, and the Italian food was challenging and not particularly
great.
Saturday we
arrived in time to see Penny Johnson Jerald, who plays Cassidy, Captain
Sisko’s girlfriend on DS9. Cassidy is one of our least favorite
characters, because the two of them appear to have absolutely no
chemistry. Oddly, Penny’s presentation consisted mostly of telling us how
great their chemistry was.
Connor Trineer
(“Trip” from Enterprise) wasn’t scheduled to appear, but at the last
minute Jolene Blalock (T’Pol from Enterprise) cancelled. Jolene seemed to
be persona non grata with the organizers, but Connor was a great sport and
showed up with less than 24 hours notice.
Robbie
McNeill (Tom Paris from Voyager) has been busy directing, including many
episodes of Desperate Housewives.
Rosalind Chao played Keiko,
O’Brien’s wife, on TNG and DS9. We missed most of this presentation.
Jeffrey
Combs has played several roles on DS9 and Enterprise, including Brunt and
Weyun. He joined Vaughn Armstrong (Admiral Forrest from Enterprise) and
Casey Biggs (Damar on DS9) for a live musical performance. Armstrong is a
good bluegrass musician, and Biggs has a wonderful voice. Combs was truly
awful. Nice guy, though.

Speaking of singing,
James Darren, Linda’s heartthrob from the 60’s was up next. This guy was
playing Moondoggie in Gidget movies in the 1950s, and he looks younger
than me. On DS9 he play holographic nightclub singer Vic Fontaine, and
introduced a new generation to the classic Vegas songs of the 50’s.
Avery Brooks
played Captain Sisko on DS9. He was the first black to receive an MFA in
both acting and directing, which he did simultaneously. He has been a
professor at Rutgers sin 1972, and tenured since the 80’s. He also
directed my favorite DS9 episode, Far Beyond the Stars, in which he
plays a 1950s sci-fi pulp writer who is the victim of discrimination.
Needless to say, Avery is an a amazing speaker.
Afterwards he signed autographs with Penny Johnson
Jerald, and their chemistry seemed OK. Avery stopped Dani in the
autograph line to shake her hand and talk with her for a minute, and it’s
the only time I’ve seen her nearly speechless.
After a quick bite at the Mexican restaurant down the hall (it’s the only
decent restaurant in the Hilton, so we’ve eaten there three times in three
days) we returned for the world premier of Star Trek: The Concert. 34 members of The
Las Vegas Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Richard McGee, played all
of the great Star Trek themes in chronological order. McGee was obviously
also a fan, and his comments between pieces were quite enlightening. The
orchestra was quite good except for a couple of horn players who should be
taken for a ride in the desert.
Composer Dennis McCarthy came
onstage to conduct his themes from DS9 and the movie Generations.
The concert included an interlude for a vocal performance by Nana Visitor (Kira from
DS9) but although she was at the convention she cancelled this performance for some reason.
The already overworked James Darren gamely took her place, although I’m
sure he felt ridiculous standing in the middle of an orchestra and singing
to a prerecorded track.
The concert was
followed by a Dessert Party with a live band and more entertainment by
James Darren and others, but it was crowded and not very intimate in the
huge convention space, so we left after only a few minutes.
Sunday began with a DS9 reunion featuring Nana Visitor (Kira), Rene Auberjonois
(Odo) and Armin Shimerman (Quark). There was great chemistry between the
three of them, and it was lots of fun. To raise money for charity, in the
autograph line Rene was doing individual sketches for $10. He drew a
picture of Odo’s bucket with a word balloon saying, “Dani.”

At noon Patrick Stewart
arrived from Vancouver (where he has been filming X3) for a rare
convention appearance. Patrick is living in London, and has rejoined the
Royal Shakespeare Company. He will appear in several plays throughout
2006, and at one time or another next summer, all 37 will be produced.
Patrick is clearly an ACTOR, but he takes his Star Trek notoriety with
good grace.
Shatner
is just so damn funny! An aspiring actor asked for advise and Shatner
said, “So you want to know what you can do to be famous, rich, have the
yacht, the babes, everything? Nothing. It’s all luck.”
Actor, author, horse trainer, musician; this guy is
busy.
During his presentation he auctioned off a number of
items for charity. Most interesting was your chance to be in his next Star
Trek book. Two people paid $5000 each.
Patrick Stewart joined him on stage momentarily
before departing.
After Shatner’s stage
appearance we hurried over to the dealer’s room to pose for a picture with
him, a father’s day gift from Dani. We got to exchange a few words and I left him a
copy of one of my books.
Following the
photo op we caught most of Brent Spiner’s (Data on TNG) presentation.
Brent is a really funny guy, and has an absolutely dead-on Patrick Stewart
impression. (Patrick was earlier asked if he had a Brent imitation and he
said, “You know why all those guys imitate me? It’s because they want to
BE me.”)
The convention wound up
with Robert Beltran, Chakotay on Voyager. Of all the celebrities there,
Beltran was the only one who seemed to have an “attitude,” and he might
not have been the best choice to wrap things up.
Here’s Dani posing with a couple of passers-by in the
dealer’s room. I’m not sure if the Klingon and Andorian were from the Star
Trek Experience, or were show attendees.
A parting shot of Dani who, through the magic of
digital imagery, appears with the DS9 cast.
Wrap Up: Since a big focus of the show is autographs, which we now have
coming out of our (Ferengi) ears, I don’t think I’d buy a gold ticket to
another convention. But it was a lot of fun, and I’d certainly consider a
day pass to future conventions, particularly since there is a highly
regarded one in Orlando every year, organized by Vulkon.com
Live long and prosper.
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