Creation Convention, Parsippany, NJ 2011
Creation Convention and “Cross Our Hearts” show
Parsippany, New Jersey – Friday, June 24, 2011
reports by Sandra Zarodnansky and Mary Shaver
The first day of this year’s Parsippany Creation Convention was very special for DS9 fans! Our beloved Odo and the lovely Kira were the shining stars of the day! René and Nana were on hand to give a little talk, answer questions, and do a theatrical presentation of some poems and narratives that all related to love.
René was onstage first at the panel time. He caught us up on how busy he is…. He had just come from “looping” for an upcoming episode of Warehouse 13. He and Lindsay Wagner are reprising their guest star roles from last season. He also just completed an episode of Bored to Death, an HBO series about “slacker noir detectives”…. I will have to take his word for this since I have never seen the show. He is also working on cartoon voice roles for Winx Club, an Italian cartoon which is being translated into English for the American market, and continues to do the Pound Puppies cartoon where his character runs the Pound. Dabney Coleman is his brother-in-law and Betty White his mother on that show, and he enjoys working with Betty, saying she is delightful. He is also very into being a grandparent and spoke lovingly of his three grandchildren–ages 5 and under.
In the Q&A a young girl asked him about The Little Mermaid and he promptly performed the song he did as the chef when he wanted to catch and cook the crab! He was amazing! He just reverted into that voice and sang the song like he had done it yesterday!
Nana was called out to the stage to join René and they continued talking about cartoon shows and she said her husband loves Family Guy. René has done that show also. Nana says she finds the show to have some gross elements and every time she is asked to do a role it ends up being something she is not terribly comfortable with when she sees it in context. For instance, she was the dog’s girlfriend last time she was involved with the show-the one who was too old for him!
Both René and Nana talked a bit of their Broadway experiences, René citing his first experience, in the Coco Chanel play starring Katherine Hepburn. Nana said she started out in the chorus line–quite different from René who started out at the top! She has intentions of returning to Broadway and has a number of roles she would like a crack at. René spoke of the grueling pace and while he would not say “never,” he does not seem too anxious to tackle such a role right now!
When asked about her make-up trailer accident, Nana told us about the time she was coming out of the trailer in the rain and slipped and fell, splat, on her back. They took her to the hospital and the young doctor who came in to see her almost “freaked” at what had happened to her nose! He did not know she was there about her back and she had to quickly clue him in that her nose was make-up! She also spoke about her respect for horses and her fear of them which made Wildfire a bit of a challenge! She got kicked by a horse while working on that series.
Both René and Nana said they are just amazed by how many imagined things from Star Trek are actually reality today–Nana specifically mentioned Skyping, and René talked about how you don’t even need to tape things anymore–you can just go to Hulu and watch shows you missed online!
After the talk they did photo ops and then came back to do their wonderful poetry/prose readings, “Cross Our Hearts”. Then it was time for autographs and I had the pleasant surprise of seeing Gayle Stever there sitting with René! It was a very satisfying day!
The 45th Annual Creation Star Trek convention tour continued in Parsippany, NJ on June 24-26. Hard to believe it’s been that long since the Original Series aired on NBC. Those of us who remember watching TOS “in living color” prefer not to think about how old that makes us.
This was my third Star Trek con and by now I feel like a seasoned veteran. Of course there are always odd little twists that we don’t expect and this was no exception. Friday morning as we registered a group of us were herded over to the side and told that Bill Shatner was filming at the convention for a pilot he has sold entitled “Fan Addicts.” We were told what to do (basically run screaming into the convention vendor room and look like-well, like fanatics. Hmmm.)
Later, in the hotel lobby seating area, a small group of fans congregated, and we were joined by René and Nana in an impromptu “room party.” They both caught us up on what is going on with them. Nana has recently relocated from New Mexico back to Los Angeles and is adjusting to the congestion and frenetic pace of the area. René talked a bit about his recent projects and then they discussed their “Cross Our Hearts” performance and the evolving nature of the show. We were in the middle of a spirited discussion about Shatner’s project–specifically, was this a legitimate show about fans and their fandoms or was this more of a spoof of the “crazies”? Evidently René and Bill had a conversation about the show the previous evening and he wasn’t able to get a read on the slant Bill was planning to take.
And then Shatner and camera crew showed up. René excused himself. I later joked with René that he set us up and then fled the scene, because he left Nana and the rest of us to be miked and filmed. “Just act normal,” was Shatner’s directorial contribution. So we found ourselves talking about the trivialities of life with Nana. Not what I could consider compelling television. But it was an interesting diversion and I got to meet Bill Shatner up close and personal. I will say this: the man draws a crowd. I didn’t realize until they had completed shooting that there was a large clump of people behind us.
René came on stage first, explaining that Nana was “backstage learning her lines.” He talked about his recent guest appearances on Warehouse 13, in which he reprised his character of Hugo Miller, and Bored to Death on HBO with Ted Danson. He also mentioned some of the voice work he had done for Pound Puppies.
When the session was opened up for questions, a little girl about 7 years old marched up to the edge of the stage and demanded to know if René was Chef Louis. It was very cute. I know René’s done the Chef Louis song a million times, but I’d never seen it, and I must say it was charming. The little girl was absolutely mesmerized, and it was a really wonderful moment. René said afterwards that he felt very blessed to have been given a role like this in a Disney movie and that being a recognized and beloved character in a Disney animation was special in a unique way.
Another fan asked René about his voice-over in Archer, and this led René to discuss his lengthy and varied career doing voices for cartoon characters and that in looking at the long list of his credits he doesn’t even remember many of them. However, René said he believes his experience with voicing animated characters is what gave him both the inspiration for and the voice flexibility to come out with the “Odo” voice during DS9 casting. Lucky for DS9 and Odo fans that he was able to find that grouchy, grumpy voice!
Soon after, Nana made her appearance, looking smashing as usual. Before taking questions, they simply talked about their characters and the whole Odo/Kira relationship, which served as the backdrop for the love theme of their Cross Our Hearts show.
René mentioned the last scene from “Necessary Evil” and how the writers concluded that Odo was in love with Kira, and then progressing through Kira’s other lovers and Odo’s angst; the romance that finally developed, and culminating with Odo’s leaving Kira and departing for the Great Link. Both René and Nana said they were very satisfied with this ending (even if many Odo/Kira fans were not).
Most of this we’ve heard before, although René was guilty of a slight slip of the tongue when he described their first take of the Big Kiss on the Promenade. He was explaining how nervous they both were and how during the run-throughs they hadn’t actually done the kiss and then, on the first take, he grabbed Kira and kissed her and when he pulled back “…I came off all over her face…” I don’t think René realized how that was received by the audience because he looked a little confused by the roar of laughter until Nana gently pointed out exactly what he said.
René and Nana spoke about how being on DS9 was like a family and how in step they were with the other actors. René said it was his familiarity with both the other DS9 actors and their characters that eased his path into directing several episodes. He went on to say he didn’t have any interest in other directorial projects for this very reason. Nana commented that they didn’t really appreciate the difficulty guest actors had coming on to the DS9 set, but now that they (Nana and René) are the guest actors they feel like interlopers.
Someone in the audience asked if they had any intentions of returning to the stage. René compared acting on television or film as being a sprinter, and stage acting as being a marathon runner. Stage work, especially a musical, is physically and emotionally exhausting, and doing eight shows per week is a challenge. René did add that his wife is in the process of completing a one-man play for René that will be based on the life of Tom Wolfe.
Nana said she would love to return to the stage and that she actually began her career as a chorus girl, but raising a son would make it difficult.
Nana was asked her feelings on the demise of soap operas. As a one-time regular on One Life to Live, Ryan’s Hope, and The Doctors, she expressed fond feelings for the shows and the actors and said she was sorry that the shows were being phased out and especially for the actors who had made careers from the soap operas.
“Cross Our Hearts”
René and Nana returned to the stage later in the afternoon to perform “Cross Our Hearts.” This collection of poetry and prose presented the concept of love in all its iterations. Scattered among these readings were a number of quotes – funny and sage and sad. They married beautifully with the poems and prose.
What an amazing experience to be present while these two gifted actors transport us with their words and the subtle movement of their bodies. The truth they are able to find in the words they speak is what makes us believe we are actually where they want to take us.
Some of the highlights:
“Long Afternoon at the Edge of Sister Pond,”
by Mary Oliver. Read by Nana.
A poem about life, love and death. Expressively read by Nana, and I was especially moved by the line:
“Every day I walk out into the world
To be dazzled, and then to be reflective.”
“Courage,” by Anne Sexton. Read by René.
A poem about how courage reveals itself in small ways. One stanza reminded me very much of Odo and was read with real pathos by René:
“The first spanking when your heart
Went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
Or poor or fatty or crazy
And made you into an alien,
You drank their acid
And concealed it.”
“Diagnosis,” by Sharon Olds. Read by Nana.
A funny poem about a child who appears to have a facial deformity. The child’s mother takes her to the doctor (although the mother secretly believes her to be possessed). The diagnosis: a sense of humor, which the girl happily claims to be incurable.
“The Lanyard,” by Billy Collins. Read by René.
A funny but sad poem about a man who reflects on a gift he made for his mother when he was a boy away at camp-a lanyard-and the inadequacy of this perfectly worthless gift when compared with what his mother did for him. And yet how as a child he believed the presentation of this useless present to his mother would make them even.
Listening to René I recalled my own time spent at Girl Scout Camp as a child and the same worthless “arts and crafts” that we made, and how cheerfully my own mother accepted these useless bobbles.
“William,” by Mary Oliver. Read by Nana.
A poem about a mother’s love for her child.
“Just to Feel Human,” by James Tate. Read by René and Nana.
A funny poem about how the oddest things can trigger physical love. Brilliantly read, as René and Nana progress from a bickering husband and wife to playful lovers.
The Good Doctor, by Neil Simon. Read by René and Nana.
A scene from The Good Doctor in which Nana’s character wants to audition for an upcoming play, with René playing the role of the director.
“Profile on a Pillow,” by Dudley Randall. Read by René.
Tender images and thoughts in the afterglow of lovemaking, presented by René with warmth and affection.
“Necessary Evil,” Odo and Kira’s first meeting.
René and Nana slip with startling ease into the characters of Odo and Kira. The lack of makeup does nothing to lessen the impact of this scene. Even their body language was that of their characters and I must say what a thrill it was to hear Odo’s wonderfully rich voice again. The scene that made many of us believe that for Odo it was “love at first sight,” and the scene that introduced the origins of Odo’s nickname of Constable. A heartwarming trip down memory lane.
“Remember,” by Christina Rossetti. Read by René and Nana.
A fitting and suitably poignant ending to the performance, and a poem that Odo could have written to Kira.
“Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand…”
There were quite a few tear-streaked cheeks by the end of the performance. “Cross Our Hearts” was a glorious tribute to love in all its shapes and forms and a splendid way to honor the enduring love between Odo and Kira.
The Autograph Session
Immediately following the conclusion of “Cross Our Hearts,” René and Nana were whisked off to sign autographs. René had announced to the audience before the performance that fans were welcome to collect the pages containing quotes by various authors and have them autographed for a small donation to Doctors without Borders. During the show, as René and Nana read the quotes, they would toss the pages with great aplomb to the floor. Between the signing of these pages and René drawing his “Odo’s Bucket,” we were able to raise $285 for Doctors without Borders. It was a real pleasure to help out at the autograph table and watch the rapport that René and Nana have with each other and their fans.
The Dessert Party
The end of a long but spectacular day could be summed up by the word TOO — as in: too much rich food (well, it was a dessert party), too many people in too small of a room, and too little time for René and Nana to circulate around the tables. Shatner had his camera crew in the room as well, which created even more commotion. They must have been exhausted, but both René and Nana worked the room like the pros they are. Unfortunately, it was so loud in the room that I could barely hear René when he came to my table. Nana sat closer to me, so I could make out what she was saying. She was somewhat concerned with the “Cross Our Hearts” show (there was an intermittent problem with static in the mikes), and wanted our opinion. I told her I thought it was great, just too short, and she said they wanted to do a real play (like Love Letters), but the convention organizers wouldn’t give them that much time. I got the sense that the show is still evolving even though they only have a couple more performances.
What I took away from this con were two things:
1) There’s a reason both René and Nana have such a loyal following, and that is because they are so generous of themselves with us. Without fail they are gracious, friendly, and accommodating to everyone without even a whiff of condescension. 2) The convention organizers might not be happy about this, but I love the informality and the intimacy of smaller conventions such as this (on Friday, there were perhaps 300 to 400 fans in attendance). Even though the room was packed for René and Nana’s performance, there was a cozy feeling that is lost in a big convention hall. During their show, it almost felt like René and Nana were sitting in my den, reading stories to me.
I had a wonderful time, and I can’t wait for the upcoming Chicago convention!
Top three photos and side bar by Sandra Zarodnansky; bottom photo by Victoria and Robert Ferin