Cross Our Hearts, March 2011
Creation Convention and “Cross Our Hearts”
Sunday, March 13, 2011 • San Francisco, California
reports by Sandy Samis, Linda Burnett, and StarTrek.com
(originally published in the ORACLE newsletter)
An Evening with René
by Sandy Samis
The 2011 Creation Entertainment San Francisco Star Trek Convention took place the weekend of March 11 through March 13 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.
The day we are most interested in was Sunday, but first, a brief word about Saturday’s guests. First up was the lovely Nichelle Nichols, giving the story of how she came to get (and keep!) the role of Lt. Uhura. A very interesting story; Gene Roddenberry had to really fight the Desilu executives to keep her.
Next up were Gwynyth Walsh and Barbara March, better known as the Klingon Duras sisters. This was a real treat as they appeared in a reasonable facsimile of their Klingon alter-egos. They told us that the costumes and make-up were quite hot, so I think that they were very good sports to agree to come in character.
The final guest on Saturday was Mr. Leonard Nimoy. He looked very well and relaxed and gave us a history of his professional career. It is difficult to believe that the man is almost 80 years old!
On to Sunday. The Big Day. (And pronounce that “THEE”!)
The day began with the Celebrity Breakfast with René and Nana. There were three tables of fans, and they moved from table to table to have a brief word with us. Nana started with our table, and I was last as she went around getting to know each guest. I told her how much I loved her cooking videos, and she was so happy that someone has seen them, and then told us the story behind them. (They are quite entertaining and I encourage you to check them out. They are on YouTube. What makes her cooking videos stand out is the “half-time show” she and her sister put on!)
Then René came to our table. He asked us all our names, and much of the discussion was about current events. As I was mostly quiet throughout the discussion, he eventually turned to me and asked for my story. When I told him that I was a “newbie” to Oracle, he immediately knew who I was. “You’re Sandy!” I guess Marguerite had told him to expect me. I was extremely flattered that he knew my name!
The next event of the day, for me at least, was the Celebrity Meet and Greet with René and Nana, from noon until 1:00 pm. Tickets for this were rather expensive, and when I purchased mine I was told that I was the only one so far who had bought a ticket, and therefore the event might be cancelled. So I was hoping big-time that they would sell some more tickets.
At the appointed hour, I found the door to the room closed and the entire hallway deserted. I lingered in the general vicinity, hoping against hope. About 10 minutes after the hour, a dark-suited security man appeared, walking in that direction, so I followed him. He went straight to the door of the room where another security man waited, and then said into his microphone, “She’s here.”
I said, “Please tell me I’m not the only one,” and he said that I was, indeed, the only one! (Heart suddenly in throat, jaw drops to floor!) I entered the room, followed immediately by René and Nana, who sat down on either side of me.
There followed the most amazing hour of my life, having a completely private conversation alone with René Auberjonois and Nana Visitor. We talked mostly about food and cooking, both of them being great cooks. When I mentioned a delicious spinach dish (and that’s NOT an oxymoron!) that my mother used to make, the recipe for which I had neglected to obtain before she passed on, they both enthusiastically wanted to try to figure out how to re-create it. They gave me some very good ideas, and I mean to try them out shortly. Also as we were talking about food, René mentioned that, in the episode where Odo melts and is very goopy, the make-up guy used a food thickening agent. That reminded me of something I had wondered about. In “Children of Time”, where the older Odo tells Kira he loves her, I said that the liquid Odo looked like they used corn syrup for him. René said he wouldn’t be surprised, but he didn’t taste “Odo” because it would have seemed like cannibalism!
The hour was over all too soon, and it was only half an hour until they went on for their performance. They hurried off to get their scripts, while I went away floating six inches off the floor and doing cartwheels through the lobby!
So now. The Performance.
When they came out to great applause, René pointed out that Nana’s black outfit had suspenders. This made him happy he said, and then flung off his jacket to reveal his own suspenders! They sat on chairs with a small podium before each of them, and took turns reading the poems and prose, and, at the finish of each piece, they both discarded the sheet to the floor.
They explained that they had selected works that they loved, some old, and some by contemporary poets. They began with a short scene between Alice in Wonderland and the Cheshire Cat. Some items were poems, some just one-line quotes. They told the author’s name of each of the works. I tried to jot down the names, but found that I could not both write AND pay attention to them, so I eventually gave up trying to get the authors’ names. Several of the works involved a mother’s love, and these were quite moving. René read one called “The Lanyard” by Billy Collins, and this was one of my favorites. There were so many others, including a rather long, humorous poem, where the author means to write about the wonders of San Francisco but his mind continues to wander to describe beautiful women instead.
Unfortunately, they had only been scheduled for 45 minutes, while René had thought that they were getting a full hour, so they had to jump over a large number of things they had selected to read. So they skipped to the end – the scene where Odo and Kira meet for the first time, in the episode “Necessary Evil”.
The air is thick with anticipation, and then they begin. Suddenly, the years are peeled away, and we are hearing the episode play before our eyes. René went perfectly into Odo’s gravelly voice as he and Nana read the scene. And as they came to the end, Nana paused very dramatically, longer that the actual scene, to build the anticipation before she said…”Constable”. And the crowd was on their feet!
After a break for photo ops, they were back for the regular question and answer part of the con.
A summation: Nana has lived in New Mexico for five years and is now moving back to Los Angeles. Her son Buster is a Marine. René has fallen in love with his grandchildren, and will soon be celebrating his 48th wedding anniversary. He was asked if he considered continuing his role of Father Mulcahy from the movie MASH to the TV show, and he said no, that he had created the character and was ready to move on. He was then asked if he was going to do anymore sci-fi and he mentioned his upcoming appearance on Warehouse 13 again, which he is going to be filming shortly. But he said that he looks at the character more so than the genre of the project.
They were asked if they knew each other prior to DS9 and René said no, that he didn’t meet Nana until the first reading. He said he was walking into the building behind her, and he liked how she walked. (!) Nana then volunteered that she had had a small crush on René from his Benson days, she liked his snappy three-piece suits. A few other questions, someone wanted René to sing “Les Poisson”, which he did to the audience’s delight, and then it was over. A wonderful day!
Originally posted at StarTrek.com
…the audience’s ranks swelled once more, this time for a unique dramatic presentation by none other than René Auberjonois and Nana Visitor from DS9. The hour-long performance, titled “Cross Our Hearts: Poems and Prose” is in its debut here; Auberjonois and Visitor plan to take it on the road at other conventions in this, the 45th anniversary year of Star Trek. The actors sit side-by-side, music stands before them. Their performance is filled with various readings, some just quotes, some poetry, some from plays—and all wonderful. Where appropriate, each piece gets an introduction or at the least, an attribution, by the actors. Visitor is great in a scene from a Neil Simon play, but Auberjonois steals the show with one expressive recitation after another, shifting in and out of characters with ease. The pieces sometimes wander in an entertaining fashion, and other times reflect clear planning as they mesh together, each actor alternating a turn as they move through their options. The dramatic performances elicit one round of applause after another. They close with a reading from the episode “Necessary Evil,” the scene in which Odo and Kira meet for the first time. “Although, I have a lot of trouble doing Odo without the makeup on,” Auberjonois warns us in advance. No matter: He nails it, and Visitor is spot on as Kira Nerys.
Another round of bids is next at the final No Minimum Bid auction of the weekend.
And then before we know it, Auberjonois and Visitor are back on stage for their dialogue with fans. “What’s going on, you guys? What do you want to talk about?” Visitor greets the cheering crowd. While audience members line up at the mics for the Q&A portion, Visitor and Auberjonois get things going by briefly catching folks up on what they’ve each been up to—by interviewing one another. Visitor says she’s been living in New Mexico for the past five years, but now that her son Buster has graduated and is a Marine, “It’s time to come back to L.A.” Buster was just a babe when DS9 started. Auberjonois and his wife have just celebrated their 48th anniversary. He has three grandkids, and splits his time between Los Angeles and his house in northern California. He’s doing voiceovers now for the cartoon series The Pound Puppies; “Betty White plays my mother,” he says.
“This was our first shot out of the cannon doing our night of poetry and words, and we’ll be refining it,” says Auberjonois. “I’m loving it.” He’d done something like this before for a performance, with his friend, actor Howard Hesseman, The duo then field questions for about an hour. The first was for Auberjonois: What was his experience like working with director Robert Altman on M*A*S*H? “Working with Robert Altman was a dream. He was a special director because he loves actors. I was just 29 when I did it.” The next question is about Benson. “I was a character actor,” he says. “But that was the first series I decided to do. My kids had to get settled into a school. I made one of my lifelong friends in Johnny Phillips (professionally known as Ethan Phillips), who played Netflix.” The crowd laughs, and Auberjonois immediately catches his mistake. “Not Netflix. Neelix. I’ll have to tell him I said that.”
Visitor jumps in and asks Auberjonois how he starts his day. His response is with coffee, and that he goes to his studio to “fiddle around and do wire sculptures.” One woman—dressed as Kira Nerys—asks Visitor about the prosthetics glue she had to endure to get into character. “It was just wood glue,” she answers. “The first year I was so crazed to get back to Buster. It would take 20 min to take off, so I just ripped it off and I still have marks.”
Both actors are asked if they’d do more science fiction. “I didn’t see it as science fiction,” replies Visitor. “I see it as all the same.” Auberjonois echoes that sentiment, saying, “I have never thought of Star Trek as science fiction, no more than I would think of myself as Richard III. You try and find truth in the character.” Next question is for Auberjonois, asking how he developed the gruff voice for Odo. “When I went in to audition for the role… the casting director said nobody had been grouchy enough.” So even though he was nervous, he began the role just as soon as he walked through the door to meet the producers. His voice was dismissive in the introductions, and then he nails the gruff “Quaaaarrrrkkk” he’s asked to read from the script. “The thing you learn is that a huge percentage of your getting a role is determined when you walk through the door. There was a moment where I could tell I had their attention, so I was committed to that voice.”
Visitor recalled for audiences how in the episode “Take Me Out to the Holosuite” she had difficulty dealing with the baseball. Avery Brooks, she remembers, tossed her the ball and she didn’t have any idea how to catch it; it practically hit her in the face. “I was never so nervous because we had to stay there until I hit the ball.” But when it came time to shoot, she got lucky: “I cracked the ball right away. The crew was so thrilled they carried me on their shoulders,” she laughs. One of the last questions is for Visitor, asking her what she liked about flying the Defiant. The two actors laugh, then Visitor looks at Auberjonois with mock accusation. “You used to make fun of me. I used to love the captain’s chair,” she enthuses.
“It was a power thing,” Auberjonois replies as an aside to the audience.
“I loved the feel of it,” Visitor says again.
And with that, the final session of the day—and the weekend—is done.
Star Trek Creation Convention SFO
by Linda Burnett
The Star Trek convention last year at the San Francisco St. Francis hotel was totally packed, perhaps because it was a smallish venue with two captains (Picard and Kirk) and because people seemed to just wander in off the streets of San Francisco. This year, however, the convention started ominously with less than 100 fans on Friday, in huge part due to the fact that the hotel was near the SFO airport and not downtown, and because there were no stars on Friday.
However, the Creation suits needn’t have feared. People drove in from all over the Bay Area, and many of them flew in, too, from faraway states and countries like England, Brazil and Germany. The place was packed on Saturday and Sunday. It seemed that every photo op and optional expensive autograph lines (like Leonard Nimoy) were filled with eager fans not afraid to wait an hour or two.
Saturday featured Nichelle Nichols, always delightful, and the Duras sisters, Gwynyth Walsh and Barbara March in full make-up as the Klingon women. Sunday was Enterprise and Deep Space Nine Day: Dominic Keating and Connor Trinneer, and then René Auberjonois and Nana Visitor.
This was a great convention despite its meager beginnings. About one-third of the attendees had never been to a convention before, and they brought that huge enthusiasm with them. And the convention was large enough to feature big stars, like Leonard Nimoy, but small enough so that you could get up-close-and-personal with many of them.
Leonard’s chat with us was something I had never seen before from him: a slideshow presentation along with stories about his humble beginnings as an actor and young man. It was perfectly charming, and Leonard seemed to open up to us.
Another wonderful experience was the charity breakfast on Sunday morning, a breakfast with René and Nana. I walked into the room and, to my surprise, only three tables were present in a very small room. It was a continental breakfast with only about 15 fans present. I’m guessing that not many attended because so many other things, like photo ops and autographs with Leonard and Nichelle, were competing for the fan dollar. But, as a consequence, each table saw René and then Nana for over 10 minutes each. It was a lot better than the usual your-two-minutes-are-up kind of breakfast Creation usually serves.
René started off by telling us about some advice he had given his two acting kids: don’t forget that 85% of the time, the decision is made regarding casting when the person walks through the door. But if you do something startling, something different, something they hadn’t considered, you have a chance of shaking them up, making them take notice. René did that as an older man up for the part of Odo—he walked in with a gruff voice and curmudgeonly demeanor, and made them rethink the part.
René announced that he and Judith are celebrating their 48th wedding anniversary, “which is really weird since I’m not 48 yet.” They split their time between L.A. and northern California. “I do cartoons (Pound Puppies). I do things that don’t take up too much time. I’m going to do another Warehouse 13 next week.”
You somehow think of René and Nana as an old married couple, very familiar with each other, very comfortable. However, it was Nana who asked René on stage, “What is it you do every day?” René was going northward to their house in Mendocino after the convention—Judith was driving by with their two dogs the next day to pick him up – and so he replied, “I’ll have some coffee. And then I’ll work on my wire sculptures.” Apparently the sculptures are all over the place at their Mendocino place. “I should get a website (to talk about the sculptures), but then I’d have to deal with that.” You get the feeling that he likes his life the way it is. René looked really serene, very comfortable, well rested.
Nana looked fabulous, as always, and let two bombs drop: first, that Buster is 18 and joined the Marines. And secondly, that she, her husband and Django will be moving shortly to Los Angeles. She’s currently looking for work.
Before they appeared on stage, Nana and René did a program called “Cross Our Hearts: Poems and Prose,” something they’ll repeat at several conventions. Each would read a poem or piece of prose they found interesting. They closed with a piece of dialogue from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a scene from “Necessary Evil,” where Odo is meeting Kira for the first time on the space station. It’s a very tense scene, and they performed it with guns blazing. It’s like they were still on the Paramount set, still in Quark’s Bar. And we were at the table next to them, listening in on a very private conversation. I, for one, never wanted to leave.