What’s it like to attend a Star Trek Convention?
Other than for Burning Man, and to generally travel and get to know new cities, I'm mostly in the US to speak at conferences like TEDx and Blogworld over the next month, as well as to attend other ones, so when I saw the official 45th Star Trek convention opportunity between it all, I knew I had to jump on it!
I would definitely consider myself a “trekkie” – I saw every episode of every series from The Next Generation on, and went back more recently to catch up on the Original series and movies. While nowadays I don't watch TV any more, I grew up with Star Trek! Sometimes I feel like most of my moral values are based on what I learned in those episodes! But the thought of attending a convention had never crossed my mind.
You will constantly hear references to the Star Trek Convention in TV shows and jokes, so my curiosity had been piqued and I genuinely wanted to see what it was like for myself! Is it all just a bunch of geeks debating which episode was best, or is there more to it?
I had a great weekend, but as you'll see in the summary of it, I doubt I'll be going to one again. Lots of people were curious about how it went, so I'll share it with you here! 🙂
Klingon to get in the mood, but not so much at the convention
As you'll have seen, I've been preparing to speak Klingon and managed to learn enough to give a tour of my apartment in the language. It only seemed appropriate to learn at least a little of the language when I came all the way to Chicago for a whole month around this convention (and to get to know this city).
However, as explained in that previous post, it turns out the convention isn't actually a good place to speak the language. There are lots of people who speak high level Klingon, but it turns out that many of them wouldn't ever go to an official Star Trek convention for the commercial and impersonal reasons I give below. So what I learned to understand and say what I did in the video will have to do for now! Even those dressed up as Klingons that I met confirmed that they only knew a couple of phrases only.
Having said that, the preparation really got me in the mood for this convention! Especially in reviewing old episodes.
But to be honest, I think this will be my only ever “official” Star Trek convention, although I'd love to go to more sci-fi gatherings if I ever get the chance!
I'd actually go to a fan organised event if I had the opportunity, but I found this one to be terribly commercial, impersonal and very poorly organised at times, despite the company (Creation) having almost half a century of experience and a Scrooge-McDuck's load of cash from us fans attending to run it. But on the other hand, I met some really cool people, got to hear some incredible stories directly from the actors themselves and of course saw some really well costumed aliens! So it was quite the mixture!
Walking around with all your favourite aliens
The lengths the fans went to, to recreate their favourite characters, were very impressive! Many of the costumes were hand-made and had meticulous detail and devotion to the original. This was all the fans' own work, not the event's.
Many of these were so good that there would be lines forming to ask to take photos with them!
After seeing other people dressed up really well as Klingons, I decided to leave my cheap e-bay costume in the car! Although I did make a quick diversion on the way to the convention on Saturday morning, to crash a Financial Blogger Conference in costume and yell at the speaker in Klingon, at his request!
When you are surrounded by Klingons and Vulcans and Andorians and Romulans and people in Star Fleet uniforms from every single series, then you feel like you are really at a Star Trek convention! As expected, everyone was really friendly (even if a few were a bit shy), and it was easy to approach them all.
But, of course, the main reason a lot of people came were to meet the actors – especially Leonard Nimoy, as it was his last ever appearance at a convention.
Hearing the actors' stories
Apart from with Mr. Nimoy (who you were pushed away from, after the most expensive three seconds of your life to stand beside him for a photo) I found it easy to meet and greet many of the actors. Dominic Keating, who plays Lt. Reed in the latest series, heard my accent during an autograph session and told me with pride about how his family comes from Ireland.
And I simply walked up to Brent Spiner (who plays Data) in the hall and had a quick chat with him. I felt a bit bad for him when a fan was hiding the fact that she was trying to record a video of him making small talk – it would have been much more memorable for her if she just talked to him herself.
But the actors had their time to shine on stage – and each of them gave us a great performance! Brent and Jonathan Frakes (who plays Riker) were absolutely hilarious as a duo on stage! They turned each serious question into a well timed joke, so people got the idea and started asking funny questions themselves. As you can imagine, hearing “what's your favourite episode” for the four thousandth time would get tedious.
It was fun to see the two of them so happy and enjoying themselves, especially since you wouldn't expect it from the sombre/serious characters they play. You really get to see the person behind the fictional character. But Jonathan did indulge us by yelling “Shields up, red alert!” Somehow I doubt those two will stop going to conventions for a while!
My favourite one by far though was Nichelle Nichols (who plays Uhura), who shared the tear-jerking story about how she was considering quitting after the first series because of some hassle she was getting for being a female black actress in those times, but was approached by Martin Luther King Jr. himself and encouraged to stay on because of how many people she was inspiring.
All of this put together means that I got most of my money's worth by going, but there were some things that started to test my patience a lot.
Less magical moments: very commercial and poorly organised
At the end of the weekend it was time for my $75 photo with Leonard Nimoy that you see above.
The only way I could describe that experience would be rushed ASSEMBLY LINE. There were hundreds upon hundreds of us that had paid for the privilege and some clown decided that exactly 50 minutes would be plenty of time for it all so we literally got two or three seconds per person (that's including walking to in front of the camera) before we were ushered away.
For what I paid I was really hoping for maybe ten (entire) seconds!! You know, shake his hand, tell him I love his work and ask him for a real photo. I wanted him to pose for a mind meld or give me a Vulcan neck pinch with me pretending to faint. Not much time to explain all that when you are paying $25 per second. And then (of course) I had to pay $10 extra for the JPG! We all know how expensive those are to produce from digital cameras.
For me this terrible commercialism was a minor annoyance, since the photo is still great, and I didn't have anything in particular I wanted to say to him.
But another fan who loves him so much that she paid for the photo and two autographs so that the second could be used as the basis for a tattoo she was going to get, had spent several hundred dollars (that she couldn't really afford) just on Nimoy and told me that when it was time for her two autographs, she couldn't even hand him the paper herself! She had to hand it to someone who would hand it on to him. He didn't have time to look her in the eye or let her say anything. And the privilege of two “in person” autographs costed her $150!! That's as well as the photo+JPG price.
This is not Nimoy's fault – it's the event organisers'. It's greedy to charge so much and give so little.
It wasn't like this with most of the other actors, but there were other problems. In fact, Nichelle was taking her time so much to talk to everyone that after waiting for three hours to get my autograph, just before it was my turn she had to give up out of exhaustion. And I was actually very far ahead in the line with my priority ticket!!
Finally, I had paid another $75 for a duo shot with Brent and Jonathan (which I wanted more because I was more of a Next Generation fan than an Original series one)… but I never got it because I arrived an entire ten minutes after they started. The assembly line had closed already by then of course. You can guess what my chances are of getting that money back!!
Creation, who always organise it, did quite a bad job in helping to organise the timing of all of these. All the waiting to not see Nichelle and all the rushing with Nimoy and especially hearing that fan's disappointed account of her only chance to meet her lifelong hero, all left a bitter taste in my mouth.
Giving in to my inner trekkie
To be honest, a lot of the stuff organised for us between celebrity Q&As was pretty dull, like poetry readings – or they were showing videos we can just watch on Youtube ourselves. I almost wonder if this was intentional, so that you would wander out into the hall and browse the many stalls selling you crap you can buy off ebay for half the price, reminding you that the point of the whole event is to relieve fans of their money.
I was really hoping for something more sci-fi-like. You know – debates about the ethics of the temporal prime directive, discussions like what did Q really want, and so on. But apart from some dull moments, I can see now that it really is more about sharing the actors' experiences with people.
The Star Trek convention is a way for fans to come and appreciate the actors' stories, and to catch up and see how they are doing in real life. And in that sense I did find it very interesting indeed. And I also made a few new good friends that I share something in common with that has been a big part of my life!
And once I decided to just accept the commercial aspect of it, I remembered that my family had given me about $200 spending money at this convention as a birthday present, and I had immense fun using it during the charity auctions!
I bid on several interesting items, that eventually went beyond my budget and I had to give up. But at the very end, I saw this! The cast of The Next Generation! My original favourite!
All (but Dr. Crusher) had autographed it! I bid until we reached my $200 limit (retail price is $500 apparently) and I won! As you can see, I'm very happy with it!
So, all in all, a great experience! I'm really glad I went, but I probably won't be going back to an official convention again. The last weeks of reliving the old episodes and sharing the memories with other trekkies over the weekend has been wonderful, but it's time to get back to the 21st century for the moment!