|Starfest 2001 Convention Report|
A full con report, including a nice big piece on Virginia Hey - it's a Farscape World exclusive!...
By Mary Wood
Starfest sci-fi convention.
How convenient … I live in Denver!
There's something you need to understand about my perspective here. I'm fairly new to Farscape and, up until this weekend, never met another 'Scaper in person, much less a whole crowd of them. I've also never been to a sci-fi convention or anything remotely like it before. I came into this knowing nothing of such events or the sci-fi crowd in general other than "Galaxy Quest," "Saturday Night Live" skits, and the societal stereotype of the adult male living in his mother's basement, greasy hair, virginity intact, out of touch with reality, dressing and talking in the persona of his favorite geeky space alien.
Well, there were plenty of those folk at the convention, but none seem to be part of the hard-core 'Scaper fan base. It kind of makes sense to me now too. The only other entertainment entity I am this intense about is Prince and have been for too many years. The hard-core Prince fan base is also made up of the cooler people who respect his privacy and humanity (if you can call Prince "human") and are not the fainting, fanatical, screamie-mimis decked out head to toe in Prince wear. Likewise, the 'Scaper fan base seems to be very much not what society pins sci-fi fans to be. Quite the opposite in fact. I was pretty floored at how outgoing, friendly and social this group is. Being serious fans of the show, not just the fantasy, has a lot to do with that, but I've also decided there's another element at work here. Farscape positively oozes sensuality and sexuality – and not because it tries to or smothers itself in sex or nudie scenes. It's the characters, actors, style, flow, feel, and energy. That I think has a lot to do with appealing to a more outgoing, extroverted and open personality type and thus, this personality type shows up more in the fan base than one might expect from stiffer, more "prim and proper" shows.
The Kick-Off Party:
We started off the convention with a party at my downtown (well, effectively downtown) loft on Friday night. It was the only reasonable thing to do since there was a new episode on that night ("Eat Me"). Again, somewhere in my head was a little voice saying, "Are you nuts? Inviting a bunch of sci-fi geeks you've just met online to your home? Don't you know that's how psycho-people prey on the stupid?" Even more nuts was that one, ArtistStudio, was looking for a roomie and I offered to let him crash at my place in exchange for keeping me fed all weekend (Being an independent contractor, I get paid well but not always in a timely manor. Between tax season and recovering from my recent days as a broke college student, I didn't even have a credit card with $10 available on it). Well, no psycho-people (ok, some might call themselves psycho) and no sci-fi geeks (then again, some of us pride ourselves on being geeks). Just a lot of cool people who've discovered a cool show and get a kick out of psycho-analyzing it to no end!
ArtistStudio was the first to arrive early that afternoon (for anyone not into the bulletin board or chats, these names are going to sound weird as I'm referring to people by their online handles). He didn't say anything, but I saw that look on his face that said, "She's going to have this pit cleaned up and ready to go by tonight???" Well, he knew not my magical powers of 11th hour housecleaning and I was indeed ready to go by the time MikiADoo came by after she got off work. The first group from the convention hotel got there in time for the 7pm airing of "Eat Me" and the rest were there in plenty of time for the 10pm airing. In all: nean007, CraisLover, aughra, Sorlk-Lewis, SpaceHarley, Tin-Mann, JudyLiz, MikiADoo, ArtistStudio, and myself, JoJerome (at least, I think that's everyone). Meeting, greeting, lots of laughing and commenting during "Eat Me," and I have enough leftover pizza and goodies to survive until my company's new accountant decides to pay me. Any apprehension I had about what kind of crowd I was getting myself into was quickly banished. MikiADoo and nean007 live near Denver and brought cookies and chips and salsa to contribute to the feast. Aughra made "Delvian Delights" (tasty blue sugar cookies). She was also the "cruise director" who brought the group together via email. She and CraisLover seemed to be old hand at these get-togethers and made sure I felt very welcome being the newbie to this way-friendly crowd. ArtistStuido, also an old hand at 'Scaper meets, correctly sensed that I was in high-gear and in serious need of rest and healthy recreation. All in all, an induction into 'Scaper culture which far exceeded my expectations or imagination!
The convention was technically 3 days, though I understand that Friday was just kind of an orient-yourself-and-buy-our-stuff day. I wouldn't know for sure because I spent the day frantically shoving boxes into the crawl space* and the night entertaining and being entertained (*I just moved into this place a few months ago and this party was my excuse to get off my lazy butt and either unpack or store). It was a general convention with all kinds of shows and guests featured from the Ferengi Family from "Star Trek: DS9" to "Gwen DeMarco" (or at least a really good imposter who helped trick lots of us into believing Galaxy Quest was a real, forgotten Canadian sci-fi series).
Let me just say right now that sci-fi conventions are well worth the price of admission just for the people watching. The bad costumes, the good costumes, fans of every film and show from "Planet of the Apes" to "Star Wars" to "Highlander" and period/fantasy shows. I'm really glad now that I didn't get paid because I would have blown next month's rent at the merchandise booths, which seemed to stretch into the next state. Now I know where people get all this stuff! There was an art room with drawings, paintings and sculptures from every sci-fi entity imaginable and some that were just general, original fantasy pieces. Most of the art work was very well done and some of it was nothing short of breathtaking. Yet another money-sucker if I'd had any.
I'd say that I felt Starfest was very well organized and set up, but since this is my first convention I have nothing to compare it to. Although there were lots of people, it never felt noisy or crowded to me. I attribute a lot of that to the location; the hotel's convention area rooms have great acoustics and lighting. Everything seemed to be set up so as to keep a nice flow of people going and avoid bottlenecks and the whole herded-like-cattle feeling. The dealer's room was plenty full, but didn't feel cramped and it seemed like the dealers had plenty of room to display their merchandise and do their thing. The autograph tables were also well situated and had a nice open feel to the whole area.
Oh yeah. I knew there was some other reason a bunch of crazy 'Scapers were congregating in Denver this weekend besides the love of each others' company and to watch the endless yet entertaining parade of bad Klingon headpieces.
It's again worth mentioning that Prince is the only other entertainment icon I've had any experience with. The man is talented beyond description but he is also the living embodiment of the lofty, isolated, inaccessible celebrity. That made the experience of meeting Ms. Hey that much richer. She is as down-to-Earth, sweet, friendly, and affectionate as the 'Scapers themselves. Upon getting through the autograph line I told Virginia (very truthfully) that, "A) I'm not really into autographs and B) even if I were, I literally don't have $10 to my name right now to buy a photo and get an autograph, so I'm just here to shake your hand, say 'you rock,' thanks for your great performances, and hope to see you on stage or screen again soon." Where I was kind of expecting the obligatory "smile and nod to the nice little fan," she came off as genuinely flattered and appreciative of our presence and insisted on giving me a photo and autograph even though I couldn't afford one. I tried to tell her she didn't have to do that (largely because I thought her assistant was going to have a fit about her giving stuff away), but Virginia won the debate and signed a beautiful photo of her with her cat for me. I went through the line again on Sunday just to thank her for her generosity and for blowing away any preconceived notion I have of the stereotypical lofty celebrity. She was very chatty with our whole group (only about 5 of us were doing the autograph line thing) and recognized most of us from our online handles, which also blew me away. It was really cool and kind of surrealistic that she already "knew" so many of us before we got to meet her in person!
Though she was originally scheduled to speak on Saturday only, she spoke on Sunday as well. The auditorium, like the rest of the convention center, was amazingly comfortable, pleasantly-lit, and had pretty good acoustics whereas echo and background noise was almost non-existent. She was very relaxed and easy going in both talks, but a little more so on Sunday. I'd guess most of the reason for that is that Sunday was less crowded and by that time she'd had a chance to meet most of the people in the room via the autograph line and probably had a better feel for the overall tone of the convention. She came right out first thing and said that she can't answer the obvious – whether or not Zhaan is returning. Not because she doesn't want to or isn't allowed to, but because she honestly doesn't know. I tried to find that happy balance between taking careful notes without being so busy writing that I was missing out on the general experience. Believing that I achieved that goal, here's most of what was addressed during her two talks:
On Zhaan's departure/return:
Virginia had asked The Powers That Be for reduced time on the set due to health reasons. 18 hour days and the less-than-skin-friendly makeup were taking their toll. Her time was reduced somewhat in season two for this reason and she asked for much more reduced time in season three, but did not ask nor expect for her character to be killed off. She loves Zhaan dearly and hopes that Zhaan can return but doesn't know if or how that will happen. She did say that the idea is out there and hinted that if it does happen, Stark and Zhaan's relationship with Stark could have a lot to do with it. She also said that David Kemper is a very spiritual man who fed off Zhaan's spirituality, saying that could also have something to do with a Zhaan return. When asked if she would consider coming back as a different character, she said it would be too strange. She just can't see being on Farscape and not being Zhaan – too heartbreaking! If she were to do a different character though, she said she'd like to be a villain – maybe Chiana's evil cousin. She liked the idea of offsetting years of playing the always-striving-to-be-good (albeit with a dark side) Zhaan by playing someone with a lot more dark side. But all along, she kept emphasizing she'd much rather be playing Zhaan.
On her move to Los Angeles:
Virginia will be moving in about a month (May 2001). Her main reason for the move is to get more work and different work (presumably work with less skin-corroding makeup?). Continuing her studies of natural healing and natural medicine is also part of the agenda. She wants to become a doctor of natural healing. She said she'll probably miss the general feeling of home about Sydney more than anything; family, friends, the familiarity of Sydney and Australia.
On Zhaan's costumes:
They had considered a leotard for scenes where Zhaan shows more skin, but it just didn't work out. She does wear a blue leotard under the sheer costumes though. For the jeweled neck pieces and appliques though, the costume designers use real gems, real gold, real silver. It gets a little risky sometimes, as those gold plates can be sharp during action sequences, but she (and I'm sure the rest of us) agrees that it's well worth the effect. Her favorite costum? The cat suit from the "Liars, Guns and Money" trilogy (she does seem to like Zhaan's little dark side!).
On Zhaan's nudie scenes:
Sorry guys, Virginia doesn't do nudity. Farscape uses a body double for such scenes.
On the Farscape cast. How much each is like his/her chaacter, and jokes on set:
- Ben Browder is John Crichton (personality-wise at least). More and more, Ben's own personality is creeping into Crichton.
- Anthony is a little crazy like D'Argo, but D'Argo is more of a teenage boy than Anthony.
- Claudia is cruel beauty.
- Gigi is not immoral like Chiana, but the personality essence is there.
- Virginia strives for Zhaan's open expression of spirituality.
In all, Farscape casts actors that are something – if not a whole lot – like their characters. Virginia explained that for a short project like a movie or a guest spot, it's very easy for an actor to play a character completely outside him/herself. But for a long running role like this where you're in character for more hours out of the day than not, it's almost essential that the actor brings him/herself into the character. As for the mood on the set, she said there isn't really time for hard core pranks like you hear about on movie sets. The pace for television – and especially for Farscape – is very fast and tense. The mood is very intense and the work is pretty constant. Still, Anthony Simcoe comes out on top as the one who keeps everyone else laughing. Among his favorite antics is to do or say something just off camera during a serious scene – especially if it involves several characters – such that the actors on camera are struggling to maintain the seriousness of the scene and not laugh at the dirty joke he just told. She joked that when you see the camera shake, it might not be a sense of Moya moving so much as the camera person trying not to laugh at Anthony (cruel man!).
Too many to name! Of course, "Self Inflicted Wounds: Wait for the Wheel" (which incidentally was filmed about 2 months ago [Feb, 2001]), "Back and Back and Back to the Future" with John's psychedelic self, "Rhapsody in Blue," and any episode which challenges her as an actor. She did relay an amusing story about "Thank God it's Friday Again," the scene where she's in bed with Crichton and has to roll over and have her hand land just so. Not that it had anything to do with the plot, but it was one of those little gags they like to throw in. Yet, it took several takes as she was really nervous about where that hand had to land and not wanting to hurt him. They kept doing it over, telling her "lower, lower." [My question, couldn't Ben have just worn an athletic cup or was it just a last second thing and there wasn't one available?].
On working with the puppets:
"'Animatronics!' They're called 'animatronics'!" And they're very much considered part of the cast. Virginia said she is most fascinated with Pilot and Zhaan would probably marry him if he were bipedal! One puppeteer is literally standing inside of him, while each arm is operated by a separate puppeteer and the eyes and face are operated by yet more puppeteers. The area around Pilot inside his little niche is all hollow. So when there's a scene where Zhaan or Aeryn has to hop the console and get inside Pilot's little space with him, they literally have to stand on strategically placed crates and boxes cramped in with all the puppeteers while making it look like they're walking or standing on a solid surface. Puppeteers are milling around just below waist level while Virginia hopes she didn't have beans for lunch. For both Pilot and Rygel, it's amazing she says how many people are right underfoot just off camera in any one scene. With Rygel, there's usually one or two people lying on the floor or on a trolley while operating him. A good deal of time is spent with actors tripping over puppeteers. She feels particularly guilty over the number of hands she's stepped on. When she's walking past or around Rygel, she can't really look down to see where she's stepping. She got in trouble for that even, with the directors telling her, "Look up! Don't slouch! Zhaan is supposed to be very regal and head held high, plus it looks like you're looking for your mark (on the floor)." That plus the long robes Zhaan wears makes it hard to see where she's walking, so the director's cry of "cut" is often followed by a puppeteer wailing in pain because Virginia just stepped on his/her hand.
On hair and makeup:
The quickest time for doing Zhaan's makeup is about 1 ½ hours, though it usually takes something closer to three. A big downfall is that she has to sit perfectly still and straight for the entire process. No bathroom breaks, she can't even lower her head to read [so much for the image of the actor living the plush life]. Yes, she shaved her head and eyebrows for most of her Farscape days until recently (when she started wearing a headpiece on set). These days, she's a blonde with hair about 4 inches long and she uses extensions to give it lots of extra length.
On Zhaan being a plant:
They didn't know at the start of the series that Zhaan was a plant. That was one of those things decided by insane creators later on down the line upon making sure that nothing had been established so far to rule out her being a plant.
The best thing about Mad Max 2:
Mel's butt. And the character you see in the Lethal Weapon series is what Mel is like in real life. On the serious side, she really liked the artistic style of the Mad Max films.
On Farscape slang, is the cast starting to use "frell" and "dren" in real life?
On whether she likes sci-fi in general and likes to watch it:
Very much so! She loved math, science, and art as a kid (still does) and feels that has a lot to do with loving sci-fi. When asked whether she preferred UK or US sci-fi, she said it doesn't matter as long as it's good. She did say though that "Once you've seen 10 episodes of Farscape, nothing can surprise you."
On the DVD commentaries:
The cast can't just say "I want to do the commentary for such-and-such DVD." The Powers That Be must ask them to do it. She doesn't know why they stopped doing them as of DVD #4, but is certain there will be more commentaries soon as they are becoming well aware of how popular they are. She would love to do more of them herself.
On the impact of the bulletin board and chat rooms on Farscape's cast and crew:
Huge impact! As mentioned before, she recognized a lot of us from our online handles. For one thing, the feedback they get from the board is instant – immediately after a show has aired or even as it is airing. Fan mail on the other hand can sometimes take a month or two to reach the actors. The whole cast surfs the board constantly and loves the feedback they get on performances, writing, directing, story lines and arcs. They also love to follow the technical conversations, from those which explain the science of how such-and-such a device could work to those which point out scientific bloopers. She noted that the fans helped decode the Peacekeeper alphabet, which she now uses on the front page of her web site (www.virginia-hey.com).
On religion and her spirituality:
Raised by parents who encourage her to follow her own path, Virginia has studied theology and spirituality since childhood. A big step in that came when she was about 14 and her brother returned from Tibet (presumably with many books and stories to share?). One woman asked if she felt it was appropriate for Zhaan, as a priest/spiritual leader, to have a romantic relationship with Stark. Virginia's answer was "Why not?" Even in Christianity, there are many denominations which allow priests to marry. Relationships are all part of the spiritual. When asked "If there's a heaven, what would you want/hope for the Goddess to say to you?" Her answer was, "That you were a good person … that you tried."
Again, Virginia was very friendly and outspoken overall. I don't think she ever gave a short answer to anyone. She really enjoyed talking about the show, her work, and her life. The highlight though had to be one little boy who came through the question line who couldn't have been more than 9 or 10. He said to her quite sincerely, "Well, everyone else has already asked all the questions that I wanted to ask, so I'll ask one I just now thought of. Will you marry me?" Virginia screamed with delight, hopped off the stage, got down on one knee and planted a big one on him! The poor child scooted off in shyness, but Virginia was absolutely taken with him and it really made for the moment of the hour! The best quote from her had to be, "You'll think this is weird ... well, you're all weird anyway..." We all laughed and agreed unanimously with that one.
So, I guess I can't call myself a virgin 'Scaper or a virgin conventioneer any more. Tons of thanks and hugs to all the 'Scapers who made this weekend unforgettable. You guys are all awesome! Thanks to Virginia Hey for braving the unseasonable cold to come to Denver and going above and beyond the call of duty despite being a little under the weather. You made it well worth my spending the last $71 to my name for a ticket. Hope that cold clears up soon. And thanks to the cast and crew of Farscape for giving us a show worth congregating over in the first place. What a way to meet great new people, be they cast, crew, or fellow fans!