Tormented Space: More Farscape Fan Notes

If you've read my report on the 2001 Farscape convention, you already know that it's the smartest, wittiest and sexiest program ever to wear the trappings of science fiction. (And if you haven't, go back and read it. I'll be here when you return.)

But what a difference a year can make. The 2001 convention was riding high on the exciting news of a two year commitment on the part of the SCI FI Channel, some of the most exciting episodes of the series yet and hints that the rest of season three would raise the bar even further. The 2002 con, moved from Labor Day to the weekend before Thanksgiving to accommodate a production delay caused by that two year agreement, was marred by the news that a commitment isn't always what you think it is. With Farscape cancelled, fewer cast members and none of the behind-the-scenes staff would be making the long trek from Australia. What was supposed to be a celebration might well turn into a wake.

But not to worry: in the face of such sad news, fans and cast got together to celebrate the 88 episodes we have (or at least that we will have when SCI FI starts running the last 11 in January of 2003), to continue our efforts to find Farscape a home and to cement the weird and wonderful relationship between Scapers and the folks who feed our obsession.

Day One: Wayne and Anthony

The convention began with the appearance of Wayne Pygram, looking subdued and thoughtful and even more like Captain Picard than usual as he told us of his reaction to the cancellation and the outpouring of support from the fans. Wayne had been through a serious health crisis this past year, but was on the mend now that a major food allergy had been discovered. And not to make light of his condition; having to avoid bread and pasta is bad enough, but can you call yourself a proper Australian if you're allergic to beer?

The mood didn't stay subdued or thoughtful for long. Neither is possible with Anthony Simcoe, Australia's own perpetual motion machine, in the room. Anth is one of the funniest, most animated people I've ever seen. Think of a taller Robin Williams without the excess body hair and you begin to get the idea. His stories often come to an abrupt halt, when his eye is caught by something interesting in the audience (like a rather good D'Argo impersonator he brought up on stage to share the attention) or by his own image on the projection screen behind him. (His attempts to check out his bald spot reminded me of a dog trying to chase his own tail.)

Anth was in particularly good form when asked how he would have liked Farscape to end. D'Argo becoming a god (or being revealed as a god, he didn't clarify) was only the beginning; it was when he described the planet of nubile teenaged blonde worshipers of god D'Argo, clearly warming to his theme, that the audience lost it. Including Richard Manning, AKA Froonium Ricky: Farscape executive producer and episode writer and owner of perhaps the most impressive collection of Mambo shirts in this or any other galaxy. Ricky, a pretty funny and manic individual in his own right, just about fell out of his chair at Anthony's antics. High praise indeed.

Day one was capped off by another kind of Wayne & Anth performance, not as Farscape aliens but as members of a rock band called Number 96. I had the (mostly) good fortune of sitting in the front row, facing a rather menacing column of speakers at the right side of the stage. And I can state without equivocation that anything these guys may lack in technique, they make up in exuberance and sheer volume. It shouldn't surprise anyone to learn that a room full of Farscape fans wasn't the most critical audience for this particular band's first ever public performance.

And should there be any doubt at all about the camaraderie on this show (these are actors, after all; maybe they're just pretending to get along), being in the audience that night provided the proof. There among the fans in the front row were Ricky and the other Mannings, Lani Tupu, Raelee Hill and Gigi Edgley, enjoying the music and cheering their friends on. Gigi in particular seems to enjoy jumping into the middle of the fans and being part of the scene. Doesn't she know that stars aren't supposed to mix it up with the rabble?

Day Two: Kent, Ricky & Claudia

Day two began with an appearance by Kent McCord, known to many of us as Martin Milner's partner on Adam-12 before he morphed somehow from L.A. cop to John Crichton's astronaut dad. Having Kent at a Farscape con is fun in a completely different way than the rest of the cast. Here's a guy who's been showing up on American television for four decades, with a pedigree in broadcast SF that began with the regrettable Galactica 1980. (And clearly had nowhere to go but up.) Kent is full of charm, warmth and great stories. He's also articulate and passionate about the damage that industry consolidation is doing to our entertainment choices. And he's a Mac fan, describing the arrival of his new G4 in affectionate tones most people reserve for newly arrived poop factories. Which prompted me to present my business card and offer whatever technical help he might need. We enlightened computer owners have to stick together, you know.

Either Ricky Manning takes his job as Farscape's head cheerleader way too seriously, or he genuinely likes hanging out with the fans. When he wasn't in the front row listening to the presentations and making a combination of faces and editorial comments, he was surrounded by fans in the huckster area (what more polite people refer to as the dealer room), signing scripts and the odd fish and answering all sorts of odd questions with unending good humor. And this was all in addition to his official duties: running a question and answer session where he provided both questions and answers (every control freak's dream); providing a live commentary session with Lani Tupu for the episode where Mr. Tupu's Crais goes out literally with a bang; running a sort of actors' workshop/tryout for the parts of Crichton, Aeryn and Harvey. At right we have Ricky waving aloft a copy of the Won't Be Fooled Again screenplay in answer to a question about the origin of Crais's red pumps in that episode. According to the sacred text (Ricky's description, not mine), the red shoes were the director's idea; Ricky's script called for Crais to wear an LA cop's uniform with his underwear over his pants. I think we can all agree that red heels are far more tasteful.

For some fans, especially the Shippers in the crowd, Farscape is all about Aeryn and John. Not that the rest of us don't share their enthusiasm for Moya's royal couple and their complex John/Aeryn/other John triangle. I mean, how do you compete with yourself? Especially when one of you is dead.

But my point (and I do have one) is that for some people, Claudia Black's appearance at a con is a highlight of the weekend; while for others, it may be the only highlight. Which would explain the strange energy in the room when Ms. Black made her entrance. And then engaged in a strange ritual of hot chocolate making for one of her chat pals. Still, soon enough we were getting the lowdown on what Anthony Simcoe had described as the funniest moment he'd experienced on the set and tales of some of Claudia's more exciting moments both on and off the set. (She: "Being an actor means getting paid to do things that are otherwise illegal.") We also got a few moments with Ben Browder, courtesy of an SMS exchange and a transhemispheric cell phone call. Ben was at Grace Bros. department store, visiting Santa with his kids. We wished each other well and got back to our audience with the First Lady of the Uncharted Territories.

(To any fans of Are You Being Served who didn't know: yes, there really is a Grace Bros. department store in Australia. Quite a number of them, in fact. But none, alas, in England, as would be right and proper. But I digress. Again.)

Claudia is certainly a good sport. When approached during the Q&A by a rather peculiar fan sporting an iguana, Claudia took her up on her offer to borrow said creature. Who seemed perfectly content with its close encounter with the FLotUT. Then again, who among us wouldn't?

Day Three: Lani, Raelee & Gigi

The powers that be on Farscape seem to delight in killing off series regulars, even as they find excuses to bring them back for one last visit. (And maybe just one more after that.) Still, I can't be the only Scaper to be shocked at the explosive demise of Lani Tupu's Captain Crais and his faithful gunship, Talyn. As it turns out, Lani was just as surprised; in answer to my question, he explained that he was going along in his reading of Into The Lion's Den, Part 2, enjoying the dialogue and wondering how he'd get out of this particular predicament. Then he came to the end and discovered that he wouldn't. Good thing he had Pilot to fall back on!

Above left we have Lani admiring his Roswell Award, a fan presented deal that honored him as having the character fans missed most in 2002. At right, Lani is Pilot to a fan's Crichton in a little voice acting exercise, which also shows the challenges of getting through some of the show's dialogue without tripping over your own tongue.

Raelee Hill's Sikozu was the latest addition to the Farscape cast, playing opposite Ben Browder's Crichton in the season four opener without the distraction of the rest of Moya's crew. I'd seen Raelee at the concert the first night (picture above), so I knew that she was considerably cheerier, a bit older and a lot frecklier (all positives in my book) than she appears onscreen. What none of us were prepared for was her entrance on stage to break into song: an absolutely entrancing a cappella rendition of On A Clear Day You Can See Forever. When she finished, we received an explanation, not that one was necessary. It seems Raelee had heard about Tammy MacIntosh's appearance last year, where she'd wowed the audience by doing backflips across the stage. Not being quite so acrobatic, Raelee decided she needed to do something special to win us over. Foolish girl; as if being herself wouldn't have done the job.

Lest there be any doubt that the word fan is derived from fanatic, we have the evidence of the costume competition. No store-bought creations here; every entry is the product of painstaking work and no small amount of sartorial talent. To say nothing of intestinal fortitude; the gentleman in the Luxan outfit at left stayed in costume for most of the run of the con. And even that wasn't enough to win. Our Luxan lost, not to the nubile young Sikozu clone in the leather brassiere, but instead to the remarkable recreation of the wedding scene from Look At The Princess. The lone seamstress who created this collection of hot pink costumes and somehow managed to convince all of her friends to model them deserves her award. As for the models' participation, I'm told a certain amount of alcohol was involved.

Costumes weren't the only way fans showed an unhealthy devotion to all things Farscapian. (Is that the appropriate adjective for something Farscape-related? Would Scaper be better? How about Moyan? Sebacian? Peacekeeperesque? Wormholy? This is an important question, one that deserves an answer. But I digress.) Throughout the weekend the con organizers played fan-created music videos. I myself submitted a pair of videos that I put together during a two week viewing and editing marathon and completed just before the contest deadline. Both were winners and were, as best I can tell, enjoyed by the attendees. You can judge their worth for yourself on another page in this site. (I also write about the how of video editing, using only a Mac PowerBook, a stack of DVDs and an analog-to-digital converter. Perhaps some other budding videographer will be inspired by my example.)

Of all the cast, Gigi Edgley seems the most like the folks in the audience. (I mean that as a compliment. Honestly.) She's also the one in whom one can see the most change: the terrified child with the quaver in her voice who looked ready to vibrate off the stage in years past now seems at home, even if she's more comfortable in the audience than in front of it. She acts like being the object of unalloyed adoration is a big goof. Which it is, of course. But it's nice to see her enjoying some small measure of the appreciation her talent deserves. (And if you doubt her talent, think about how few actors have created interestingly and believably alien characters. It's not easy.)

Gigi is certainly a good sport. After talking about a scene where she twirled flaming batons, including the difficulty of doing so in a jacket that severely restricted her movement, she was handed a pair of batons with simulated flames and asked for a demonstration. Which she did, to great applause. Moments later she was informed of a package waiting backstage. Said package turned out to be executive producer David Kemper, just back from Australia and offering his appreciation for fan efforts to increase awareness of the show. DK was particularly positive about a fan-produced and -funded ad campaign to highlight the broad demographic of Farscape's audience. Gigi and David answered questions a while longer, Gigi honestly and David with outrageous but entertaining lies, and then it was time to say au revoir.

But not goodbye. The plan calls for another Farscape convention in November of 2003. And whatever happens to the show, I'll be there. Because we're a community, we Scapers. And whether we win or lose at getting Farscape a reprieve, we're not about to give up on each other, on the folks who create the show or the ones who respond to it. Besides, where else can I be inconspicuous wearing a Mambo shirt like Harvey's?

Note: The preceding was intended to give you a sense of what it's like when Farscape enthusiasts get together. But if you want to know what really went on in Burbank, reported with a fine eye for the interesting anecdote (but without the visual aids), head on over to A Snurcher's Guide To Farscape and get the scoop, the whole scoop and nothing but.

Take me home:
Back to the 2001 con:
On to Scapercon 2003:

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Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California