Episode IV: A New Hope

The title of this page is a play on words. November, 2003 saw the fourth of Creation Entertainment's Farscape conventions. That event was also the fourth con I've documented here, although it was actually the fifth I attended. (My seat at my first con was so far back in nosebleed territory that I had to take others' word that I was having a good time.) As for the new hope part of the title, that was engendered by the increasingly resonant rumors of Farscape's return we'd been hearing in the weeks leading up to the con. I'll save you the tension we experienced at Burbank and tell you now that nothing was announced. But what we weren't told, and all the ways we weren't told it, spoke volumes. If you know what I mean.

Oh, and apologies to any Star Wars fans who happen to be dragged here while looking for material about that other space-based epic. Although if you're looking for something imaginative, exciting, heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time, maybe you're in the right place after all.

Friday: Ricky in disguise, Ginny & Lani in Jeopardy

The official festivities began with the introduction of Executive Producer Richard Manning, better known to the fans as Froonium Ricky. Or just Froon for people who have trouble with names of more than one syllable. We'd been told that Ricky had something to tell us, something that would make us very happy. (Remember what I just told you a moment ago?) And there was an audible rumble in the auditorium when he came out; we'd never seen Ricky in a suit before, looking remarkably like we'd always thought television executives actually looked. The discontinuity didn't last long. Before any of needed to gouge our eyes out, Ricky lost the jacket and tie and was properly attired in his customary Mambo shirt. Sadly, the only announcement he had for us involved a blue Toyota with its lights on. Never before and, God willing, never again, has a joke so perfectly failed to find favor with an audience. It was the sort of evil, dastardly stunt we'd have expected of someone mean. Someone like Kemper.

That slight misstep aside, the fourth Burbank con was a lovefest between the cast of Farscape and its devoted fans. And sometimes among the cast itself, as we were treated to visits with former Delvian priestess Virginia Hey, absent since the first con in 2000, and half-masked Banik slave Paul Goddard, a newcomer to the convention scene. Virginia is a force of nature, a warm, funny and highly energetic woman who delights in embarrassing her coworkers at every possible opportunity. Paul looked shell shocked; I couldn't tell if he was more nervous about the crowd or about Ginny. Yet somehow he solidered on, keeping that slightly panicky smile on his face the whole time. And let's face it: if we have to be terrorized, wouldn't we want our torturer to be someone just like Ginny? Or am I the only one with dreams like that?

Ginny's entertaining behavior continued that evening, as she and Lani Tupu hosted a rousing edition of Farscape Jeopardy. Well, perhaps attempted to host would be a more accurate description. For one thing, whoever decided that these two should run a game show might have considered their lack of knowledge of the rules of that show. Or might have warned Ginny that picking male and female contestants based, respectively, on their underwear and body art might not give us the most knowledgeable panel on things Farscapian. Or that spanking your cohost isn't traditional on American game shows. Although there's something to be said for this last practice. Which, sadly, I can't document for you; my camera chose this particular moment to demand fresh batteries. Suffice it to say that Ginny grabbed Lani by both cheeks. And the audience approved.

Saturday: Rock's lips are sealed, Claudia sings, Ben flips

That was Friday. Saturday began with a reunion of sorts, as the amazing woman who talked seventy-odd (very odd - I was one of them) Scapers into attending a Thursday night taping of The Tonight Show in homemade Farscape tee shirts. Sadly, NBC security policy had kept her from documenting this adventure at the time. So there we were Saturday morning, back in costume in front of the convention center so she and we could have a reminder of the event. Not that we needed one; the combination of seeing Halle Berry and giving Jay his very own Scaper tee shirt (Leno as Scorpius - inspired!) is likely to stay with me for a long time to come.

Saturday's official program began with a visit by series creator Rockne O'Bannon. Having let us down the day before, surely The Powers That Be would use this opportunity to break the big news. Alas, it was not to be. Although it was not to be in the funniest possible way, as Rock came out with his mouth sealed with tape. Red tape. Which he removed only to tell us that he couldn't tell us anything. Except that he couldn't stay long; he had to get on a conference call with a couple of dozen important people, some of them in Sydney. And that he should really be back in the office, working on hour three. (Of what, he wouldn't say.) Gee, for somebody determined not to tell us anything, he'd actually told us quite a bit. Including about his determination to be heavily involved in any revival of Farscape, not that he was suggesting that such a thing was imminent. (At this point I'll stop with the non-denial denial talk. I'm sure you get the idea.)

There's a strong connection between the folks who put on Farscape and those of us who come to conventions. It's almost a family feeling. And it's not just the way we fans feel about the cast and crew. Some of it flows the other way as well. Ricky Manning is probably the best example. He spends every moment of the weekend with the fans: in the auditorium, out among the vendors, at all the events. And it's not just Ricky; this is very much a family affair. The lady at left is Ricky's wife, Cheryl, who's every bit as involved with the fans. Here she is during a break in the programming, showing off her custom purse. On one side is the Sydney neighborhood where they lived; on this edge the Homebush studios Farscape called home. Nice souvenir. And so useful when Cheryl and Mr. Cheryl need to find their way back when production resumes.

The first three Creation cons were one sided, with the cast and crew presenting to the fans. But since the cancellation, we're a big part of the story. And this year the agenda acknowledged that new reality, with one fan panel to discuss the efforts to Save Farscape and increase awareness of the show and a second, at right, to talk about all of the web-based communities and resources that have developed around it. The women on the panel (funny about that) represented community sites like Kansas, named after an Earthbound season four episode and a place I spend way too much time, reference sites like The Snurcher's Guide To Farscape and general news, information and goodies sites like Karlsweb. The panelists acquitted themselves well, especially after they begged Ricky to act as MC. He jumped in, even coming up with some excellent discussion points for the panel. And earning the undying gratitude of the participants for not letting them look as terrified as they no doubt were.

As hard as I might try to think of Farscape as an ensemble show, it does have its stars. And for a lot of folks the high point of the weekend, the reason they had come from Europe, Asia, Australia, were the appearances of Claudia Black and Ben Browder. Claudia was introduced to thunderous applause, the kind of greeting that would do a rock star proud. She was all smiles, doing her level best to say nothing about The Big Secret but telegraphing like mad with her body language. Taking questions from the throng, she was poised and relaxed as we had come to expect. She talked about this and that: some incredibly painful-sounding yoga she'd been studying in her free time, her impressions of the American star system and how strange that was to a performance-oriented Australian, the voice work she'd done on the Lords of Everquest game, a relationship back in Australia that was clearly going very well indeed.

And then things took a surprising turn. Claudia's costar, some big lunk named Ben Browder, came out carrying a guitar case. And after a little bit of chitchat, Claudia pulled out a guitar and told a long and quietly spellbinding story about a girl who had loved to sing but had lost her confidence. As she tuned her guitar, she talked about wanting to give something back to us, as if her absolutely shattering performances on the screen weren't enough. She'd taken a little bit of guitar training, learned the three chords she needed for this song. And as she told this story, we all watched a beautiful, accomplished and much loved woman pull together the courage she needed to sing before a few hundred devoted fans. The song was called Throw Your Arms Around Me by Hunters & Collectors. I'm told Crowded House also recorded it, although to me it will always belong to Claudia Black. She has a pure, sweet voice, seasoned with just a touch of the emotion of the moment. I think everybody there treasures the memory of that performance.

Fortunately, Ben is a good sport; I'd hate to have to go on after that performance, and the ovation that followed it. But Ben is a trouper; he got the audience laughing over the reasons the big Farscape announcement had been delayed. He'd read each reason off a card and then flip the card into the audience: about negotiations with Brad Pitt to play the part of Crichton; negotiations with Kermit the Frog to play Rygel; the complexities of signing contracts across the International Date Line without creating disturbances in the time/space continuum. And one we accepted without question: because David Kemper is evil. After that we heard a little about recent projects, like the time he'd just spent in Canada playing Lee Majors in a telefilm about the making of Charlie's Angels. Ben had a few Six Million Dollar Man posters for special fans, which confused the heck out of us. Was that him in the poster? Who was he playing again? Eventually the mystery was sorted out. I think.

Ben's session was followed by a live commentary on his John Quixote episode, in which he was joined by Ricky Manning, Jonathan Hardy, Gigi Edgley and Paul Goddard. Not much to say about this one; the audio from the episode combined with all those microphones made it difficult for me to follow. But no matter; that was quickly followed by a group session with Raelee Hill, season four's Sikozu; David Franklin, the ever loyal Captain Braca; and Jonathan Hardy, the voice and soul of Dominar Rygel XVI. Appearing on a panel with Jonathan is a special challenge, as he tends to dominate any conversation. But David and Raelee held their own, David breaking into an amazing rendition of Elvis's Heartbreak Hotel and Raelee expressing childlike glee over an Australian rugby victory over New Zealand. Raelee also told a funny story about sitting on a bus with some Farscape fans and praying not to be recognized. She breathed a sigh of relief when they got off the bus, only to hear a voice behind her intone: "They didn't recognize you. But I know who you are, Sikozu Shanu." I can see how that would be kind of freaky.

Sunday: Breakfast with the stars, three lovely ladies

Sunday morning saw the return of the charity breakfast, another chance to get close to the cast while raising money for a worthy cause. This year was another cancer charity, this one providing scholarships to survivors of the disease and children of those who weren't so fortunate. That grim thought aside, the mood in the room was as bright and cheerful as is possible after a too late Saturday night. Cast members came around to chat and to pose for pictures. At left Raelee is joined by a fan from Taiwan. At right, Ben grabs some quick refreshment before his morning session and a flight to Dallas to work on his next project. He's modeling the latest in fanware, a baseball jersey given him by CAScapers, a bunch of rowdy Los Angeles women.

I only had a moment with Ben, who was very much in demand that morning. (Big surprise.) Fortunately, I had a very nice conversation with Ben's much better half, Francesca Buller. Ms. Buller has that rare gift of making you feel that she's as pleased to meet you as you are to meet her. She's either the warmest, most sincere person I've ever met or a consummate actress. Or both. At right I have a photo op with Ricky and Cheryl Manning. These two are the heart and soul of the fan connection to the show. If Ricky ever stops smiling, that's when we know it's over. After the picture was taken I asked Ricky if he ever watched the fans' music videos. When he admitted that he had, I offered him a DVD of my own videos. He accepted graciously. God, the things these people do for their fans...

Back in the auditorium, we got a little more time with Ben Browder. Ben was in a more pensive mood. With wonder in his voice, he told us about meeting someone involved with the Fulbright Scholarship Program. This gentleman has the task of selecting the brightest and most deserving scholars in the world. He's also a Farscape fan. And proud of that fact. Which raises that question again: What is it about Farscape that makes us all so passionate, that gets more from us than an hour a week in front of the tube? How were we able to create a public awareness campaign that's still building up steam a year after the series' cancellation, when everybody knew we were wasting our time? Ben's at the center of all that attention. And he's as amazed as the rest of us. Sadly, he had to rush off to the airport for his indy movie project, so all these deep sociological questions will have to wait a little longer.

Ben was followed by an informal meet & greet session with David Franklin and Paul Goddard, a chance for attendees to come up and chat about whatever. I'd had a chance to talk to both of them in the autograph line the previous evening. My first stop on that line had been with Bianca Chiminello, the beautiful assassin from the Look At The Princess trilogy. I'd met Bianca at Scapercon a few months earlier, and after we talked about her con experiences, she wrote something terribly sweet on the script I'd bought for this purpose. When I got to David, he took one look at what she'd written and got that devilish gleam in his eye. His inscription wasn't sweet at all! Downright rude, I'd call it! But to be fair, he did ask permission first. And it certainly increases the uniqueness of my autograph collection.

Next onstage was Francesca Buller, Farscape's instant trivia challenge. True fans can rattle off the names of all four characters she's played on the show thus far and the episodes where each appeared: M'Lee in Bone To Be Wild, Ro-Na in Look At The Princess, Raxil in Scratch n Sniff and the Scarran Minister Ahkna in the latter half of season four. Ben warned us as he left that if anybody mistreated his wife, he'd never come back to another convention. Talk about your empty threats; I'd like to see somebody not be completely charmed by Francesca. Besides, we'd seen her characters beat the crap out of John Crichton enough times to maintain a respectful attitude! Wandering the stage barefoot, Francesca talked about their history together, her proper English parents' reaction on meeting this big Suthin boy, the fact that she's as transfixed by the sight of Crichton's leather pants as every other woman in the audience. Ben's clearly one lucky guy, all of Crichton's bruises notwithstanding.

By now the weekend was moving inexorably toward its close. It is perhaps not a coincidence that we had two more lovely young ladies to go. First up was Bianca Chiminello, looking every bit the model she once was and not at all the potent killer and stealer of John Crichton's... ummm... attentions, yeah, that's it... she played in the Look At The Princess trilogy. Jenavian was Bianca's first role; she'd originally auditioned for the part of the princess. But somebody in the casting process decided she had a look of danger to her and offered her the meatier role. Good eye; talking to her in the autograph line the day before, it was all I could do to keep from swallowing my tongue. You can't tell from these pictures, but Bianca has eyes that can swallow a man's soul. She could give Sauron a run for his money.

And last but certainly not least, the birthday girl, the lovely and talented perpetual motion machine that is Gigi Edgley. Each year Gigi gets a little bit bolder, a bit more confident and more than a little raunchier. A friend suggested a video to the Mary Tyler Moore theme. And she's right; "Who can turn the world on with her smile?" could easily have been written for Ms. Edgley. She serenaded us with a rap number from her work on The Secret Life Of Us, demonstrated again her skill throwing around simulated flaming batons for a CAScaper who, true to form, managed not to get a single picture of the performance, and talked about her musical efforts. And in the process charmed everyone in the room and reminded us how much we miss seeing her, and all her friends, on our screens. It had been an amazing weekend. Now all we needed was that miniseries CNN kept promising. And a pickup of a fifth season. And after that we'll see. Oh, and of course there's next year's con. Yeah, I already have my ticket.

Note: Not satisfied with the Reader's Digest version of the con? You'll find an almost verbatim transcript of the entire weekend at A Snurcher's Guide To Farscape. While I was in the front row, terrorizing the cast with my camera, Thinkum was in the cheap seats, typing madly away on her laptop.

Take me home:
Back to Scapercon 2003:
On to Burbank 2004:

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Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California