Episode VII: Sleepless in Burbank

It's November, which means a visit to the Happiest Place on Earth: Burbank, California. Yep, it's the 6th annual Farscape convention, a chance for all the victims of the horrible curse that is Scaperism to gather in a long and ultimately fruitless attempt to rid ourselves of this debilitating addiction. Oh, and to see what the cast has been up to since the last time we met. Which in my case was a mere seven months ago in Sydney. Burbank is not Sydney, I know. But for a few days every November, there's no place I'd rather be.

The con has its official start around 1PM on Friday. But things really get going on Thursday, as the majority of Scapers arrive and start congregating in the lobby of the Hilton. Groups form for dinner and drinks, followed by more drinks, then early registration, then over to the hotel bar for, well, you know where this is going. There's a tradition of closing out the bar, which leads to that other tradition of getting by on an average of four hours sleep a night. Never let it be said that Scapers aren't a dedicated bunch.

Friday: Jonathan, Raelee & David

Before the first official event is the first official unofficial one: a breakfast meeting for all the denizens of Terra Firma, a bulletin board system a lot of us call home. It's a chance to reconnect with friends, and for new Scapers to get integrated into the family. Oh, and to discover all the good swag being hawked by enterprising Scapers. (Like me for example.) And even more creative enterprises, like the amazing DRD at right, racing around in preparation for Saturday night's DRD races. We were having so much fun, we were almost sad when it was time for the con to start. Okay, not really. Not even a little.

First on the bill was Jonathan Hardy, despite a shocking lack of screen time one of the more easily identifiable members of the cast. Jonathan, the voice of Dominar Rygel XVI, has a ready wit, a dramatic manner and the most animated eyebrows this side of a Muppet. Although I have it on good authority that there is no truth to the rumor that Rygel's earbrows were modeled on Mr. Hardy. That's a vicious lie. Probably.

Jonathan talked about his long career in theatre, dropping names left and right of great actors and directors he worked with over the years. It's a reminder, as if we needed one, of the incredible depth of talent Farscape had at its disposal.

Raelee Hill was next up. Two years ago, she shared her session with Jonathan and David Franklin, a challenging position if you hope to be more than an audience for Mr. Hardy's wit and wisdom. Raelee was up to the challenge then, and handled being the center of attention now with grace and ease. (Or is it just that I'm a total sucker for red hair, pale, freckled skin and a dazzling smile? No, don't answer that.)

Raelee talked about the challenges of playing Sikozu, in particular the problem of acting in costumes so constrictive she could barely move, much less crawl or run as required by the script. When asked whether she thought her character survived the incidents at the end of the miniseries, she pointed out that Sikozu was last seen in the company of Grunchlk, a gentleman of cunning and guile even in the face of interplanetary disaster. As Raelee put it, after a nuclear holocaust the only guaranteed survivors will be cockroaches, Cher and Grunchlk. And of the three, the one most likely to get you off-planet before the planet goes off is number three on the list.

David Franklin, the Peacekeeper Mr. Smithers to Scorpius's Mr. Burns, was up last. David's session was more like an extended talk: he'd talk, we'd talk, and laughter ensued. Asked to do his Elvis impression, David broke into a spirited a capella rendition of Heartbreak Hotel. Leading one of my Scaper friends to run up and toss a fiver on the stage. Which David tucked into his pants, only to give it up later to another Scaper. (The bill, I mean. Get your mind out of the gutter!)

It was all downhill from there. But in a good way; he would talk and we'd respond. Forget the standing at microphones and asking questions; our orderly behavior becomes less orderly when David is around; even his gruff insistence that "You're all dead to me" couldn't dispell the mood. Of course, it might have carried more weight if we believed it for a moment. For an actor, the man lies really, really badly.

Saturday: Two-by-two & the cabaret

For most of us, Saturday morning was reserved for visiting with Scapers and trying to recover from the excesses of Friday night. A few hardy souls had signed up for a writer's workshop, hosted by Lani Tupu and genre writer Tee Morris. Others were in a panic to finish off a couple of con books in time for their recipients' sessions that afternoon. Con books are a Scaper tradition, a chance to inundate the cast with the kind of declarations of love that don't lead to restraining orders. (Not usually, at least.) These, I was told, were emergency recreations after an accident of the "dog ate my homework" sort. I enjoyed another Terra Firma breakfast session, the lovely warm Southern California weather and the chance to relax before things got going again.

Lani Tupu and Wayne Pygram were first up this afternoon. These two are well matched onstage, two thoughtful and low key gentlemen who played particularly intense characters. In addition to the usual Farscape questions, Lani and Wayne talked about current acting projects, as well as their other interests. Lani talked about his artwork, Wayne about his two bands: Signal Room, a rock band with Farscape castmate Anthony Simcoe, and edoT, a chance to explore his jazzier side. That evening he'd show another facet of his musical interests, with a rockabilly pick-up band recruited from the audience. (Lucky recruits! Wish I knew how to play something other than video games!)

Wayne and Lani also agreed to join in a group photo with all the Harvey-dressed Scapers. Those Mambo Lost Weekend shirts have become collector's items, after the manufacturer decided to stop making their signature Loud ShirtsTM. Fortunately for those whose Scape obsessions began later than mine, one enterprising Scaper had purchased all the remaining Lost Weekend shirts. Get 'em while they last!. Or at least hope he's successful in convincing Mambo to bring back a design that means so much to us true believers, if only because it simplifies our fashion decisions for Farscape cons.

I remember that first Burbank con in 2000, and the audience's shock when Anthony Simcoe, that stolid Luxan warrior, went running around the auditorium and then regaled us with a combination of stories, funny voices and general manic behavior. I wonder if the folks at Creation thought they could get a slightly more controlled performance by pairing Anth with costar Gigi Edgley. If that was their intent, it didn't exactly work out that way. If anything, Anth was even more animated than usual. And Gigi, well, Gigi had the benefit of more audience questions to respond to. Leading to Anth moving a chair to the side of the stage, where he could pout in comfort. In between pouts he regaled us with imitations of a Farscape set designer choosing colors for everything in sight ("Let's make that... gold. And over there... gold. And that... what about gold?") and, after announcing to the crowd that "musicals suck!", took thirty seconds or so to prove it. The proceedings came to a halt at one point when a Creation volunteer arrived with a cake in honor of Gigi's birthday. Legal at last!, the audience thought. Or maybe that was just me.

Still laughing, we all adjourned outside to Creation's makeshift racecourse to see Scapers put to the ultimate test. No, strike that; way too over the top. Okay, here's the deal: Scapers were invited to build radio controlled DRDs, which were to compete in front of a crowd of cheering fans. And cheer we did, even if most of the entries belonged to the Gang That Couldn't Drive Straight. Or Fast. Or both. And you know, it's hard to keep the cheer going as DRDs crawled along the track, occasionally (okay, regularly) veering into the crowd. But somehow we managed it. And a good time was had by drivers and audience. How the DRDs felt about it, we may never know.

After the races it was back inside for the costume competition. At right we have the one entry in the junior category: a teeny little Peacekeeper who didn't seem all that happy being the center of attention. At left some of the not-so-junior entries, including a very pregnant Luxan priestess (given her state, I'm surprised she didn't go for a miniseries-era Grayza), a woman-pretending-to-be-a-man-pretending-to-be-a-woman Crichton from Coup By Clam (is it a compliment or an insult that both the padding and the combat boots were the contestant's own?), and a guy with a gray ponytail, a follically challenged forehead and a blindingly bright Mambo shirt. This was the first Burbank con where Executive Producer Richard Manning was not in attendance. So how appropriate that the winner by universal acclaim was a faux Froonium Ricky? I wonder what the con virgins, who haven't had the chance to experience the real Ricky's wit, warmth and charm, thought of that.

After autographs and some time for dinner and the odd drink or two, we were back in the auditorium for our Saturday Night Cabaret. This was something new for the con, but, not to give away any surprises, something I hope becomes a tradition. It began with Jonathan Hardy giving a recitation of works from and about his native New Zealand. The poetry he chose ran from powerful and dramatic to downright puzzling, but his powerful delivery made up for any lack of comprehension on my part. Discussing New Zealand's Maori people, Jonathan gave us a booming rendition of what I believe was the Maori national anthem, followed by a vocal demonstration of the haka, the war dance and chant that precedes battle. Nowadays it mostly precedes soccer matches and hangi dinners for tourists. But it's still impressive as all get out, at least the way he does it.

Jonathan was followed by Wayne Pygram and his Scaper band, under the Scorpy-inspired name of Wayne & The Half-Breeds. The music was rockabilly, the vocals and percussion were Wayne's, and at least one part of his rig was improvised from a hotel dish cover. The band sounded pretty fine, especially for a trio that had a total of fifteen minutes to rehearse before their big performance. I discovered later that the bass player had rented his instrument that afternoon, leading to a small panic about getting it back to the shop when they reopened on Monday. But as is typical when Scapers are involved, it was all worked out, the bass was returned and the deposit back in the hands of the depositor. Amazing what some people will go through just for a moment of glory on stage. And boy, do I envy them.

Last up were David Franklin and Gigi Edgley, reading/performing A.R. Gurney's two handed play, Love Letters. The play, which tells of a relationship that begins in grade school and develops over the ensuing decades, is presented as the title implies as a series of letters between the two characters. David and Gigi demonstrated credible American accents as their character aged from single to mid-double digits. And both had us in tears by the time the nonexistent curtain came down. David in particular was a revelation; his Farscape role as (mostly) obedient and unquestioning second in command didn't give him much of a chance to emote. But emote he did. And so did we. Con veterans still talk about certain events from past years, like Claudia Black's song in 2003 and Tammy Macintosh's somersaults across the stage in 2001. (Okay, maybe I'm the only one to talk about that one.) But I'm betting Love Letters gets added to the "remember when" roster when Scapers gather.

Sunday: Fran, Ben, Rebecca & Ginny

Sunday arrived bright and early, as did I. It's amazing how good you can feel on 4½ hours sleep, especially after two nights of 3½ hours each. And we were off to the charity breakfast, a chance to pay way too much for food, some quality time with Scapers and a chance to hobnob with a few of the cast. New rules this year: a quick photo op when the important people arrived, but no more pictures after that. And believe it or not, we followed the rules. Mostly, anyway; when Ben Browder decides to run around the room to give us closeups, well, who are we to refuse? Sadly, he was faster than my ability to focus, frame and shoot. But no matter; the quality time at our table was of real quality. Including a hug from Virginia Hey, for whom I do some webmastering favors. Had to stand on a chair for that hug; Ginny is very tall. Whereas I am very not. (Did somebody get that shot? And can I get a copy?)

After breakfast it was back to the convention hall. Francesca Buller was up first, talking about her various roles on the show, adjusting to life in Los Angeles, what it's like now that her husband, some guy named Browder, is up in Canada doing Stargate and only home for weekends. Fran was prompted to talk about her date with the latest Doctor Who (long ago, before Ben), about her own fangirl reaction on meeting Ally McBeal star Gil Burrows and about her discovery later that the encounter had been set up by her husband. Oh, and about how, like most of the female Scaper audience, she can't get enough of John Crichton. Especially in leather. I've said it before, but the sense you get on meeting Fran and Ben is that this is the happiest, most connected and best adjusted couple on the planet.

Fran's husband was up next, dispelling his own nervousness in front of the unruly mob by making all manner of jokes. Referring to having company onstage at last year's con (Claudia Black, sadly missing this time but with, I understand, the best of reasons), he went behind the scenes to retrieve a mannequin with John Crichton's Peacekeeper outfit and long coat, with which he proceeded to get very friendly indeed. He talked about Stargate SG1 and about integrating into an established show after being in one from day one. He described using the Internet from Stargate's Vancouver studios to connect with his family in Los Angeles, leading to all sorts of hacking fantasies on the part of various, mostly female Scapers. He was warm, energetic, funny, goofy. And as happens every time we see him, he made us wonder how this amazing actor and personality isn't a huge star.

After Ben we had our last opportunity to see an amazing collection of Farscape costumes, before they were auctioned off to some lucky Scapers with lots of dollars and too few sense. (I am so ashamed about that remark. But not enough to delete it.) All the characters were represented, either with their usual garb or something more unusual, like Rygel's S&M outfit from Won't Get Fooled Again or Crais's ogre costume from John Quixote. At left is the Crichton figure that kept Ben company onstage, and which went for a startling $20,000. (Without the dummy, I might add.) At right is Stark's jester outfit from John Quixote. (Well, not Stark; not exactly. But close enough.) Seeing all these costumes and knowing they were about to be sold made me sad. And it made me wish for great wealth, enough to create a proper museum for Farscape. I might even let others come to visit.

It's always a surprise for fans to discover that some of the most intense characters are brought to life by the nicest people. That's especially true of Rebecca Riggs; if she has any of the characteristics of Commandant Grayza, she hides them well. At breakfast she described getting a talking-to from the guards at the Getty Museum; apparently she was so taken by a few of the paintings that she almost reached out and touched them. And I guess they frown on that sort of thing. Rebecca also had fun with the question of Grayza's baby, and the horrified reaction of some of the fans to the idea that it might be John Crichton's. Denial isn't just a river in Egypt, as the saying goes. Personally I have no problem with the idea; Crichton wasn't exactly in a position to resist, after all. But David Franklin clearly prefers a different answer, waving his arms and cheering at the suggestion that Farscape's Mr. Smithers might swing a different way than... um... Mr. Smithers.

The con was drawing to a close, with those who either didn't know any better or had no choice preparing to make a mad dash to the airport for their journey home. Traditionally, the last spot belonged to Gigi Edgley. But this year it was Virginia Hey who gave us our last taste of Farscape. Ginny is a lot like Zhaan, a warm and deeply spiritual figure who embodies the term earth mother. But there are differences of course; where Zhaan went mostly to the point, Ginny is famous for circling it like an errant moon, shooting off on the most amazing tangents and somehow always finding her way home. She talked about her spiritual side, and how a lot of what we saw on the screen was her invention, filling in script notes that simply said Zhaan chants or Zhaan heals. She enthused about her business selling candles and perfumes and soaps, and the way she can't simply take an order but has to tell every customer all about the way she makes her products and the inspirations for each one. And she connected with everyone she met, like the girl at right wearing a Get Frelled top. Ginny brought her onstage, and then stroked and played with her hair as she continued on her long and strange conversation with a room full of adoring fans. Strange woman. And I mean that in the best way possible.

And then it was all over. Last autographs, group dinners in the hotel, more drinking in the bar and then preparations for our own departure back to the real world. But not quite yet...

Monday: One last adventure

According to the Creation folks who put on the con, attendees at their other events tend to disappear the moment the official activities end. Not so with Scapers; we're always trying to make the fun last as long as body and funds allow. Post-con Monday is reserved for Scaper fun, with groups heading off to Knotts Berry Farm (it had been Disneyland in years past) or, in my case, to Warner Brothers for their studio tour. Warners does a great tour; it's much less canned than the one at Universal, with small groups and an itinerary that varies depending on what's going on that particular day. And there are a few good photo ops, like the recreated Central Perk from Friends at left. Yep, that's the real couch. And it's a lot less comfortable than it looks on teevee. At right was our chance to act; we were told to be awed or shocked or frightened as the General Lee went flying overhead. I think we did pretty well, although they may have had other ideas. Still waiting for that call that'll make me a star. Oh, well; there's always next year. Or the year after.

Take me home:
Back to OzScape 2005:

Disordered.org Web
Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California