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The Trek Nation - Toronto Trek 15 Convention Report

Toronto Trek 15 Convention Report

By Colin 'Zeke' Hayman
Posted at August 8, 2001 - 1:43 PM GMT

Toronto Trek is not Canada's largest, most action-packed annual sci-fi convention. It's not even Toronto's largest, most action-packed annual sci-fi convention. But it was certainly the largest, most action-packed annual sci-fi convention taking place in July at the Regal Constellation Hotel from the 20th to the 22nd. (Of course, I don't know for sure that there wasn't something bigger going on in the upper floors, but one has to draw the line somewhere.)

Now in its fifteenth year, Toronto Trek is an agglomeration of panel discussions, merchandise dealings, autograph signings, and Q&A sessions with major stars. Despite the name, it's far from exclusively a Trek convention -- Babylon 5 has a strong presence, and most major sci-fi franchises are represented. In fact, TT15 included a First Wave subconvention called WaveCon. I undertook the voyage to Toronto to take photos with my cheap camera; forage for interesting merchandise; write up the guest stars in my capacity as unofficial Trek Nation reporter; and meet the wonderfully insane Thinkey, head producer of the Virtual Voyager Season 8 project, and Mike, her PR guy.

It took me two weeks to write the article. I blame this on time warps.


TIM CHOATE
"This is ridiculous. Every one of these guys is more ferret-like than I am."

Babylon 5 fans may not recognize the name of Tim Choate - but you'll have to look long and hard to find one who doesn't recognize the name of Zathras. Probably the best-loved of B5's bit players, Zathras was a bizarre, lovable alien. And then he was ten bizarre, lovable aliens. (If you have to ask, you won't understand.) Tim Choate, the man who brought Zathras to life, most recently appeared as a triage doctor in 'Pearl Harbour' and will soon be digitized for the PC game Code Red; in the meantime, he's been pursuing a little theatre with Mira Furlan.

Tim (it feels wrong to call him Mr. Choate; the name rhymes with "asymptote," by the way) wasn't much of a sci-fi fan when his agent suggested the Zathras role to him, and he found the script of "Babylon Squared" completely baffling, full of lines like "No, you're not The One. Zathras is not supposed to talk to you." Despite this, he decided to develop a unique style for his audition. Aliens, he reasoned, wouldn't necessarily talk in the same way humans do -- perhaps Zathras' race communicated by tongue-clicks and other noises, and weren't used to speaking in words. As a result, Zathras would have a little trouble getting English out of his alien throat; it would sound like a struggle each time, and the clicks would be sprinkled in here and there. Thus was Zathras's weird voice conceived -- and that, combined with Tim's acting, made a strong enough impression on the casting director to land him the part.

Next came the visuals. At makeup time, Tim brought in an unusual set of false teeth he'd once had made for just such an occasion, and this became part of Zathras's look. But just before the performance, when all seemed well, the crisis came: director Jim Johnston wanted Zathras to speak in an ordinary voice. (Actually, Tim couldn't remember the director's last name at the con. He asked if anybody in the audience knew; no one did. Tim's reply? "Good!")

It was a catastrophe. For Tim, the voice had become inexorably bound up with the character; if he tried to speak in a normal voice, he wouldn't even be able to remember his lines. Finally, after some hard thinking in the parking lot, he reached a decision. He walked back in and began filming -- with Zathras's trademark voice unchanged. Fortunately, the director didn't press the issue or even bring it up again, and "Babylon Squared" proceeded smoothly from there.

B5 fans know the rest of the story: Zathras returned for a major role in "War Without End" and a cameo in "Conflicts of Interest." It was here that we learned of the alien's nine twin siblings -- all named Zathras, and all pronounced the same (to human ears and Ivanova's consternation). Tim shared a little anecdote about the filming of this final Zathras scene. When he was reading one of the lines ("Zathras never listens to Zathras" or some such), the director had to cut the scene and redo it -- because Tim had accidentally put an inflection on one of the names, making it appear that they did sound different!

ARMIN SHIMERMAN
"Would somebody please decide what my IQ is?"

Next up was Deep Space Nine's Quark and Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Principal Snyder: Armin Shimerman. Outside of his acting, Armin (you know, I can't call him by his last name either) has taken to writing -- Pocket Books currently publishes two novels co-written by him (The Merchant Prince and The 34th Rule, a DS9 book). Sadly, I wasn't able to see much of his on-stage appearances, but I'll report on what I've got.

Armin very much enjoyed his seven years on Deep Space Nine, but he had one major frustration with the writing -- there was never really a consistent portrayal of Quark. Was he the cunning swindler, the proponent of an alternative worldview, the "crooked" businessman with a heart of gold, or the blundering buffoon? In fact, Armin confessed that he hated the comedy episodes; serious episodes like "The Ascent" were far more appealing to him.

Armin was, however, very happy with the Quark/Odo pairing. It didn't seem promising at first: he'd worked with René Auberjonois once before and couldn't stand him. (Then again, he realized, Quark was supposed to hate Odo....) At any rate, the two quickly became close friends, and their scenes together were among the highlights of Armin's time on the show.

Of course, the biggest inconvenience of the Quark role was the many, many hours of makeup time. In frustration, Armin once asked former Beauty and the Beast colleague Ron Perlman how he'd dealt with the endless tedium. His reply? "Think of the money!"

On his Buffy role, Armin shared an interesting tidbit: Synder's grisly death was his idea. All of Buffy's previous principals had been killed, and Armin, deciding not to be an exception, approached series creator Joss Whedon about it. Since the show would no longer need a principal -- the main characters were graduating -- Armin said, "I'd like to be eaten." And so it was done. (At the con, inevitably, a fan asked him what Snyder's first name had been. "I don't know! 'Dick'?")

Just before leaving, Armin brought the house down with a passionate monologue from Richard III. The standing ovation was well-earned. Which brings me to the final star of TT15....

ANDREAS KATSULAS
"I'm from the States. I don't behave myself."

(So I skipped Robert Trebor. Sue me.)

Few sci-fi actors have made as great a mark as Andreas Katsulas. Already well-known for his role as recurring Romulan Tomalak in Next Generation, Andreas (trust me, I really can't call him Mr. Katsulas) went on to spend five years wowing Babylon 5 viewers as villain-turned-hero G'Kar, the Narn ambassador to B5. (He also played the One-Armed Man in the film version of The Fugitive.)

Did the seriousness of his B5 role carry over to his personality? Well, he came on stage carrying a cooler in which he claimed to have Londo actor Peter Jurasik's severed head, and he interrupted himself several times to tell it to shut up...judge for yourself.

Naturally, the one thing we all wanted to get from Andreas was info about J. Michael Straczynski's new Babylon 5 project, the TV-movie Legend of the Rangers. Sadly, he did not spoil us - but he revealed the reason for G'Kar's presence in the film. Apparently he and his son were eating out, and (by pure coincidence) JMS and his wife happened to be in the same restaurant at the same time. When Andreas went over to say hello, JMS said that he hadn't planned to include any original B5 characters in LotR, but the Universe had now sent him a message: G'Kar should appear. This reasoning did not exactly convince Andreas, but he agreed, and the results, as it turned out, satisfied him completely. The G'Kar of LotR is, to Andreas, "the best G'Kar yet...he steals the show." The appearance will feature G'Kar's lighter side. (Andreas also mentioned that the LotR cast is younger than B5's, with an average age around 25.)

Unfortunately for his fans, the man who's been called one of the ten best actors in the history of the world is unlikely to resume acting in the near future. Andreas has taken a very strong interest in artistic endeavours, particularly ceramics, pottery, and painting. He claims not to be very good at these things (when a fan asked if he could buy one of the paintings, Andreas insisted that he wouldn't want to), but he takes great joy in pursuing them. He says, in fact, that he's "not an actor anymore."

Most of Andreas's on-stage time was spent answering questions. For example, one fan asked who G'Kar would have seen if he'd been in the Brakiri-occupied section of B5 in the fifth-season episode 'Day of the Dead' (all the characters in that section were visited by dead people from their pasts). Andreas replied that he would have liked G'Kar to see his father; we know little about him, except that his death at Centauri hands inspired G'Kar to join the Narn resistance.

My favourite part of Andreas's on-stage time was his explanation of a hilarous prank war between him and JMS (it's known to many B5 fans, but I hadn't heard it). He and Peter Jurasik were appearing at a B5 convention just before JMS, and knowing how much the writer loved his fans' adulation, Andreas told the audience to pull a little gag on him: "Give him nothing." No applause; no cheering; nothing. The audience went along with it, and when Straczynski came on-stage, he was greeted with dead silence.

He was not amused.

Andreas had accidentally tapped into JMS's lifelong fear of public speaking and made his worst nightmare a reality. Revenge was called for, so he did what he did best. He wrote a Babylon 5 episode....the Babylon 5 episode from the fiery pits of Hell. The script that reached Andreas involved a sex change for G'Kar followed by a scene in Londo's quarters ("G'Kar, you have...changed!"); the next scene would have begun with Londo in bed smoking a cigarette! Andreas immediately figured out what was going on and thought it was a riot, but the rest of the cast and crew were close to a literal riot - because nobody else knew the script was a fake. Before it was all over, Mira Furlan was in tears and the prop department was trying to design a brassière for G'Kar....Andreas says his only regret about the whole affair is that they didn't actually film the episode.

Finally, a few quotes from Andreas, unashamedly out of context:

It would take way too long to relate everything that Andreas had to say in his on-stage time; suffice it to say that the admission fee would have been well worth it for him alone. And it was a hefty admission fee.

AUTOGRAPH SIGNINGS

Why is it exactly that our society is so fond of signatures? Beats me - but that didn't stop me from collecting a few scrawlings to take home. I got Andreas's first, and that story isn't very interesting (he just signed an 8x10 glossy of G'Kar for me); things got a little more interesting with Armin Shimerman.

Thinkey, Mike, and I were lined up for the restaurant on the first floor of the Regal Constellation. Glancing around, I suddenly spotted somebody suspiciously Ferengi-like at the centre table; not being completely sure of it, I pointed him out to the others, and they agreed that it was Armin. Needless to say, when the waiter came to seat us, we requested the next table (despite her repeated attempts to convince us that we'd be better off at a table which didn't have a lot of used napkins on it). So there we were, technically eating lunch with Armin Shimerman. I debated the possibility of sneaking a picture with my incredibly cheap camera, but eventually decided against it; Thinkey, however, is gutsier than your average Nausicaan, and managed to exchange a few words with him as he was getting up to leave. This "established" us for the autograph-signing later -- which was good, because Thinkey had a pretty tall order (three items, each signed in a different and time-consuming way).

I learned a little Shimerman trivia at the signing. For one thing, he speaks French (in fact, Thinkey got a French signature out of him). For another, he knows all the Rules of Acquisition by heart - no small feat. For a third (this one I found out from the dedication in his book The Merchant Prince), he's good friends with B5 actor Peter Jurasik. Anyway, when it came time for my signature, I asked him to inscribe in said book the one sentence that sums up all things Ferengi: the First Rule of Acquisition. He obliged, and I now possess, in Shimerman's writing, the phrase "Once you have their money, never give it back!" Fitting, n'est-ce pas?

(Between the restaurant and the signing, I had yet another very brief Armin encounter: he was walking into the hotel as I was walking out. I nodded; he didn't notice. Such is life.)

I got two other autographs at the con: one from Tim Choate and one from Rick Wharton, better known as Conspiracy Guy. (It's not every day you get a signature that says "EVIL!") But my main souvenirs of Toronto Trek 15 are two action figures that were never available in my area: Tuvok and Neelix. Never mind that they don't look anything like the actual characters -- it's the principle.

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Colin 'Zeke' Hayman is a student at Carleton University, which is far enough from Toronto to keep the trip from being cheap. You'd better appreciate it, dagnabbit. Zeke is also webmaster of the popular parody site Five-Minute Voyager, but although he wore a T-shirt with the site logo on it, nobody asked him for an autograph. Where's the justice in that?