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The Trek Nation - Valley Forge Autograph Show Convention Report

Valley Forge Autograph Show Convention Report

By Doug Wilson
Posted at May 31, 2005 - 12:09 PM GMT

This past weekend, B&L Productions organised its Autograph Show in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. TrekToday reader Doug Wilson attended the event, and was kind enough to send us the below con report. If you also visit a Trek convention in your area, we'd love to receive your reports -- we're especially interested in hearing about the things said by the attending Trek stars.


On Saturday, May 28th, I was in attendance of Day 1 of the B & L Productions Autograph show -- which is very much a Star Trek Convention in new, enhanced form -- in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. This particular convention saw the largest gathering of Star Trek: The Next Generation stars ever on the East Coast of the United States. Jonathan Frakes (William T. Riker), Brent Spiner (Data), LeVar Burton (Geordi LaForge), Michael Dorn (Worf), Gates McFadden (Dr. Beverly Crusher), Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi) and Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar/Sela) where all in attendance, as well Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax), Star Trek: Voyager's Robert Beltran (Chakotay) and TNG & VGR's Dwight Shultz (Reginald Barclay).

Now, let me say that I have been to numerous conventions over the past 10 years. In all that time, I have never before seen such a well organized, well priced, and unique show as this. It was the birth of a revolution in Star Trek Conventions that has been a very long time coming, and I can not offer enough praise to it's host, Bob Catalano. For a moderate entrance fee -- $15 to $30 dependant upon which ticket option you chose, early bird, general admission, one or two day, and combinations there of -- you where treated to perhaps the best Star Trek convention in recent memory. Without a doubt, one of the best shows I have been to, and I've been to 8 or 9 - I've lost count! Once inside, you received your "virtual line" tickets. This virtual line is a new idea of B&L and tough to explain other than similar to a Deli Counter, where you take a number and are waited upon in similar order.

From 10 AM onward, with brief breaks only for lunch or to give their talks on-stage, the entire collection of actors - from Jonathan Frakes on down - signed autographs for one and all. The price of the autographs was in addition to the entrance fee, however, it was such a nominal fee and the benefits plenty. For $20 per-autograph, you got just what you wanted. Personalized signatures, a chance to talk with the actors, a chance to have whatever you wished signed, and did I mention the actors themselves provided in-character photos of themselves for you with the $20 fee? That's right. For $20 you could have Jonathan Frakes sign a picture of Riker that he himself provided, and not only that, but get it personalized, shake his hand, and talk to him one-on-one. You could of course bring items from home or purchase items in the available dealers room and still pay the nominal $20 fee, something I did a few times to attend to some cast photos!

Let me be blunt about stating: this was a steal, a bargain, and a gift from the Prophets! At Creation's Grand Slam every year in Pasadena, California, an in-person autograph from Brent Spiner was last year going for $60, and to my knowledge the price of a photo was additional if you didn't have anything to be signed. The show was fantastic, with emphasis placed on you meeting the stars and getting your autographs. The actors do give talks like at any other convention, but the forum is a little different and much more personal and cozy. Instead of an auditorium built to facilitate massive 1,200 people crowds, you had a separated section built to accommodate perhaps 300 or so. You could actually see the celebrity on stage instead of only a figure from a distance.

Though the convention is two-days, Saturday & Sunday, I was not able to attend on Sunday. I can tell you though that Robert Picardo (the Holodoc) was scheduled to appear Sunday, and that Jonathan Frakes was there for Saturday only -- he was returning home to his wife and children in New York to celebrate his and his wife, actress Genie Francis' 20th Anniversary together. "17 years of marriage, 20 years together," as Frakes himself described it. For Frakes, it was a bit like coming home again. Frakes was born and raised in Bethlehem, roughly forty minutes North of Valley Forge. His mother still lives there today, according to Frakes.

Frakes himself will be leaving again shortly thereafter though, "I leave on Monday for Kenya to begin work on the sequel to the TV Movie The Librarian with Noah Wyle (of ER fame)," Frakes informed us, "and you all are the first to know!" he added. Frakes himself gave his talk yesterday, since he was not going to be in attendance today. He spoke on a number of topics, from his favorite episodes - both "The Offspring" which was his first directing gig and "The Best of Both Worlds", of which he said, "TV just doesn't get any better than that." - to his least favorite episode, "Cause and Effect" which he also directed. He himself thought the episode was a practical joke on the part of its writer, Brannon Braga. Though he did remark it was a good directing exercise, learning to re-shoot the same material five different ways.

Frakes also spoke of his disappointments. When one fan asked if he wished they would do another movie after Nemesis, Frakes replied, "Sure, I wish we had done another movie after Nemesis. I wish we had done another movie instead of Nemesis," with which the crowd agreed. "I mean, it was a good film, but it wasn't what the fans want. The majority of Star Trek fans, I think, go to see a Star Trek film the first weekend expecting to see us," he said, speaking of the TNG cast which was almost totally assembled, lacking only Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard) and Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher). "You know, they want to see a lot of Old Baldy," he explained, speaking in fond joking terms of Patrick Stewart, "a lot of Brent, and the rest of us. Instead, they got to see, basically, this new guy -- this good actor, Tom Hardy -- who played Shinzon, a little of Old Baldy, and a little of Brent and not much else."

He went on to speak of his more recent project, Thunderbirds which did not fare much better than Nemesis at the box office. "I loved it," he said, "I think we just made a mistake, you know, with how we did it. We sort of did this prequel where the one character is still a kid and it's explaining how he became who he was, and it sort of went against the fan base, what they wanted, from the old TV Show." He did enjoy working on the film though, and "learned a lot from Bill Paxton about shooting Zero-G stuff from his Apollo 13 days." When asked if he would like to direct an animated feature, Frakes replied in the affirmative, saying, "I think some films should be animated. It'll be interesting to see how Fantastic Four fares."

There where of course a lot of fun and joking around as well. At one point, after teasing Dwight Shultz who was signing autographs in the other room, Shultz himself burst in through the curtain divider, ran up on stage, and planted a big, long, wet kiss on Frakes lips, before running off again. One fan shouted, "I knew it!" joining in on the gag, and Frakes stumbled around afterwards, stating, "I love Barclay." Moments after, Shultz ran back in yelling, "He's ashamed!" before departing once more. Frakes went on to mock himself and actor Robert Beltran, "Hey, he's loosing his hair too!" he shouted, pointing to Beltran and making light of his own (Frakes) balding self, "and he's put on some weight, too! It must be a first officer thing!"

Asked who was the best kisser on Star Trek, he prattled on about his (Riker's) various conquests and kept the humor abound, "I've got a prosthetic forehead in every port," he said. "I never got around quite as much as Kirk, but I got some." He spoke of the Bringloid from season 2's "Up the Long Ladder" - "Remember the one with the skirt? You know, the episode with the bad Irish accents? She wasn't bad." and Yuta from season 3's The Vengeance Factor" - "And my beloved Yuta, who I killed. You know, if you sleep with Riker, you've gotta die." he joked. He finally named the best kisser though, "Marina, my Imzadi, she's the best kisser. And has the best rack."

LeVar Burton, meanwhile, is pleased to be starting the 21st season of Reading Rainbow in the coming weeks. "With luck, we'll be around for a whole new generation." he said of his award-winning show promoting children's literacy. Spiner, meanwhile, is obviously eager to begin work on his new CBS drama Threshold. "We start shooting in July, and we'll be on in the fall, Friday's at 9 on CBS," he relayed.

One thing I would like to pay special attention to is Robert Beltran. In more recent years, especially the final years of Voyager, Beltran was notorious both on-line and in the convention circuit for being outspoken about his displeasure with how things had gone, and consistently termed 'unpleasant' by fans. I would like to take the time to specifically mention that my personal experiences and observations throughout the day of Beltran where of him as a warm, kind, pleasant, friendly invidual. He appeared happy to be there, enjoyed speaking with his fans, even showed remarkable patience as my digital camera failed to operate properly - hence why I don't have photos.

I myself headed home shortly after Jonathan's talk at 3 PM. These conventions - especially this new kind from B&L - are fantastic and fun, and I can't wait to see if they come back next year. They are not for the timid though, as even with a fair more effective and efficient system, lines, walking and a large wallet, the contents of which you are willing to part with, are still a must. In retrospect over my many years and many conventions though, this has emerged quickly as one of the top 3 I've ever attended. It was casual, relaxed, and considerably more effecient.

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Doug Wilson is a long-time TrekToday & Trek Nation contributor.