Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The 'Little Shop' that could

I first saw Little Shop of Horrors during its original film run. A couple times actually, sneaking designer cupcakes into a movie house near the University of South Florida.

And I'll admit, I got very attached to the Hollywood version, which basically totally changed the ending of the off-Broadway show -- both in content and tone. I understand why the test audiences didn't want Seymour and Audrey to die just after they had finally happiness with each other.

But I also appreciate the original director's cut, which was officially culled together in 2012 from unearthed bits and pieces of film from the vault. It's closer to the story concocted for the theater by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, which in turn, is what Roger Corman strived for in the original 1960 black comedy. Having Audrey II burst through the screen at the end of the modern-day version plays like a stroke of genius. That should be experienced on a huge screen to be properly enjoyed.

So to come full circle and see the movie the way director Frank Oz planned it to be seemed perfect. Sitting in the second row for a Q&A with Oz afterward would be like having a designer cupcake with me, and less fattening. So naturally, I had to make my way to the Schimmel Center at Pace University on Oct. 30 for the opportunity of a Little Shop fan's lifetime.

First we watched the film. So much fun to applaud at the titles and at the end of each main song. (I mouthed  the lyrics to every single one, obviously). The audience, most of whom probably weren't alive when the film was originally released, enjoyed every laugh -- particularly when Bill Murray arrived on the scene as the patient who enjoys dental procedures a wee bit too much. Everything he did and said got huge belly laughs. Also of note: They didn't seem to recognize Christopher Guest when he made a cameo as the first customer to see Audrey II.

Oz came out soon after the lights came up -- and it's startling to think about how much he's affected pop culture above and beyond this film. From Sesame Street to Yoda, he's long been apart of several generations' childhoods. But even the greatest don't always get their way, like when The Geffen Company called for a different ending to the movie. "No one wanted this ending because they loved Seymour and Audrey," Oz admitted. "It was a great lesson to me."

We learned the ins and outs of the making of Little Shop of Horrors, how all the tracks were recorded about a year before filming even started at Pinewood (aka the 007 stage). The songs were played back and Oz instructed his performers to lip sync perfectly ... or else. That proved particularly complicated in big numbers such as "Mean Green Mother from Outer Space," "Feed Me" and "Skid Row." The shot in which the camera rises from "Somewhere That's Green" to "Some Fun Now" also proved to be very trying. Put succinctly, Oz said, "The whole thing was a muther."

This "muther" was only Oz's second solo directing gig. He co-helmed The Dark Crystal with Jim Henson, basically on-the-job training, according to Oz, then handled The Muppets Take Manhattan, which he endearingly kept referring to as Muppet Guys Talking -- the name of the 2017 documentary featuring all five of the original Muppets performers. He originally said no to Little Shop because Oz didn't think he'd be able to handle 12 songs, a variety of guest stars and the burgeoning greenery.

Two main things changed his mind. The teenage chorus -- Tichina Arnold, Tisha Campbell and Michele Weeks -- and the realization that the whole thing was supposed to be silly, like the B-movie the original hailed from. "The girls opened it up for me, I knew I could bop them around," Oz said. "David Geffen said, 'Frank, it's supposed to be stupid.' That opened me up completely. ... Everything by Howard is tongue-in-cheek."

Oz cast Rick Moranis as Seymour at Geffen's recommendation, but getting Ellen Greene (who starred in the off-Broadway show) proved to be a little more difficult. "Now he's one of my closest friends," the director said of Moranis. "David wanted stars. I wanted Ellen because I didn't think anyone could be better. So we screen-tested her and David agreed. David suggested Steve [Martin]. We both wanted Billy."

Oz has worked a lot with Martin since on films such as Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Housesitter and Bowfinger. "I'm privileged that Steve trusts me," Oz said. "He and I are the same way. We are very, very serious about our comedy."

The director pointed out that none of the film was done in CGI. Everything was in real time, save an optical of a subway in the distance. The real problem area proved to be the plant ... once again. Because it was foam rubber, its mouth wasn't able to move as fast as Audrey II speaks or sings. So basically everything filmed for that was filmed slower and played back faster -- shot in 16 frames and played back at 24.

As the plant got larger, more bodies were involved with working it, the largest version had 40 for 60 people handling the moves. "I said, 'Guys, I don't want flapping. I want to be able to see every syllable," Oz said.

With designer Lyle Conway's assistance and sweet understanding, Little Shop grew for Oz. And it was good ... no, great ... no, spectacular, in fact. No matter what ending you watch.

Friday, November 9, 2018

The summer of Liz Phair

I never expected to be able to enjoy a live Liz Phair show three times over the course of a single season.

Technically, it was two in the summer and one in the fall, but since the final one went on sale in the summer, I'm shoehorning it in to my "summer of Liz Phair." It still blows my mind that I went to three shows in such a short time span.

It's probably because I've been a fan since Exile in Guyville, and I'd only been able at two concerts before the windfall. And the best part -- all three were different shows at different venues. It wasn't like an artist giving three straight performances at one place or following a tour to different locations. They were all in Brooklyn, the city I was born in. The cherry on top was finally getting to meet Liz and tell her, after all these years, how much her music has and continues to mean to me.

When Phair first started performing, she admitted she had to deal with stage fright. This year's performances showed how far she's come from then. She engages audiences and has started to feed off them. To hear Liz say she was looking forward to getting out on stage at the third show was rather mind-blowing.

The first one was wayyyy back on June 7 at the National Sawdust. The capacity of the striking venue is a mere 350 and it made for a very intimate night on the "Girly Sound to Guyville" Tour stop in support of the stupendous anniversary box set of the same name. I'll stop for a second to praise every single element of that release, because officially getting the amazing tracks and the eye-opening booklet examining all the elements of it was the first huge joy of the "summer of Liz Phair."

I found Exile in Guyville back in 1993 after it was voted Album of the Year in the Village Voice's Pazz and Jop Poll. I listened to it a lot as I wandered the streets of New York City that year. And the next year. I turned as many friends onto it as I could. I bought all the bootlegs I could lay my hands on. Eventually I found Support System -- once a mailing list and still a vibrant Facebook group -- and was turned on to a lot of the unreleased tracks. But having copies of copies' copies can't compare with the remastered versions on the box set.

And the first show felt like a celebration of all of that. Even better, I experienced it with the force of nature behind Support System (then and now) -- Jason Long, who flew in for the show. We queued up for the general admission event together, talking about the good ol' email list days as well as the box set and pondered what was in store for us that night.

Setlist: Fuck or Die, 6'1", Explain It to Me, Batmobile, Easy, Go West, Soap Star Joe, Ant in Alaska, Girls! Girls! Girls!, Help Me Mary, Stratford-on-Guy, Mesmerizing, Polyester Bride, Whip-Smart, Never Said, Fuck and Run, Divorce Song. 

Soccer Mommy (aka Sophie Allison) warmed us up and we were reminded of how widespread Liz's impact has been on music. And from the very first notes of the Johnny Cash-tinged "Fuck or Die" -- one of those songs we once clung to as a bootleg release -- the show was just a sweet sashay through history that, in a strange and wonderful way, we've come to share with Phair.

The first show, with just Liz and guitarist Connor Sullivan, felt like a big sing-along. The longtime fans in attendance knew all the songs, even some of the previously unreleased ones. As usual, I chose lip syncing over belting out the songs off key. No one needed to hear me do that, even in a room full of people doing the same.

We were definitely celebrating "Batmobile," a track that made the cut for the EP Juvenilia, but hadn't previously been played live and "Ant from Alaska," which surfaced on the previous anniversary edition of Guyville. So many songs are close to my heart, basically the entire setlist on this occasion.

Liz recalled sitting her bedroom recording the original Girly Sound songs and how she never expected to be celebrating Guyville and the box set release 25 years after that. "There are all these people in my bedroom," she laughed after loosening up around "Soap Star Joe."

From our vantage spot about halfway back, we could see Liz taking on intricate guitar chores on songs. I noticed it the most during "Easy" and "Girls! Girls! Girls!" but with the duo wailing away on stage, it was obviously ongoing. Most were the Guyville versions, but it was wondrous to hear a take on "Whip-Smart" closer to the original demo.

The second concert was a real surprise, a one-off show opening for Blondie at House of Vans on July 20. Another general-admission event, I got there early and parked myself on line with a lot of Blondie fans. The extra bonus was hearing soundcheck -- "Extraordinary," "Never Said," "Supernova," "Divorce Song" and what sounded like "Mesmerizing" noodling -- fairly clearly through a brick wall.

Setlist: 6'1", Fuck and Run, Divorce Song, Polyester Bride, Stratford-on-Guy, Never Said, Supernova, Johnny Feelgood, Extraordinary, Why Can't I?

It wasn't quite the same crowd of well-behaved diehard fans as the first event. They were more, ahem, a little like savages. My primary example is the millennial who wasn't there when the venue opened (and thusly hadn't parked in front of the stage for 75 minutes or so like the rest of us),  but muscled her way through the throng after Sasami opened the show. After I wouldn't give way so she could get a couple of inches closer, she poured her drink down my 1995 Phair shirt. I still didn't budge. Then she tried to shove her way past me by snarling, "You're not a lesbian, I am." I am all for LGBT, but that's not a golden ticket for rudeness.

Then again, a free show is a free show. It was spectacular to get a free t-shirt and a tote bag as well. Liz has worn her Vans shirt at gigs since and mine is already worn out as well.

Liz told us after years of wearing heels on stage and messing up her knees, she had wised up and started decked out in some comfortable Vans. She also donned a sweet Blondie shirt and a sequined shirt. She definitely worked the latter out on "Johnny Feelgood" and "Supernova."

She seemed to be having a blast on stage. Maybe it was the pressure-free existence in which she belted out 10 tunes with a full band and then hung backstage with Deborah Harry. While the audience didn't know the material quite as well this time, the energy and exuberance was definitely there for the hit-laden set.

The capper was the Amps on the Lawn tour stop at Brooklyn Steel (nope, no lawn there) on Oct. 6. That was right at the end of New York Comic Con, and the chance to see Liz again had me sold already, but then the added bonus -- a meet-and-greet!

We left the con early, that turned out to be a good thing since the directions I got online deposited us on the opposite side of Brooklyn. An Uber later, Sestra and I were still the first two people in line. So we were standing front and center for soundcheck. A fog machine seemed to be pumping away on high and Liz told us to "Come on in!" It seemed like a horror movie with a really good soundtrack.

The band started off with a warmup instrumental before kicking into "Supernova," "Polyester Bride" and "Mesmerizing." I teared up during "Polyester Bride," Liz was singing and I was mouthing the words at the same time. Liz asked whether it was all right if they worked on "Uncle Alvarez," -- as though we would complain about that -- because she felt like her vocals were wandering on lyrics like "imaginary accomplishments." Afterward, she asked, "Doesn't that [song] feel really relevant right now? It's kind of scary." Yeah, it really does.

I spent a couple months trying to figure out what to say to someone whose work has influenced me so greatly. But yet when I got to the front of the meet-and-greet line, what sprang to mind was how the photographer was "Tatum O'Neal-ing." Regular blog readers might recall that the Oscar-winning actress prefers to be photographed at an angle from up higher. And when I referred to Tatum as a verb, Liz asked about Tatum O'Neal-ing.

My subsequent dialogue went something like this: "Tatum O'Neal-ing is ... oh, hi, I'm Paige. Big fan forever." (Or some such bunk.) I started to explain Tatum-ing again. "Is it OK if I get a hug?  (Then after the hug,) so I thought [the photographer] was Tatum O-Nealing because he is so tall!" That really wasn't what I worked so hard trying to come up with for three months. But when it was her turn, Sestra saved the day -- as she often does. She told Liz I introduced her music to her and Liz asked "Do you want to join us?" for their photo as well. I think I made some kind of "uhhh, yeah" retort and a Roadrunner noise circling back over to them. That's when I started shaking. Oh well, at least my adrenaline rush held off until then.

Setlist: Supernova, Johnny Feelgood, Cinco de Mayo, Uncle Alvarez, Everything to Me, Never Said, 6'1", Help Me Mary, Blood Keeper (with Sadie Dupuis), The Game, Mesmerizing, Polyester Bride, Stratford-on-Guy, Extraordinary, Why Can't I? Encore: Fuck and Run, Divorce Song.

Back at the National Sawdust show, Liz had mentioned the unique energy of New York. "It might be supernatural," she said at Brooklyn Steel, later adding that if property values were lower in New York she would surely move here. "I couldn't wait to fuckin' get on stage tonight."

The audience at the last show seemed like a combination of the two prior ones, and they really liked the whitechocolatespaceegg material. We didn't get quite the vantage point we had for soundcheck, just a row of people or so behind, but we were close enough to make eye contact with guitarists Connor Sullivan and Cody Perrin. To the right of my sister, there were a bunch of jostling millennials who squeezed in after the end of opener Speedy Ortiz's set. I'm not sure how many knew what a boon it was to get the unreleased WCSE-era song "Blood Keeper," performed with Speedy Ortiz's lead singer Sadie Dupuis.

The full band sounded great. We had new insight into "Uncle Alvarez" after the soundcheck and were even listening for "wandering vocals" and knowing glances. Loved the new song, "The Game," although it was the one song I didn't know all the words to. Otherwise, it was just me rocking out and lip syncing to every song. It was all the more fun for having my sister there, and she held up well considering it was a long day that capped an exhaustively enjoyable Comic Con week.

I love how this trifecta ultimately panned out. The most emotional musical experience came first and the long-awaited opportunity to meet her and rock out with my sister was most recent. I couldn't have scheduled it better if I had something to do with any of it.

I'll be waiting patiently for my next opportunity to see her, but I don't expect anything like "the summer of Liz Phair" to wash over me again.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

'Partying like it's 1995'

Give me a 'B' ... give me an 'e' ... what's it spell? Beck? Belly? Both!

I had the opportunity to experience both these '90s icons on stage and in their elements in the past several months. Both are artists I wasn't completely obsessed with during that decade, but have become increasingly so about in the ensuing years.

I'd been particularly bonkers over Beck. Ever since the Midnite Vultures album, he's soared higher and higher in my estimation. I love how he changes styles with each album. What could he do after racking up Grammys with the critically lauded, dreamy Morning Phase? To the extremely danceable Colors, of course!

So how many concerts have attended in your lifetime in which the overriding opinion wound up being "It wasn't as good as the record?" It can't be said about Beck. Despite the difficulty inherent in recreating the multi-layered sounds of Colors for the stage, he sounded outta sight in his first headlining gig at Madison Square Garden on July 19. "This is no small miracle to be here," he told us. It kind of felt that way to me, my Beck buddy Liam and the vibrant crowd as well.

Setlist: Devils Haircut, The New Pollution, Mixed Bizness, Up All Night, Wow, Qué Onda Güero, Think I'm in Love (I Feel Love interlude), I'm So Free, Dear Life (with Britt Daniel),  I Turn My Camera On (with Daniel), Girl Dreams (with Jenny Lewis), Lost Cause, Blue Moon, Video Girl, Colors, Loser, E-Pro. Encore: Where It's At Play, Can I Kick It/Good Times/See No Evil/I'm Waiting for the Man/Taking It to the Streets/Once in A Lifetime/In the Air Tonight, One Foot in the Grave, Where It's At (reprise).

As evidenced by the setlist, there was an amazing mix of tracks from virtually every corner of his discography. Spoon frontman Britt Daniel joined in for one of Beck's -- "Dear Life" and one of his own -- "I Turn My Camera On." Then Beck dedicated "Girl Dreams" to Bill Murray after finding out the actor liked the song. "I have a song called 'Girl' and a song called 'Dreams' and a song called 'Girl Dreams,'" he laughed. We were particularly thrilled to get the latter, since the One Foot in the Grave track hadn't been played live since 2003.

There were lots of fun Beck tidbits sprinkled throughout the night of music, including family history about his ancestors jumping overboard and then working on the docks in New Jersey. He thanked us for indulging his desire to change genres. But seriously, Beck, we're not coddling you in the slightest. When you can pull off a dance tune as well as one of the funky soul variety, it's not difficult to remain Team Beck. He told us that Colors came about as a result of all the energy he's gotten from fans over the years. On this particular date, those helping cultivate a strong dose of positive energy included his mother and his son.

Beck told a story of a previous appearance at the Garden, in 1997 for the Grammys. Odelay was a nominee for Album of the Year and he had just performed "Where It's At" when he was "taken through twists and turns" around the labyrinthine passageways and left in a holding area ... with Bruce Springsteen. "It was like a dream where you turn around and see Bruce," he recalled. "I asked him, 'What are you doing here?' He asked me, ''What are you doing here?"

That made for the perfect segueway into the song he performed that night at the Grammys, complete with a lovely "Strawberry Fields Forever" intro. Then the members of his band went around the horn spotlighting iconic artists from the city, including A Tribe Called Quest ("Can I Kick It?"), Chic ("Good Times"), Television ("See No Evil"), Velvet Underground ("I'm Waiting for the Man") and Talking Heads ("Once in a Lifetime"). Beck also brought back long beloved members of his band and I flashed back to Liam and my 2006 Jersey City show when they fell all over each other to cap "E-Pro" ... just as they had done back then.

At least I'd seen Beck before. I thought I had eternally missed the Belly boat when I was thrown a life preserver in the form of the Sept. 28 show at the Union Transfer in Philadelphia. The tour came on the heels of the band's very strong third album, Dove, very reminiscent of the catchy and heartfelt songs Tanya Donelly and company became known for in the '90s.

Set 1 setlist: Seal My Fate, Army of Clay, Dusted, Mine, Red, The Bees, Quicksand, Stars Align, Now They'll Sleep, Silverfish. Set 2: Shiny One, Gepetto, Faceless, Feed the Tree, Artifact, Slow Dog, Girl, Super-Connected, Full Moon Empty Heart, Human Child. Encore: Low Red Moon, Starryeyed.

"Did you miss us?" bassist Gail Greenwood asked when Belly took the stage and I didn't realize how much I did until just then. It didn't matter that they flubbed the start of "Army of Clay," in fact, it proved to be all the more endearing for the humanizing moment. Greenwood gave me the blog headline when she proclaimed we'd be partying like 1995. After proclaiming "time is elastic," that concept was tweaked to 1993 and used again for the band's seminal song, "Feed the Tree."

Donelly's vocals seemed a little buried from my perch on the second floor of Union Transfer, but the telltale Belly riffs were unmistakable, even in the new songs. The full force of Tanya's ability broke through the mix on "Red" and some of the newer songs. One concertgoer called for "Judy Staring at the Sun," the Catherine Wheel song featuring Donelly. Tanya laughed and said "it would sound very sad and and small with long pauses in between [the lyrics] 'She's suffering.'"

The chemistry between Donelly, Greenwood, lead guitarist Tom Gorman and drummer Chris Gorman was palpable. So much so that when someone shouted "Get a room" after Tanya kissed Tom, she responded, "If that was gonna happen, it would have happened a long time ago."

That week, the band was reeling on the heels of the Senate Judiciary Committee's dismissal of sexual assault testimony of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, referring to the miscarriage of justice several times during the night. Donely offered up a two-handed middle-finger salute and thanked the crowd for "turning a shit week into a fucking beautiful week."

Admittedly, at the time, I didn't know their songs as well as I wished I did, so I could lip sync to every single song. But that will surely change by the next time I get to see them, for Belly is right up my proverbial alley. The passion they have for playing with each other and to the audience backs up some amazing talent, for sure.

So if I could jump in a time machine and head back to 1995 or 1993, I'd surely be paying more attention to both Beck and Belly. I'd be Beck to the future with a Belly full of memories.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Doctors, superheroes and Boys, oh my!

Another year, another New York Comic Con. Which loosely translated means a lot of rushing around, muscling way through crowds, sharing some precious moments with favorite actors ... and coming down with con crud. But in the final determination, it all seems worth it.

Our Comic Con started early this year with a lottery win to see a screening of DC Entertainment's new series Titans. Even that came with added bonuses, namely Brendan Fraser coming on stage to tell us about Doom Patrol -- a show featuring characters dealing with physical disabilities instead of models -- and Kaley Cuoco's blink-and-you-miss-her Harley Quinn introduction.

The new-and-flashy Titans came off as ultra-violent and not particularly appreciative of history. Sestra deemed it character assassination -- and Dick Grayson's "f--- Batman" comment seemed to back that up. The powers-that-be apparently wanted that line of dialogue to be polarizing ... and it was. Half the audience greeted that sentiment with uproarious laughter and cheers as the rest of us shifted uncomfortably in our seats.

I thought the standout among the superheroes in the Titans family was Teagan Croft as Rachel, there seem to be a lot of places to take that character in the future ... and that will include a Season 2 as the show runners confirmed that it had been green-lit.

The next day it was on to the Javits Center. Day 1 is usually about getting as far through the vendor room as we can, but we wanted to see early arrival Dean Cain. So we jumped on to his line and waited ... and waited ... as the scheduled autograph time came and went. After an hour of that, we took off.

But we tried again later in the afternoon and guilted our way onto the line when it was about to wrap up for the day. Cain is very gregarious and engaging. In checking out our "Sibling Cinema" shirts and spotting the #10wordmoviereviews hashtag, he exclaimed, "I can read 10 words!" We also talked about Season 11 of The X-Files, since our other hashtag is #XFilesrewatch. He fondly recalled filming Lois and Clark when both shows were in their respective heydays. Although his handler gave us the move-along, Dean continued the conversation.

Sestra asked him which movie we should do a 10-word review of, and he mentioned Gosnell, his then-upcoming film on the story of Philadelphia abortionist Dr. Kermit Gosnell. (We definitely plan to get to that one when our schedule allows.) Spotting our Christopher Reeve Foundation Superman dog tags, he said he had gotten that too and met Reeve's wonderful children during his travels. Dean put us -- well, our Sibling Cinema business card anyway -- in his back pocket. And we got big hugs before and after our selfie snap.

After a hearty day of shopping, we went to the lively Neil DeGrasse Tyson StarTalk panel -- another lottery win for us. The "Hollywood astrophysicist" often took a backseat to his guests -- theoretical physicist Brian Greene and comic Chuck Nice -- while mulling over the topics of Doctor Who's time travel, the quantum physics of Ant-Man and Stranger Things' parallel universes.

It's difficult to convey how much fun the three discussions with a recap, but in simplest of terms -- the group voted thumbs-up on the idea of Doctor Who wormholes, mostly down on the seismic Ant-Man changes and split on parallel universes.

Put succinctly by the man himself, "The universe is under no obligation to make sense to you." After excellent advice to wanna-be writers/creators to make sure what they present makes sense within the universe it exists in, DeGrasse Tyson shared an emotional letter to NASA he penned for the anniversary of that organization and his own 60th birthday.

Day 2 was full of fun interactions with more celebrities, including Alex Kingston -- close to Sestra's heart as River Song in Doctor Who, but just as close to mine for the vibrant production of Macbeth I attended at the Park Avenue Armory four years ago. During our quick photo op, I told her how amazing I thought she was in it. She halted and responded "That really means a lot to me." As that moment did to me. Meeting David Tennant -- Sestra's Doctor and my No. 2 -- consisted a lot of smiling and no small amount of perspiration (for me, at least).

We also did the Lois and Clark photo op with Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher -- although the volunteers attempting to keep us in line with shouts of "Lewis and Clark!! Lewis and Clark!!" were simultaneously off-putting and amusing. When we got to them, I heard someone ask Hatcher how old she was. Teri declined with a polite joke and smiled when I backed her up with a "Yeah, Teri!" Ever-attentive Dean noted we had changed to our Wonder Twins shirts and exclaimed, "10-word movie reviews"! That's the kind of publicity we like.

As Sestra went off to our third lottery win -- for Karl Urban's The Boys -- I started a line to meet the authors of an amazing Apollo graphic novel. Matt Fitch and Chris Baker told me they had just flown over from England and I was their first fan. They seemed as excited to meet me as I was to greet them. Matt's space interest had been passed down from his dad, who was very much into the Challenger story, while Chris became interested in it more recently. Then Mike Collins was brought into the fold. I told them when I first heard about their book, I thought the original Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins (also an artist) might have contributed. Of course, Mike Collins -- who has worked on the Dr. Who series and drew the Sherlock: Mind Palace coloring book -- is no slouch in that department. In fact, Mike was unable to attend the con due to ongoing Dr. Who obligations.

When I reunited with Sestra, I heard about how she "borderline fan-girled" at The Boys signing, which included Simon Pegg as well. She told me she "broke the assembly line" by engaging in conversation with Urban, that included some side chat from Jack Quaid (described as "such a little flirt.") Sestra described it as being akin to the conveyor belt on the uproarious I Love Lucy candy episode in which everything got backed up and off track. I think she enjoyed being the cause of the backup in this case.

A few weeks earlier, we went back and forth before committing to the Doctor Who panel at the Hammerstein Ballroom, and so glad we ultimately decided in its favor because it was a wild and wacky one with Kingston, Tennant and Matt Smith. I think Kingston convinced them to go an unconventional route, so it featured the actors interviewing members of the audience -- including those dressed like their Doctor Who characters and children. It was a great way of getting around a traditional Q&A session.

When the audience did get to pose some questions, David got adorably unnerved when he was asked about what transpired on the set of "The Doctor's Daughter," the Doctor Who episode that featured his future real-life wife, Georgia Moffett. T-he details remained private on that, but Tennant felt a lot more comfortable bemoaning the budget during his years on the show. "We only went to Rome on green screen because HBO was leasing sets," he quipped. Meanwhile, Matt Smith and his compatriots got to travel to New York and go to Spain and other exotic locations to shoot the show.

One story I hadn't previously heard was how Tennant and Smith both stayed in the same flat -- at different times, of course -- while they were starring in the series. Smith teased that he thought about how Tennant went about memorizing the "incredibly wordy dialogue" within the same confines.

All three of them sound genuinely thrilled to be part of the show's legacy and threw their support completely behind the incoming 13th doctor Jodie Whittaker. We were really hoping she'd make a surprise appearance, but a late-night show had her booked that night, so it wasn't to be. To tell the truth, I didn't really remember we wanted that until we were heading home. 

Our last day at NYCC was an abbreviated one, but was highlighted by a photo op with Smith. We told him how much we enjoyed the previous night's entertainment. He asked "Was that fun?" while giving us fist bumps. Before and after that, we went to world premiere pilot screenings of a couple shows (Legacies -- the latest spinoff of The Vampire Diaries and The Originals -- and Roswell, New Mexico), both helmed by Julie Plec. I think we both preferred the latter, which kept the spirit of the original series and stars the affable Nathan Parsons. Sitting behind the casts each time, we got a darkened glimpse at their reactions to the inaugural showings. And aside from one power-hungry line coordinator for Roswell, it marked a fine end to this year's incarnation of the con for both of us.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

I've got stars in my eyes

Living so close to New York City gives me a chance to see a wide array of actors and musicians. Sometimes they take on both roles and sometimes they just provide a unique experience that I wouldn't be able to have otherwise.

Over the past month, I was able to take in a couple of such shows -- Letters Live with an array of glittering names at Town Hall and Kathleen Turner's cabaret Finding My Voice at Cafe Carlyle.

The former, which started as a stage show in London that featured the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, Ian McKellen, Mark Hamill and Sir Ben Kingsley made its New York debut with an illustrious cast that included Cumberbatch, Edie Falco, Hugh Dancy and Tony nominee Tom Hollander (who rushed over from his play at the Roundabout to perform his letter). Rose McGowan got a standing ovation after reading her own #metoo missive that launched a revolution (see the text below). Cynthia Erivo, Uzo Aduba, Ben Shenkman, Amber Tamblyn, David Harbour, Phillipa Soo, DeWanda Wise, Clarke Peters and Louise Brealey also took the podium. But no matter who the talent was, the true star was the letters they read. They ranged from hilarious to insightful, from fawning to brutal honesty.

Dancy's first piece was a letter from a commanding officer in the Civil War to his wife. He expected to (and did) die in battle and tried to explain how honor was the most important attribute he possessed, more important to him than even love for his family. Harbour of Stranger Things delivered an uproarious missive sent off to Harvard after by an applicant who rejected the institution's rejection.

Cumberbatch brought down the house with a piece that just kept on giving. The tale told was of a Nova Scotia man seeking to have his lifetime ban removed in the "Dear Empress Hotel" letter. But first, the banned individual recounted the raucous chain of events that led to his injunction. Let's just say it involved a suitcase full of pepperoni, open windows and some aggressive seagulls.

A woman from Nova Scotia was sitting by me, she recalled how that incident had become something of an urban legend, but the man indeed was welcomed back by the hotel after promising that his next stay would be a lot less eventful.

Breale -- who starred with Cumberbatch in Sherlock -- provided a couple of high points in the show, first with her solo letter about the wife of a future nobleman requesting as many services and amenities as she could think of, each starting with "and also..." I can't imagine anyone imparting "and also" with as much meaning and in as many different ways as Brealey did.

Falco worked wonders in her second appearance, a letter penned by Dorothy Parker in the hospital and imparted with all the witticism and pointed observations as one might expect from the legendary writer. Soo's second performance on the night was probably far less daunting, she read a flattering fan letter to the cast of Hamilton -- she originated the role of Eliza on Broadway -- before getting to read the ultimate punch line, it was written by Meryl Streep.

It's difficult to pick a Letters highlight, but it probably was Cumberbatch and Brealey coming on stage together to read both halves of a romantic correspondence between an old maid and the man who would finally relieve the burden of her spinsterhood when they finally were reunited.

How could Kathleen Turner top such a star-laden night? Basically by being herself and telling her stories between and sometimes during well-chosen musical selections. It was almost an addendum to the other show, they were letters from Kathleen to us. And they were up close and personal. Mostly because Jenna and I were sitting at her knee, but because of the content as well.

In fact, Kathleen winked at me during one of her first numbers -- Jenna's my witness, since it would be kind of rude to snap pictures with my cell phone with Turner in such close proximity. I do believe she strived to make eye contact with each and every of the 50, 75 people (sorry, I was looking at her, not at them) in the room.

My other particularly special moment of eye contact was during her Romancing the Stone story. (I have a lot of favorite Turner movies -- I like to proclaim over and over that I saw even the littlest indie upon original release -- but that one is at the very top of the list.) Anyway, she asked whether I ... we ... remembered the mud slide scene. "Yes, yes," I probably said too exuberantly. "Now think about doing it five times," she responded to me. Actually, that still sounds like fun to me.

For every funny story about the business -- like Kathleen telling Francis Ford Coppola, sure, he could direct the next Peggy Sue Got Married scene from his trailer if she could act it from hers or her friends' derisive responses to hearing her film debut would be in the questionably titled Body Heat -- there were a lot of poignant moments. She told of singing "On the Street Where You Live" to her daughter when they lived on 12th Street, then blew Rachel the most heartfelt kiss I've seen after performing it for us.

She explained the debilitating horrors of rheumatoid arthritis. Turner wasn't diagnosed with it for a long time, and after she was, she was told she might have to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. She proved the doctors wrong, but seated so close, we could see her eyes filling with tears as she thought about those days while interspersing "Send in the Clowns" with the gory details. I could practically see her visualizing life on the road for months on end during "Sweet Virginia Ham."

Many of these tales were revealed in her fabulous read of autobiography, Send Yourself Roses, but they obviously take on a special luster when you hear Turner recounting them a couple of feet away from you. Like how a brash 20-year-old declared she would star as Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and then making that come to fruition on Broadway by charming the dickens out of playwright Edward Albee.

Kathleen seemed to cruise with great ease through the night, with the help of musical director Mark Janas on piano, Sean Harkness on guitar -- within striking distance of Jenna -- and Ritt Henn on bass. She and Janas concentrated on finding pieces in her range and that she really loves to perform. When she first started in the business, she was totally pointedly she couldn't sing. Just the first time Turner defeated the odds and certainly not the last.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

It takes two to make it outta sight

Thank you, sir, may I have another? Even though I had already met Nicholas Lea and Richard Dreyfuss somewhat recently, how could I resist when they came to my home turf for Chiller?

At X-Fest, Nick's line never seemed to get smaller, so I certainly enjoyed more time and space with him this time around. Sestra and I ran into a longtime friend of mine, Jane, so we all took pictures for and with each other at his table. I had to apologize to Nick for being so sweaty, because my temperature literally went up in his presence. But I didn't have to worry, he was sweltering as well. "I'm sorry I am, I ran down from my room," he chuckled.

We talked a bit about X-Fest and he said, "Everyone was so nice to me." I replied, "That's because you were so nice to everyone!" I asked whether he kept any memorabilia from his time on the show, and he said he had everything, from his prosthetic arm to the crew gifts they received at the end of each season.

Nick was hoping he would get called to be a part of Season 11 -- as was I -- but he never did hear from Chris Carter and company. He knew the internet had been resplendent with rumors about Krycek being alien, I always thought it would have worked better if he was a super soldier that Skinner couldn't have killed with a mere bullet.

This was my fourth time getting to meet him, because I have to count the original X-Files Expo way back in 1998. And the previous couple of times, I asked for a picture of him with "Jesus hair" from the Season 6 episode "S.R. 819." Of course, I wouldn't have asked more than once had he not said he had one when I saw him at Dragon Con. But then, lo and behold, I looked through my own binder of X-Files memorabilia and found one that I brought to have signed on this occasion. 

I retold him my story again of "S.R. 819" being the only original series run episode I clearly remember seeing live, because my friend and I were calling each other during the commercial breaks, yelling "It's Krycek! It's Krycek!" in the episode that found Skinner literally on the ropes. Nick called it the one in which he gets to torture Mitch.

I made sure to tell him that I make a point to see him in anything he's in that I can get a hold of. And I do mean anything. The Impossible Elephant, Vertical Limit, The Raffle, The Philadelphia Experiment, Category 7: The End of the World and Men in Trees. He couldn't believe Sestra and I had seen the latter, since it was never officially released. We didn't want to say I got a copy of the show on iOffer.

We talked for a bit about how cool it was for him to be Eliot Ness on Supernatural and he mentioned he had recently done a couple episodes of The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco, a particularly intriguing prospect for me since I'm a fan of the original BBC Bletchley Circle series. He got to work with girlfriend Suleka Mathew, who also played his girlfriend in Men in Trees.

I didn't quite to spend as much quality time with Dreyfuss as I did at Spooky Empire, but what I got was choice (pronounced old-school cherce). It was about an hour wait before I got up to him, and he was signing an extreeeeme closeup from Jaws for the person in front of me. I said something about him covering up his face with the autograph. He chuckled, then said, "I have more than enough face."

Even though I was wearing my Amity Island hockey jersey, he seemed much more impressed by the vintage Jaws necklace I was wearing. (The rest of Chiller was much more interested in the jersey, I had many people ask me where I got it --, people!) Then I added, "But this is my favorite movie of all time," when I gave him my Close Encounters Special Edition lobby card to sign. 

When I sat down for my picture, he took my hand. It was literally very cool. It actually surprised me, because he had met and greeted so many people. I wondered aloud whether he had adopted a hands-off policy, but he quickly quipped, "I'm touching everyone I can."

One of the people both Sestras were excited to meet was Karen Allen. We really didn't expect her to be so sweet and lovely as Claire in Scrooged. I think I was expecting a little Marion spice from Raiders of the Lost Ark. Sestra perfectly thanked her for entertaining us for so many years. I mentioned the glittering array of male co-stars she's had -- Bill Murray and Harrison Ford ... she quickly added Jeff Bridges ... and Sestra added Peter Riegert, who just happened to be sitting at an adjacent table.

We had to agree with that supposition as we'd both met Riegert and he was so self-effacing and charming. "Peter, they think you're nicer than Harrison," Allen yelled over to him before turning her attention back to us. "It's a nice career," she said. 

We also were happy to meet Ernie Hudson of Ghostbusters. I wanted to convey that we also love Ghostbusters II, but I think I gave him the impression that we like that even more than the original. Certainly not the case, but we can spew some lines from that one with ease too. Well, usually we do anyway, because both of us came up with almost nothing on the spot except Murray's Statue of Liberty spiel -- "How many of you out there are a national monument? Raise your hand, please. Oh hello, miss." Hudson did deem the sequel more family-friendly.

I think we fared a little better with my premise that Winston Zeddemore always seemed to be offering up the audience's point of view, questioning things the way we would want to. "He's the everyman," he agreed. "That's how I always saw it and that's how I played it." 

Of course, the minute we left him behind, the quotes started to drop from our lips: "You're scaring the straights. ... I have all-new cheap moves. ... Everything you are doing is bad. ... There's always room for Jell-O. ... It's always the quiet ones. ... Carpathian kitten loss." We should have gone back to him with our list.

But Sestra and Hudson had a spirited discussion about Leviathan, and how his character made it to the surface at the end, only to die with a rescue chopper mere feet away from him. "Peter Weller wanted to be the sole survivor," Ernie bemoaned.

Going to and fro all the different rooms, we were able to do some celebrity spotting in the hallways. On Day 1, I saw Eddie Deezen at the elevator and Corbin Bernsen in the hallway. On Day 2, I saw Riegert by the elevator, even patted him on the back. When did I get so ballsy? Later I saw Edd Byrnes in the narrow corridor that led to the Grease reunion.

In meeting Ed Begley Jr., we were able to talk about a recent loss that hit us all hard, that of Harry Anderson. I had seen the silly but fun Spies, Lies & Naked Thighs not long after his passing. Begley told us the original name was Just UN Me. Gak. He recalled having a great time filming the TV movie and that they stayed friends for a long time, but lamented the fact they didn't spend any time together the past couple of years.

I lightened the conversation a little by mentioning that I kept expecting his eyebrow to fall off, a reference to his recurring Arrested Development character, who suffered from Alopecia.

Those in line for Tim Matheson seemed to be most interested in the Animal House reunion -- and one guy ahead of us with a cart full of memorabilia for him to sign kinda teed off everyone in line -- but I wanted to talk with him more about his experience on Night Gallery. He acted in a typically bizarre episode called "Logoda's Heads." But what he remembered most about that was getting to meet the unparalleled Rod Serling through episode co-star Patrick Macnee.

Sestra got into a great conversation with him about how much fun it was to play a movie villain by talking with him about Drop Dead Fred. I believe he called his character "a dick" ... twice. I really remember Tim best from a host of television movies from the '80s and early '90s, I particularly loved when he got to turn on his good-guy persona and be the baddie.

Deezen was also part of a reunion group at the event, the gang who got back together from Grease. As usual, all the Sestras wanted to talk with him about was Midnight Madness. That wasn't a rarity from attendees. Luckily, he likes it a lot more than he likes Grease 2. "It's so funny. It's a B-movie, but it's a great B-movie," he said.

It was great to meet him again. There are actors who "get it" when it comes to cons, and then there's Eddie, who has a hug and a kiss for everyone who is a Facebook friend of his. He reached clear across his table of photos to give me mine. 

Another of the celebs who I got to meet for the second time was Brian Thompson. He seemed pretty chilled out, possibly pharmaceutically chilled out, but it enabled him to be really affable with those on his line. He sort of drew people from the line into his other conversations and was particularly patient with one fan who wanted to detail all the attributes of his brand-new phone for an actor often charged with playing the heavy in his film and television work. Thompson also realllly wanted to show Sestra his tan.

I said something about how he didn't have to prepare much dialogue on The X-Files, but he reminded me of episodes like "End Game," in which he told Mulder that his sister was still alive. Maybe it just seemed like he didn't have much to say, mostly I just recall him menacing everyone in sight.

Sestra had some great stuff to share with him about how Luke, one of his two characters on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, sounded on the Spanish channel. That plays pretty well with someone who seemed a little baked.

We were planning to meet Steven Weber on the second day, but not quite as soon as we wound up doing it. With the early-bird access, we could do some shopping before the event officially started for the day and the celebrities showed up. So we're looking through some stacks of photos and ... there's Steven asking a price on a magazine at the same time. We shopped with Steven Weber.

Now I had run into Weber once before, in front of where I work at the Chelsea Market in New York City. And I got a bigger eye roll than ever was seen on Wings -- where eye rolls were at a premium -- when I mentioned wanting Cursed (later renamed The Weber Show) to come out on DVD. Let's just say I've since come across it the same way we saw Men in Trees and leave it at that.

But he was very engaging when we got on his line a little later. I didn't detect the least bit of an eye roll. I wasn't ... cursed this go-around. Maybe the second time really is the charm.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Celebrating my silver 'X-Files' anniversary

When you drive almost 1,000 miles to go to an X-Files convention, you have certain expectations -- or at least hopes -- for what it's going to be like to meet various actors. What you don't think about is the interaction with your fellow fans. That proved to be just as much fun in the end at the first X-Fest (subtitle "Celebrating 25 Years of The X-Files") in La Salle, Illinois, making fast friends in two days with people who not only share your passion for the show, but your sensibility as well.

The Friday night mixer lived up to its name. After some of the fans acted out scripts Mad Libs-style (the highlight of which was new favorite hashtag #moistmulder), the trivia contest was a lively -- if perhaps not entirely fair -- event run by the friendly folks who put together the Deep State video game haunting us on Facebook and mobile phones. My group of new friends named itself "Abduct This," although the contest powers-that-be kept calling us "Abductees" or "Abductors." Definitely a different vibe to those names.

The idea was to yell out your team name when you know the trivia answer. It doesn't take an FBI agent to realize the squad closest to the announcers might have an advantage. But despite that -- and the fact that even though one of their own personnel pointed me out as first on the Tarantino "Never Again" question -- we finished tied for second. We won the sudden-death round thanks to our superstar Winston for blurting out "Arthur Dales" after we both had "Darren McGavin." I blame the 22-hour ride to Illinois, obviously I know Arthur Dales.

I'll also give Winston all the credit in the world for adjusting my plan of "attack" in adding 13 autographs to my volume of The Complete X-Files in the so-called "yearbook project." I've been amassing a couple of them at a time at pop-culture conventions for several years. But this was one-stop shopping! Annabeth Gish was the person I wanted to meet most, she was one of the four celebrity tentpoles in the room, also one of the ones whose line got the longest the fastest. Even with the platinum pass, it would have taken some time I didn't think I had off the clock to go to her first. This ended up being an incredible decision.

So I went to Steven Williams first. He played the recurring role of Mr. X and I hadn't met him at The X-Files Expo way back in 1998. To tell the truth, I was a bit concerned about it, because my friend didn't have the best experience with him at the same event. Well, times have changed. He was an utter delight -- playing to the crowd and shouting out vibrant exclamations to just about everyone he met.

I asked him my go-to question -- about The X-Files' most tenured director and truly my favorite -- the late, great Kim Manners. "He was my first director on 21 Jump Street, he was my last episode of The X-Files and he was responsible for getting me on Supernatural. Kim was great, God rest his soul."

I can't really remember my very first episode of The X-Files, but if Season 1's "Eve" wasn't the first one, it certainly was one of my first favorites. So my next stop was for Erika Krievins-Patterson and Sabrina Krievins-Phillips, who played the conniving twin murderers. My big joke was that they didn't look like Harriet Sansom Harris, who played the adult version of the Eves. "She was a great lady," Erika told me. "David and Gillian too." "Everyone was so nice and protective," Sabrina added.

The twins were 9 years old at the time of the show, so they haven't been recognized much by X-Philes as the years have gone by. They both said in their 20s, fans started to point them out and the alternative band Eve 6 named for their characters brought some notoreity back, but since they're both married now, their surnames don't even garner the recognition.

Chris Carter wanted veteran actor Steve Railsback, who played Charles Manson and Ed Gein, to take the crucial role of Duane Barry during Season 2. Railsback's two episodes changed the face of the show and he was so intense in them that I didn't know what expect at X-Fest. I certainly didn't expect for him to call me "a great lady." The first of his two eps was named for his character and marked the first time Carter took the reins on the show. "He was really great," Railsback said, recalling that the crew made sweatshirts with "Virgin" on the back in honor of the executive producer's first directorial effort. Railsback still has his to this day.

And speaking of not knowing what to expect, that was true when it came to Nick Chinlund, who played fetishist Donnie Pfaster about as creepily as it was possible to do in Season 2's "Irresistible" and Season 7's "Orison." He still sounds the same, so when he jokingly asks you one of his most famous lines -- "Is your hair color-treated?" -- it really messes with your head in the best possible way. One fan came up with the great idea of having her picture taken as he held her hands in spookiest Pfaster fashion. I felt kind of bad because I heard some of the things that were said to him that weekend, things like "You're still really creepy."

In fact, I felt kind of bad for all the guest stars when they didn't have fans in their lines. The tentpoles -- Mitch Pileggi, William B. Davis, Nicholas Lea and Annabeth -- stayed pretty busy the whole time, but sometimes the other actors' lines were short or non-existent. I did my part, I met everyone except Jerry Hardin (who I'd previously gotten to converse with a few years ago at Dragon Con).

I also had met Tom Noonan before at Chiller, but that was before I started doing the yearbook project. Some of the fans found him to be standoffish, but I didn't. He was caustic, but had a great sense of humor.  So when the lanky 6-foot-5 actor walked by us on the waiting photo op line and said "Don't get up," I wasn't offended, I was amused. I asked him about the basketball shots taken in Season 4's "Paper Hearts." He wasn't surprised David Duchovny made two of three shots, since the star of the show was a former member of the Princeton basketball squad. "Not as good as me, though," Noonan quipped. "I made my first, but they didn't want me to. I don't know why, they wanted it to look like [my character John Lee Roche] couldn't play. I wanted to dunk."

Another one of the actors I was looking forward to meeting was Robert Wisden, who played Robert Patrick Modell in Season 3's "Pusher" and again in Season 8's "Kitsunegari." He's the one I wished I spent more time with, because I wound up talking more about another couple of his roles than his time on The X-Files. We were discussing his parts on the reboot of Alfred Hitchcock Presents -- one of which was with Martin Landau, who co-starred in the first X-Files film, Fight the Future. "He was a very nice man with a lot of great stories," Wisden said of one of my truly favorite actors who I have met since I started to go to conventions. In addition to the Hitchcock episode "The Final Twist," he also did "Career Move" with David Cassidy. "He was one of my idols when I was growing up. That show was really good for me," Wisden said, adding that the '80s fashions from those shows still make him shake his head.

Without a doubt, the most touching story I heard that day came from Michael Berryman. The veteran of such films as The Hills Have Eyes was in Season 3's "Revelations." He found it very cathartic to play Owen -- a character who seems like the villain at the beginning but ultimately is revealed to be only trying to protect a child. The last time Berryman ever had to screen test, the actor said he went to the audition and told the episode's director David Nutter nobody would be able to do the part like he would and he'd explain why that was when they were on the set. After the reading, Nutter told him he had the part but not to tell that to the other actors waiting to test for the role. So what was the reason he was perfect for the part? Berryman said he once lived in a building that also housed a mother and her two children. Social Services proved unable to protect them from harm at the hands of the father.

Doug Hutchison's story about being Victor Eugene Tooms twice in Season 1 was less dramatic but just as interesting. When he first played the stretching liver-eating mutant for the third episode of the series, it hadn't yet become a cult favorite. But by the time he was back for Episode 21 of the season, The X-Files had gained some traction. "I was thrilled," he said. "I had no idea the show had blown up, so I was thrilled when Chris Carter called and said they wanted to bring me back."

Megan Leitch, who played the recurring role of Mulder's sister Samantha, also didn't know the show had hit the mainstream the first time she returned to the fold. She laughed at never knowing whether or not she was the real Samantha -- according to Season 7's "Closure," she never actually was, but she sure played a lot of variations on that theme. I asked her about Kim Manners. She quickly said he was amazing director, but added she didn't really get the complete picture until she visited a friend on another set with Manners at the helm. "He was intense," Leitch said. "He was a little man with so much energy. You know when there is a gun shot in the scene, the gun doesn't really go off. He'd yell 'BANG!' really loud. When I visited my friend was when I really got to see his style, because you don't really know when you're in the middle of the scene and focused on it."

One of the event's biggest fan favorites was Karin Konoval, who had been known primarily as the mother in Season 4's incestuous "Home" and as the fortune teller in Season 3's "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" until she came back in Season 11 and blew everyone away by playing four parts in "Plus One." She gamely engaged with fans over Twitter and I praised her for that when we met, saying not all actors want to do that. "They should give their heads a little shake," Konoval said.

She told me about the box built specifically to her body for "Home." Konoval was covered with wires, there was blood shot into her eyes and she was kept under the bed up to four hours at a time. "They went away [for lunch] and it was just me and a sound guy. I had to keep from having a panic attack. So when they pulled me out [in the scene], that was me ... Karin ... shrieking for real."

With my guest yearbook needs almost covered, I went to the photo tent for professional photo ops. It wound up being some kind of psychedelic merry-go-round for over a couple hours with a small band of merry fans circling round and round as a different actor came by. But it wasn't overly taxing because they provided some energy boosts, be it Noonan's quip or Railsback pointing at me and saying, "I've seen her!" Hutchison blew me a kiss, and for a second, I double-taked about Tooms doing that to me. Another highlight was when I correctly told the Krievins sisters apart -- Erika on the left and Sabrina on the right.

The piece de resistance was provided by Nicholas Lea. The man who played my favorite character, Krycek, leaned his head on mine and the front of the line went "Awwwww." Then there was Williams, he wouldn't let go of me. The photographer was waiting for the next fan, and I said "It's not me, it's him." The photographer retorted with good humor, "I know."

So when did I get the person I was there to see most? Well, when no one was around actually. I looked over at her corner and there wasn't a line, I don't think my fellow fans noticed she had come back from a break. So I bounced on over and started gushing about how I loved her since I saw Mystic Pizza and Shag! at the movie theater, that my mother and sis are huge fans of Hiding Out -- with Mom still watching it on VHS -- and how thrilled I was when she joined the cast of The X-Files. Then I went on for a bit about how much I loved the character of Monica Reyes, and that no matter what happened in the revival, I would still believe in and be inspired by Monica.

Annabeth asked me where I came from for the convention, I told her New Jersey and specifically for her first one. She asked whether I wanted to do a selfie and I admitted that I had already done a pro-shot photo with her. I was so tickled when she said, 'Let's do one anyway,' and I love that shot even more than the official picture. When she signed the yearbook, Gish said it brought back so many memories, particularly of how Manners would say "Kick it in the ass, Gish" to pump her up.
I knew I'd be seeing Nick Lea in late April at Chiller, so I didn't want to take up too much of his time with a long line still waiting to meet him. I picked out a picture and asked him to write something befitting of the best-looking guy in The X-Files universe. After rolling his eyes about on that and declaring that to be too much pressure, he quipped, "When your competition's Bill Davis ... just kidding!" He eventually noted "This is too close to my face. Lots of love."

The one person I hadn't gotten yet was Brian Thompson, who recurred as the Alien Bounty Hunter. He spent much time talking with members of his line about going green. When he disappeared for a bit after a sneezing fit, he re-emerged with a local union wind energy sign he found on the premises and attached it to his banner. Since I called my autograph project the yearbook, he wanted to sign it with words that would be written in a traditional one. After he penned," "Don't change!' I said, "Have a nice summer!" and he added, "Oh, I should have done that."

Someone had given me an extra photo-op card, but I paid it forward since I had enough for myself. I did have an extra autograph card, though, so I got on Mitch Pileggi's line even though the man who plays Walter Skinner was one of the first people to sign the yearbook. I wanted to talk with him about his one great line in Darin Morgan's Season 11 episode "The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat."

"I shamed Darin into putting him into an episode," Pileggi told me. "He said, 'You're in it, but it's only one line.' I said, 'OK.' He said, 'But it's big.'" Truer words were never spoken. I asked how many times he said, "Where the hell are they taking Reggie?" to get the reading that aired in the episode. "He said, 'Say the line the way I thought Skinner would and then I'll tell you the way I think it should be done.' So I did and he said, 'Do it really big' and I was like, 'Really?' But it worked."

Since I efficiently worked my way through the autographs and photos, I was able to take in the panel featuring Gish, Pileggi, Davis ... and my new friend Tasha after I saved Megan Leitch, who had been locked out of the side door of the venue.

Annabeth and Bill cracked up when Mitch was introduced as Mitch Pill-egg-ee. When Annabeth teased him, Mitch called her "Annabeth Geesh." She countered she's more often mistakenly called "Annabelle." The actors seemed to be as enthralled as the packed house, which hung on their every word. "Sculder and Mully aren't even here," Pileggi quipped.

They all found it easy to get back into character for Season 11, particularly when Davis' Cigarette-Smoking Man said to Skinner, "You mind if I smoke?" "I love that line and I love the way Bill delivered it," Mitch said. Davis, in turn, was asked why CSM once said the Bills can't ever win the Super Bowl. "Give me another 20 years, I might soften on that," he said. Davis played to the crowd a lot with great effect with lines like "The other side's not so bad."

During the alleged Season 11 Skinner episode "Kitten," Metamucil was found in Walter's apartment. "I've always described Skinner as being perpetually constipated," Mitch explained. "(Co-executive producer) Glen Morgan grabbed that and ran with it."

Gish didn't want to have any part of reenacting the whale song Monica sang to try and make Scully comfortable for William's birth -- or revisiting the shag, for that matter -- but she told the assembled that William's birth was done with a lot of cottage cheese and strawberry jelly.

As usually happens at panels, the actors were asked to name their favorite episodes. Annabeth's are two of my own from Season 9 -- "4D" and "Audrey Pauley." Davis named the Season 3 finale "Talitha Cumi," while Pileggi listed "Home," "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" and Season 2's "Humbug." When later asked about his favorite comedy episode, Bill brought the house down by saying he did sooooo many funny light-hearted ones.

I might have gotten to ask a question at an X-Files panel for the first time. Of course, it was about Kim Manners. Annabeth said the Gish household still says "Kick it in the ass!" whenever they have to do something amazing. Davis explained how the actor-turned-director was actor-friendly. When Davis would be running lines with a scene partner, Manners would appear and be studying them. Then after a scene, even if Bill thought he nailed it, Kim would say, "I think you have another one in you." Pileggi couldn't pick just one. "I loved him to death and miss him," he said.

The final events were screenings of "Squeeze" and "Home" hosted by Hutchison and Konoval respectively. Hutchison admitted he was cheesed off by the contortionist body double stretching down a victim's chimney. "You see his butt and it's huge. I have a nice butt," he said, and when that particular scene came on the screen, the audience roared with new understanding.

"I look like I'm 12 years old," Hutchison afterward. The veteran of 24 and Lost admitted he nearly turned down the role that eventually brought him to the event. He explained a trick of the trade -- during the interrogation scene he stared at a stain on the wall, determined not to look away -- and some non-prophetic words from David Duchovny, who told him, "This show's going nowhere, it'll be around one season, maybe two."

Konoval admitted she hadn't watched "Home" since it aired, and at the time, she covered her face during the "yucky bits." She was determined to watch and enjoy it with the X-Philes. The audience constantly peeked over at her while it was on to see if she lived up to her word, and she did.

Afterward, she told us about the painstaking process of finding Mrs. Peacock through her voice and being shoved into the box she called a coffin by four people. "I could not remove myself. I could move the shoulders, the rest was done with puppetry." She went through four callbacks to get the part of the mother and penned a hilarious letter to Glen Morgan after discovering a repeat pattern in her work for him -- "The next project we do together, can I please not fuck my children?"

That led to an actors' dream role -- four parts in Morgan's Season 11 episode. "As tough as 'Home' was to do, 'Plus One' was just a joy from beginning to end," she said. "It's so freeing for a woman to play a man whose an asshole. I could play them forever." Do I hear a spinoff? I'd settle for a reality show that follows Konoval to conventions and watches her interact with fans.

Next year's X-Fest already has been announced for April 13, 2019. I've got my sights set on it already, there are so many great guest stars who can join the fold -- not to mention The Lone Gunmen, whom I've never met -- and the stars of our show, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. We'll see what This Con Life has in store of us next year. Just remember, go Platinum and Abduct This!