Old friends, new friends, powerful theatre and another convention

the exoneratedWhen you live in Europe and admire an actor or actress who is based in the US, chances are you probably won’t get to see them live on stage. Unless they get involved in a project in London, that is.

Riverside Studios in London staged “The Exonerated”, a play by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen in Spring 2006. They did it as a stage reading with a cast of several regular and some changing actors. One of the guest actresses was Kate Mulgrew and of course many of the European fans wouldn’t miss that.

The play itself is absolutely worth seeing – or reading. I think there’s even a film version now, starring Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover, among others. It follows the stories of six people who have been wrongfully sentenced to death from their arrest to the time after their eventual release years later. It’s not exactly light entertainment and not really appropriate material for children, but it deals with relevant issues in a way that makes it impossible not to look a little harder at those ideas we have about the justice system.

The London production was a very basic one in terms of set design, as would be expected of a stage reading. What it lacked in fancy sets and costumes and movement on stage, was more than compensated by the amazing performances of all actors and actresses involved. Light and sound design helped create the right mood for the dramatic tale and made for a very emotional experience.

The entire trip was going to be a big adventure once again. Many of the people I had met the year before had made plans to go see the play on the same weekend – the weekend of Kate Mulgrew’s birthday. As a birthday present from her fans, two ladies organised a fundraiser. Many fans contributed through donations and auctions, making it possible to present Kate with a sizable check – money donated to the Alzheimer’s Association in her honour. That night, the small theatre bar was packed with excited fans who wanted to sing Happy Birthday and see the look on her face when she got her present. It was an amazing moment that showed me how much can be accomplished when a few like-minded people put their heads together.

The day before, my friend Michaela and I had arrived – separately – and met at our hostel. This time we had arranged to stay at the same place. In the evening, we walked over to the theatre to meet a few of our friends for drinks. We hadn’t seen each other for about a year and had a lot to talk about. At some point Kate Mulgrew came over to our table to say goodbye before she left, as she knew at least one of our group – the woman who had organised the fundraiser. It was one of those slightly surreal experiences that, even years later, make me blink in surprise and wonder if that really happened.

The two days after that were a little less relaxed, as hordes of fans descended upon the venue to watch the play and celebrate Kate Mulgrew’s birthday. Michaela and I originally only had tickets for the Saturday night performance, but we liked it so much that we got tickets for the Sunday matinee and, later, the Sunday evening performance as well. At some point in the chaos that was the Sunday night stage door hype, we even got an autograph.

We all got to spend a lot of time together, drinking wine and chatting with people from all over Europe as well as most members of the cast. They were an amazing bunch of people. One of those sweet guys was Martin Freeman. Yeah, I’ve got an edition of that play with his autograph in it. At that time, he was just a sweet guy and a talented actor in a brilliant cast and we had a really nice chat about being a travelling fan with him.

The following Monday, many of us went to a small, rather weird town north of London for a convention. They had set up a huge vendor’s area in a large shopping mall, placing autograph tables all around. It was a little unusual, but fun, as fans and regular shoppers crowded the place.

Apart from Kate Mulgrew, the only other guests I can recall are Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton and an extremely bored Robert Pattinson. Back then he had just been one of those dudes who played a part in one of the Harry Potter movies. I’m still a little bummed that I didn’t get an autograph. I could probably have sold it for a fortune now when they went for something like £10 back then. Oh well, live and learn, I guess.

As it happened, I was far more interested in taking photos and getting autographs of Kate Mulgrew. As far as convention experiences go, this one was not particularly outstanding. It was cheap and fun, but there were no talks or photo sessions. Before we headed back to London, we did run into Kate Mulgrew, though. We even had a chance to exchange a few words and tell her how much we had enjoyed the play the previous weekend.

Despite all the excitement around Kate Mulgrew, the most vivid memories of that weekend are of the effect that play had on me and of the warmth and friendship I experienced. And that time I actually saw a little bit of London. If I ever find out where I put the photos of that time, I’ll update this post.

 

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And so it begins…

The first trip you make without your parents is always a little exciting, I suppose. For me, that happened in June 2005. I had been a fan of Star Trek: Voyager for quite a while back then. Kate Mulgrew, who played the captain of the Starship Voyager, had captured my special interest. She portrayed a strong, independent woman in a leadership position, something that very much appealed to me – and still does. Apart from that, she is a fascinating and inspiring human being and I was eager to meet her in person. The opportunity to do just that presented itself when it was announced that she would attend London Film and Comic Con 2005.

Several of the people I had met online through various fan sites had declared they would be there, so I decided to go. I had never met any of those people in person and apart from our shared fascination with one woman, we didn’t know much about each other. Regardless of all these uncertainties, I booked a flight and a bed in a hostel dorm, made arrangements to meet some of my online friends, and hoped I wouldn’t regret it.

The first online friend, a girl I had met on a fanfiction board, waited for me in front on my hostel when I arrived. We bonded over a cup of coffee and our weird sense of humour and have been friends ever since. Almost 10 years and many meetings later, she is still my best friend, even if our interests have moved on from a shared fandom.

Later that evening, we met with a large group of Kate Mulgrew fans, sharing stories and making plans for the following two days at the convention. Over the course of the weekend, we got together for drinks and photo sessions and chats, and many of the friendships that were forged that weekend still exist. Some may only involve exchanging Christmas cards, others I keep track of through social media, and a select few I get to meet every now and then when the crazy strikes once more and we all end up at the same event.

The convention itself was an amazing experience. Kate Mulgrew and Garrett Wang were the guests I was interested in, because both had starred in Star Trek: Voyager. The thought of meeting Kate Mulgrew was rather terrifying because there were so many expectations riding on this one short moment. The first encounter on Saturday was very brief, long enough for her to sign a book I brought for that purpose and exchange a few short words. It was also long enough for me to find out that this woman had a rather astonishing effect on my ability to form coherent sentences. Astonishing as in I don’t think I managed to string together more than two words while standing in front of her. That didn’t change much during the other times I got to meet her at that convention. There was another autograph session the next day as well as a short talk where fans could ask questions. That was the one moment I managed to be at least partly coherent, even though I wasn’t able to pose my question in a way that lead to the answer I was hoping for.

Talking to Garrett Wang was a lot more relaxed. My friend knew him from another convention and he remembered her. We had a nice chat about Star Wars, completely free of nervousness.

KateandmeMost of our time was spent inside the convention centre, so a bag full of touristy photos was not among the things I brought home that time. It was a memorable weekend filled with so many new experiences that I doubted, at that time, anything would ever live up to it. As it turns out, I’ve done far crazier and more memorable things since, but this weekend will always have a special place in my heart, because it was my first time as a travelling fangirl and it was the beginning of many of the friendships I still hold dear today.

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Has it really been almost 10 years?

A few days ago, I talked with a friend about all those adventures I got to experience and I realised that the first of those happened almost 10 years ago – in 2005. Since then I have visited many places, some of which I didn’t even know existed, got to know countless people, made some amazing friends and grew a lot as a person. Thinking back on those years, my life up until now has been incredibly full and the beauty of it is that it’s a gift that keeps on giving. People move from one fandom to the next, they lose interest in an actor or actress who once was their favourite, but friendships and memories remain. Those are the things I cherish most about being a fan – all the people I met, all the friends I’ve made and all the memories.

This blog is supposed to be a collection of those memories and maybe the odd post about what else might occupy a fangirl’s mind.