Monday, November 25, 2013

Partying with 'Supernatural' at Creation's L.A. Con...

Five and a half years ago I spent a slightly overcast weekend here in Los Angeles down by the airport in a hotel. It was my first experience with Creation Entertainment’s “Salute to Supernatural”— conventions that are held every other month or so around the country— but not my first with a fan convention in general. It was also my first professional TV blogging gig, as I had just been hired by to cover various events and celebrity news. A somewhat new fan of the series but a longtime fan of the actors who star in it, the Creation convention allowed me a chance to marry my personal interests and my new professional track. It seems fitting then that closing out my most recent and longest term blogging contract would be with another “Salute to Supernatural” on another slightly overcast weekend, in a different part of the city, but with many of the same faces— fans and actors alike— as half a decade ago.

The convention is measurably bigger, both in talent and fan attendees, these days as it was when it was first starting out. The years of success both Supernatural as a series on The CW and Creation as an event production company have had add a level of clout that have had many joining in the fun as the years went on while still seeing those who were there from the beginning return year after year. The passage of time can literally be marked in photo ops with “the boys” from year to year, marked not only by the progression of Jared Padalecki’s hair but also by the level of intimacy expressed in pose. As time goes on, many fans are easily recognizable to the actors from the last convention, which may not have been last year but just a few months ago: if you are so inclined, you can literally follow this convention around the country as you would a concert tour.

Padalecki likened the sense of fandom in the room to his own of the Dallas Cowboys. Everyone has something they are passionate about, Padalecki pointed out-- something you can talk about for hours upon hours, getting heated and throwing or kicking things if it isn't going well for your favorite [insert thing you're a fan of here].

As the years have gone on, the actors have gotten more creative and taken more control of the convention, as well. In addition to the standard (but somewhat distanced) on-stage Q&As each participate in (and the autograph and photo ops that provide fans five to 10 seconds of up-close interaction), there is also a “dessert mixer” that sees various actors mingling with fans at their tables, a karaoke party where actors don costumes and sing with their fans (some actors carry the costumes over into their photo ops which are extra special for the repeat customers but perhaps a little odd for first timers or those for whom this photo op is the only one they will get), a concert performance by Rob Benedict's band Louden Swain that sees the chairs pushed back and the shirts coming off, and this time around a few extra special surprises.

Richard Speight Jr. (along with Matt Cohen) always hosts the Friday evening karaoke party but this year he stepped it up a notch and served a guest host for the entire weekend, introducing each panel, handling some logistics, and helping pull together a last minute jam session when Benedict let it be known that his recent illness was going to keep him from performing with Louden Swain as usual. Rather than just cancel that portion of the event, Speight, Cohen, Sebastian Roche, Julie McNiven, and Supernatural friends and family Jason Manns, Brian Buckley, and Mandy Musgrave stepped in and created a revolving door concert that was completely all one of a kind.

“It just gets better and bigger and better and bigger. I’s astonishing because we think we peaked every time,” Speight said of the convention itself.

Clearly these weekends aren’t just a time for viewers to let their hair down and their inner fans out, though. The actors really get into the spirit of things, as well. Not only did Roche get so into his rockstar moment at the concert that he whipped off his shirt mid-way through, but Osric Chau dressed as a princess for his panel on Friday, and then on Saturday he and Speight both showed up during Misha Collins’ time on stage to paint his nails. But while it's always fun, it isn't always about showing off their goofy sides. When Collins first began his run with Supernatural and was invited to appear at these conventions, he said he wanted to study fandom at a sociological level. Years later, he is still fascinated by the phenomenon and even occasionally gets taken aback or becomes humbled by a question posed to him, like “What inspires you during troubled times?” Chau is now following in Collins’ footsteps a bit by taking on the role of Creation event reporter, going into the crowd of fans, and literally rolling out a red carpet in front of them to turn the tables and interview them on why they’re fans and how they enjoyed the convention.

Now Collins also uses these conventions as a time to raise more money and awareness of the non-profit he founded, Random Acts, by setting up a vendor table, often organizing a group event around the convention, collecting donations for needy causes, and auctioning off rare autographed item. 

This year Cohen generously donated the cheerleader uniform he has made a staple at the karaoke events, popping out on stage of every panel to get the other cast to sign it. The costume sparked a bidding war within the room between two male fans: one of whom was only 13 and ended up winning after Collins made sure the kid was a) serious about bidding and b) actually willing to pay. When the price hit $3100, Collins called it for the young man whose name was Patrick and got to come up on stage to watch a signature be added and shake hands with the actors. Clearly Patrick has parents that support his interests, a common theme this convention, as just the day before a father won an autographed custom guitar case that he said would be a gift for his son who plays the instrument.

Benedict, overwhelmed by the show of love and support from both his friends and past castmates as well as the fans, took a moment during his panel to share his recent struggles in a very open and intimate way.

"I was at the last convention in Toronto, and all of a sudden at the end of my signing, I found I couldn't speak very well. I couldn't think of the right words. A woman asked me when my anniversary was, and I couldn't think of it; it looked like I didn't remember," Benedict said, noting that he then went back to rest in his hotel room while most of the cast went out to a bar.

But Speight called him up to see how he was doing, and he was still struggling to find words, so they realized it might be more than just fatigue and decided to go to the hospital. As it turned out, Benedict was having a stroke, and they had to give him a drug that had a high fatality rate in order to treat him, but the doctors still said they were lucky they caught it when they did. You never would have guessed this happened to him so recently by the way he was laughing and bounding around on stage, nor would you have noticed the slight lisp he was currently speaking with had he not pointed it out. But he assured everyone that he was getting better and thanked everyone immensely for their support. The crowd quickly jumped to its feet to give him a standing ovation, and Speight used the moment to offer some advise for what to look for in potential stroke victims so that others might catch a potential problem as quickly as they did.

It was a rare somewhat more somber moment in a weekend otherwise filled with a sense of whimsy and fun. Every convention hosts a costume contest, and fans spent all day wearing trenchcoats with angel wings protruding from them, ball caps and fake beards, fake slits across their throats and leather jackets (to name a few current favorite characters like whom to dress). They lined up along the walls of the ballroom to get a chance to ask the actors questions about their experiences working on the show, their experiences with fandom, or just whatever they happened to be wondering, like which rock star they would want to play in a potential future biopic. There is value in a good story, and as actors-- as storytellers-- in their daily lives, these know that better than most and they did not disappoint. An innocuous question about the most evil thing (in his perception) that he had to do on-screen prompted an answer from Mark Pellegrino that gave more insight into him as a person when it turned into him explaining his wicked sense of humor and how he laughs whenever people wipe out but also used to teach his daughter the wrong words for things. 

Speight retired Jensen Ackles' "After School Special" gym shorts-- a staple he was often known to wear himself on the convention circuit in a pomp and circumstance ceremony that caught Ackles a bit by surprise when Collins and Felicia Day marched out on stage before Speight, who followed with the reveal. Ackles immediately got into it, and the men folded the shorts military style and saluted each other and then the crowd to cheers that can only rival a One Direction concert.

(Hilariously enough a fan jokingly compared the boys to One Direction earlier that panel, and both mocked outrage. But in a weird way, the comparison is more than valid: both attract deep passion, love, and devotion and the willingness to travel all over the world for glimpses of them. One Direction sings the same songs in their concerts; the boys often answer the same questions convention after convention, but no fan will tell you the repeat experience isn't still completely worth it.)

This time around, the evolution of this convention could definitely be felt. Actors were roaming around and popping in on each other's panels to say hello to each other, creating special moments when those who hadn't worked together in awhile saw each other again. Ackles crept up behind Day during her panel, and she tensed at first, claiming as she put it "that [she] thought [she] was being attacked but then it turned out to be the most charming man and it was all right." They shared a hug and a few words that elicited huge "Awws" from the crowd.

It's no surprise that this time around then there were many fans in attendance for the first time ever, nor was it a surprise that the crowd featured a better balance of male and female fans and a lot of younger fans. Social media has allowed these conventions to be shared around the country. On any given weekend when one is occurring, your entire Twitter feed can be swallowed by live-Tweets and photos (mine included), making you feel like you're missing out on an experience that you have to be sure to catch next time around. It isn't just about hearing Padalecki's advice for actors or Ackles telling a story about the time his dad had to pick him up from a police precinct a few towns over in the middle of the night. It isn't just seeing Cohen impersonate the boys or hearing Manns perform live or maybe, maybe getting little hints at what's to come in the current season. It's about being a part of this family-- one that extends from the cast and crew to the fandom. Lifelong friends are made, built around this one common interest, and people get to know each other very well after spending three days sitting with them in a ballroom, standing with them in line for photos or autographs, eating and drinking with them between panels and events. The vibe of these conventions have become one big party where all of that family is welcome-- and you never know what will happen when you get everyone together again. Why would you want to decline an invitation like that!?

1 comment:

Patrick Cooper said...

Misha jokingly asked if I was 13, I was actually 16. And although your statement is true about "Clearly Patrick has parents that support his interests, a common theme this convention" I spent all my money on that costume��