Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: my wife Anne and I are big fans of geek/comic/entertainment conventions. Sometimes we shell out for photo ops with actors from our favorite movies and TV shows. If they’re amenable and don’t mind taking posing suggestions from a pair of eccentric middle-agers shaped like two lumpy bags of potatoes, our favorite theme is jazz hands. We’re not dancers and we’ve only attended two Broadway shows so far, but we love the idea of sharing a moment of unbridled joie de vivre with anyone who’s game. We can’t remember which of us had the idea first, though the inspiration surely came from a few different possible sources we share. It’s silly, but it’s our thing.
The weekend of April 8-10, 2022, marked the inaugural Star Trek Mission, the first in a planned convention series from ReedPOP, the showrunners behind the much-vaunted C2E2 and other comic cons. In this geek endeavor ReedPOP in conjunction with Paramount Pictures hopes to do for Gene Roddenberry’s creation what the Star Wars Celebrations do for that rival galaxy. As it happens, the premier shindig was held in Chicago, a mere three hours away from our humble dwelling. Anne and I watched the old Trek shows back in the day (though she was the far, far more intensely studied fan) and recently subscribed to Paramount+ for catch-up on some of the new generation. ST:MC offered excitement for every level of Trek fandom, from the elderly who watched the classics on CBS in the ’60s to today’s tykes who count Star Trek: Prodigy in their animated streaming diet. The two of us decided it was the perfect place to kick off our 2022 convention season and a good choice for our first major event since Dragon Con 2021. Naturally we had to see how many new pics we could add to our jazz-hands photo-op collection.
As you might expect, results were wildly varied during a pandemic that medical referees worldwide haven’t officially declared over yet. The con required all attendees to provide either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within a day or so prior to entrance. For many, that was enough to secure an ambiance for relaxing and geeking out. Dragon Con had mandated the same and required everyone to mask up across the board, except for split-seconds during photo ops. At ST:MC masks were recommended, not required, yet somewhat abundant around the McCormick Place show floor. The individual actors reserved the right to determine their own autograph table setups and photo-op guidelines to achieve their desired levels of safety and/or comfort. We rolled with those desires on a case-by-case basis.
One of the two best results is our lead photo with four cast members from Picard, which I just wrote about the other day not-so-coincidentally. It was our last photo on our last day of the show, which we’d assumed would follow standard photo-op practices: you hit the mark, get two seconds to greet the actor(s), pose, wait for the camera, then get chased out to make way for hundreds of other fans in line behind you. It is not an opportunity for chitchat. In the best of times, that’s what the autograph tables are for. Our previous seven photos had gone much the same way — vogue, click, begone.
For this exception, the fun didn’t end with the click. Michelle Hurd noticed my La Sirena T-shirt (Our Heroes’ primary starship on the show), and pulled back my outer faux-Hawaiian shirt to point it out to her castmates, who seemed agog at a rare sighting of actual Trek merchandise starring their characters and not just Admiral Shakespeare. Hurd asked me where I got it; I admitted it was from Hot Topic, because I was raised by a mallrat and am consequently trained to tell anyone where I got a particularly distinct clothing article when asked, which rarely happens. I hadn’t thought about it going in, but I suppose it’s refreshing for an actor to find evidence of their character being truly seen, especially when nine out of every ten questions you’ve been asked that day were probably, “What’s it like working with Patrick Stewart?” rather than something about you.
In a voice of dissent, Annie Wersching kiddingly harrumphed. She joined the show in season 2 as the new Borg Queen and therefore isn’t on the shirt. I promised her if they make an updated shirt, I’ll burn this one and buy that one. This compromise was accepted just as the photographer raised her voice threateningly at us to get out.
Earlier on Saturday came another cast photo, this one with a trio of voice actors from Lower Decks. Anne and I had literally just started watching it this very week out of curiosity, in hopes that seeing at least the first episode might give us context for the cosplayers and merchandise we’d be seeing this weekend. We’re now eight episodes in, loving every minute of it, and adjusting to its Simpsons/Family Guy humor level, its stylistic Rick and Morty pedigree, and its deeply embedded fascination with obscure Trek lore. We might’ve been totally caught up with Lower Decks by now if we hadn’t had to take a long intermission to attend this con.
Among the other six actors we met, exactly one was 100% game for jazz hands. We’re not pushy when we ask folks if they’re game for jazz hands. Some consider themselves too old or too stately to cut loose in that way, which we understand. Jazz hands aren’t for everyone. It can be especially tough when you’re dealing with a geek milieu that has its own world-famous, canonical hand signals. Fans are expected to idolize Kirk shaking his raging fist at Khan, Q snapping his fingers to alter reality, the Ferengi doing their weird clawing thing, or various scenes of malevolent choking.
One actor was up for joining us: Alexander Siddig, costar of Deep Space Nine, our all-time favorite Trek series. We previously met him in the late ’90s at an Indianapolis Trek con, where he and fellow guest Andrew J. Robinson performed their own one-act play, a psychological duel of sorts between their characters Dr. Julian Bashir and Garak the rather complicated Cardassian tailor. It was one of our best con experiences that century, but we have nary a photo nor a recording of it. But now we have Chicago 2022.
For a few photos, we didn’t ask for jazz hands. Above a certain legendary stature it feels improper to broach the subject. Such was the case with Kate Mulgrew, Anne’s priority-one Trek-star wish-list topper above all others. She’d already met William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, and Scott Bakula at previous editions of Wizard World Chicago, but Mulgrew was the lone holdout among the pre-Paramount+ captains after two previous con cancellations (one on the very day-of due to last-minute filming demands, another due to pandemic). At last her classic captain collection is complete.
Another Starfleet officer on hand was Robin Curtis, who took over the role of the Vulcan Saavik from former star Kirstie Alley for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. She left Hollywood at the turn of the century and today has a successful real estate business in upstate New York, but is perfectly happy to share her Trek memories with fans.
Our three remaining guests are gentlemen we’d met at previous affairs. Once upon a time in the ’90s we had the great fortune to attend an Indy Trek con which hosted the fantastic foursome of Nichelle Nichols, James Doohan, George Takei, and Walter Koenig. Celebrity photo ops weren’t a thing for the erstwhile company that held those shows, which means we have almost no visual keepsakes from it. (Then again, this was also in ancient times when their autographs were free. Yes, free. So there was a trade-off.) We caught up with the lovely Ms. Nichols in 2017 but never had a second chance with Doohan before he passed away in 2005. You never know how many chances you’ll get, so a reunion with Koenig was in order. Our previous moment with him remains a memorable highlight…
…so it was very nice to see him again.
This memento took two tries. After we exited the booth, the photographer beckoned us back in because as she’d clicked, I had apparently looked away from the camera and off into outer space. After letting a few more fans by, we rushed back in to Koenig’s sides, his arms still held up from the previous pair. One more click and we stepped away once more, Koenig comically keeping his arms outstretched like he was ready to soar into the sky.
His old friend Takei was a different story. When his photo appointment arrived, the crowd had to wait an extra twenty minutes while renegotiation was conducted behind the curtains. Whether it was Epic Photo Ops, ReedPOP, Paramount, McCormick Place, or some intern, someone along the chain dropped the ball and had failed to bring in Plexiglas shields to insert between stars and fans. (We’d dealt with those at Dragon Con, where they’d been required for all photo ops.) Takei and Koenig each had Plexiglas in front of their autograph tables, but as of Friday afternoon none were on hand in the photo area and it had occurred to no one until this very moment that perhaps Plexiglas should be an option here as well. After what I presume was a sweetly polite yet rodinium-firm discussion, a compromise was reached: Takei would do the ops, but insisted on a six-foot distance from everyone.
We knew the risks going into this weekend. We knew extra rules might come into play. Under no circumstances did we feel entitled to dictate terms to the actors from our lowly position as mere TV consumers and merchandise hoarders. We are not now, nor have we ever been, that kind of fan. Some folks won’t pay such prices for that sort of awkwardness if they’re told about it in advance, which we understand. In this case it was a last-minute judgment call, and refunds were offered to anyone who considered it a deal-breaker. As for me and my house, we’d assumed things like this would happen and we rolled with it.
You’ll note the camera had to be pulled so far back to keep everyone in frame, for once you can see the convention center windows, the edge of the backdrop, and the unforgiving concrete floor that damaged our feet over two days’ worth of walking and walking and standing in lines. It’s a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what goes into the making of a photo op and a pandemic-era storytime souvenir to add to our collection. We can report in epilogue that Plexiglas was absolutely on hand for Takei’s Saturday photo ops, so they’re easy to tell apart on social media. Far as I know, retakes were not offered to Friday customers.
A different approach was taken for Wil Wheaton, once part of the great ensemble from The Guild. We previously met him at Gen Con 2012, the final year that show bothered having actor guests, where we had fun watching him buy the all-new Android: Netrunner game at the Fantasy Flight booth before he manned his autograph table at the back of the exhibit hall. The night before, anyone who’d bought his ST:MC photo op in advance was emailed a caution that he would be wearing a mask in his op, and offered refunds as needed. Once again, though, not until dozens of fans had already been lined up for many minutes did the Epic folks come out and announce that Wheaton was asking us to mask up as well if possible. The announcer did not say we had to mask up, but this modest request was enough to infuriate a matriarch in one family of three to demand a refund and, if I understood the body language correctly, refused to budge from where she stood until and unless it was brought to her. Fans behind them in line had to weave around awkwardly to keep strolling, masks donned and enthusiasm undiminished.
Again, we rolled with it. As his own form of compromise, Wheaton carried with him a photo of the lower half of his face, attached to a stick that he offered to hold up in front of his mask if fans would prefer. To us, masking in unison made more thematic sense.
With thirteen guests in all, this may be the most we’ve ever indulged in photo ops at a single con. In fact, we exchanged pleasantries with the same Epic employees so many times, after a while they began to recognize us on sight. I won’t be surprised if they feel like old friends at our next con.
To be continued! Other chapters in this very special MCC miniseries:
Part 2: A Piece of the Cosplay Action
Part 3: Props and Merch
Part 4: A Two-Day Mission