Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: last May my wife Anne and I stopped in Bloomington, home of Indiana University, to check out the bronze statue of STEM icon Captain Kathryn Janeway that was unveiled in October 2020 as a tribute to Kate Mulgrew, the celebrated star of Star Trek: Voyager. As it happens, Voyager writer/producer Jeri Taylor, a Bloomington native herself, inserted her hometown into Janeway’s canonical backstory. The city’s fans took that nod to heart and commissioned the artistic tribute accordingly in her future birthplace. It was a kick for us to admire the results in person.
As if that weren’t enough Mulgrew awesomeness for us this year, we also met her in person at Star Trek: Mission Chicago back in April, attended her rather lively Q&A at same, and read her two candid, riveting memoirs. I could go on with links to our other Trek-related experiences of late, but suffice it to say we can’t seem to stop tripping over Trek lately.
But wait! There’s more!
Dateline: Sunday, October 23, 2022 — The day the statue was unveiled two years ago, the pandemic remained very much a thing and Mulgrew participated via Zoom chat from distant safety. Today Bloomington was delighted to host Ms. Mulgrew herself as she came into town — mind you, a six-hour drive from Dubuque, where she’d just attended a family reunion the night before — to at long last meet her statue face-to-face, no miles or virtual barriers between them.
Anne and I live an hour away in Indianapolis and were happy to come down and join the festivities. Her statue stands next door to WonderLab’s WonderGarden, across from a Hyatt hotel, along a popular trail where bikers, joggers and other pedestrians rove north and south, and would continue to do so throughout the afternoon until the crowd overwhelmed the entirety of the path.
After a short prologue of activities elsewhere in the eminently walkable vicinity…
(Not pictured: a stop at Landlocked Music to grab the latest CDs from Jack White and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.)
The two of us joined the nascent audience shortly after 1:00, by which time a couple dozen fellow fans had already claimed spots. Our hosts, the Janeway Collective, were hard at work setting up for the presentation and her 3:00 arrival. Yes, we were all early. Longtime MCC readers know we’re frequent convention attendees and lifelong geeks. The long wait is all in the game, no matter how much the sun burns or how dearly we could use some chairs or bathrooms. The weather was unseasonably sunny, in the 70s, fully rebuking autumn itself, which had taken the weekend off except in the rainbows of surrounding foliage.
By 2:30 hundreds had gathered on the trail from as far away as Michigan, Tennessee, New Jersey, Orlando, Colorado and possibly farther still. As an opening act, the Collective brought in a musician who calls herself the Nerdy Flutist and has built up a repertoire of geek-themed covers. For this performance she pre-recorded her backing tracks — multiple flute parts, all her — and played the melodies live and brilliantly. She regaled us with a Ressikan flute like Captain Picard’s and played the theme from one of his best episodes, “The Inner Light”. She followed up with the Next Generation theme on standard-issue flute, followed by the full-length theme from Star Trek: Prodigy, for which she used an alto flute to play the horn solo intro before switching back. She was a welcome distraction from the armed security guards who were now pacing back and forth, up and down the trail.
A few minutes after 3, our guest of honor took the sunny spotlight and shared her impressions, expressed in the same eloquence we experienced through her memoirs.
We amateurs took our shots wherever we could. Professional press remained to one side, while photogs with varying credentials wandered around and sometimes obscured our view of the proceedings, including one particularly tall gentleman with baggy pants who was seemingly unaware of his chronic butt-crack issues that his loosely worn belt was not controlling one bit. After Mulgrew’s speech concluded, then it was everyone’s turn to transform into a teeming photo frenzy. As Mulgrew offered some poses with her bronze likeness, the crowd surged forward, to the Collective’s alarm. That got to be a bit much and was our cue to exit.
But wait! There’s more! Again!
The statue ceremony was only part one of the itinerary. At 4:30 the Collective would be hosting a Q&A with Mulgrew at the Woolery Mill, an industrial-chic event venue ten minutes away, owned by a local catering company. After the Q&A would be a group photo with Mulgrew for all Collective members, which didn’t include us. After the photo would be a limited-time autograph line, which we didn’t know was an option until hours after those separate tickets had all sold out. A few days before the big event, their final email (one of a handful I received) contained the very, very first mention I ever saw of the fact that masks would be required of all attendees inside the Mill. This came as a shock to multiple fans around us in line, who had to avail themselves of free disposable masks that volunteers began handing out en masse.
The Nerdy Flutist returned for an encore before the Q&A. Her set list:
- A section from Insurrection
- The Lower Decks theme (my favorite of the bunch here)
- The First Contact theme
- The Deep Space Nine theme
- “The Inner Light” theme (again)
- The full Prodigy theme (again)
A parade of speakers followed, starting with reps from the Collective. Also in the house to say a few words:
- Leah Leach from Gal’s Guide to the Galaxy, a women’s-history nonprofit lending library
- Steve “Rock” Bonchek from Harmony School, a local STEM-focused private school that’s partnered with the Collective and Jeri Taylor’s family (they’ve named a room in Taylor’s honor)
- A rep from Artisan Alley & Cyclops LLC, entities involved in the statue construction
- A showrunner from Starbase Indy, the local fan-run Trek con that we’ve attended several times over the years
- A rep from IU Health’s Alzheimer’s & Dementia Resource Services (a portion of the night’s ticket proceeds would be going toward Alzheimer’s research)
- Monica Fleetwood Black, a Bloomington therapist whose life has been inspired since childhood by Mulgrew in particular and Trek in general, going back to the good ol’ days of Next Generation VHS releases when her dad was a fully accredited Blerd before Blerds had the term
- Sculptor Aaron Eby once again, whose efforts made all of this possible.
Mulgrew took the stage at 5:00 sharp with Amy Imhoff, her social media director, and the questions commenced. Our Heroine delivered answers in a lifelong-forged confidence, with unmitigated mettle, bolstered by assured self-awareness of her renowned strengths which she refused to downplay with any Midwest humility (real or fake), and shared with as much candor as she could express without spoiling any future projects in the works. Many of us held our breath hoping one of those projects might be her showing up in the final season of Picard, where she could maybe cruise around in the latest starship model, save Admiral Shakespeare’s life and punch a random Soong descendant in the face. We can dream.
Topics of discussion included:
Which among her many roles taught her the most about herself? (Guess.)
What was Janeway’s impact on male fans (asked by a fan named Michael in a Voyager uniform)? As a mother of two boys, she wanted them and others to accept the idea of women in charge. (“Young men are everything…when they’re young.”) That same line of thought is why her rules to help Janeway be taken seriously included no sex (her Ready Room was not to be turned into a boudoir) and no constant fussing with her hair or voice, which was an irritating habit of the Paramount execs who tried to micromanage the show.
She gave thoughts on storytelling’s power to inspire, going clear back to ancient Greece.
She remembered a low point in her life that found a highlight when Angela Lansbury invited her to be on Murder, She Wrote (“Come on [my show] and be a murderer!”). Lansbury talked of how acting “success” can be a combination of luck and circumstance, and you never know when you’ll hit it. Years later, after Voyager became a thing, at some awards ceremony Mulgrew heard Lansbury yelling at her from across a crowded room, “YOU HIT IT!”
She was thanked for “Cocktails With Kate”, her mid-pandemic online outreach to fans likewise stuck at home.
She wondered of the dark impact that COVID has left upon American society, which future historians may have to reckon with for us.
She’s fierce about making friendships, grieves when death threatens to end them, but revels in the happy memories they made together.
She spoke of, and as, her Orange Is the New Black character, Red, who has little in common with Janeway apart from fearless and intellectual sides.
A lady sitting behind us, only slightly younger than us, asked for writing advice. Quoth the memoirist: “Stop aspiring and write.”
Her third book, a novel ostensibly called The Irish House, is still in the works. Its existence may or may not be beyond the “aspiring” stage.
She gave emotionally tinged advice on how to handle a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, as she underwent with her own mother. (This is close to the question-in-the-form-of-a-comment I gave her at Mission Chicago.) She reiterated the need for more Alzheimer’s research funding, which is typically overshadowed by other needs such as breast cancer research. (Blame donors for being bigger fans of breasts than of solving elderly problems. This paraphrasing exactly captures the gist of Mulgrew’s response.)
She wishes Voyager had delved more into Janeway’s loneliness among the crew and had really dug into what it would’ve been like to spend seven years away from close non-workplace relationships.
And she gave a shout-out to the great Robert Picardo. At the exact moment that she filmed her final scenes for the series and the crew immediately began dismantling the set and taking the screws out of her captain’s chair, Picardo waited for her in a nearby doorway with a bottle of champagne and told her, “You’ll always be my captain.”
By 5:50 the panel was officially at an end. The remaining activities were only for Collective members and for the winners of the unofficial autograph ticket lottery. We bade the venue farewell and headed home.
I’ve done my best here to share our least blurry pics with You, the Viewers at Home, as quickly as I could. I’m now into the wee hours of the night because I first had to take a two-hour break to catch the Doctor Who special that serves as the utterly gonzo grand finale for Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor, one of today’s many powerful women of science fiction pop culture who’ve walked the long and winding trail that Kate Mulgrew’s Captain Kathryn Janeway helped to blaze.
Thanks for reading! Lord willing, see you next geek event.
[UPDATED 10/24/2022, 10:52 a.m. to give credit where owed to the talented Mr. Eby.]