Last weekend was Connecticut’s own multigenre convention; ConnectiCon. Over the last few years it has grown exponentially from a small, esoteric convention to a sizable middle tier convention. Some have even compared it to conventions like MAGfest or Dragoncon. While it may or may not be that big, it has been gaining steam every July. ConnectiCon is quite different from some of the larger conventions you may have gone to. Yes, there are a lot of panels, and celebrities of varying levels do show up. But ConnectiCon feels like it’s more about the fans when you walk along the Hartford Convention Center. Larger conventions feel like you’re there more for upcoming news, and announcements about products or media. Seeing a trailer for a film before anyone else. Or playing a game demo before anyone else. Or hearing about a new comic book before anyone else.
At ConnectiCon it’s more about meeting other fans, playing in tournaments with other fans, and yes hitting up Q&A panels with other fans. Of course every year there is a big chunk of the floor devoted to dealers. So often times it’s a good destination if you’re looking for a rare figure or comic. Or if you love the many T-Shirts you’ve seen online, but just prefer to buy apparel in person. The convention generally has at least one thing over the weekend for everyone. Tabletop gaming, literature, podcasting, anime screenings, and of course, panels.
Every year I tend to try to get in to as many panels as possible. Not only because I might be a fan of a particular panelist, but because they can be informative. As well as entertaining. This year most of the panels that I got into were with actors, many of whom worked mostly in voice acting. It was a pretty good look into some of what to expect if it’s something you want to get into. It was also interesting to see the kind of work that goes into some of your favorite animated shows, movies, and of course, video games.
One of the first panels I made it into was the Women In Voice Acting panel. Kari Wahlgren, and Rachel Robinson fielded questions from fans about working in voice acting. While the title was about women in the field, a lot of the information really pertained to the profession in general. There are less women voice acting, which seems largely in part to there being fewer female characters in shows, and games. Despite this fact, both of these people have gotten to play major parts in a lot of games, and anime. And you would probably be surprised if you found out just how many roles they’ve performed. I know I certainly was. For instance, you may have known Kari Wahlgren played Fuu in the American dub of Samurai Champloo. But did you know (without checking imdb) she was Anka Schlotz in the Swiss Miss episode of Archer? As in a lot of the panels, a lot of the same sort of questions about breaking into the business came up. So Rachel Robinson mentioned that a lot of these questions have been answered by Dee Bradley Baker. He’s the voice of Klaus on American Dad! He also has a wonderful site called IWantToBeAVoiceActor.com. On the site you can find a pretty lengthy F.A.Q. along with some basics, the process of getting an agent, and starting from absolute scratch. If you’ve always wanted to voice a character, check it out. A big thanks to Dee for writing it, and a big thanks to Rachel for mentioning it. Because I am sure a lot of people never knew this was something that existed.
Changing gears, I went to a very entertaining VA panel. In this one Phil Lamar, Maurice La Marche, Kari Wahlgren, Janet Varney, Bill Farmer, and DC Douglas all re-enacted Ghostbusters, in a myriad of the voices they’ve been known for. Except for Janet Varney who proved she could do a pretty good Arnold Schwarzenegger impression. The entire read was hilarious. In my opinion, one of the best moments was when Maurice La Marche was cast as William Shatner. Playing the role of Zuul.
Maurice La Marche also had his own panel I had gotten into. Which was one of the better panels I had seen. I was fortunate that I was able to ask him to elaborate on a point that Alan Oppenheimer had made at last year’s ConnectiCon. About visualizing voices. 30 years ago, studios often gave potential actors a single photo, and a description of a character they were auditioning for. So Alan had talked briefly about trying to come up with a voice based on the little given. Maurice La Marche mentioned that while the practice of giving so little material has died out, that it is still important for VA’s to do that visualizing. He talked about how when auditioning for the role of Pinky (Animaniacs, Pinky & The Brain), upon seeing the character he thought of someone who had illusions of grandeur, and believed their own hubris. So he thought a voice close to Orson Welles would fit that description really well. Had he not gone with his instincts, and tried to impersonate the person creators were lampooning, he might not have gotten the spot.
Someone else in the panel had asked him when he knew he wanted to be a voice actor. He said it was much later in his work life, but that he knew he wanted to do voices as early as 13. To impress some girls he knew in school who were enamored with an educator’s Peter Falk impression. So he would watch a lot of Columbo, until he could get his own impression down. Which even included making one eye go crossed. This impressed not only the girls but the teacher as well. He also talked about his work on Inspector Gadget, the casting changes between The Real Ghostbusters, and Extreme Ghostbusters (All due to misinterpreting an off the cuff remark). As well as the fact that Morbo, H.G. Blob, and Lrrr are all indeed different voices. In the case of Inspector Gadget he spoke highly of Don Adams, and that he learned a lot of his acting methods from him. He also recited one of his Orson Welles bits from The Critic: Rosebud frozen peas.
There was also a video game voice actor panel featuring Jon St. John, Dameon Clarke, Rachel Robinson, Christopher Bevins, Carlos Ferro, and DC Douglas. Much like the other VA panels, a lot of the questions were about the industry, entering it, and some of the panelists favorite, or least favorite roles. One of the more memorable answers to the least favorite roles were Ferro’s reaction when he learned just how nefarious one of his anime villain roles was. One hilarious moment during the panel was when Jon St. John told the audience he was tired of the questions pertaining to voice acting work, and wanted people to ask personal questions. A fan then asked if he had a favorite T-shirt. So he replied that he did, but that he couldn’t wear it in public due to the controversial joke displayed upon it.
The final VA panel had nearly everyone from the other VA panels in it including Phil Lamarr. He had one of the best answers for someone who asked about only wanting to do voice acting. He said something to the effect of “Asking about how to only do voice acting, is like saying you only want to perform on the left half of the stage.” making the point that it is but one facet of acting. Dameon Clarke also recommended fans take a class, or try getting into a public performance to see if it is even something one would like. A fair point. So often, the media we see will glamorize the world of acting. But it isn’t necessarily for everyone. Bill Farmer, and Maurice La Marche reminded one fan that there are often long breaks between jobs, especially when starting out. So having some kind of steady work to fall back on is paramount. To this day, even though Bill Farmer is essentially the official Goofy, each role as the character he does for Disney is an individual job. Rachel Robinson once again pointed out Dee Bradley Baker’s website IWantToBeAVoiceActor.com. Some interesting news came out of the panel too. Team Four Star has some work with Christopher Bevins! No real details came out about that work. The reveal came when a fan asked Rachel Robinson, Dameon Clarke, and Christopher Bevins if any of them had liked Dragon ball Z abridged. They all did.
But it wasn’t all VA panels this year. I also saw the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers panel. And while the show wasn’t something I watched a lot of, it was a pretty entertaining panel. Austin St. John, Karan Ashley, David Yost, and Jason Narvy were all on hand to talk about their time on the show. Some of the highlights were the actors talking about their experiences interviewing for the show. Most of whom had little to no experience at the time. Austin St. John was confused because the casting director was asking him if he could do martial arts, when he had already answered that in his application. Another factoid that came out of the panel was that David Yost, and Jason Narvy had actually applied for different roles on the show than what they had ended up being casted in. It was also kind of intriguing to hear them talk about things that went on outside the show, like the work they did with Make A Wish foundation. As well as things they’ve done since the show has ended. Some fans may not know that Austin St. John was a military medical officer, or that David Yost, and Karan Ashley do production. Jason Narvy actually teaches acting these days in Chicago.
The Power Rangers ended their panel by re-enacting their famous morphing segment. A great panel for not only fans, but for anybody interested in how shows are produced.
George Takei, and Michelle Nichols of Star Trek were also at the convention. George Takei had a half-hour panel on the last day of the con. He spoke at great length about Star Trek, and its importance to all of the people who have been involved with it. He also spent a long time talking to the audience about Leonard Nimoy’s contributions to the franchise like the invention of the Vulcan shoulder pinch, and the iconic live long, and prosper gesture. He also reminded fans just how kind, humble, and charitable Leonard Nimoy was. Takei also reminisced about other cast members the show lost, DeForest Kelly who he says was very shy, and private away from the set. James Doohan who he says he enjoyed drinking with, as well as Grace Lee Whitney who passed away earlier this year.
Things also became a little bit political when he talked about his controversial statement earlier this year, and clarifying what he was trying to say. All in all, whether or not you agree with his views he never came off as stand offish. He was very kind, and appreciative of everyone who attended the panel regardless of political background.
He also has a new book coming out where he will be discussing a number of things about his personal life, as well as a theatre production coming to broadway inspired by his love for his parents.
There were a couple of other panels I made it out to. One was an 18+ panel about the reproductive habits of fictional races in Star Trek. This quickly expanded into pretty much every work of fiction. And while lowbrow, it was a tongue in cheek, comedic panel.
Team Four Star had three panels. I was only able to get to one of them. In it they talked a lot about their veering into Let’s Play territory. More accurately, abridging their Let’s Plays. Starting with a play through of Final Fantasy VII. They showed off a preview of the first episode, and it was very funny. If you’ve followed these guys for any amount of time you won’t be disappointed. The reason they’re doing this is because they’ve had a lot of bad experiences with anime IP holders. So while they aren’t abandoning their parodies entirely, there will be fewer of them. The panel also included the creators of Pokémon Abridged. The Q&A was going really well until a nervous fan began asking Team Four Star about Doug Walker (The Nostalgia Critic) not being at the show. The group explained that he was never advertised for the show, and that he was actually appearing at Animecon in Finland. Things became really uncomfortable when the fan asked Team Four Star to give him Doug Walker’s personal information. Suffice it to say they did not. They played off of the request with humor to ease the tension, before moving onto more questions from fans.
But things would get back on track as other fans would ask the group relevant questions about their projects, and request performances of their various parody voices. There was also a recap of how one of the members became a meme about censorship on Bennet The Sage’s Anime Abandon show.
The final panel I got into was an unpopular opinions in gaming panel hosted by Alma. It was basically a group of fans taking turns debating their statements. Some fans didn’t understand the appeal of Zelda games. Some fans defended Call of Duty. Others thought some of the Super Smash Bros. Melee diehards should move on to other games. If there was a sacred cow in gaming it was probably being derided by somebody. But it was done in a fun way where no one really felt their opinion was the only valid opinion. A great way to mingle with other fans, and perhaps see your favorite or loathed titles from a different perspective. Even if it probably won’t change your mind.
Outside of the panels? Well I did get some time in the gaming area, where I played a quirky Japanese game called Cho Chabudai Gaeshi. It’s a high score game where you flip a table in anger hoping to knock over people, and destroy objects for points. The game has several different playable characters including a bride, an old woman, a chef, and even an odd metallic looking fellow. You slam down your fists onto the table during prompts to fill a meter. When it is filled, you literally flip the physical table as hard as possible to send it flying in the game. Not only can you choose different characters, but there are a number of stages too. Including a funeral, where the table you flip is the one that the coffin rests upon.
There isn’t much else to the game, but if you happen to live near one of the few arcades left in the world, or happen to see it at a convention it is worth checking out. There are videos of the game play online, but it is really something you have to see in person to believe. At ConnectiCon there was a huge line of people waiting to play it.
There were also a number of rhythm arcade games again this year, a PC LAN set up with some MOBAs, and strategy games. A lot of consoles going back to the NES hooked up for anyone to use as well. Once again, there was a League Of Legends tournament. I didn’t get to see that or the different Super Smash Bros. tournaments that went on. But fans really did seem to enjoy them when I talked to any that did happen to watch them. There were also board game tournaments going on. If there was a tabletop game you enjoyed, it was probably there.
Adjacent to the gaming room was the dealer room. This year there didn’t seem to be quite as many vendors. But I did manage to find one called Command D that actually had a Mint On Card Commemorative Battle Armor He-Man. I’m a HUGE Masters Of The Universe fan, and so I had to give them credit as they were the only vendor at the show with anything related to MOTU.
The other big thing I managed to do this year, as it’s a ritual was get out to City Steam Brewery with some friends for dinner the second night. If you’re of legal drinking age these guys make some of the best beer in the state of Connecticut. The brewery also makes some of the best pub food in the state of Connecticut. If you’re ever passing through CT for whatever reason, and you have a chance to stop in you should. If beer, and burgers aren’t enough for you, they also have a stand up comedy club inside, as well as a tour of the brewery. They also have a lot of City Steam swag you can buy. T-Shirts, mugs, hats, and so on.
Overall, I was pretty happy with this year’s showing. There was an awful lot to do, around 13,000 attendees to mingle with, and a ton of great costumes to check out. Some of which were featured in the annual Cosplay Death Match, and Cosplay Dating Game. I didn’t get to the DM, but the DG was enjoyable. The panel lampooned the classic show by featuring cosplays of characters from Inside Out, as the guests. Other unrelated characters would appear as potential dates. It was goofy, and a little corny. But it was still fun. And the last segment would become a lot of fodder for the Phrasing meme featured on Archer. There were a lot of double entendre moments in all of the segments, but especially the last one. So much so, that a chunk of the audience where I was seated was, indeed, chanting “Phrasing.”
And yet, there was so much I didn’t get to do. The aforementioned tournaments, RKO Army’s shadow casting shows, The Marble Hornets panel, (Yep. TMH was at ConnectiCon), Several other celebrity panels, and not to mention all of the workshops, and other cosplay events. Here’s hoping next year ups the ante even further.