Storm in a Hotel Ballroom, A Look At SUPERNATURAL CON PHOENIX 2015

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Day 1 – Friday

To start, I haven’t been to many cons. Cons mostly happen on weekends and ever since I’ve been an employed member of society, I’ve worked on weekends. Yet the stars aligned in the form of a (temporary) schedule change and I was available to cover the festivities for Geek News Network. So as a fresh pair of eyes with no prior Supernatural Con experience and very little general con experience, I dove in.

As far as I understood, the layout of a Supernatural Con is different than most others. For instance: all the panels, shows, games, whatever, all go on in the same room. There is no irksome and frustrating feeling of: “oh, I want to see both these panels but they’re at the same time!” Definite check in the win column. Also: there are assigned seats—for those who pay a little extra, that is. All the General Admission rabble get to sit in the back. Okay, not ideal, but not terrible. If I got up at all, I would have no fear of returning to find my seat gone because everyone who wanted a good seat bad enough, already has it.

On Friday, doors opened at 11:30. I got there a little early to scope out the vendors area. Not very big, but it did have the variety of licensed WB merch and a few other independent vendors. I spoke with two women who came down from Minnesota about how much they were loving the weather. As someone who originally hails from the Frozen North, I empathize entirely. While I was looking around the vendors area, I found two of the guys from Supernatural: The Crossroads podcast and was chatting with them until the doors opened.

Once inside, I got a decent-ish seat and settled in. The Master of Ceremonies Richard Speight Jr. (the Trickster/Gabriel) was amazing and so happy to find out most of the crowd was made up of first timers. He mused that it was a perfect time to reuse old jokes. The ballroom was large and almost all the actors commented on how big the stage was compared to other Supernatural Conventions. The house band Louden Swain (Rob Benedict’s band) played the intro for Richard and every guest who came out. After a quick explanation of the policies and some hamming around for good measure, we were off.

The crowd was (supposedly) smaller today, but everyone on stage remarked on how big it was. For me, the draw was the panels. I like hearing the actors talk about their experiences on this show I love, and their other projects. First panel was Gil McKinney (Henry Winchester). Though he’s only been in two episodes, he’s a member of the Winchester family and a welcome guest.

The lovely lady sitting next to me encouraged me to go up and ask a question. I’ve never asked a question at a con before and it took a little prodding. The lines were short on Friday and not only did I get up at Gil’s panel, but at Lauren Tom’s too. To my surprise, he came right to the edge of the stage and made eye contact with everyone there, really listening. I can’t get people I work with to listen to me like that, so it was as wonderful, even with the side effect of leaving me a little star-struck. The microphones themselves weren’t working very well and a lot of people had to repeat their questions, which made the whole thing a lot more awkward than it had to be.

Later, someone asked if he ever wanted to be a Disney prince and he said he already was. I suddenly realized he played Prince Eric in Once Upon a Time. Three episodes for this one. I felt my IMDB skills were not up to snuff and it wouldn’t be the last time today.

Rob Benedict (Chuck/Carver Edlund/God) was up next. They say actors aren’t their characters, but Rob might just be the exception that proves the rule. He regarded the audience the same way Chuck did when faced with his own Supernatural Convention in the show: nervous chuckling and maybe a little bit of fear thrown in. Unlike Gil, he stood in the middle of the stage and pivoted back and forth between questioners. He thanked people after each question, which most of the other panels did, but Rob also gave a nervous little half-bow, half-curtsey that got laughs every time. He definitely seemed more comfortable behind the mic of Louden Swain.

Richard Speight only crashed three times, interrupting stories to add his side of things and giving Rob someone to play off of. It was one of the funnier panels of the day.

Lauren Tom (Linda Tran) came next. A little braver this time, I got up to ask another question. I asked what it felt like to be one of the few women to survive Supernatural. She talked about how after her first episode as Mrs. Tran, she felt like a badass and she thinks that’s why she’s lasted, because Mrs. Tran has spine and the fandom loves that. Can’t argue there.

Other questions asked about her roles on Friends, and her voice work on Futurama and King of the Hill. Again, I felt my IMDB skills rusting as I sat there. I had no idea Lauren Tom was a voice actress! I had a lot of shows to watch when I got home. She talked about how much she enjoyed Supernatural because it made use of all she’d done with acting: drama, comedy, even dance. She got into the minutia of acting more than the other panels so far.

The last panel of the day was Osric Chau (Kevin Tran) and it was by far my favorite. Even though I’ve never been to a Supernatural con, I knew the best part about Osric’s panels: he cosplays the first day of the convention, and it is some serious cosplay. Today he was Gaara from Naruto. He spent a few minutes giving an overview of the character and talking about Naruto. About a third of the panel talked about Naruto but that didn’t make it boring for the uninitiated.

He got more into the minutia of acting than anyone else that weekend. He gave the most involved answers and asked a few follow up questions. No topic was off limits: he gave cosplay tips, talked about his favorite video games, his past experience with martial arts, and acting as a business. At the beginning of the panel, he said he had a tendency to ramble and he certainly did, but it was always interesting and entertaining.

 

Photos taken by Andi Mueller [www.facebook.com/trollkicosplay]. All rights reserved.

 

Day 2 – Saturday

Saturday saw a bigger crowd and I could feel the storm brewing. Today was the day some of the more mainstream stars appeared (and some of them are still on the show!) starting with Sebastian Roche (Balthazar) and Mark Pellegrino (Lucifer/Nick).

I heard rumblings that Sebastian’s panels were… an experience, and I was not disappointed. He sang with the band, danced on stage and on top of chairs. When he saw question lines forming, he seemed surprised that anyone had the mistaken notion he would answer questions. He got to about three, maybe.

At his panel, Mark Pellegrino started taking questions right away, then seemed impressed when he got through three whole questions in a row. With the larger crowds there were longer lines and I didn’t go up today, though I can’t think of what I’d ask Lucifer. He got distracted and wandered with his answers, and seemed surprised about some of the turns the show was taking. The fans were more than happy to clue him in on current plot lines.

Most of his answers were about Lucifer, even if the questions were not. When asked what he’d do if he came back, he proudly pronounced Lucifer had some scores to settle.

On Friday, the screens flicked out maybe once, but today was mired with tech difficulties. The giant screens to help those of us in the back went black at least twice each panel and there was obnoxious feedback on the speakers that definitely wasn’t there yesterday. Though the tech team tried to work it out, there was no change.

Mark Sheppard (Crowley) was another panel I would classify as an experience. I was warned that Mark never stayed on stage and sure enough, he walked the crowd while answering questions. At one point, he stood not four feet away from me talking to the couple at the end of my row. He also met a four-year-old in the audience and started talking with the boy like no one else was there, teaching him how to make everyone go “awww,” which is basically how you get anything in this world.

Even though he didn’t answer half his questions and was an unmitigated troll, he still managed to give serious answers about his experiences on the show and in life. After a question about Kevin, Osric Chau ran over and gave him a hug.

The next panel was Richard Speight, Rob Benedict, and Matt Cohen (Young John Winchester) and for three characters who have never actually been in a scene together, they were the best of friends. They managed to make the simplest questions like “what’s your favorite candy?” into fifteen minute comedy sketches where they judged each other and deemed Rob a lesser man for liking fun sized candy bars.

Misha Collins (Castiel) was the last panel of the day. He was definitely the heavy hitter of Saturday and the room was packed. At first, he talked about his charities and his children before breaking into his trademark sarcasm. Unlike everyone else that day, he managed to sit still, sitting in the middle of the stage to (sort of) answer questions.

His answers were more like conversations and he asked follow ups questions a few times. He did the Castiel voice, to much cheering, and spoke about why he got into acting. Apparently, it was a “hairbrained scheme” to do something else, like writing or directing, and he found he actually enjoyed it. That is by far the strangest way to get into a business, but for him, it makes sense.

 

Day 3 – Sunday

Sunday was definitely a force to be reckoned with. It was the largest crowd so far and everyone was excited—it was time for the main event, the Jensen Ackles (Dean) and Jared Padalecki (Sam) panel. After three days of people moving and rearranging chairs, assigned seating was somewhat thrown to the wind and I managed to get a seat on the left side of the room, third row.

Unfortunately, tech difficulties plagued all three days of the con and Jared and Jensen had trouble hearing some of the questions. Jared solved this by walking off the stage and going to the front of the lines and talking to the fans. He was definitely more involved with the room and individual fans, but Jensen was entertaining as well. He offered Jared a dollar if he stripped (which came with much cheering) and took it back after Jared only removed his jacket, telling him “you did not earn that dollar.” About ten minutes in, someone asked a question about a popular Supernatural meme: the hula hoop full of salt. This led to the band breaking out into a good beat for the boys to pretend to hula hoop to.

While there was a lot of shouting and a lot more noise, Jensen and Jared were still 100% there, giving good answers and making jokes, telling stories. Some of the “basic” con questions like favorite movies or books came up, but also some interesting ones like who would play them in a completely gender-swapped Supernatural. Jared’s answer surprised no one: his wife Gen would play Sam, obviously. Jensen preferred to poll the audience, leading to the strange answer of Britney Spears. Jensen approved though, so all was well.

I barely noticed when the hour was up and the panel was over. Honestly, it was the most fun I’d ever had listening to someone talk. With yet more noise and cheers, the boys departed and most of the crowd left. I was beat after three days running around but I was determined to see the last panel of the con, Tahmoh Penikett (Gadreel/Ezekiel). I loved him in Dollhouse as Agent Paul Ballard and wanted to see his panel almost as much as Jared and Jensen’s.

The hall cleared out and I managed to get an even better seat. Tech difficulties once again forced him to the edge of the stage to hear what questions were being asked, but he was a good sport and rolled with it. A questions about which of his characters would win in a fight: Gadreel, Paul Ballard or Helo (from Battlestar Galactica) led to a vote. At a Supernatural convention, obviously Gadreel won.

Like a great storm beginning with a sprinkle and a light breeze, then giving away to a raging torrent only to die away again, the con ended. Louden Swain playing “It’s The End of The Con As We Know It!” followed everyone out the doors. The remaining people trickled out to find the vendors area completely packed up, tables sitting empty, boxes of leftover merch being packed onto carts and wheeled away.

It was an adventure, to say the least. A three day variety show sprung up out of nowhere, complete with a band, karaoke, singing, dancing, and one of the best character actors of this generation (Mark Sheppard, naturally). If you’re a fan of the show and get a chance to attend even one day of a Supernatural Convention, I highly recommend you go. Even with the crowds and my crappy seats, it was still the most fun I’ve had in Phoenix in a long time.

Andrea R. Blackwell
Comes from the world of fiction and likes writing about superheroes.
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