Like many, Star Trek was my entry point into geek fandom, and subsequently, Star Trek conventions were where I first experienced a shared geek culture. Creation Star Trek conventions during the late '80s and early '90s (specifically in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania — the closest they came to Philadelphia at the time) made me the nerd I am today, and I know that I'm not alone.
For all you kids, let me contextualize. This was before YouTube, the internet, and mega comic-cons were even a thing. Star Trek conventions were the nerdiest of nerdy things you could possibly do. (They inspired William Shatner’s legendary Saturday Night Live “Get a life!” skit.)
In other words, you did NOT admit to hanging out at a Star Trek convention at school on Monday — no matter how full your geeky heart might have felt all weekend. Geeks hadn’t yet taken over the mainstream. Sure, San Diego Comic-Con was around, but it wasn’t the pop culture behemoth it’s become today. Wizard World didn’t really start growing until the early 2000s, and New York Comic Con wasn’t born until 2006.
So during the '80s and '90s, Creation seemed to have cornered the market on geek gatherings. The annual Creation Star Trek conventions were a standard event for my mother and me, where I met cast members and communed with my fellow nerds. Those shows are some of the happiest and most comforting memories of my childhood.
And though the days of the small, regional Star Trek conventions are pretty much behind us, Creation is still going strong — most notably with its annual Official Star Trek Convention held every summer in Las Vegas.
This year’s event, from July 31 through Aug. 4, retains the crown as the biggest Star Trek convention in the country, and will feature more than 100 guests from every corner of the Trek franchise. Seriously, just look at the guest list. Name your favorite incarnation of Trek, and it has representation. And that's on top of four captains: William Shatner, Kate Mulgrew, Anson Mount, and Jason Isaacs!
For those who’ve never been, what should you expect? Well, if you've attended one of those mega cons I mentioned up top, it's kind of like that, but everyone shares a common love of Star Trek. On top of the many panels and impressive cosplay contest, there’ll be plenty of events and performances that make this particular show quite unique. There's a Saturday night gala event with Brent Spiner (Data on TNG) singing with a live band. There's a late-night dance party emceed by Tim Russ (Tuvok on Voyager). There's a presentation with makeup effects legend Michael Westmore turning Robert O’Reilly into the Klingon Kruge from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
More? How about Nana Visitor and Rene Auberjonois (Kira and Odo from DS9) on stage performing the play “Cross Our Hearts: Poems and Prose Read by Nana and Rene”? Or the 10th-anniversary performance of the “Rat Pack” lounge show featuring Max Grodenchik (Rom), Casey Biggs (Damar), Jeffrey Combs (Weyoun and Brunt), Vaughn Armstrong, and Nana Visitor singing jazz standards with a Star Trek twist?
Straight from San Diego Comic-Con will be an exhibit highlighting the upcoming Star Trek: Picard (and maybe some news?). There'll be a 40th anniversary retrospective of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, oodles of science and “science of Trek” panels, Quark’s Bar, re-created sets for photo ops, karaoke, and SO MUCH MORE!
But what should you REALLY expect?
“Madness!” Kate Mulgrew (Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager) tells SYFY WIRE. “It’s an absolute bloody madhouse. You will see 35,000 people who look like every character you’ve ever seen in Star Trek. Only one or two will look like human beings. It’s a bacchanal. These people adore Star Trek, and they’re there to celebrate every element of it.” (Listen to my full conversation with Kate Mulgrew here.)
Mulgrew is certainly aware of her historic place in Trek history, and she’s been doing conventions for almost 25 years (Voyager premiered in 1995). Does it get old? Hardly.
“The ego kicks right in, and I’m happy as a clam to be in front of 5,000 cheering fans. It’s gratifying and often quite moving. I find the women, particularly, moving. A lot of them attribute their success to having watched Kathryn Janeway. And that really gets me because that makes me feel like I have done something of some measure of importance.”
Anson Mount (Christopher Pike on Star Trek: Discovery) might be a newcomer to the Trek family, but he’s no stranger to the convention scene. He’s been to his share to support previous roles on both Hell on Wheels and Marvel's Inhumans. But Star Trek shows, he admits, are something different.
“They call it the family. You meet people who have made multi-decade relationships through these conventions. It’s just such a different thing… especially when you’re comparing it to something like [San Diego] Comic-Con, which — let’s be honest — is just a giant press junket at this point.”
But can anything truly prepare you for the enormity of the Star Trek fandom?
“That’s interesting,” Mount says. “It’s always framed — like you just said — with terms like enormity and intensity. People think it’s this thing that’s going to overwhelm your ontological perspective of the universe. But it’s quite the opposite, really. I was overwhelmed by how mellow this community is. How respectful people are of your space, time, and relative anonymity when you’re not up in front of people.”
Whether you’re a newbie or 25-year vet of Star Trek conventions, I would assume that, eventually, the Routine of it all grows wearying. The same questions, the same stories, again and again.
Shows what I know.
“No,” Mount is quick to say. “The questions are genuine, or I don’t think they would be spending their time asking them. So my answers have to be genuine.”
Mulgrew is also quick to dispel that assumption. “No, once you get into that stuff — where you start saying, ‘I’m tired of this’ — then don’t f**king go. Don’t go! Why bother people with your boredom? I wouldn’t do that. And I wouldn’t subject these very devoted fans to that. On principle, I simply won’t do it. So I don’t do many [conventions], but I do the ones where I believe that I can be fully present and make a contribution.”
And during his relatively brief stint promoting Discovery, Mount was hit by an epiphany. “I realized when I did the Creation show for the first time that people have grown used to us coming to them. It’s their house, and they own it. And you are a guest. They’re very welcoming, and they’re very hospitable. And I thank people at the end of panels for letting us be in their home, because that’s what it is.”
The Official Star Trek 2019 Convention, as always, will be at the Rio hotel and casino (which is a block or so off the Las Vegas Strip, but allows for more of an “island of nerdiness” vibe). The full schedule is now live, with both single-day tickets and five-day tickets still available here.