The Return of the Grand Slam
The weekend following Valentine’s Day marked the return of the Grand Slam Sci-Fi Summit in Southern California after an absence from the convention circuit for a few years. The event had been a major affair in the sci-fi world, but especially with Star Trek, for nearly twenty years and had been prominently displayed in the Trekkies documentaries and on various media productions.
Despite attendance dropping due to the growing popularity of the Las Vegas Star Trek Convention and a move to different locations (first starting in Pasadena, then Burbank, next to LAX, and then back to Burbank again), the Grand Slam has had a loyal following and ended up having a more intimate feel than many of the other conventions of similar genres with thousands of attendees.
One would think that with the Star Trek reboot movie there would be renewed interest and more visitors. Instead, Creation Entertainment (the people behind Grand Slam and others) held a convention to correspond with the film hitting theaters but was unable to garner any of the new actors in their collection of guests that weekend. The year prior had much fanfare due to a stage visit by the Spock Duo of Leonard Nimoy and Zachary Quinto together, yet the excitement did not continue nor hold up through 2009.
Having been a consistent attendee to Grand Slam since 2001, I was incredibly disappointed to lose my local convention. It was easier for me to attend due to the location being within an hour drive, that way this poor high school / college student could put funds towards autographs and geeky toys rather than have to worry about plane tickets and a hotel. There were many others who had been attending even longer than I had where much animosity festered. The year 2008 also marked the Twilight franchise kicking off and the Creation folks saw the chance to cash in on the excitement. The final year of Grand Slam in 2009 was lacking in Trek and had picked up in Twilight. The following year, Grand Slam disappeared and a Twilight con had taken its place.
To their credit, Creation tried bringing back Grand Slam in various forms – even making promises to get a bunch of the actors from the reboot movie. A Star Trek convention in San Francisco was added to the schedule at the last minute, but was not well put together according to those who attended the first one (hotel was too small, confusing setup). None of the attempts for Grand Slam, not to mention a much anticipated Joss Whedon-fest for Buffy/Angel/Dollhouse/Firefly that fell apart, managed to take flight until this year. Sci-Fi and Star Trek fans felt left in the cold locally were unable to make the events that were more distant.
Thus, this return was met with much anticipation and excitement. Friday was the calmest of the days as Saturday had sold out in all tickets (except Gold seating). Saturday was the place to be with Sir Patrick Stewart and several of his colleagues from Star Trek: The Next Generation were headlining the schedule. Many people had not expected tickets to sell out while also realizing the convention would be very popular. Creation made a great decision in allowing people to buy cheaper admission to visit only the vendor area since several people had bought autograph tickets but had not bought admission yet. Photos with celebrity guests had been moved to the ballrooms off the main hotel lobby, also easily accessible for those unable to buy general admission.
I have heard of people requesting such accommodations of Creation before for the Las Vegas convention. However, the separation of the theater stage and the vendor area at the Rio, and Hilton in years prior, were more separate than that of the Marriot in Burbank and also much larger. Seeing for myself and also hearing the same from fellow attendees, the vendor area was ridiculously crowded and confining. The convention hall lobby, just outside of the theater area, and several side rooms (typically used as the photo-op room) was used as the vendor room.
Celebrity guests also had worries about the volume of people being funneled through narrow walkways as the room was lined by tables with wares, toys, collectibles, and places to meet and greet with the celebrities for autographs. The vendors in the back rooms received little to no traffic due to the inability for people to maneuver there. The same area has been used for the vendor area in years past, but not with so many tables. Sunday was manageable to an extent but Saturday looked like Times Square on New Year’s Eve with people barely able to squeeze past one another. Security by Creation took certain measures and would not allow certain cosplay weapons in because of “too many people”. The ticket counter employee told me they had nearly a dozen, real bat’leths with sharp points that they asked people to store away in cars and would not allow them to be brought inside. I had been in a Faith cosplay from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and had brought a fake dagger, which I had to show was a rubber plastic that bent and had no true blade before I could enter.
A good idea that Starfleetmom mentioned was that Creation should consider putting the vendor area in the lobby ballrooms where the photos were taken. The size of the rooms and the access would have been best to handle the number of people. I can understand, however, that Creation would rather have the vendors close to the stage events and also makes for a great meeting place to see people in costume. Even photos have been a problem with winding lines filling up space in the convention hall lobby. Perhaps if Creation intends to build up the Grand Slam Summit again to its former glory, a larger location may be a better option. Pasadena handled the setup well for years and afforded a great area for the vendors. Burbank has been a great location and was needed when Grand Slam became smaller.
A favorite change for the better that my friend Anna and Starfleetmom both agreed on was how the change for autographs was done. Guest celebrities had tables in the vendor area and, instead of being called at a certain time by ticket number; people were able to line up at the tables. The guest celebrities have complained over the years about Creation handlers being pushy on scheduling and keeping them from being more personable with a fan, which this allowed them to set their own hours throughout the day. Several of the guests stayed two or all three days, giving flexibility to themselves and for the fans. It also allowed for a more friendly experience with the ability to get an autographed personalized. On a side note, there have been some guests in the past who took it upon themselves to give each fan love and attention – John Rhys Davies (of Indiana Jones, Sliders, Voyager, and Lord of the Rings fame) comes to mind as he spent several hours, well past 9pm, autographing in 2004 but made a point to have a short conversation with every single person.
All in all, it was a great comeback for Grand Slam and the fans that had supported it for so many years. It seems it is already well on its way to the glory of years gone by, especially supported by the original and spin-offs casts who always show their love for the fans who make these events happen.