Creation Entertainment was founded in 1971 by Gary Berman and Adam Malin when they were still teenagers, and they’ve been running Star Trek, and other fandoms, conventions ever since. Their annual Star Trek convention in Las Vegas has been a major part of Trek fandom for decades. This year is going to be different — after skipping 2020, Creation is back with the renamed 55-Year Mission Tour event, which kicks off on Wednesday, August 11th. TrekMovie chatted with Gary Berman about what’s new this year—including the recently announced vaccine requirement—and where things are headed in the future for Creation and Star Trek conventions.
This has been an especially challenging time for your industry, so how are and Creation Entertainment holding up?
As you know, we wanted to celebrate our 50th anniversary by wanting a lot of conventions, and we had about 30 postponements. And it was difficult. But I have to say that about 90% of the people held on to their tickets and we rolled them over. And then when we put the shows back on sale, they and other people gobbled up those tickets. So we’ve been able to manage things because of the graciousness of our fan base. They’ve been really loyal. And we appreciate that so much. Because, obviously, we can’t refund 30 different shows. So, we’re in a good position. We’re looking forward to the convention this next week, it’s our first live convention in a year and a half. It’s very exciting.
Personally, I am holding up pretty good. We’re not 15-year-olds running conventions anymore. There’s a lot more thought processes involved. I was just thinking, for my first convention my parents had to drive me into Manhattan to run [it]. And now we’ve got like four or five big trucks going out to Vegas, they pick up the stuff today. And God, it’s just a huge undertaking.
And of course, you are dealing with extra complications, which led to last week’s announcement of a vaccination requirement.
I would have liked to have thought that after 50 years of running conventions for fans and working as hard as we know how and having a wonderful staff, that we’ve faced all adversarial-type things happening, but no one could have ever figured on what’s happened and what’s happening now. But the safety of the public, and our staff, and the celebrities are paramount in our minds. That’s been the underlying reason behind these recent decisions that we’ve made.
Was it an easy decision? Was there a lot of debate?
It became obvious that it was something we had to do. There wasn’t much choice. The decision was made due to the safety of the convention and celebrities and the staff and the fans. That’s why we made the decision. And there has been overwhelming support from people. Some beautiful letters thanking us. Some people are upset, but the vast majority have been supportive. Everyone wants to be safe.
You even put that in your article, like about Broadway. I think in the near-term future, the live entertainment business is going to be this way. Sundance just announced it. New announcements are coming every day with states and cities and private live-entertainment people like we are. They’re all doing it.
Your announcement a few weeks ago mentioned you were expecting a crowd of 15,000. Is that still the case and how will you be handling that in areas like the big ballroom?
That’s accurate in the way we count the people. Just like Disneyland, if a person comes for four days, we count them as four tickets, but we did sell about 15,000 for the five days. So you know the size of that theater, we can’t have 15,000 in one day. Our whole company has been built on the foundation that we don’t oversell our theater, so everyone who pays for a ticket gets a seat. That theater can hold around 5,500 if you max it out. We are going to have extra room by separating the rows by a greater space than normal for social distancing. So, now the max is about 4,000.
So speaking of the big ballroom, who are some of the celebrity guests that are a highlight for you this year?
I can only speak from my personal point of view, but Kelsey Grammer is a real thrill. We always like to have people who are more famous outside of Star Trek but did an appearance in Star Trek, just to excite the crowd. You can’t ask for a bigger star than Kelsey Grammer. And he’s coming back as Frasier which I’m thrilled about. Shohreh Aghdashloo is a really good guest. She’s obviously a super talented actress, Emmy winner and Academy Award nominee making a first Star Trek [convention] appearance.
And we are thrilled about Jeri Ryan, who has become even more popular due to Picard. And I like my old favorites. The people I think are so super talented. I always enjoy seeing Brent, who I think is just the comedic master. And how could you not mention William Shatner? My God! What an inspiration.
The last weeks have seen a lot of changes in the guest list, should we expect more?
There were some changes, including some announced this week. We’re continuing to try to book guests, we added around seven last week. I’m hoping we can add some more. We’ve got some inquiries out there. What’s been difficult is a lot of the celebrities are in productions and because of COVID, the productions are not allowing them to travel in and out without quarantining. And that’s been where we’ve had a lot of cancellations. But we’ve always tried to replace them as best as we can. Obviously, we’ve never had something so dramatic, but we still have around 100 guests. So we’re still providing a really nice package of entertainment for people.
In recent years the con has made a big effort to add more panels and events beyond the celebrity guests. What are some of the new things and highlights for 2021?
A new thing this year is the Leonard Nimoy photography exhibit. I have seen the pieces coming in, and they look beautiful. One of the things we are doing for the first time is we recently got our archives digitized. So we have these convention appearances from the ’80s and ’90s that people had not seen at all. So we put together little packages of video presentations, covering some of the highlights of appearances by some of these legends that we’ve had. Like Shatner and Nimoy did a tour for us in 1991 together, and I think it was the first time they appeared together for a convention and we had sold-out crowds in six different cities. So we have footage of that that we’re showing for the first time, which I think will be really cool.
I’m looking forward to the Saturday night music show. We’ve done the philharmonic a number of times, but this time we’re bringing Anthony Rapp and Isa Briones in to sing. And then we have all the Star Trek composers to actually conduct the orchestra. We’re putting the cabaret show and the orchestra together, so we get one night of both, which is cool. We always try to do new stuff. Like Ben Vereen’s one-man show is a tour de force. Chase Masterson is also going to do happy hour in Jimmy’s Bar, which is our new version of Quark’s Bar. And there’s a lot more stuff to do.
Let’s talk about the future of this convention. I understand you are moving it to a new venue in 2022, but then moving it back. Is that right?
The Rio is going to be renovated. So next year we switch over to Bally’s, which is another Caesar’s property. It will be the first time for a Trek event on the strip, so we are excited about the myriad of possibilities for people to just go out those doors for bars and restaurants. And for the year after that, 2023, we don’t know yet. We hope to go back to the fully renovated Rio at that point, or maybe we’ll stay at Bally’s or maybe find a new property.
But somewhere in Vegas?
Our show is in Vegas. The official Star Trek convention that CBS is running (Reed Pop’s Mission: Star Trek) I believe is going to switch from city to city.
This 55-Year Mission Convention is a Star Trek convention in everything but name, but you run lots of other genre events including planned ‘Sci-Fi Summit’ conventions which mix Star Trek and other shows like The Mandalorian, The Expanse, The Flash, and more. So could we see that kind of expansion for the big annual Las Vegas show?
We discussed that a lot internally. And the feeling was that we want to keep the event in Vegas to be Trek-centric. With all the excitement around the new shows, there is going to be enough to cover. We fill five days pretty easily. Next year is going to be four days at Bally’s, so we have to crush even more into just four days.
Regarding those Sci-Fi Summit shows, which have a lot of Star Trek celebs, this year you are just doing New Jersey?
Yes, this year we are doing Jersey because the rest of the cities got postponed. So we will see how Jersey does and then we will see if we will go to other cities with it. We just signed Sonequa [Martin-Green] to do New Jersey, so we are really excited about that.
This is Creation’s 50th anniversary. What do you see as a legacy for you and Adam?
I think bringing more of show business to the conventions is something I think is a legacy point for Creation. We took the standard convention format and added music and films and staging. Even to this day, you look at photos from other conventions, the star is on stage with a giant step-and-repeat banner behind them and even photo ops with step and repeats. We tried to take that out of it. Look at the stage we have in Vegas. This year we went top of the line with a full video wall and the lighting and all the effects that Adam has put into the show. I just don’t believe in that step-and-repeat thing. It’s supposed to be a show, not about PR. I want people to have a good time.
As we wrap up, is there anything else you want to say about the show this year?
Just that it’s going to be a joy and a pleasure to be with people who share our love of Star Trek. It’s Gene Roddenberry’s 100th birthday and we’re doing a lot of stuff for Gene. The Roddenberry team has come through with tremendous assets that they’re bringing, and presentations they’re doing. They’re running a whole track of really intensive programming. So just to be with people who share that love of what Gene stood for, that’s what I’m most looking forward to.
Tickets for the 55-Year Mission are still available. For more info on the convention, visit creationent.com.
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