OK, so that's not entirely true. More accurately, by the time our nerve wracking march from our front row seats concluded at the center aisle question queue we found ourselves semi-seriously contemplating retreat. There were about 6 or 7 people in front of me, I was in front of Rebecca, and we were both uncomfortably shifting from one position on the floor to another - partly due to the anxiety that bedeviled us as we struggled to take in all that was going on while fretting about whether or not we'd survive our own turns at the mike, and partly because we had been asked to crouch down so as not to block the view of all those behind us in the audience that crowded into the ballroom that day.
Admittedly, we had a hard time being truly present and paying full attention to the questions posed to the panel - some fun and lighthearted and others more serious and weighty - by those in line ahead of us. We were, however, able to take some of it in and fortunately we've been able to find some YouTube footage of the questions that preceded ours to fill in the gaps (thanks to YouTube user elizabeth6777) .
One that stood out for us was asked by someone who self-identified as a gay man; he prefaced his question to Nelsan by thanking him for his role in a portrayal of gay society that is more realistic than that of the seminal Queer As Folk; this elicited surprise and cheers from the crowd. The essence of his question revolved around why some representations gay sex scenes are shown in graphic detail (i.e. Eric mercilessly staking Talbot while ostensibly seducing him) but others that are tender and rooted in real affection and caring, such as Lafayette being intimate with his new love interest Jesus, cut away prematurely. Rather than trying to paraphrase, I give you his full question and Nelsan's response (starting at the 1 minute 30 second marker):
We were able to chat a little with the guy who posed this excellent question as we were all being shepherded out of the ballroom post-True&A, and he wasn't sure he bought Nelsan's response 100%. He had the sense - with which we didn't disagree - that there is a tendency to show a more darkly prurient side of gay sex while demurring from - pardon the pun - a "full frontal" honest and loving portrayal of homosexual romantic partners on television. In a political landscape where controversy swirls around the issues of marriage equality and the American military's policy of "don't ask, don't tell", True Blood serves up some timely food for thought...
After he sat down there were maybe three people ahead of me, and by that time my thoughts were drifting to:
- would I be able to get up from from my kneeling position with some semblance of grace; or at least avoid accidentally kicking my sandal off and launching it at the panelists (clearly not the impression I was going for)
- would I be able to make it through asking my scripted question - which I was prepared to read from my note pad in order to avoid blanking out completely - without my voice wavering or the girl with the microphone cutting me off before I was finished
- would I be so distracted by the lady about 4 rows back who huffed and puffed indignantly each time someone in the queue stood up to ask their question (utterly obstructing her view despite the 2 very large screens mounted on the wall in front of her) that I would lose my train of thought
Yesterday the moderator led with an author's quote which said in part, "True Blood is the most progressively political and sexual show on TV". That really resonated for me since I see the show not only as being wildly entertaining but also as a potent medium through which to critically engage cultural currents and provocative issues; it can bring questions about the social problems it raises straight into the living rooms of more people than most political tracts or speeches could ever reach and get those viewers to start looking for answers. I'm wondering if you see a role for True Blood in forwarding a civic discourse; do you ever hear from fans that the show and the issues it addresses have made ripples in their ways of thinking or acting in the world, and do you feel any responsibility as actors on True Blood to impact your viewers in that way?As soon my lips stilled, I checked out. That's my coping mechanism, you see, my default mode for dealing with threatening scenarios. It's purely involuntary - I disassociate; my consciousness leaves my body and floats skyward leaving the rest of me stranded down there on the ground to give the impression that I'm actually still wholly there.
I wanted so badly to take in the panel's response, but frankly I was intimidated standing in front of them, unnerved by the ballroom full of people behind me. All I could do to maintain composure was to set myself in a rigid pose to keep from fidgeting, left leg bent and kicked out to the side, hip jutting slightly; trusty pad in hand, pen stolen from behind my ear and lifted to paper in the ruse that I was taking notes as the panelists responded, all the while my eyes locked in the direction of the stage and my head nodding in the motion of my feigned active and engaged listening.
Only, no one responded. At least not right away. I wish I could recall what happened in the moments right after I stopped speaking, but I can't. All I really remember is my distinct and rising fear that no one would answer me.
What Rebecca says happened is that once I was silent, the whole room audibly gasped and was silent too. And then there was applause. The panelists leaned back in their chairs, away from their mikes. For a split second they glanced around at each other, Sam leaned into his mike, then leaned back again, Kristin urged him forward, and he uttered something akin to, "why did I decide to speak first?", there was laughter, Nelsan remarked that it was actually a really good question, Sam concurred, and proceeded with a response. Nelsan followed.
I hope that my question, which Rebecca and I actually labored on together, rang true for others in the audience because it was intended to open a vein on the show's deep implications. We met some other cool people while leaving the ballroom post-True & A who talked about how the genres of science fiction and horror have long commented on social issues and mentioned knowing that True Blood was going to be good as soon as they saw Tara reading Naomi Klein's influential book on the rise of disaster capitalism, "The Shock Doctrine" in Season 1, Episode 1 so we know there are people out there watching the show with a critical eye the way we do.
Here's Sam and Nelsan's remarks (which I will transcribe soon); same video clip as above, just drag the play bar to the 7 minute 13 second marker:
After Nelsan concluded his response, I thanked the panel again and wheeled around to return to my seat. As I stepped gingerly over the people in crouch mode lining the center aisle, my heart was heavy that I couldn't stand in solidarity with Rebecca and offer her moral support as she asked her question since I knew she was just as nervous as I had been - but for different reasons. She's a show choir and theater veteran and still sings in public regularly so masses of people don't upset her apple cart, it was the panel that was freaking her out. She also had the added challenge of playing musical microphones; for some reason the girl holding the mike kept moving it around in front of her, blocking her view of her question - which like me - she had written down.
For fear of being cut short, she opted to preempt herself and by the time I had returned to the front row and evicted the people who were squatting in the chairs we had temporarily vacated I could tell she was going off script. It worked out to marvelous effect; her ad-libbing resulted in a question that to my ears was a different animal entirely than the one she had drafted the night before; it was stronger, tighter, and more relevant to the panelists present that day. Her original question was in retrospect more appropriate for True Blood's writers or creator Alan Ball.
She wanted to know how the unique locations so intimately connected to Bon Temps and its colorful inhabitants - i.e. the Stackhouse home, Merlotte's, and Fangtasia - when thought of as characters in their own right impact or influence the actors' performance. She was rewarded with amazingly rich responses from 3 out of the 4 panelists assembled; Nelsan didn't speak simply because he didn't have the time since Sam, Kristin, and Michelle had offered such in-depth perspectives.
I figured Rebecca might very well be checking out as I had minutes earlier when she finished her question. By that time I had regained the presence of mind to spring into action on behalf of my sister and enough wits about me to take notes, so I did. Here they are:
- For Michelle, the rich detail of the sets helps her immensely as an actor; it's fun between takes to look around in the corners to find minute detailing that she had previously missed. The sets are atmospheric, "you can feel the sweat and humidity, hear the bugs"; of course you can't, but being on location evokes that kind of embodied reaction.
- Sam interjected that at Merlotte's there are things that the viewing audience will never see and can't read on set like business cards collected from local carpenters that are tacked to the walls, this provides very realistic Louisiana details to pepper the background with; he said this is good for the actors to flesh out their characters even though these fine details can't be seen on TV.
- Kristin responded that when you're at Fangtasia there's a whole process for getting into character and the sets contribute hugely to her character development.
- Michelle jumped back in at that point, she leaned across the table to her right, and looking at and talking to Sam now, said that the first time she visited Merlotte's she learned a lot about the character of Sam Merlotte by looking around "your" office.
- Kristin resumed her line of thought by saying that all she has to get into her character is her imagination. She recalled the scene in which Pam was supposed to be delivering the check from Eric to Sookie; she expected it to be a relatively plain and basic prop but it had things like Eric's bank account and routing number on it and even though she knew no one would ever see these details on TV it helped her be able to get into the head space where she felt like she was really delivering a check from Eric Northman.
We were gifted with many of these kinds of insider insights, along with other such juicy morsels, as well as some unexpected (and at times emotionally charged) revelations over the course of the three True Blood panels at Dragon * Con 2010. In my next installment I'll be back to with a deeper discussion of the panels, and I hope Rebecca will chime in as well since both of our input when taken together will provide a fuller and rounder picture.
Until next time...