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Fan Expo Canada 2023 Recap

A busy comic con that acknowledged the entertainment industry strikes

By Monita MohanPublished 9 months ago 6 min read
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Star Wars: The Clone Wars voice actors at Fan Expo Canada 2023 (Photo credit: Monita Mohan)

Toronto fans’ annual summer pilgrimage to all things fandom was a crowded, star-studded affair. There were more installations than in previous years—heralding the supposed return to normal. It wasn’t a normal expo though; some of us are still masked and uncomfortable with packed crowds. The expo also took place while the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes were going on, so the majority of the stars refrained from talking about struck productions.

It may seem strange for actors to appear at an event that is all about promotion and publicity, but they took this as an opportunity to platform the issues they face in the entertainment industry. I didn’t necessarily feel like this dampened the spirit of the panels as the actors still had plenty of stories, anecdotes, and personal histories to share with the audiences, but the aura of the strike was inescapable. The fans, I have to say, were mostly respectful of the diktats of the strikes and did not put the guests in an uncomfortable situation.

The Installations

With plenty of shows debuting and returning, the streaming services were back in form at Fan Expo Canada. As part of the press, I was invited to a sneak preview of the Disney+ ‘Ahsoka’ show, Paramount+‘s The Lodge installation, as well as the Amazon Prime early screening of ‘The Wheel of Time’ Season 2. In consideration of the strikes, I won’t talk about what was involved in the installations, but I will mention that the PR folks made the effort to include the press and make us comfortable. If I have any thoughts about the productions that were promoted, I will share them as part of any feature pieces or analyses that I write, not as publicity.

The installations are part of the appeal, but it’s always the Artists Alley and the local (and sometimes not so local) retailers who bring the Expo to life. Threading through the packed crowds was not fun, but day one was a much more pleasant experience than the other days because there were fewer people around.

Star Wars Panels

Ming-Na Wen at Fan Expo Canada 2023 (Photo Credit: Monita Mohan)

The panels are both the highlights and lowlights of each Expo for me. I love hearing from the people who make my favourite shows and bring my favourite characters to life, but the lead-up to the sessions includes a ton of planning, needless headaches, and standing in line for literal hours. It gets less and less appealing every year.

That being said, the pure joy you feel from an audience enraptured by hearing Ashley’s Eckstein explain that she’s decided to dedicate her life to Ahsoka Tano because of how much fans love the character from ‘Star Wars: The Clone Wars’ and how much voicing the character has changed her life, is delightful. Eckstein has taken the character to heart and said she keeps herself on track by asking herself ‘What Would Ahsoka Do?’

Hearing Obi-Wan Kenobi voice-actor James Arnold Taylor switch from voice to voice to voice in one sentence in a breathtaking demonstration of his incredible voice-acting skills was memorable. He was asked to bring his own take to the Jedi Knight, despite originally emulating both Alec Guinness and Ewan McGregor in the micro-series of the same name.

And Matt Lanter sent the audience into peals of laughter with his jokes about Anakin Skywalker being totally wrong but also very right to question everything. Lanter didn’t even know he was auditioning for the role of Anakin, but once he found out, he studied Hayden Christensen’s performance to match the inflections, especially the ‘sing-song’ way that Hayden delivered his dialogues. But, like Taylor, Lanter was asked to bring his own take on the character, which makes sense considering Anakin is at a very different ‘season’ in his life during the show.

Ming-Na Wen was also at the Expo, but she didn’t talk about any of her acting projects at all. There was no Q&A at her panel, but she kept the audience entertained with talk about her stunt work, her stunt double Ming Qiu, her upcoming cookbook, and her love of food.

All these anecdotes almost made up for the painful experience of getting inside the rooms where it happens. Almost.

Star Trek Panels

Anson Mount and Ethan Peck at Fan Expo Canada 2023 (Photo Credit: Monita Mohan)

Star Trek actors have been vocal supporters of both the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes; many of them have been at the picket lines from the start. At Fan Expo Canada, Gates McFadden openly talked about why she supports the strikes—she acknowledged that though she’s in a privileged position, the current set-up of one-cent residual checks is unsustainable. She talked about her life, her time in France, her improv classes, and her love of teaching. She also mentioned her love for conventions and her Star Trek family.

Anson Mount and Ethan Peck were equally vocal about the strikes. Peck, though more reticent, reiterated that he was striking for his union and the guest actors and others who get way less than someone like him. Mount explained that there were professional actors and writers who made so little while working on well-known shows that they were waiting tables to make a living. While they tried their level best to keep the strike rules in mind, both actors ended up talking a little bit about the musical episode of ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’, purely by accident, and then apologized the couple of times they slipped up. I commend them for trying their best to give the audience a great experience, while also being mindful of the strike.

In answer to a fan question, Mount explained that even though actors’ likenesses are used in merchandise, they do not receive any money for it. And he shared that the ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ cast worked on the weekends to produce the musical episode album—they worked off the clock to save the studio money—and they don’t get a penny for their efforts. It’s shocking and a reminder of how little the strikers are asking for. There’s a whole can of worms the industry hasn’t even opened yet.

Both Mount and Peck still had the audience laughing with their personal anecdotes, mostly about their musical tastes and their singing prowess.

Michelle Hurd Talks Labour Issues

Michelle Hurd at Fan Expo Canada 2023 (Photo Credit: Monita Mohan)

From all the guests attending, it was expected that Michelle Hurd would loudly and proudly talk about the strikes as she’s the VP of the LA chapter of the SAG-AFTRA. She did not hold back. Hurd had spent the morning prior to her panel at an ACTRA rally, the Canadian actors union, and at her Fan Expo Canada panel she reiterated the reasons for the strike.

Hurd is an activist and brings that passion to every issue she is fighting for, be it the rights of actors like herself, queer love, and the struggles of Black actors when dealing with hair and make-up. She had the audience applauding and in tears at every turn. Fans came up to the mic and had to re-compose themselves as their voices broke and shook from emotion. Hurd is a woman who knows she has a platform, and she has chosen to use it for good.

Hurd broke down for the audience exactly what the unions’ asks are. She also explained that, while she’s fighting for one group of working people, their fight extends to other industries as well because this is a labour issue. We live in a broken system where a tiny number of people literally make billions of dollars, while the rest of us make less and less and are exploited more. Her words resonated with everyone in the audience, and they helped contextualize a battle that may seem silly to some but is something we could all learn from.

I was really impressed by the audience questions, almost all of whom touched on Hurd’s activism, and asked pertinent questions about the strike. Hurd concluded her session by reminding us to always have hope, because, as her mother says, without it we have nothing. Hurd’s was a rousing session and since it was the last one I attended at Fan Expo Canada, it was a triumphant way to end the event.

While hearing from the stars brings a new perspective to the entertainment that we consume, I think it’s high time these conventions were better organized, with proper crowd and line management. I find queuing for panels means I miss out on attending sessions by local speakers and creators. I see a lot less while spending more time doing nothing. What I do get to catch is enjoyable, but it’s exhausting. But every time another of these conventions comes along I can’t help but get excited to attend. So, on to the next one. Hopefully one without the shroud of greedy corporates exploiting labour.

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About the Creator

Monita Mohan

When not dreaming of a one-way trip to Coruscant, I'm usually staring at a blank page, hoping my articles write themselves.

Website: lightspeedwriter.wordpress.com

Twitter: @Monita_Mohan

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