Somewhere in the mass of dull-tipped plastic swords and homemade chakrams, wedged neatly in the intermission of a TV soundtrack on a loop at the Burbank Marriott’s ballroom, a spirited party reunited friends around a certain warrior princess.
Last weekend saw the 18th running of the official Xena Convention in Burbank. It’s at an awkward age now — old enough to vote but past its heyday. The people who keep it going — mostly women — do so because it’s at a transcendent point.
The event is no longer about its namesake, a syndicated cable program that saw its last bad guy slain in 2001. That is its greatest strength, and its greatest surprise: Though show stars Lucy Lawless and Renée O'Connor met with fans throughout the weekend, the convention has evolved into something almost too big to fail.
“The reason you come to the con is not to see the talent; the reason is to come to see your friends,” said Marilyn Edwards, sitting alongside partner Tiger Tyler who she met through an online Xena fan group.
Armor-clad warriors patrolled the hotel halls all weekend. There are two types of con-wear: the type in which you rip the sleeves off a tan blazer for Hercules’ tunic, and the type in which you look as though you just stepped off the set for “300.”
Michael Eggleton of Michigan was such a muscled centurion.
“The spear and shield wouldn’t fit in the suitcase,” he said.
Eggleton received a rare honor Saturday night. During the charity auction he was brought on stage and offered as one of the items for bid. Series writer Katherine Fugate bid the winning $50 and received an hour photo shoot with the centurion.
Many Xenas walked the halls toting plastic or wood swords over shoulders, round chakram weapons at their hips. One Xena, an Australian dance instructor and Subway employee, said the show helped fuel her interest in ancient Greek culture, even if its plot lines only narrowly followed the Greek pantheon.
“Growing up, it was my generation’s person you would look up to,” said Sarah McNab, 30, of Melbourne, Australia. “She was a strong female role model.”
That strength helped another Xena, Jessica Crouse of Maryland, who said she derived hope from the series’ depiction of two strong women together and happy.
“I felt I was recruited by Xena,” she said.
Strength and respect — two themes commonly heard through the weekend, and two major attributes of the conference’s attendees, according to former Burbank resident Diana March.
For four years, March has sold her stone and fossil jewelry at the convention. She visits other sci-fi conventions selling her handmade crafts, but said it’s the Xena convention where you find a down-to-earth crowd.
“It feels like a safe place, nurturing,” she said. “These people are keeping it alive.”
Last year, the convention was threatened with closure. Akin to canceling Thanksgiving, Creation Entertainment said 2012 was to be the last: “As with all good things, the time comes to raise a glass one last time and say goodbye with love and a heartfelt and tearful thank you.”
Then came this weekend, dubbed “The Final Journey, Part 2.”
On Sunday, registrations were taken for 2014. Thanksgiving is back to battle on for another year, at least.
“Here, it’s family,” said Cathy Kutz of Hollywood, dressed as Xena’s sidekick, Gabrielle. “That’s what keeps everyone coming back.”
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