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Camp Report of the 3rd German Xena Camp

"Fandom loves itself", Steven Sears said in a telephone interview with the German Xena Fanclub (DXF), when asked about his experiences with fandom - and the 3rd Xena Camp, taking place in Winterberg from Sept. 17-19, certainly proved him right!

 

During the weekend, about 130 Xena-Fans from Austria, Germany and Switzerland gathered together in what, most of the time, seemed like a large family meeting. This is not to say that everybody knew each other before coming to Winterberg (although many fans had met before during previous meetings), but rather that no one stayed alone for long in the friendly and relaxed atmosphere of the meeting.

Nevertheless it came as a bit of a surprise that the video room, where 4th season episodes were shown on a giant screen throughout the weekend, remained rather empty at times, while the fans preferred to either participate in other activities or simply spend time together, talking and discussing Xena-related and lots of completely Xena-unrelated topics.

If fandom loves itself, it also loves its own inventiveness and enthusiasm: most of the weekend's events (from fan fiction readings to theatre performances, lectures and workshops) were organized and run by the fans themselves.

 

On Friday night a midnight fan fiction reading - held in a little hut outside the main building - drew a big, big crowd. Visitors weren't exactly sure whether the heat building up in the little cabin had to be attributed to the big log fire burning in the middle of the room or to the effect of the stories being read. In any case, the phenomenon mysteriously repeated itself on Saturday night... Fan fiction is a popular facet of Xena fandom indeed!

Subtext isn't just predominant in many fan fiction stories, it can also be detected quite easily in most of the very entertaining fan-made Xena/Gabrielle music videos which were shown in heavy rotation long into the night (even a Janeway/Seven-video was sneaked in - subtext fans really stop at nothing...) - definitely a crowd pleaser as the cheers, the laughter and the long applause proved.

On Saturday morning the camp's participants had the opportunity to either watch or participate in a swordplay workshop, trying their hands at sword and staff, while those fans who preferred to begin the day in a more meditative fashion could get some detailed information about the history, meaning and technique of Mehndi painting (the India episodes had been shown the previous night). Afterwards many fans were seen sporting beautifully painted henna paintings on hands, arms and shoulders ...

In the afternoon, two groups teamed up for the ancient Greek sport of "Ultimate Chakramee" (a modern day version is now known as "Ultimate Frisbee"). According to the ancient rules, the two teams (called "The Bards" and "The Lawless") fight for the possession of a little round thing - this time not used for killing but for scoring points in the end zone of the rivaling team. Although the game proved hazardous for some participants' health, this did not deter those who survived from starting all over again the next day. Later that day, the Xena trivia quiz went ahead, including the obligatory hardcore nutball questions, but also a chariot race (without chariots) and a frenzied audience trying to pantomime things like "The greater Good", "Dance of the Veils", "Furies", "Dirty Half Dozen" or "Poseidon"...

After the quiz, everyone enjoyed a delicious cold buffet and then eagerly awaited one of the highlights of the weekend: a telephone interview with Steven Sears. Sears took a lot of time to patiently answer questions from the fans (the interview lasted well over an hour), almost missing a football game to explain his views on many different aspects of the show, as well as his new project "Sheena, Queen of the Jungle". (For excerpts from the interview see the end of this report).

After the interview, people came in droves to listen to a rock concert performed by Theo "DocCovington" Roglev and her companion Fredi "Sound Sleeper" Kohl. Theo's music was already pretty well known to the fans who had attended the 2nd Xena Camp, where Theo got the title "Bard of Bilstein". There is little doubt that she will attend the next meeting as the "Bard of Bilstein & Winterberg", complete with her own fanclub and newsletter - fandom not only loves, but also uncannily multiplies itself...

The concert didn't end the day's program (another fan fiction reading, a late night screening of A Day in the Life) and even if it had, most fans probably wouldn't have cared, since they followed an agenda of their own that didn't necessarily include sleeping. Only a handful of fans had to get up early on Sunday morning - the majority hadn't been to bed yet...

 

The morning's program included two slide presentations about New Zealand, one about the country in general, the other one by two fans, who had actually managed to get on the Xena set during their vacation in New Zealand and now shared their photos and adventures.

Afterwards everyone moved outside to attend the last highlight of the weekend: "The Birthday Party", a play written and rehearsed specifically for this weekend. Loth Lorien (a costume group, that makes costumes fashioned after the costumes from the show) and writers from the German fan fiction archive had collaborated on the play, which was presented by an exuberant cast including Xena, Gabrielle, Callisto, Ephiny and other Amazons, Hercules, Cyrene, Autolycus, Ares, Hercules, Joxer and a couple of Bacchae thrown in for good measure. When the play was written, the writers neither knew The Play's the Thing nor Takes One To Know One - "foresight" doesn't half describe the extent of their prophetic talents...

Another video screening concluded the official program (A Tale of Two Muses turned out to be one of the crowd's favorite episodes!). Endless goodbyes and promises to meet again next year concluded a fabulous and exciting weekend!

An interview with Steven L. Sears (excerpts)

Please bear in mind that this is only a summary and really doesn't do justice to Sears' detailed and very thoughtful answers. A longer version might be published on this site at a later date.

On leaving X:WP
(and staying as a writer)

Sears said that only two things could entice him away from Xena: Getting his own show, and liking the theme of that show. The Sheena offer fulfilled both these conditions. If the new head writers/producers want him, he will stay on the show as a writer, he hasn't heard anything yet, though. He assumes that his leaving will have an effect, but he doesn't know what the changes will be. He feels very protective towards the characters, but in moving on to a different project, he needs to let go. Xena is one of the best shows he has ever worked on.

 

Gabrielle

He has managed to do most things about Gabrielle, that he wanted to do. He always had an "overall lifetime plan" for Gabrielle in his head. Although his particular plan may not be fulfilled now that he's gone, he is sure that there will be another lifetime plan for Gabrielle. By saying on different occasions that Gabrielle is the show's true hero, he meant that in following Xena, she made a conscious decision to walk into the dark - a place were Xena already had arrived at the time of their first meeting. As a result, the most difficult struggles have been put on Gabrielle - and like all true heroes, she has to do what she thinks is the right thing. Unlike Xena, who goes into a situation suspicious, Gabrielle walks into it open - as a result she might get hurt, but will learn from her mistakes. He thinks that in searching for the right path (not exactly knowing what you might find), one necessarily will make wrong choices. Gabrielle has concentrated on the pure ideal of "love conquers all". In the long run, however, she may become more like Shakti (Between the Lines), she will struggle to become a defender of love.

 

The ending of season four

The idea of Xena and Gabrielle dying at the end of season four came from Rob Tapert and R.J. Stewart. The use of Christian imagery was devised in order to lend credibility to their deaths (the fans already knew Tartarus well enough to not be fooled by it....). Since the Christian background is more familiar, using it might make it easier to convince the fans that Xena and Gabrielle are really dead... Although there will be more Christian imagery in the show, it is not going to become Touched by an Angel...

 

Episodes that never got made...

Usually, in planning the show, the writers ask themselves "What is the thing we would never do?" Next thing, they do it... However, an episode that he always wanted to make, was a time travel episode where the characters physically move through time. In that story, Callisto should trade her godhood for the ability to travel into the future. Xena uses a similar deal to follow her. They end up chasing each other down the streets of New York. When they pass a flower shop, Cecrops turns up. Being immortal, he is still alive... Cecrops is a character he loves a lot. He even had the idea for a spin-off series with the character.

 

Episodes that might still get made...

Asked about the Sappho look-alike episode, Sears said, that when he left, the idea was still "on the back burner". But it wasn't planned as a look-alike episode any longer.

 

Episodes that got made, but got too long...

The most challenging episodes, from a technical point of view, are those where they shoot far more material than can be fitted into a 43 mins. episode. In the case of A Good Day they had to cut a lot of stuff from the original material. He had to fight a lot to keep things in. The crucial discussion between Xena and Gabrielle before the battle originally was much longer, and some people wanted to take it out of the ep altogether. Though there may never be a "director's cut", he would love to see the "Sears' cut" of that episode. Maybe one day on a convention, the complete material could be shown..

.

Ratings

One of the reasons why the ratings may have slipped during third season was the serialization of the show. Some episodes just weren't understandable for casual viewers any more (those viewers who make up the majority of the show's audience - the average viewer sees six episodes each season). Although they keep an eye on the ratings, the characters should not be changed in order to respond to bad ratings - if one doesn't believe in the change, one cannot write it well.

 

Subtext

From his experiences with other shows, he knew that subtext would become an issue, however, the reaction was much bigger than expected. They had fun putting in subtexts hints, but working with subtext is to ride a fine line. During seasons one/two reactions to subtext were very cheerful and encouraging, however, although he thinks that they didn't change their stance on the subtext during 3rd season, everything they did then, seemed to be wrong. The writers never wanted to politicize the characters, but they also never wanted to do anything dismissive of the subtext fans.

 

Fan Fiction

Sears has started to read a few fan fiction stories since he has left the show. (His copy of Tropical Storm is still waiting to be read at his bedside. He specifically mentioned Missy Good whose style he likes a lot.). Fan fiction expands the boundaries of the show from TV-Fantasy into a dream world, where the writers make those things come true that they would like to happen in their own lives.

 

Fandom

Fandom loves itself - while fans may have heated discussions over the show, they will usually share a drink afterwards. As a writer, he cannot fully be a fan - he has to maintain a distance to the show. Though he loves the characters, he comes from the other side of the show.

 

X:WP - 20 years from now...

People may still refer to X:WP in 20 years from now in a general way. The show has become a part of popular culture and contributed to contemporary lifestyle. Even though it wasn't intentional, X:WP has effected some small change.

 

Sheena, Queen of the Jungle The series will closely follow the original comic book. To the original story has been added the idea that Sheena, whose parents have died in Africa, is adopted by a shamaness (the last of her tribe) who recognizes in Sheena "the golden one" (the chosen person, destined to continue the tribe). Sheena is able to communicate with animals in a certain way - she can morph into an animal, but only, when she sees the animal. If she stays too long in that animal, she takes on its traits. Sheena is an independent woman with her own agenda. The story will have lots of humor in it. The show will not be like Xena. It may be better, it may be worse - but it will certainly be different.

Images partly taken with permission from www.symbiont.de.


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