One should never underestimate the power of a gay global phenomenon! Yes, Venice the Series, that would be you! On Saturday July 10th, as Crystal Chappell and company were putting the finishing touches on their season two shooting schedule, (there was one more tape day on Sunday that was being directed by B&B’s Susan Flannery) some of the hardest working actors on daytime, who not only have major roles on their respective daytime gigs but also were giving their emotional all for their roles on the upcoming new season of Venice, showed up en masse for the first annual Venice Fan Gathering at the Universal Sheraton Hotel in Universal City, California.
Yours truly was the emcee of the day’s event, and let me tell you, it was not an easy task trying to keep these passionate and fantastic fans tame! Over 200 plus female fans from all over the world were brought together by Crystal Chappell and her producing and writing partner, Kim Turrisi’s, vision of a web soap series which at its core is a same-sex love story or stories! So, before we could open the doors to the fans, I was in the Green Room going over some notes with Leslie Penny and Kim DiTomasso, the organizers of the Fan Gathering. Of course, I stuck my two cents in on a few things from my years of attending these soap opera fan event spectacles. As I was prepping and tweaking an intro speech and working on the who’s who’s of the cast for the intros, in walked Gina Tognoni, Hillary B. Smith and Jessica Leccia, who in 2010 (who would have thunk) would all be residents of Llanview! Jessica then showed me a new picture of her adorable baby, Ivy, who was with her on her trip to L.A. Next, entered the fabulous Tina Sloan, who reminded me to tell the audience about her new book Changing Shoes, which will be on sale on September 16th, but you can pre-order it now on amazon.com. So now I have told you on this blog, too. The sexy and talented, Nadia Bjorlin entered next along with her DAYS co-star Shawn Christian, whose role in Venice looks to be quite interesting. More on that in a moment. Two Venice stalwarts, Michelle N. Carter and Harrison White, were in attendance as well. I loved catching up with them, since I had not had the opportunity to see them since our original videotaped advocate.com on-set Venice feature almost a year ago.
While Crystal and Kimmy were checking on things before the start of the event, Peter Reckell joined the cast in the Green Room. This was to be his first Venice experience, being one of the newbie’s this season. Looking at the entire group, some of whom I have known for decades, I think it’s Peter that I have known the longest. He and I discussed that gay soap viewers make up a very large percentage of the soap viewing audience, and how for years, I analyzed, it is the LGBT community who has stood by all of the soaps and all of the romances when they barely, if at all, had seen their story told on daytime. It is a shame for sure that as we are at the midpoint of 2010, only one soap opera, As the World Turns, is addressing anything about same-sex romance at this time, and it’s going away in September. Peter asked me if I was nervous. “No”, I said. “I am not nervous. I like hosting things.” But then I thought, “What if I can’t control the ladies who want to lunge at Crystal or something, or throw their panties at her or Nadia?” But then I remembered I was not the security guard for the event. Whew!
It was my time to go out and greet the crowd, and for lack of a better word, be the warm-up act. But in all honesty, it was an honor and a joy to emcee the day, and to make a short speech on how important and vital the global web audience is to the Venice venture, and how Crystal Chappell has truly become a pioneer, and broken ground with a show that was needed for an under-represented segment of the population, and has delivered a great modern day approach, and look and feel, to a class “A” web series. Now, yes, I can confirm that Team Venice is charging a $9.99 subscription rate for the entire season two, but it is necessary, trust me, for all the costs, and streaming, and quality to bring even longer episodes to the web.
It was time for the main attraction. So one by one I introduced the actors starting with Anita Crisinel; this very savvy actress landed a part in season two by sending in videotapes to Crystal and Kimmy of her performances, and of why she should appear on Venice. Anita, who hails from New Zealand, and has a very sexy accent, currently resides in London, England. She was in L.A. for the week of shooting, and is playing the new role of Jess. Anita told me later how sad it is to be leaving the next morning back to England, and that she hopes she might be included into season three. But nonetheless, it was an experience she will never forget. When Anita came to the dais/panel in front of the crowd, I did not even notice she was there. I was still announcing her, while looking for her throughout the ballroom. Whoops! We all had a good laugh. Next, another new addition to the cast, J C Jewel, who you will see on the your computer screens soon in season two as Christy joined us on the panel. It was then my pleasure to introduce Michelle N. Carter, who is back for more as Gina’s sassy assistant, Michele, with one, “L”!
If it’s one thing Crystal and Kimmy did in season two it was to increase the male “hotness” factor by bringing in some more eye candy! Making his first Venice appearance was Wes Ramsey, who is now playing the role of Van, Guya’s son. Following Wes, we brought on Harrison White, who tells me that his character of Jamie will become more of a friend to Gina in season two. Tina Sloan entered next to thunderous applause, and then came the introduction of Days of our Lives, Dr. Daniel, Shawn Christian. So, what I have learned is that Shawn will play Brandon, Guya’s boyfriend. How ‘bout them apples, Hillary B. Smith? In the Green Room, Hillary was ecstatic about it, as she explained, “I am his girl toy!” Shawn’s DAYS co-star, the tremendously popular Peter Reckell was announced to the crowd next, as the role of Richard, a friend from Gina’s past.
We all missed Lesli Kay, who once again is back as Londoner, Tracy, but unfortunately she was unable to make the event due to previous commitments, as well as Jordan Clarke who returns as the Colonel. Next, it was so much fun to introduce Hillary B. Smith, whose performance as Guya is one of those scene-stealing roles! Wouldn’t you say? The fans showed how much they loved her, too! By the way, remember Dude, the special needs dog that is appearing in season two? He was there too! Oh, my God. How cute is he! In his little wheelchair, he is a remarkable example of man’s best friend. And, I got to meet Lindsay, Hillary’s best friend who together started the Willee-Coppee Fund which we have talked about previously here on my website. The BFF’s continue to work on this non-profit endeavor to help assist pet owners in need.
Next, Gina Tognoni came out to the crowd, and those who loved her in season one as Sami, will see even more of her in season two. Gina’s co-star, the uber-popular Galen Gering was finally in the house and made a grand entrance to the adoring crowd. Galen has really made the role of Owen one of the most popular on Venice, being the supportive brother of Gina, and main squeeze for Sami. So who was left? It came down to the three ladies of Venice who will heat things up in season two. First out, Nadia Bjorlin; whose part of Lara is even bigger than last season. The gals in the crowd went crazy, I mean, wouldn’t you? Next, I introduced to thunderous applause, Jessica Leccia as Gina’s main squeeze, Ani. But before I brought out La Chappell, I had to bring out her real-life main squeeze, hubby, Michael Sabatino, who returns to Venice in the new season as boot lovin’, Alan. And, last but certainly not least, the star of the series, Crystal Chappell was brought out through the crowd to a standing ovation getting a piggy-back ride from one of her Venice buddies, Dottie Jones, all the way up to the dais. Crystal addressed the crowd and thanked them for all their support, and how much their being in attendance was just another amazing part of this journey.
What is any soap fan event without a Q&A? So, I hopped into the crowd and made my way around the tables as the ladies made relevant, emotional, and fun commentary on how much Venice has meant to them, seeing the cast in person, and asking questions of the panel. I have to say, it was great to meet so many of the fan base, who have commented on MF On-Air On-Soaps, and have been so supportive of Crystal and Kimmy in their online venture. From having Crystal sign a pair of panties (I knew this would happen) to asking Jessica Leccia how she felt on playing a role that meant so much to the LGBT community, to fawning all over Peter Reckell, and being so excited by his addition to the cast, to giving Michael Sabatino the biggest, and perhaps most thunderous round of applause of the day, for supporting his wife Crystal on this endeavor, and being so open to letting her be such a key force in the gay community. It was a great and well-deserved moment.
After running around in circles (a special thank you for that ladies, as I did not need to go to the gym and do cardio that day) I introduced the musical side of Venice the Series, when Jenn Foster took to the ballroom with a set of songs beloved from the series and her CD. Yes, including a rousing edition of the theme song from Venice. When meeting Jenn for the first time, I was struck not only by her singing voice that cuts straight to your heart, but her beautiful spirit. Later in the Green Room, we discussed if she can hook me up with Keith Urban, since she lives in Nashville. Oh yeah, there is that small matter of Nicole Kidman in the way. Too bad.
After Jenn performed, we finally got to the main event, and what everyone traveled so far to do, to meet and greet, sign autographs, and take pictures with the Venice cast. Now this presented me with the most challenging part of the day trying to keep order, which included keeping these gals from jumping back in the line once they made it through it one time previously. Naughty! Naughty! During the nearly three hour autograph session, I sat next to Gina Tognoni most of the time on the dais. So, we got to catch up with each other in between her fan requests. It was also during that time I met so many gracious fans, who shared with me how much it meant to them that we all work get LGBT stories out there in the media, and how this series has impacted their lives. I was personally struck by one woman’s openness to share with me her coming out story, and in the process how she lost the respect of her two older children, who won’t speak to her, because she finally had the courage to live life the way she needed to, and to be true to herself. She has since found her true-life partner, and created a new family. I was also struck by some of the absolute creative ways that the Venice fans have come up with, to promote, and be involved with the fan community. Take a look at this image of one fan’s creation of Veniceopoly!
All of a sudden, and I am not sure at one point, the ballroom became more of sexy dance hall with Michael Jackson tunes creating an instant fervor throughout the crowd. I have to say Crystal Chappell and Hillary Smith… you’ve got rhythm ladies! I also have to say there is not a better MJ tune than Billie Jean!
So as the Venice fest became one big rowdy and celebratory party, I had to play the bad cop, and let everyone know that it was last call at the bar, and we only had fifteen more minutes of time in the ballroom, and that would have to be the end of the first Venice Fan Gathering. Yup, I had the job of being the ultimate Party Poop, when I actually felt more like at that point I was channeling Debbie Downer from SNL!
In the end, as the cast and I went back into the Green Room, we were all exhausted from a long and exciting, and very energetic day. For Crystal, Shawn and Nadia, theirs was not over, as they then hopped on the Venice Podcast straight from the hallways of the Universal Sheraton! Leslie Penny and Kim DiTomasso escorted me to the entrance way of the hotel, we hugged, said our goodbyes, told a few inside jokes, and I thanked them and Team Venice for letting me be a small part in a very memorable day.