HIGHLANDER: THE GATHERING

HIGHLANDER: THE GATHERING

HIGHLANDER: THE SERIES, which ran in syndication from 1992 through 1998, is based on the HIGHLANDER film franchise. HIGHLANDER: THE SERIES followed the adventures of Immortal Scotsman Duncan MacLeod, played by Adrian Paul. Born in 1592 and surviving into the present, Duncan eventually befriended several other Immortals – protégé Richie Ryan (Stan Kirsch), on-again, off-again lover Amanda (Elizabeth Gracen) and the 4,000-year-old Methos (Peter Wingfield) – as well as mortal bar owner Joe Dawson (Jim Byrnes).

While it’s not literally Immortal – yet, at least – HIGHLANDER: THE SERIES boasts one of the most loyal and enduring fandoms in pop culture. Almost twenty years after the show has gone off the air, the official fan club Highlander Worldwide is holdings its tenth convention, “The Gathering,” at the LAX Crown Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles on Fri.-Sun., Oct. 20-22. Guests include actors Paul, Kirsch, Gracen, Wingfield, Byrnes, Anthony De Longis and James Horan, show runner David Abramowitz, writing staffers Gillian Horvath and Donna Lettow, sword fight coordinator F. Braun McAsh and more.

Highlander Worldwide president Carmel Macpherson, visiting Los Angeles from her native Australia with vice-president Annie Christie (who’s in from Idaho), sits down to talk about The Gathering. Event emcee John Mosby (who authored FEARFUL SYMMETRY, a book about the making of HIGHLANDER) speaks by telephone.

ASSIGNMENT X: How did you get involved in HIGHLANDER fandom?

CARMEL MACPHERSON: My son said to me, “Mum, there’s a show on television I know you would really love,” dragged me to watch it with him – must have been around 1993, in Sydney, Australia. I was very cynical, but this show came on, and the first thing I saw was Notre Dame [in France] and really interesting storylines, swords, always loved romance, literature, and this fabulous, strong female character called Tessa Noel [Duncan’s mortal love, played by Alexandra Vandernoot]. And I’ve always had a romantic interest in Scotland – who doesn’t? So I was hooked, basically, from then on. My husband and I would get a bottle of wine and we’d sit and watch an episode and discuss the ethics that came out of the storylines.

We decided in 1997 to run a HIGHLANDER convention in Brisbane, Australia, which we did, and this is our twentieth anniversary. We’ve run eleven conventions and about six [HIGHLANDER-related] tours, I think, to Scotland and France and Vancouver. And when I commit, I really commit. I love STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES, I love Dorothy Dunnett, the Scottish novelist [who wrote] the Lymond series, and HIGHLANDER. They’re probably the three great loves of my life in terms of interest. And the same sort of thing – very strong characters, male and female, at times multilayered storylines, and people who are flawed, intrinsically good people but flawed. I think that always makes for a great deal of interest. And HIGHLANDER had the flashbacks as well. I was a teacher for awhile as well, and for awhile, I was an academic and taught and lectured in teaching, and [HIGHLANDER’s flashback] history was pretty good.

 AX: Had you run a convention before that?

MACPHERSON: Never [laughs]. At the time, I was running Human Resources for the Australian Federal Police, and I’d run Human Resources for a number of big organizations, so I knew about management – I like to think I did – so [I agreed] when Sonja Van Den Ende approached me to help her put the convention together. Sonja Van Den Ende was the person who first thought of the convention on. Sonja was involved for about the first five. We worked closely together, and then for various personal reasons, she had to pull out. It’s sort of the story of my life – you turn around and suddenly you’re holding the bag [laughs]. So we ran five conventions in Australia, and brought down Peter Wingfield and Adrian Paul and Elizabeth Gracen.

I think it’s just one of those things of, “Why not, let’s have a go.” So bottom line was, I was in a very senior job, it was stressful, so that was my time out. That’s where I had fun [laughs].

AX: HIGHLANDER fandom has been around for a very long time. Do you attribute that to the fans, to the personnel, to the subject matter …?

JOHN MOSBY: That’s a question that often comes up at the conventions themselves. Everybody’s got a different opinion. I think the most commonly shared opinion is that it’s a fairly timeless idea by its very nature. It’s a series that kept flashing backwards. If you had a series which was set in the 1970s or ‘80s or ‘90s, the fashion aspect, technology, mobile phones, stuff like that dates very quickly. But because that HIGHLANDER spent so much time looking at the passage of time and the flashing back to things and saying, “Look, history repeats itself,” or “These dilemmas are fairly timeless, they happen whether you are in the Bronze Age or the Victorian Age, in the 1920s, history has a way of picking up themes.” I think that’s what made it timeless, that’s what makes certain shows timeless, when they absolutely can pick on those things that will always be relevant. So yes, hairstyles will look silly and technology may advance, but when I was doing my FEARFUL SYMMETRY book, I watched every episode again, and apart from a few fashion faux pas, I’m thinking, “Okay, if it was made today, it would be made in high definition and the budget might be a little higher, but the stories are pretty much there.” They don’t feel dated.

And I think there’s been a loyalty for the fan base. And our conventions have always been about, twofold, celebrating the show and the ideas and the passion behind it, but also, there’s a social side to it as well. The fact that Highlander Down Under and Highlander Worldwide have been around in some ways for around two decades now, ever since the show just came off air – I’ve made friends, I met Jill [Mosby’s wife] at a Highlander Down Under event in Los Angeles. I’ve made so many friends over the years doing this. There is that social passion that I think really works for certain [shows] – SUPERNATURAL, STARGATE and STAR TREK, ROBIN OF SHERWOOD, there is that common denominator that people from all over the world suddenly say, “Hey, why don’t we get together?” And that’s half of it. We’ve never been the big autograph-led conventions, which are very popular and I think are perfectly fine. But we’re more “let’s get the creative people together with the fans and have them talk to each other,” rather than just sign a photograph and say, “Have a nice day.”

MACPHERSON: David Abramowitz said to us yesterday, “It isn’t that I think of it as a convention, I just think of it as a gathering of friends.” And social media has made a big impact as well. What was interesting about HIGHLANDER was, it started just at the beginning of the Internet. And I found that really interesting and exciting, because I was responsible for equal employment opportunity, as well, and I realized that this was a completely different approach to diversity, where you basically had virtual networks and virtual friends through the fandom. I think what it did was, it formed quite a strong bond with people, and the fan groups coalesced into a very strong community of people. Christmas Tarr was putting on those conventions early in Denver, and so you got to meet up with these people you’d only met online. And then we basically took over when Christmas stopped running the official fan club here in the United States. It must have been around 1997. We were Highlander Down Under. We asked [the late HIGHLANDER executive producer] Bill [Panzer] if we then could become the official fan club, and he agreed.

So I think Highlander Worldwide’s conventions have provided an opportunity for those fans, and the newer ones along the way, but the core always stayed very strong, and twenty years later, I’m sure they’ll be there at this October’s convention as well. But what made that work is that you had the actors and the crew and the professionals behind HIGHLANDER, who are just the most fabulous people – very warm, very giving, a pleasure to work with, all of them. And because I love the craft of production, not just the stars out front, I love seeing how it all comes together – the writers, the directors, [composer] Roger Bellon, the musicians. And so we would showcase them as well at the conventions.

There have been tough periods in my life where, in many ways and to be quite honest, my best strong support came from my HIGHLANDER friends. I have many, many strong friendships, and I’ve heard firsthand how HIGHLANDER has changed so many people’s lives, or got them through very tough periods. Adrian was saying this just the other day – he said it’s so humbling and moving when fans tell him, “I didn’t get along with my grandmother, but we actually started to sit and watch HIGHLANDER together, and that changed our relationship.” There are a lot of people who talk about often the life-changing effects of the fan community and community support.

AX: What can people expect from The Gathering convention?

MACPHERSON: Well, the very name in many ways says it all. It’s a gathering and a celebration of twenty-five years since the first episode of HIGHLANDER: THE SERIES, it’s twenty years since our first convention, so it’s an anniversary celebration. But what can they expect? On Friday, a lot of the people that have been involved in HIGHLANDER are professionals [in various fields], like Anthony De Longis and F. Braun McAsh, with stunts and all manner of weapons and sword work. Elizabeth Gracen will be running a fan kata [combat using a fan] class, Adrian will be running two Sword Experience workshops, Anthony’s running a katana vs. broadsword, and he’s doing a bullwhip class, and Braun’s doing knives as well. They’ll also be doing some personal coaching, small-group coaching over the weekend. We’ve got some of the directors – we’ve got Gary Goodman, who was the line producer for Season 1. Stan runs a very successful acting course, Stan Kirsch Studios, so he’s running an acting class.

We’ve got Richard Martin, the director who shot the second-to-last episode, “To Be.” We’re going to be looking at those 119 episodes from “The Gathering” right through to “Not To Be” in terms of what changed for those people, what changed for us in many ways, over that period. We’re going to be looking at how can an Immortal survive in the world of 2017, with modern security, biometrics and knowing every bloody thing about us. Gillian’s going to talk about how would that change for the writers, what would they now have to take into account? So they can look forward to intellectual stimulation.

MOSBY: There are lots of events out there that are autograph-led. We have – we’re more panel-led and interaction-led. We usually have between 150 and 200 attendees. And we have enthusiastic guests who probably know half the audience, because of events they’ve been to in the past. So it’s much more intimate. There room will be a large room in a hotel, but it’s not as if you are seeing somebody on a stage in the far distance. For Saturday and Sunday, there will be a whole diverse number of panels where people can – we’ve got some of the podcasters, the HIGHLANDER Rewatched podcast and the Blood of Kings podcast, which have sprung up over the last year or so online. We’ve got a concert on Saturday night. Jim Byrnes will be doing some music, I believe Pete Wingfield is going to do some, Elizabeth Gracen and Adrian Paul wrote a vignette called LOVE LETTERS, which was effectively Amanda and Duncan writing to each other over the years after the series finished, and they’re going to expand on that and do a performance of that onstage.

MACPHERSON: James Horan, who [played] a fabulously evil Immortal will be singing. Usually, Jim will perform at the second half, and as you well know, Jim’s the most fabulous blues singer. If you’ve never been to a Highlander Worldwide auction, Adrian and Peter are just hilarious [auctioneers]. The auction is our big fundraiser, there to help us fund the convention.

HIGHLANDER: THE GATHERING

HIGHLANDER: THE GATHERING

AX: And people can buy tickets on …

MACPHERSON: On HighlanderWorldwide.com, yes. Thank you, Abbie. They can even just buy tickets to the concert if they want to. So it’s not cheap, but unlike the other cons, you don’t have to pay a fortune every time you sneeze inside, either. You get free autographs for the top seats, Adrian, Lizzie, Peter and so on.

AX: Do you have other HIGHLANDER events planned for the future?

MACPHERSON: Not on this scale. But that’s not to say that we won’t be running HIGHLANDER events. We have a tour company, Hiatus Tours. HIGHLANDER shot in so many fabulous locations, in Vancouver, in Scotland and in Paris, we started to run tours to those places. In fact, the very first tour was to Tuscany. Elizabeth Gracen asked me to help her run a tour to Tuscany. And then we did Scotland a couple of times, Paris, France. They might be, for example, when Adrian’s running a Sword Experience, we just accompanied him on his European one, and we will in future be putting tours around Sword Experience, next year in France in the Loire Valley, Scotland, Paris. So there will always be something.

I’m also very involved in Adrian’s charity, and have been for a long time, the PEACE [Protect, Educate, Aid Children Everywhere] Fund. A lot of people set up charities and foundations, but they don’t really get very involved. I’ve seen firsthand the extraordinary effort and genuine caring and compassion that Adrian has for the PEACE Fund, [which benefits] but children in need. Because the whole aim is that education is the means of freedom and liberation, really, for everyone, but particularly children, and whatever we can do to get children in school. They’re aimed toward liberating children from toil, so where they might be spending the whole of their day really just carrying water and those sorts of things, putting a well in relieves them of that. So it’s around protecting, educating and aiding children. We’ve had a long involvement with an orphanage in Haiti, and heaven knows what’s going to be happening after this hurricane.

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Article: Exclusive Interview on HIGHLANDER: THE GATHERING convention with organizer Carmel Macpherson & emcee John Mosby

 

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Comments:

  1. what a great article. As a long time Highlander related convention goer HLWW cons are wonderful. The congers are great people who attend some will become your friends for life. People I met at cons I have visited and they have visited even If I was not home. Because of HWWW I have friends all over the world. The guests that attend these con are friendly and its not just a autograph and photo and goodbye. You will see many in bar area and just around the con. So If you have not booked do it know

    Mary

    Mary

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