Gilmore Girls Fan Fest Review


By: Jenny Hansell (@jahansell)

Kent, Connecticut, est. 1739, has an antique shop, a diner, and a church with a white steeple. There’s a dance studio, a coffee shop, a country inn, a bakery (where you can get round cakes), and even a gazebo. Shady streets lined with rambling houses with front porches, surrounded by rolling hills. All in all, Kent looks remarkably like another famous, if fictional, Connecticut town, Stars Hollow.

Fifteen hundred Gilmore Girls superfans descended on Kent in late October for the Gilmore Girls Fan Fest. Mothers and daughters who watched the show together back then; mothers who were just now introducing young daughters to their beloved show; and best friends who got through the tough times of middle and high school together were now reuniting at the festival thanks to the smart, funny, fast-talking, highly caffeinated Gilmores.

The show’s biggest stars, Alexis Bledel and Lauren Graham, were both in production and couldn‘t attend, nor could Milo Ventimiglia, Matt Czuchry, or Jared Padalecki, though members of Teams Jess, Logan, and Dean were plentiful. Also MIA were Scott Patterson, Yanic Truesdale, and the show’s biggest breakout star, Melissa McCarthy. Nonetheless there were plenty of insiders for panels and photo ops: Rose Abdoo (Gypsy), Keiko Agena (Lane), Liz Torres (Miss Patty), and Tanc Sade (Finn) among others.

Remembering Ed Herrmann

The absence of one much-loved cast member was particularly noted: Edward Herrmann, who played Rory’s grandfather, Richard, died of brain cancer in 2014. On Saturday morning, the Edward Herrmann One Mile Memorial Walk/Fun run raised thousands of dollars for brain cancer research.

In the subsequent panel, Herrmann’s daughter Ryen shared that she loved the last four episodes, especially the moment when Rory was deciding where to write and chose Richard’s office where, for just a moment, Ed Herrmann was shown sitting at his desk. “Wherever Dad was, he was always at his desk, writing,” she said, choking up.

A few blocks from the panel tent, across the railroad tracks, the Community House behind Kent’s First Congregational Church was packed with people cheering on The Coffee Monologues, staged by writer Stan Zimmerman. George Bell (the show’s dialogue coach as well as Yale’s Professor Bell), Aris Alvarado (Caesar), and Sam Pancake (Donald in the revival) performed some of Rory and Lorelai’s most famous caffeine-fueled speeches as dramatic monologues.

In between, attendees could drink Founders Day Punch, participate in a knit-a-thon while watching fan-favorite episodes like “A-Tisket A-Tasket” and “They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They,” and learn about the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Superfan Stories

Susan Dunham came to the convention from her home in Brunswick, Maine. She and her daughter, Hayley, moved there because it of its similarity to Stars Hollow. “This show helped us when times were tough,” Dunham told me. Her husband passed away and her son had cancer, but “the show brought us together.”

“I wanted to be like Rory,” added Hayley, “I read books from her list and became a big reader.”

Dunham said her favorite episode is “So… Good Talk,” which featured the Judy Garland movie A Star is Born. When Hayley went to college to study musical theater, she invited her mom to her first cabaret show, and dedicated her performance of the song featured in the episode to her. Best moment of the convention? “When I met Lane, I burst into tears.”

Nicole and Chris Mooney arrived from Montvale NJ, in full Life and Death Brigade cosplay. “I was sick for a long time,” explained Nicole. “We wanted a baby so badly. I did 10 rounds of fertility treatments but I had a bad reaction to the medications and lost all my mobility for a few years. Chris quit his job to stay home with me. We watched the show together to get through it.” Nicole is now fully recovered and the two of them joyfully showed off photos of their infant son, just six weeks old.

Local teacher Cici Nielson volunteered at the festival for the weekend. She watched the show with her son when he was in high school. “He didn’t want his friends to know,” she said with a laugh. ”But we’d make popcorn and curl up on the couch together.”
Kirin Khalsa and her mom, Adishakti Khalsa, flew to Connecticut from Santa Cruz, California. “We tried to get tickets last year but they sold out in two minutes,” said Kirin. “I started watching the show my freshman year in high school. I was switching schools and had a lot of anxiety. I watched with my mom and it was a bonding experience.” Her favorite Fanfest moment: the crew panel. “I am applying to UCLA to be a filmmaker,” she said, “so I want to learn everything I can about what happens behind the scenes.”

Panels and Photo Ops Galore

Real-life Yale professor Dr. April Ruiz gave a talk about The Pros and Cons of Pro/Con lists, while an epic dessert sushi contest, complete with Now and Laters, Red Vines, and chocolate candy corn, all arranged on top of giant Rice Krispie Treats, took place in the tent next door.

Writer Sheila Lawrence offered insider scoop on how writers “break” stories, plan the “beats,” and how the showrunner sets the tone for the writer’s room. “If you want to write for TV, you have to live in L.A.,” she emphasized. It takes time to learn a show’s voice, and Lawrence made mistakes. “I once named one of Emily’s butlers Jeeves,” she admitted. Her advice? If you have any other marketable skill, do that. But if you love writing, show your work to people who know the business. Then, “take the note, but not the fix.” Let them tell you what the problem is, but you come up with how to make it better.

Sam Pancake, Rose Abdoo, and Eric Henry shared tales of shooting the famous (infamous?) musical scene in “Year in The Life.” It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to watch Tony winners (and ex-spouses) Sutton Foster and Christian Borle at close range, said Pancake. “I don’t know how they worked together,” he deadpanned. “I don’t want to be with any of my exes, let alone do a jolly musical with them.”

Locals Embrace the Fan Fest

I found Bruce Adams, the Kent First Selectman (aka mayor), at the Town Hall on Saturday afternoon. He was keeping an eye on the line of convention-goers hoping to get into the Ice Cream Social hosted by costume supervisor Valerie Campbell.

“This has been a really peaceful weekend so far,” said Adams. “We hope a few people will fall in love with Kent and buy houses here, and maybe a few hundred will come back and visit another time. It’s the largest event we’ve ever had here. Next weekend we’ll have 1,000 people for the Pumpkin Run, but they’re in and out in six hours.”

Adams confesses he is a Gilmore Girls fan himself. “My wife and I watched every episode.”

The Grand Finale — The Cast Panel

The tent was full, and rocking, on Saturday night for the Cast Panel, featuring all 13 cast members in attendance. Singer Louise Goffin kicked off the panel. Dressed perfectly in a red suede jacket and fringed leather bellbottoms, her hair a wild curly mane, Goffin led the crowd in singalong rendering of the show’s theme song written by her mother, Carole King.

The moderator, TVLine’s Kim Roots, reminded audience members, who so often wanted to tell their stories when they got up to the mic, to keep their questions focused.

The questioners complied, but even the little snippets they snuck in were compelling: the woman from Detroit who grew up with a mentally ill mother and learned how to be a mom from watching the show. The mom who adopted a daughter from Asia and was so grateful that the show had characters that looked like her to watch on TV (and the Korean adoptee who echoed the sentiment). The girl from Flint, MI, whose mother became a clean water activist after the lead scandal.

Top Eleven Insights, Questions, and Highlights from the Panels:

1. “I wrote a fight between Lorelai and Emily that was emotionally similar to a fight I’d had with my mom,” said Lawrence. “After she watched it, my mom called and said, ‘I noticed you borrowed from our lives….you named the bartender Steve after your brother.’”

2. Liz Torres and Sally Struthers, who worked together on All in the Family, ignored the Assistant Director when he’d yell “quiet on the set!” “We’d just keep on gabbing ‘and do you know what he said next…’ ‘til we heard the cameras whirring” said Torres.

3. Sam Pancake, who played Donald in the revival, tried for all seven seasons to get a part on the original show. “They needed a gay dude in Stars Hollow,” he said. “Stars Hollow is a magical land with smart articulate people and a gay-esque decorative theme.”

4.When he auditioned for the part of Nat in the revival, Eric Henry tried to be a human version of Grumpy Cat. Henry, who is trained in musical theater, longed to get a role on Glee when he first came to Hollywood.

5. Keiko Agena’s favorite part of the show was getting the script, so she could find out what happened next. (Todd Lowe said he just looked for his own lines.)

6. Amy Sherman-Palladino really likes the F-word.

7. Snow in Stars Hollow is made of paper. “It can be 75 degrees in Southern California during the snowy scenes,” explained Valerie Campbell. It was really hard to keep the continuity: “If a flake got out of place between takes, I couldn’t get in there to fix it.”

8. Normally a script supervisor keeps an eye on the text as well as continuity issues like how many pieces of pizza need to be in the box at the beginning of a scene to make sure the shots match. But making sure the actors spoke the famously fast dialogue word for word took up so much energy that the showrunners brought in George Bell just to oversee dialogue and leave the pizza to the script supervisor.

9. Most of the revival cast didn’t hear the Last Four Words until they watched the show at home, just like the audience.

10. In A Year in The Life, there were 170 actors, 464 costume changes, and 1,000 extras, and many were cast the night before they had to show up on set.

11. Milo Ventimiglia smells like hugs.

Biggest Laughs:

Alan Loayza: “When the show was ending, we were all in tears.”
Sam Pancake: “We wiped the tears with our money.”

Todd Lowe: “Zack got a little paunchy in the revival…that was a decision the writers made and I agreed to go along with it.”

Best Fan Questions:

Q: What if Rory has a boy? How will it change the dynamic?
A: She’ll put him up for adoption.

Q: What do you think of the fan theory that the whole first seven seasons weren’t real, they were just Rory’s novel?
Rose: I am fascinated by how much time and thought you guys put into this. (Rose, have you met fans before? It’s what we do!)

Q: Do you ever wish you were your character?
Alan: I’d love to be Colin. He’s a billionaire!

Q: If the zombie apocalypse came, who would they eat?
A: Taylor. He was the only antagonist. Michael [Winters] was such a good jerk.

Biggest cheers of the night:

When Torres sang “Yesterday,” accompanied by Lowe on guitar.

    One Comment

  1. Susanna SchindlerOctober 25th, 2017 at 6:15 am

    Great review. Wish I had been there.

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