2004 summaryThe first ever Avonlea Convention--known as AvCon, for short--was held on July 24 and 25 at Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto. The "by the fans, for the fans" event welcomed fans from the United States, Canada, and Hungary, as well as former stars Harmony Cramp, Michael Mahonen, and RH Thomson, and series creator/executive producer Kevin Sullivan. (We had hoped to have Molly Atkinson come by as well, but she had to cancel at the last minute, as she'd gotten some work.)
9:30 am; Kevin Sullivan ~ The conference opened with Kevin Sullivan discussing how Road to Avonlea came to be. In his words, it was "an accident", as he'd never imagined he would get into creating a full-fledged television series. The first two Anne movies were a resounding success; fans wanted more Avonlea. Enter the series.
During the early years of RTA, there was a lot of influence from the literature of Lucy Maud Montgomery--The Story Girl, The Golden Road, Chronicles of Avonlea, and Further Chronicles of Avonlea. Yet, as the years went on, the actors began to have more of a say in what they wanted to see happen with their characters; and Sullivan himself had some ideas of his own.
Sullivan had mentioned that the episode he believed to be Avonlea's seminal episode was "Home Movie". He mentioned that it was his own way of expressing why fans liked to watch the series. (In the episode, an American businessman comes to Avonlea to try to buy it off so he can create his "city of the future." In the meantime, Jasper is working on improvements to a home movie camera. With Hetty's encouragement, he uses film he shot of the townspeople to make a home movie to present to them to convince them not to buy into the "city of the future.")
Another episode that Sullivan conceived of was "Memento Mori", when Hetty celebrates her 50th birthday. He presented a couple of clips from it, explaining how the flashback scenes to Hetty's childhood were made; and later mentioned that there were many flashback scenes shot for the episode that were never used, adding that the film still existed and would probably be added onto the DVDs for season five, when the time came.
Sullivan also gave the attendees some other sundry tidbits. At the beginning of his discussion, he mentioned that it was ironic that Black Creek was selected as the venue for the convention as he'd made one of his very first films there in the late 1970s; and it's also been used in some of his other productions (exteriors for the first Anne movie and RTA were shot there). He also told attendees about the opening title sequence for Wind at My Back, that he'd used actual home movie footage of his grandfather's to depict life in the 1930s. Other tidbits were in regards to cast members of Anne and RTA. For example, Colleen Dewhurst signed on to play Marilla in five minutes, without even reading the script! (She'd lived on Prince Edward Island with her two sons at one point, and had read Anne as a youngster.)
To close out his discussion, Sullivan showed Hetty's final speech from "So Dear To My Heart", to give another reason to encapsulate why he believed fans like Avonlea. Afterward, he stayed for a while to sign autographs and pose for photos.
10:45 am; RH Thomson ~ RH Thomson slipped into the venue and began work at signing autographs and posing for photos before taking the podium. His discussion began with some "show-and-tell". During the series' run, Mag Ruffman worked on customized quilts for all the members of the main Avonlea cast, using bits of fabric from costumes, as well as photos she had taken in between takes during the run. RH had brought his quilt to show everyone.
An attendee had asked how he'd gotten on with Mag during the run. He mentioned that the two of them grew up together, three blocks apart (both are originally from Richmond Hill, Ontario), so they'd known each other for a long time.
His next bit was to promote the production of Romeo and Juliet he was directing at the Home Depot Theatre (it was to close the following night) for ShakespeareWorks. This led to a mini-lecture on speech and how the English really spoke during Shakespeare's life.
Another big part of his discussion was on his thoughts of the state of television today (in his words, "too much violence and too much cleavage") and his interpretation of the stereotypical plot in a dramatic series; and why he appreciated working on Avonlea so much.
The full discussion was a highlight for all who attended.
1:30 pm; Magic Lantern Show ~ After a lunch break, attendees were treated to a magic lantern show, presented by Professor M. Lindsay Lambert from the Magic Lantern Society. He'd presented everyone with a wide variety of slides from the Victorian and Edwardian eras, also incorporating bits from Avonlea episodes where the magic lantern was featured (e.g., "The Story Girl Earns Her Name" and "The Minister's Wife")--some still, and even some animated ones. One that got a lot of attention was an optical illusion slide. One would stare at a dot for thirty seconds without blinking; and, after time would elapse, one would see an outline similar to Mona Lisa.
The magic lantern show was followed by a limelight demonstration. As well, a collection was taken to help with the Professor's travel expenses. Attendees raised nearly half the money he needed to return to his home base in Ottawa.
4:00 pm; Harmony Cramp ~ Closing out the first day was an appearance by "Cecily I" herself, Harmony Cramp--with her parents and five-year-old daughter in tow. As it had been nearly ten years since she'd been seen anywhere, it may've seemed a bit odd to some to see a twenty-four-year-old woman instead of a young girl.
Rather than give a discussion about her experience on the show, she opted for a more informal approach. She sat at a table and attendees could ask her work-related questions while she signed autographs and posed for pictures. She did receive a few questions--including one that has haunted fans for ten years.
A fan asked her a question regarding her leaving the series. According to Harmony, the writers wanted to be able to develop Cecily like they did her peers; and they believed that they needed another actress to achieve it. She was also asked if she would ever return to acting. She said that she may return to the acting fold in a few years time, once her daughter is a bit older.
There was one thing that didn't change about Harmony: her young, girlie voice.
9:30 am; "Undressing History" ~ The second day of AvCon 2004 opened with a walk to the Town Hall on the Black Creek site for a presentation entitled "Undressing History"--a look into 19th century dress mainly in regards to women's and, to a smaller extent, girl's clothing. Many garments were modeled and displayed for viewing--from bonnets to corsets to funeral wear to other underthings. The presentation was given by a Black Creek employee; clothes were modeled by a former Black Creek employee (and wife to a member of the Avonlea Village e-list!), and three daughters of an attendee got in on the modeling action as well! It was a very insightful look into how women dressed.
Following the presentation, attendees got to walk around the village; and were also able to return to the main theatre, where the convention was held, to mingle, watch episodes, or show off their Avonlea trivia knowledge. As well, attendees learned about the two charities AvCon was proud to support--the American Cancer Society and the Southwestern Ontario chapter of the Canadian Make-a-Wish Foundation. Attendees were encouraged to donate to the causes.
2:00 pm; Memorabilia Auction ~ The main event of the second day was an auction of Avonlea/Anne-related memorabilia. Our auctioneer was Mike Matthews, a professional auctioneer who had guested on two episodes of Avonlea and the premiere episode of Wind at My Back as, well, an auctioneer! (The episodes in question are "Aunt Abigail's Beau" and "Friends and Relations" from RTA; and "Four Walls and a Roof" for Wind.) Thirty-two items--some donated by fans, others from the Sullivan Boutique itself--went under the hammer, raising approximately $800 in mixed currency for our two charities. (For the SB items, the Boutique received the set price for each item.) One item that sold extremely well was an autographed poster from Happy Christmas, Miss King; it went for over $400 CAD! (Full list of auction items and amount they went for here!) The auction was exciting and fun for everyone, including those who did not bid on anything.
3:15 pm; Michael Mahonen ~ To close out the first AvCon, Michael Mahonen gave a discussion. He talked briefly on how he got the role of the beloved Gus Pike (it was his first major role; he was fresh out of university at the time), as well as on Gus's accent, giving attendees a taste of it for old time's sake. He mentioned his favourite episode was "Evelyn", as he believed castmate Cedric Smith's performance in it was extremely well-done, and that--before that episode came about--Cedric's talent wasn't able to be showcased to its full capacity.
A revelation came to the surface during this time, regarding Happy Christmas, Miss King. Michael revealed what would've happened in the opening scene had he returned as Gus. In the would-be opening scene, Gus would be at the lighthouse receiving telegraphs (the idea was that the lighthouse would have excellent reception of telegraphs). One bit of news would come that would disturb him a great deal. One of his and Felicity's children would've asked him what was wrong; Gus wouldn't be able to answer the question. As he would leave to inform the rest of the King clan, the audience would learn what the news was: Felix was deemed a "casualty of war"; though, of course, no one would know if he were dead or merely wounded. (In the final product, Cecily ended up taking the telegraphs from the war office, from a room above the Avonlea Chronicle office; and it was she who would first receive the news about Felix.) He also said that if HCMK were being made now, he would've done the movie. (At the time, he turned down the movie based on his principles at the time.)
Michael also talked some about his film, Sandstorm, about the persecution of practitioners of Falun Gong (which Michael himself has practiced for three and a half years); and that the response received after viewing it has been extremely positive.
After his discussion, he stayed for a very long time to sign autographs and pose for photos.
Response from fans following the convention was extremely positive. Response from the guests was also positive. From the looks of things, there may very well be more AvCons in the future!