Why Auckland's 2023 Labour weekend Armageddon Expo will be different thanks to SAG-AFTRA

This Labour weekend, Auckland's ASB Showgrounds will once again be overrun with cosplayers, families and the country's nerd collective as they head out for the return of the Armageddon Expo. 

But while the event this long weekend will bring movie, TV, anime and gaming stars to our shoes for the first time in three years post-COVID, the ongoing actors' strike may mean some fans see a different side to their favourite celebrities. 

Rules from SAG-AFTRA (The Screen Actors Guild American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) prevent any of the stars from promoting the shows or projects they've been a part of. 

So, while that means the likes of Star Trek's Kate Mulgrew, The Walking Dead's Ross Marquand and The Last of Us' Troy Baker will be there in the flesh, they won't directly be able to discuss their roles. 

It's something Armageddon organiser Bill Geradts told Newshub won't be an issue and may actually be a change for the better.

"There have been many, many events happening globally since the strike began - they've been working fine, fans have been turning up, asking questions and having a great time.  

"In fact, it makes the panels more interesting - instead of the same questions being asked, fans are having to consider different aspects of the guest and the answers are much more nuanced.  

"You won't be able to ask the details about a starship's hyperdrive, but you can ask questions about the person's life and career and learn more about them. The fans really seem to be enjoying that. I'm personally more excited about this show than I've been in years." 

Star Trek actor Robert Picardo, who played the Doctor on Star Trek: Voyager, told Newshub that generally, fans have been supportive of respecting the guidelines during the conventions he has recently appeared at. 

Robert Picardo is looking forward to returning to New Zealand.
Robert Picardo is looking forward to returning to New Zealand. Photo credit: Facebook

"I don't feel stymied at all, I do enjoy them. I have no trouble yakking away. The audiences are always gracious, and I like to make people laugh. So, I often tell them what I consider to be amusing stories.  

"Once in a while I sing a little, you know, so it's fun - fundamentally performing in front of an audience. I started my career in the theatre and was quite successful in my early twenties in the Broadway scene - I still like being in front of a live audience." 

Picardo's keen to return to New Zealand ("I get to see your beautiful country again where there are still more sheep than humans, I believe," he joked) and has regaled fellow Star Trek colleague Kate Mulgrew with stories about the beauty of Aotearoa. He even revealed he personally persuaded her to come here. 

However, he cheekily implied he wasn't sure he'll be doing the trip to Hobbiton with his wife during his time in the motu. 

"I guess I should make this confession - the town or Hobbiton and all that, I don't know how excited I'll be. I mean, I enjoyed The Hobbit, but I have to say that I saw it twice and I fell asleep for the same 20 minutes, exactly the same time. So there is a 20-minute gap in my Hobbit knowledge!" he laughed. 

Someone who is keen to embrace all of Aotearoa's Tolkien connections is Todd Stashwick, a "100 percent nerd" and first timer to these shores, as well as a recent addition to the Star Trek canon - having played Captain Liam Shaw in season three of Prime Video's Picard

"I would be remiss if I didn't take in all of The Lord of the Rings vistas. We're doing the Nomad Safari. It's like a full day country trip where you go see the Misty Mountains and outdoor shooting locations. I could not be more excited. Then the next day we're going to have a little private tour of Hobbiton and have a little private dinner at the Green Dragon again. Then I believe I'm going to top it all off with getting a Lord of the Rings tattoo at the end of the trip," he beamed to Newshub. 

Stashwick has a thing for tattoos, being covered in them himself, and has recently even tattooed a friend live at a convention. But his planned new ink has a special significance to himself and Aotearoa. 

"Mostly it will be the tree of Gondor, and then it will be smaller trees, Telperion, and Laurelin (from the Lord of The Rings). They're actually the trees of the sun and the moon. 

"I actually lost my father in 2019 and so as a little remembrance of him, I'm having his heartbeat put into the trunk of the tree." 

Stashwick laughed at the suggestion that it could be done live at the convention but admitted that while he has had the idea for a while, now seemed the perfect time. 

Star Trek: Picard actor Todd Stashwick's trip to Aotearoa will be of personal significance.
Star Trek: Picard actor Todd Stashwick's trip to Aotearoa will be of personal significance. Photo credit: Gerard Sandoval

"I had the design, and I didn't pull the trigger on anything or any time specifically. Once the fact that I would be coming to New Zealand came up, I was like, 'Well, then providence has spoken. This is where I need to get my Tolkien tattoo - in New Zealand'." 

It's highly likely you'll find Stashwick on the convention floor when he's not doing signings or panels, because at his core - as a longtime Dungeons and Dragons' fan, creator and games master, as well as the owner of the business Nerd Circus - he simply can't get enough of it. 

Recently, Stashwick has had an action figure created of his Star Trek character, something which thrilled him. 

"It's so crazy. It's very out of body. As I said to somebody when I got it, it feels like it's happening to somebody that looks like me. The irony is the playing with action figures were my earliest versions of acting. All of that stuff, the cumulative play as a kid with action figures with D&D, it all led to me finding joy in performance." 

However, Stashwick won't be drawn on the possibility of hosting a live Dungeons and Dragons session at Armageddon, having run similar games nights online with celebrity friends to raise money for charity. 

"I've talked about that often. It's about time because, again, a D&D game, a healthy D&D game takes at least 3 hours to run. Then it's like when you do that in the middle of the day, when I should be at the table meeting people and signing pictures or doing panels or doing photo opportunities? So it's like, where in the day does that fit?" 

But as Newshub plants the idea in his head towards the end of our time together, Stashwick seemed to be swaying in his resolve, laughing: "It's not out of the question. It's not out of the question!"