Inaugural “West Wing” Weekend Brings Superfans to Bethesda

Devotees of the Aaron Sorkin drama will gather in one place this September.

Do you miss the brilliance of “The West Wing?” Since the show left the air in 2006, fans have had to make do with reruns, books and podcasts devoted to the series many believe to be the best political drama ever to grace the small screen. Nobody believes this more than , Washington-based author and co-creator of West Wing Weekend, a three-day fan festival to take place at Bethesda North Marriott Hotel & Conference Center on September 28-30th. Handscombe answered our questions about the inaugural weekend.

Washington Life: What inspired you to put together this weekend?

Claire Handscombe: I’ve thought about it on and off for years, but never did anything about it. Then last summer I got a message from Cat Smith, who was one of the contributors to my anthology, “Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.” She’d been talking to her friend Clay Dockery, who is a West Wing fan and has experience of organizing cons. They were at a Golden Girls café, which spurred them to think about fandoms, and that it’d be great if the West Wing had its own event. In Cat’s words, “if anyone is going to do it, it should be US!”

WL: What can guests expect from the weekend?

CH: Like the show, the event will be made of meaningful substance, such as panels on portrayals of gender in “The West Wing” or on the role of fandom in culture, with moments of frivolous fun, like trivia games or butter-carving competitions.

WL: Are any actors or other people affiliated with the show confirmed to attend? Are there any that you are still hoping will attend but have not yet confirmed?

CH: Melissa Fitzgerald will be joining us — she played Carol, the assistant to Allison Janney’s CJ, and now works for Justice For Vets, for whom we’ll be raising money. William Duffy and Peter James Smith have been confirmed too — they played two White House staffers, Ed and Larry. We are in talks with a number of others but I’m sworn to secrecy until they are confirmed! This event will be fan-centric, though — much of the entertainment will be put on by attendees, so we’re not relying on special guests, though of course we’d love to have as many as possible!

WL: Are you expecting or encouraging people to wear costumes?

CH: We’d love that — I am betting there’ll be a lot of over-sized suits and backpacks.

WL: What do you think people are missing out on if they’ve never seen “The West Wing?”

CH: Exposure to perhaps the best TV writing of our time, and some of the best acting, best directing, and best musical scoring. The show won Best Primetime Drama at the Emmys for each of the four seasons that Aaron Sorkin was at the helm, and countless other awards, so I’m not the only one who thinks so. I think that something about the brilliance and idealism of the show calls out to the “voices of our better angels”, as Sorkin would say, and inspires us, whether that’s to make great art, go into public service, or whatever. Many people would say their lives have been changed by the show — hence the book I edited.

Also, if you live in DC, where many people are obsessed with it, you’re probably missing out on a lot of inside jokes from both the show and the West Wing Weekly, the podcast about the show.

WL: Is the show anything like our current political situation?

CH: The show’s heroes and many of their Republican antagonists are smart, engaged people, who love their country, and work hard and make sacrifices for the greater good. I’ll let your readers decide if that’s comparable to what we have now.

A full weekend pass is $85. Visit westwingweekend.com for tickets and more information.

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