Every so often, geeks get a chance to have an epic experience meeting their heroes and idols. If we’re lucky, we accidentally bump into them at conventions and have a brief, flustered moment where we blurt out things like, “OMGILOVEYOUYOUAREMYHEROPLEASESIGNTHISICANTBREATHEWHATSMYNAMEAGAIN!?!?!
Oh …maybe that’s just me?
Rare is the moment when a true fan is able to immerse themselves in the culture of their favorite thing in a small room where the creator can be seen casually wandering around, the voices of your idols are willing to take photos and listen to you no matter how flustered you sound, and the friends and family of cast and crew are hanging out as though they’re just regular folks, totally approachable and kind to everyone.
Guys, my five year old got to have that moment.
That’s right, my five year old had that golden experience most fans wait lifetimes to have. It took place at Gallery Nucleus in Alhambra last night at the opening of the #FarewellToTheFalls exhibit, dedicated to the two-season hit on Disney XD; Gravity Falls, created by Alex Hirsch.
Now, before I get into the details of the evening, you need to know a little something about my first born and our journey through Gravity Falls. I know, it’s going to take this from being a “review” to more of a blog, but it’s important to understand WHY this event even happened for us.
Who is Liam?
I am not one of those moms who hides my child’s diagnosis. I’m not ashamed to be honest with others about what makes him different because knowing helps others understand him and it protects him from being judged. (Please know I do not judge moms who struggle with this or prefer to keep it hush-hush, I’m just not like that) Liam has autism & ADHD. He has difficulties expressing himself verbally and responding to questions appropriately. When he gets nervous or overwhelmed, he either shuts down or starts running around and screaming. He has no short term memory but an excellent long-term, so concepts that repeat are important. He fixates on certain stories and they become tools to understand his world. He struggles with writing and being creative on paper, but is SUPER creative in his physical/pretend play, building and creating physical things. He gave up painting at around 17 months after sobbing when I asked if he wanted to paint a green letter for his alphabet wall. After that, any kind of creativity that involves writing, coloring, drawing or painting has been met with tears. So, those are a few of his challenges. Mostly though, and to the rest of the world that has no idea, he is a regular, beautiful, happy, energetic kid who wants to be friends with everyone.
So, what’s the deal with Gravity Falls?
First, if you have never seen the show, here’s a quick rundown; Twins Mabel and Dipper get sent up to nowhere Oregon with their great-uncle for the summer. While working in his tourist trap business called The Mystery Shack, Dipper begins to unlock secrets about the town. With his sister by his side to help him, they solve mysteries, save each other and the town all while battling monsters, ghosts, time babies and pre-teen hormonal trouble. The show is rated N-7 but there are very clear lines about attitude, meanness and the good guys always come out at the end loving each other and doing the right thing. Even when the good guys have mean moments, it’s almost always something that is brought up and the family works through it. The show contains thousands of wise lessons for children about cooperation, compassion, patience and problem solving.
People are shocked when they find out my kids are watching this show. When he first started watching Gravity Falls, I admit, I was frustrated. I filter what my children watch substantially because Liam will repeat what he sees and if the bad behavior of some rotten character gets locked in there, it takes months to get it out. So, when I found out he was watching a show on Disney XD instead of something for his age range on Disney Jr, I was… well, put out. The thing was, he wasn’t just watching, he was diving into it. Something about it resonated within him on a deep level and he became obsessed as something magical began to take place.
Gravity Falls began to affect his behavior and it wasn’t long before I began to see changes in his personality. He began problem solving his way out of challenges. He started asking his sister, who is almost four, for help in his games instead of avoiding her. His games were changing, too. They became epic quests for the sake of the universe to save all humanity and fight monsters who wanted to destroy everyone instead of just, “get the bad guy”. He started talking about dimensions, space, robotics, how the body worked, what computers were made of and began to ask legit, science questions about all those topics. I happily dropped whatever I was doing to answer him as best I could. We looked up many things and watched videos on everything from digestion to ghosts to time travel. He wanted to understand how a piano worked for the first time and asked how he could learn to make the Gravity Falls song on it, which led to my finding the sheet music and teaching him the first 15 notes in the easiest key possible.
His imagination was exploring new concepts and he was pulling aspects of this show out into his real world and they were helping him to see the world around him in ways he’d never considered. He wanted to find truth the way Dipper did. He wanted to search for answers the way Stanford did. He was being kind like Mabel and strong like Wendy. And of course, every single person we know is now “dude” because of Soos.
It wasn’t long before he began asking for a journal of his own. He didn’t say, “mom, we have to go buy a journal”. He said, “Mom!!! I HAVE GOT to have a journal to know the answers!! You have to help me make one right NOW!!” Remember, this is the kid who would turn into a puddle of tears and anxiety at the task of writing his name or drawing a picture. This is the kid who couldn’t hold a crayon without sobbing about how he couldn’t do it right, it never worked, it hurt his hand and he hated it. I stopped what I was doing. I put everything else away. That day, we made Journal #3 and he drew, colored, WROTE, cut & pasted 5 pages. It took him all day with several breaks and a few tears (but he would not give up, even when I told him we could) to create four pages and the cover of his first journal. Over the course of a few more weeks, we created more pages, as well as covers for Journal #1 & #2. A total of 18 pages, not including cover art. All from the kid who cries when you ask him to pick up a pencil.
This show was changing him, pushing his boundaries and opening him up in ways I never would have expected and it was a revelation.
Eventually, he saw a 30 minute special about Alex Hirsch, the creator of Gravity Falls. He watched it probably 60 times in the first week, studying him and learning about him. He understood Gravity Falls was a created place and that Alex was it’s father, it’s creator… it’s… author. The biggest mystery of season one is “who is the author”. Liam put it together that Alex, as the creator, was the author of the author. He talked about Alex like most kids talk about an older sibling or a really cool cousin they admire. He would talk about him in conversation as though they had just hung out the day before.
At this point, he has most of each episode memorized. Now that you understand Liam’s relationship with this show, let’s go back to the review of last night’s event.
The set up.
For about a month beforehand, I’d been gathering costume pieces one at a time so he could attend the event as Dipper. Amazon.com was largely responsible for this, except for his socks which I found at Target the day before and had to color in the orange stripe about 10 minutes before we left. When he put the whole outfit on the first time, I had him close his eyes so he didn’t know what was happening. You’d think, by his reaction, I’d given him 12 puppies. It was priceless.
The entire day was filled with secrecy and clues about what was to happen. I told him I wouldn’t tell him, but he was welcome to try and figure it out. I kept giving him hints all day but he couldn’t quite understand and was still in the dark. After we got into the car, his father and I gave him a gift we had been saving; the newly released Journal #3. I had pre-ordered almost a month prior and was waiting for just the right moment. His reaction was priceless and his dad told him where we were going, but only by telling him he was about to meet the true author. It took him about five minutes to figure that out.
When we arrived, there were fans lining the sidewalk for 1/2 a block down the street. Most of them were in costumes or nods to characters in one way or another. We saw almost every character in the story standing outside waiting for the doors to open.
The first fan we met was Brigit Valeri, dressed in an adorable, hand-made dress inspired by Bill Cypher. She was thrilled to meet Liam and was gracious, kind and attentive to him as he spoke to her. She asked about the journal he had made and poured over his pages. He was so excited to see someone who understood his love. She made our day and we took a few photos with her and two others who were dressed for the occasion.
When we walked in, we were greeted by Gallery Nucleus staff members who took our names and attended to our needs. They were kind, attentive, compassionate and had stellar customer service skills. I genuinely felt valued and this was reciprocated in my decision to purchase many items there, when I knew I could have found them on Amazon. The Gallery’s prices were fair and everyone was down to earth and “real”, not at all the stuffy, stuck up feeling you can get from some gallery experiences.
As we waited to go into the exhibit area, we saw a few pieces of original artwork available for the event.
We finally made it into the exhibit room which was buzzing with excitement from mega-fans and artists alike. Everyone soaked in the art on the walls and in glass cases throughout the room, but the true stars of the show were literally everywhere and it was a bit overwhelming. Writers, artists, voices, production people, even Alex’s twin sister and inspiration for Mabel; Ariel Hirsch. (I admit, I was too anxious to bother her, but I saw her and smiled at her a few times.)
Of course, meeting Alex was the highlight, but Liam also had the opportunity to meet the “real Dipper”, voice actor; Jason Ritter.
Check out the video, as no words could appropriately describe his reaction to this experience.
Alex signed Liam’s Dipper hat and both Alex and Jason signed his hand-made journal after each of them poured over the pages which made Liam giggle with absolute, star-struck glee.
After viewing each work of art and meeting everyone Liam could meet without (either of us) getting too anxious, he was done and it was time to leave. But in one, final burst of courage, I took him by the hand and walked to Alex who was standing with friends walking around the gallery. I thanked him for his work and told him a tiny bit about Liam, just enough for him to understand how important this was to him. He was gracious and kind as Liam gave him a hug and said goodbye. I tried SUPER hard not to cry.
On our way out the door, Liam met a fan who he believed MUST have been the real Wendy, along with her friend in a light-up Mabel sweater. “Wendy” was carrying around a jug of “Mabel Juice”, complete with plastic dinosaurs and offered him a cup, which he excitedly accepted.
As we left the building, the sidewalk was alive with fan activity. We stopped to take several photos with fans outside still waiting for their chance to go in, including a Summerween Grunkle Stan handing out “loser candy” to random people. By then, it was almost the time to open the doors to the public and the line around the corner had tripled.
We waved goodbye to everyone in line and then made our way to get dinner before settling in for the long drive home.
Beyond our personal experience, this showing is everything a fan would want in a Gravity Falls exhibit, including some awesome and fair priced collectables and prints. The gallery itself is larger than it appears from outside and aside from some confusion over where it was okay to park, the surrounding area is nice, well lit and comfortable to walk around. The gallery itself is bright, clean, creatively designed and has a unique opportunity to view the exhibit from above, as seen below:
As I said before, I was highly impressed by the overall presentation of not just the artwork on display, but the gallery staff and their kindness and organization of the event. Things like this are often wrought with mistakes and delays and they handled everything thrown at them (including a few hundred more people than they anticipated) with grace and smiles.
This event hosted by Gallery Nucleus, will be available until August 21st. I HIGHLY recommend seeing it if you can! Details of the event are found on their page, HERE.
Check out the remaining photos of our experience below!