Beam Us Downriver, Scotty!
Having outgrown their previous reside at Woodlawn Park, Trek in the Park is beaming its signature fun to a new location: the beautiful Cathedral Park beneath the St. Johns Bridge, where it runs on Saturdays and Sundays at 5pm until August 26. In its fourth season, theater company Atomic Arts recreates the classic “Journey to Babel” episode, in which Captain Kirk and the rest of the Enterprise crew must safely transport a number of interplanetary dignitaries to a peace conference with an assassin lurking about. Complicating things, one of the ambassadors is First Officer Spock’s disapproving father, a serious, poker-faced Vulcan who pairs with his human wife to tease and fluster their son, who is torn by his half-Vulcan, half-human heritage (some of the best moments in the play are these interactions between the dry, logical Vulcans and the more emotional human characters, each side trying to draw Spock to their cause).
Going where no Trek in the Park has gone before, this season seriously ups the production ante. Mics around the stage help to cure the sound problems that ailed previous productions, while clever props, costumes, and live music and sound effects lead you to forget that this is a free show.
After their premiere weekend, we caught up with Adam Rosko—the director, a co-founder of Atomic Arts, and the actor behind Captain Kirk—to talk about the history of Trek in the Park, what to expect this year, and how they dealt with their biggest fan:
How’d this crazy journey start?
I’d been doing theater in Portland for about a year and had always fantasized about having my own company. One day my sister offered to invest in it and said, “Just go do it.” We knew we wanted to do something that was free and outdoors and very inviting. We went through plays and movies and comic books and then, just going through my DVD collection, I saw “Star Trek.” I went straight to YouTube and the first thing that popped up was the fight between Kirk and Spock from “Amok Time,” and that ended up being our first episode.
Were you a Trekkie growing up?
My sister and I grew up around it a lot because my Mom is a huge Trekkie. I have a lot of memories of Next Generation and seeing re-runs of the original series on Saturday afternoons.
Did you expect your shows to go for this long or to be this popular?
The first year, we were just hoping to fill the bowl section of our little amphitheater. As a theater company, we didn’t want to just do “Star Trek,” we wanted to do other plays. But it exploded in such a way that we had to focus all of our energy on “Star Trek.” When you see the crowd, and see how excited they are, and the fact that at our old park, people would show up four or five hours early just to see it—it gives you this responsibility. You don’t want to disappoint.
What has been the biggest surprise along the way?
The news and the attention that it has gotten—that stuff we never really expected. We didn’t expect NPR to cover us, or even think we’re cool [laughs]. Then we were on Portlandia [see below]. But the biggest thing is the audience size and response: when you see so many people, who might not even be Star Trek fans, that’s the best part. And seeing all the kids in the audience, who maybe have never seen a play in their life, and who have never seen Star Trek, they’ll watch the play, and then come back the next summer having watched the entire series, or they’ve joined some sort of youth theater camp. That’s huge.
You’ve probably had some crazy fans. Who’s been the biggest?
Probably the guy who plays Sarek in this year’s show [Paul Guinan]. He’s always been a big supporter of the show, and after every show, he’d be the first one to comment about the stuff we had changed or the stuff that we didn’t get “right” or wasn’t exactly like the episode. He was always the first one to nail us. He was a great guy, and also really talented, so this year we decided to just cast him in the damn show! [Laughs.]
Why’d you choose “Journey of Babel” this season, and what’s new for Trek in the Park veterans?
“Mirror, Mirror” last year was a show that was very stunts and effects driven, so we wanted to up our game, and when we saw “Journey to Babel,” it had everything we were looking for. The challenge this year was to do one that is all story and character driven. The way the new stage is laid out, with multiple levels, we can do our own version of the smash cut, where we draw focus from one level or area of the stage, to another, so at one point the audience is looking at the sick bay, then they’re looking at the brig, then they’re looking at the bridge and back again. There’s not one-inch of un-used space on that stage.
We knew a long time ago that we wanted to end on “The Trouble With Tribbles,” and we knew that it would take a few seasons to get to the point where we felt like we could pull it off. It’s a monster episode. It’s also regarded as one of the best—and it’s one of my favorites. It’s going to almost be a straight-up farce and we’re excited to end on a good, light-hearted note.
After Trek in the Park, we plan on doing a lot more original material. We’ve gained all this experience doing Star Trek and making props and costumes and make-up—doing what it takes to make a production. Next, we’re going to step outside the Star Trek wheelhouse and trust what we’ve learned before to move us into the direction of creating our own stories and our own characters.
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