Interview: Hello Earth Production

Outdoor Trek Devil in the Dark

I’m really excited today because we got to interview Kris Hambrick and Joy DeLyria, the folks behind Hello Earth, a local theatrical company in Seattle who put on Star Trek episodes in the park. Some of you may remember that we reviewed their last production a couple of years ago, Outdoor Trek: This Side of Paradise. After a one year hiatus, Hello Earth is back with a new Outdoor Trek production, this time an adaptation of Devil in the Dark which opens this week at Blanche Lavizzo Park.

How did Outdoor Trek come about?
We saw Portland’s Trek In The Park, and were inspired. To us, Star Trek is a lot like Shakespeare–it’s a classic. It says important things, but can be interpreted in many ways. Lots of people are familiar with it, and most of all, it’s meant to be shared. We wondered why every city didn’t have something like Star Trek in the park, and then we realized Seattle would—if we did it. So we started Hello Earth, the theater company behind Outdoor Trek.

Have you received a lot of support from the geek community?
So many people have been supportive of Outdoor Trek, but I gotta say we’ve had just as much or more support from friends, local theater groups and the odd Trekkie here and there than we’ve had from larger groups that identify as ‘geek’. We know that there’s a fabulous geek scene in Seattle, but we’ve had trouble even knowing where to begin in terms of PR–we’re much better at creating things than telling people we’ve created them. One of our goals is to build community, and part of that is bridging the divide between theatre and geekdom as best we can. We just happen to have been more active in the theatrical community here and need to work on our geek scene visibility!

How do you guys choose which episode you want to stage?
The first few years, we chose episodes that weren’t necessarily our favorites, but which we thought would be recognizable and conducive to a fun, party-like community atmosphere. That’s why we went with The Naked Time and This Side of Paradise our first two years: large casts, a lot of key memorable scenes, and a way to get our theater legs before we delved into the more serious or more iconic. That isn’t to say Devil in the Dark is without humor, but we wanted to tackle some episodes that were more flat-out fun as our first attempts.
That said, episode choice is usually a discussion between key members of the Hello Earth team, though we’re looking at ways to get our audience in on the direction we go.

Do you ever make changes to the script (eg for staging purposes) or do you tend to stick pretty closely to the script?
We really like to take on the ethos of a Shakespeare production. Shakespeare is sacred; you don’t mess with Shakespeare–not because he was perfect, but because people are familiar with Shakespeare. What you want to do with Shakespeare is take lines and scenes that are iconic for their themes and the their double meanings and their universality. You want to take that and put a new spin on it–and that’s what we want to do with Star Trek. People know these episodes; we love them just as they are. That said, Star Trek was written for TV, not the stage. We do rearrange some scenes so that they make more sense, or so that they’re easier to stage. Sometimes we take out lines that just don’t make sense without a commercial break. Once we do all that, we try to remain really really true to the script–but not necessarily the way it was filmed. We treat it like a script and only a script, which, like any other play, can be interpreted in different ways.

Outdoor Trek This Side of Paradise

What have been some of the challenges for you in translating Star Trek to an outdoor stage experience?
The major challenge has been in the differences between television and theatrical conventions. As we just mentioned, sometimes we rearrange scenes. This is because on tv, it’s a lot more dynamic to cut between different locations to show parallel movement of time, or to have conversations on comms, for instance. On stage, you don’t want to be exiting, possibly moving set pieces, and entering for a few lines. So we’ve had to find ways of compressing multiple cuts in the original to longer, more cohesive scenes. Or experimented with using the space creatively such that multiple things are happening at once with the audience understanding that they are not occurring in the same location. The challenge there has been in making sure it makes sense, from an audience perspective.
There are challenges in “special effects” and props, but since those were faced by the original crew I think we see those more as an exercise in remaining true to the show we love and its tradition of creative re-use. And this plays nicely into your next question!

Are there episodes of TOS that you’d like to do but can’t because of the budget/FX?
I think we’re less concerned about budget and FX than with comprehension. There are a lot of things you can do with ribbons and sound effects and pantomime that will let the audience completely buy into what you’re doing, and come along with you. We don’t have sets, exactly, but everyone knows what the door swish sound means and they love it. They buy in. The greater challenge, we think, is when the plot or theme of the episode requires an obvious contrast or juxtaposition we can’t achieve as easily with our budget. For instance, City on the Edge of Forever has an amazing story with great writing and character. It’s also quite simple to stage. However, part of the reason for that episode is to see Kirk and Spock transposed into 1930s America, and in a concrete amphitheater it’s harder to get that sense of contrast between the “modern” Enterprise and Depression-era Earth. You can give Spock a beanie and Kirk a red flannel shirt, but will you be able to bring the audience along with you and give them a sense of just how out of place they are?

You’re fairly unusual in that you’ve cast your production without taking into consideration gender or race. How has that been received?
For the most part, our blind casting has been met with overwhelming support. I was really surprised after our first production that no one asked me why McCoy’s skin was dark, and Uhura’s was white, or why Kirk and Spock were girls. The point is supposed to be what I’ve been saying–that it’s a classic, but it’s also a script, and it’s open to interpretation. More importantly, for us, Star Trek is about openness and inclusiveness, as well as understanding. The fact that no one has ever seemed to have a problem with our casting really makes me think that that’s why Star Trek has endured so long, and that gives me a happy. That said, we have found some horrifically sexist comments about us online. That can happen with any production in which there are so many females, particularly one in which the part calls for males. Everyone involved in the show believes so strongly in what we’re doing, though, that it has never affected the way we operate or they way our audience has received us.

Outdoor Trek Hello Earth

This question is for Kris, when you portray Kirk is it important for you to approach the character with William Shatner’s performance in mind, or do you try and focus more on who you believe Kirk is?
I will say that it’s impossible to approach Kirk without thinking of Shatner. At least, it should be. There’s a lot about Kirk that I believe was contributed by Shatner, in the sense that on the page he comes off a lot more like Christopher Pike but when William Shatner put his spin on it, the character gained levels I’m not sure were written (or acted) there intentionally.
That said, I do try to focus more on who I believe Kirk is. No one is ever going to be William Shatner. And there are already about a million really bad impersonators out there. What I try to do is focus on the things that make Kirk interesting and special to me, and try to let those come through in my performance. This means some of it is definitely influenced by Shatner, because so much of what I see as Kirk’s fundamental character is the juxtaposition of his rigid morals and Starfleet values with Shatner’s way of interacting with his world. The fact that Kirk touches people a lot, for instance, is all Shatner. But that sense of physical comfort and connection has become important to my concept of who Kirk is. I don’t watch the episodes while we’re in production, however. I’d rather not start trying to imitate him.

Hello Earth took a hiatus last year. We’re so glad you’re back. Was there a particular reason you decided not to do a show last year?
Yes! Our music director and fellow founder, Sean Robinson, became involved in other things. We knew that without him, putting together a band (and a show!) would be very difficult, and we took the year off in order to strategize. We don’t think he’ll be returning to Hello Earth any time soon, but we’re happy he’s doing new creative things, and we’re moving in other directions, so it is all for the best.

Were you both Star Trek fans growing up?
Joy: I certainly wasn’t. My dad watched The Next Generation all the time and I rather disliked it–I was terrified of Worf! (I was three when that show started, okay?) It wasn’t until 2009, after the reboot movie, that I became interested in the original series. After that, the rest is history. I’m still working my way through all the other Treks, but TOS will always have a special place in my heart.

Kris: I also grew up watching TNG, though I’m a little older than Joy so my memories of it might be a little more firm. I remember arguing vehemently that Picard was superior to Kirk because he was intellectual and Kirk was all macho, despite the fact I’d seen exactly half an episode of TOS and deemed it stupid. (The episode, for the curious, was A Piece of the Action.) It wasn’t until I fell in love with Shatner’s album Has Been that I realized I needed to know more, and fell in love with The Original Series in a way Next Generation hadn’t ever touched me.

outdoortrek3

What is it about Star Trek that resonates with people even after all these years?
I think it’s something a little different for everyone, and that’s why it’s been so persistent. It offers a vision of the future that is optimistic and inclusive, and I think that’s part of the basic appeal. But it also offers endless opportunities for exploration—both in the sense that it’s about exploration and in the sense that the world is set up to allow for infinite stories, characters, and genre conventions. You can focus on ethics or action or romance or science and the world is still there—and you can see yourself in it. I think it’s the foundation plus flexibility that’s the secret. And for me, it does not at all hurt to have a future to look to where we’ve managed to solve the problems which still plague us today, and are still a forward thinking, ambitious, and questioning people.

When does the new show open and how many performances will you be doing?
Saturday, July 27, at 7pm
Sunday, July 28 at 2pm
Saturday, August 3 at 7pm
Sunday, August 4 at 2pm
We hope to see you there!