On Hello Earth’s Outdoor Trek production of This Side of Paradise

I remember the original Star Trek coming on syndicated TV during Saturday afternoons as a kid in Las Vegas. I’d watch an episode here and there, had a passing awareness of the characters and found some of it interesting but nothing more. Little did I know that the show had a huge cult following that would soon give rise to Star Trek: The Next Generation and other incantations… or that the actors in the show would become cult celebrities themselves (not that William Shatner needed the career boost, but think about it… name three other film or TV projects Leonard Nimoy acted in).

Eventually I discovered how many people fanatically loved the Star Trek series. Today it’s no surprise for me to see the popularity of Trek conventions and events, or to see theatre shows reviving the characters rather than spoofing them. Just recently Jeannine Clarke produced an improvised Trek show called Where No Man Has Gone Before, based on the Trek episode of the same name. Portland has a massively popular annual series of outdoor Trek shows, and that in turn may have been the inspirational catalyst for three friends to start the Outdoor Trek theatre group Hello Earth, debuting last summer with their outdoor send up of Trek episode The Naked Time in the Central District’s Blanche Lavizzo Park.

Gender wasn’t so much bent as neutralized, as Kris Hambrick took on the role of Kirk, Helen Parson took on Spock, Sara Sorden took on Sulu and so on down the line. Men played women, women played men, some men played men and some women played women. The end result was a curious but enjoyable revival of Trek in Blanche Lavizzo park’s tight but inviting amphitheatre.

The 2010 show was a hit, mixing a serious effort at replicating the show with a sense of humor, especially in their winky recognition of the technical limitations of a low-budget outdoor version of a sci-fi show.

Hello Earth's Outdoor Trek production of This Side of Paradise. Picture courtesy of Erica McGillivray

Hello Earth came back in 2011 with a send-up of the episode This Side of Paradise, where the Enterprise crew lands on a utopian planet and ironically is denied escape by the bliss of a perfect life.

Hambrick, Parson, Sorden and Paul Unwin (who played Lt Riley but plays a colonist this show) returned, as did Hello Earth’s 2010 backing band The Redshirts, while a new set of actors came in to fill in the blanks. Julia Buck jumps in as McCoy, Cory Atencio played Uhura, Ian McIntire joins the crew as a Lieutenant and Sam Henly a colonist.

Even if you don’t particularly care for Star Trek, the show stands up as a stand-alone one hour play about a space age exploration crew discovering a utopia and facing the threat of being trapped by their natural reaction to a blissful utopian life. Some of the effects got an upgrade: The uniform shirts are now long-sleeved to better reflect the actual show’s look, and embroidered hoops are creatively used to simulate teleportation rather than mere interpretative movement.

Julia Buck’s McCoy is tall, strong and very physically engaged in her scenes, a stark contrast to the lighter physical presence of Hambrick and Parson as Kirk and Spock. This is not to discredit Hambrick’s firm dramatic hand as Kirk, and especially Parson’s whimsical humor as Spock when the plot thickens and Spock gets sucked into utopian life. The Redshirt’s music is brilliantly applied as both sound effects and blissful mood music.

The only marks I’d give is that the singing during the musical number gets a bit lost (somewhat understandable given the lack of acoustics in an outdoor setting), and an item beyond the production’s control: the heat. Temps get pretty hot during the 2 pm show, even during the slightly cooler 7 pm shows. If it’s over 70 degrees and sunny, and you’re not under shade and hydrated, it’s going to be a long hour.

But honestly, while there’s a lot going on this weekend this is not a bad way to spend an hour. The cast clearly has a lot of fun reviving a unique episode to a unique TV show and from what I can tell everyone who has come to see it also enjoyed themselves. Plus, it’s free (though they do take donations after the show).

Hello Earth’s Outdoor Trek production of This Side of Paradise runs one more weekend at Blanche LaviZzo Park, on 22nd just south of Yesler in the Central District. There’s a show at 7 pm Saturday and at 2 pm on Sunday. If you abhor sun, please scope out a seat on the western or middle risers. Bring them a few bucks in case you really like it.

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