Monday, November 26, 2012


Originally posted on

As we approach opening night there’s another picture beginning to emerge: that of our audience.

I deeply regret that the previous two years this show has performed in Chicago I didn’t carve out the time to see it. There are any number of (quite reasonable) excuses: I was busy with school, I spent a couple of weeks with my family in Texas over the holiday, etc. As I peek at Facebook and Twitter for mentions of the show I’m seeing more and more people making plans to see us. We’re mentioned by folks who saw it last year, and the year before, and (in some cases) its first few years of life before it came to Chicago. But it’s heartwarming to see several mentions by people first discovering us - both incredulous and excited – by what it is we’re doing. Go ahead, click “Join the Conversation” on the Twitter feed to the right of this screen to see what I’m talking about.

You’ll see the fandom is intense. As a lifelong sci-fi fan myself I’m aware of just how deeply being a fan of something can affect a person. In middle and high schools I attended one or two Star Trek conventions a year. I watched the video presentations, blew my allowance at the merchandise tables, stood in line for autographs, took part in trivia contests, and watched the Q&A sessions with cast members. I wore a pullover with a silkscreen that vaguely resembled a Next Gen uniform while standing next to a band of Klingons who looked like they just stepped off of a movie set. I ate from a food court that included on its menu a “Kling On A Stick.” It was tasty.

Mostly I was struck by the sheer variety of people who happen to be fans of Star Trek, or even science-fiction as a genre. The trope I grew up with was that Trek fans were basement dwellers devoid of social skills, job skills, or any sort of ambition. Indeed, there is a classic Saturday Night Live bit starring William Shatner which is just as hilarious as it is a misrepresentation of an average Trekkie. We come from all walks of life, just like any other subset of humanity.

Being fanatical about Star Trek is no different from being fanatical about your favorite writer, physicist, baseball team, vineyard, or ways to cook bacon. Back to that first night of rehearsal, I embarrassed myself by nearly leaping out of my chair with excitement at learning that my very favorite author is a fan of our play and, as such, he may be reading this very blog. Maybe I’ll get to meet him and he’ll see my work as a writer and as an actor and I’ll shake his hand and then maybe explode and die. The same can be said when people touch the hand of their favorite musician at a concert, or bump into their favorite actor on the street, or share a drink with their favorite athlete at a bar.

In a way I’m relieved I didn’t see A Klingon Christmas Carol before this year. If I had seen it in any of its previous productions I would have known more precisely what I was getting into once I was cast. There is a responsibility to the fans that is inherent in being a part of this show. As a cast member I’m joining a much larger community of Star Trek alums who have passed before me to affect the lives of many millions of people worldwide. Being in this play is bearing a portion of that weight, bringing joy to those fans who came to see a production of quality in order to enhance their lives under the guise of every incarnation of both Star Trek and A Christmas Carol. It’s an overwhelming undertaking.

One of the joys I’ve experienced so far is participating in promotional raids around Chicago. A few of us will dress in full costume and makeup and walk around town posing for pictures and passing out bookmarks with the show’s information. We meet people who are vaguely aware of Trek lore and people who are devout devotees. I delight to see faces lit up when they see us, and the light burns brighter when we tell them exactly what it is we’re promoting. We haven’t even taken the stage, and already we’re making people engaged and interested and excited about our existence. It is both humbling and an honor to be a part of such a dynamic, life-enhancing production.

I’m thrilled that the overall landscape of liking “nerdy” things is changing into something more commonly socially acceptable, because the truth is that we Trekkies (or Trekkers, if you prefer) are just as varied as any sampling of any people. We are scientists and doctors. We are artists and humanitarians. We are pilots and podiatrists and archeologists and novelists and musicians entrepreneurs and politicians. We’re aware that there is an implied amount of camp in this franchise we adore, but we embrace that fact along with the rest of the fun, of the imagination, of the science and the potential for scientific advancement, and we also embrace the hope for the enlightened future that Roddenberry first brought us in 1966.

These are all the things I mean when I say “I get to be a Klingon. notlh tonSaw’lij.”

Monday, November 19, 2012


Originally posted on

Within Isaac Asimov’s Foundation lies one of my favorite lines in literature: “It pays to be obvious, especially if you have a reputation for subtlety.” We’re at the point in our process where we seek ways to apply that forwards and backwards to the show we’re building.

All week we’ve been dealing with polishing those moments that need it. Until now there have been placeholder pieces; bits of blocking or fight choreography that have not been the primary focus of a scene and thus could wait until now to be properly addressed. Things like finding the right mix of pride and agony in a death howl, or a pleasing blend of arthritic tension and fluidity of movement, or what kind of non-contemporary-American hand gesture doesn’t also mean something naughty in sign language. Turns out that last is surprisingly easy.

One of the primary challenges has been performing in Klingon. Naturally the pronunciation was a trial, and we’ve been working hard to keep it accurate (or, at least, consistent) with the rules laid out by Dr. Marc Okrand, the linguist who invented the language – but that’s actually not the most difficult part. We have been well supported by Klingon speakers and friends of the show who attended our language intensive rehearsals. They helped us enormously by – for example – recording every line in the show for us to listen to and repeat over and over. Protip: the CTA is a wonderfully fun place to practice your Klingon.

We’ve gotten so good at the language by now that the most frequent note the actors are getting is slow down. We’re aware that our audience will not, on average, be fluent in the language we’re speaking. The production will have English supertitles above the actor’s heads just like watching a foreign film, but this idea doesn’t appeal to everyone, of course; just check out some Anime forums on sub/dub wars. When watching a movie (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon keeps coming to mind) sometimes things can happen fast and a bit of dialog gets missed by the audience. This is especially true of the fight scenes.

We have an advantage doing this in live theatre, as opposed to a film, in that we can adapt our actions and the speed at which we speak so you don’t miss a thing. Indeed, I love how often we’re able to employ one of the early acting lessons I was taught: the audience should be able to watch a scene with the sound off and still have a full understanding of what’s happening. This is classic Stanislavski. If you’re wholly unaware of the dialogue you’ll still have an accurate understanding of the character relationships, the hierarchy, and the emotional state of each person. Thorough tone of voice, through physicality, and through each stage picture, you’ll be able to grasp every moment even if you happen to miss a line.

Don’t miss a line on purpose, though. There are some great ones in there.

The most fun place for me to explore physical storytelling is in the set of scenes for which I have no dialogue at all.

I’ve always been struck by the presentation of The Ghost of Christmas Future. Silent as the grave and a parable for the Grim Reaper, the only stage direction he gets is to point. The focus is and should be on Scrooge’s reaction to the shape his legacy will take. This is the chapter which pushes him over the edge and cements the alteration of his attitude.

As Kahless Future I get to explore elements of the character I’ve never noticed as an audience: shame, compassion, respect. I delight in finding ways to say look what you’ve done and how dare you as I lead SQuja’ from one example of his dishonor to the next. My favorite segment in the sequence is when we visit the QachIt home and – with the smallest possible gesture – I encapsulate the enormity of telling him look what you’ve caused to happen to other people.

When you come and see us, don’t worry about whether or not you’ll understand everything, because you will. You already know the story, after all. We just tell our version with fewer humans and more punching.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Taking Shape

Originally posted on

The show is finally coming together. This week we had a full run of act one, and the following evening we ran act two. It’s the first time I’ve seen the show as a whole since four weeks ago when we sat down for our first reading of the script.

I always delight in this rediscovery of the text that happens in a rehearsal process. On the first rehearsal we take the show as a whole entity and put it into a time capsule. Then individual rehearsals take a micro-perspective of each scene to ensure its quality, but as an actor I’m only focused on the work for the few scenes I’m in. I don’t attend rehearsals otherwise, so I have no idea how the bits I’m not in have been evolving in my absence.

Because this is the first time we’ve strung the scenes together, we referred to this first full run as a “stumble through.” We realized there were scene transitions we hadn’t figured out yet, and there were props being worked in for the first time. For these and other reasons we gave ourselves permission to fail, knowing full well that part of the purpose of a stumble through is to discover which bits need work, which bits need polish, and what (if anything) needs a complete overhaul. I myself had a “whoops” moment when I realized I had neglected to memorize my cue lines as thoroughly as my own; this led to one particularly embarrassing experience when, as Kahless Future, I kept pointing too soon.

Naturally this show is different from any other in that our first read-though was in a different language from the one we’re now working in. Rehearsals are now wholly in Klingon (except for the Vulcan narrator whose dialogue is in English). By the time the show goes up there will be supertitles for the audience who aren’t fluent in Klingon, but for now my understanding of the scenes is dependent upon the stage pictures made by the director and the physical and emotional choices of the actors.

I delight in seeing how the show has come together since the last time I watched these people bring the text to life. There are so many exciting moments of “Oh yeah, THAT part!” as I recall bits of the script I’ve not seen in four weeks. Then I see my own scenes in context with the rest of the play, and I’m overjoyed to take part in the whole.

Likewise, I hope I’m impressing my castmates as much as they’re impressing me. At the first read-through we’re simply sitting around a table. When there’s a fight scene, ‘e’rIH HoD simply read aloud the stage directions and says, “Then there’s a fight scene.” As I discussed last week, this is a woefully inadequate description of what we’ve built since that night. I’m particularly proud of the pics going up on Facebook and Twitter.

I’m also pleased and impressed watching the play be done by people for whom I’m developing a deep affection. For the last three years I was in shows with schoolmates, so I had already known them and what to expect from everyone. By contrast, the first day of this rehearsal was spent desperately trying to memorize everyone’s names. We were strangers joined by our art and our fandom. In the intervening weeks I’ve started to get to know these people on a personal and individual level, and my heart is beginning to swell. We’re becoming friends as well as comrades-in-art, and I love watching my new friends entertain me.

There are still three more weeks to bring this show together, so there are yet more changes and tweaks that will arise as we stack these building blocks and watch the structure stand. But now we know the shape of things to come. We’ve been wrapping our brains around the material, our lips around the language, and our bodies around each other’s fists. I’m more confident than ever that what we’re building is exciting and moving and beautiful.

Chris was right. This show affects lives.

Monday, November 5, 2012


Originally posted on

Actors miss out on jobs far more often than we book them. We audition dozens of times for roles that end up going to other people – that’s simply the nature of the business (any business, really). It can be disappointing, and it can be frustrating, but we push on and keep trying and in the hopes of sooner or later landing a job.

What’s truly fulfilling is getting a part that offers the opportunity to utilize the fullest range of my talents and abilities. I earned my MFA in Acting this year, but I also have many years’ worth of background in both martial and stage combat. Not only that, but I’m a fairly large dude capable of bearing and manipulating another person’s weight with relative ease.

This is why, in part, when I tell friends and colleagues I’m cast in A Klingon Christmas Carol¸ I virtually always get the same response. There’s a look of mild surprise, quickly followed by a small grin as sudden understanding is achieved. Then the person slowly nods as if all is right with the world, and then they all say the same thing: “Of course you are.”

Rehearsal is always fun, but this week I’ve had several opportunities to bring my physique to the show under the imaginative direction of Fight Director Zach Livingston. Early in the rehearsal process we had a movement rehearsal that focused mostly on Klingon physicality. As a culture that prizes warriors, the body must be constantly ready to either attack or defend one’s self. We must be able to move in any direction with no warning, preparation, or hesitation. Knees are never locked, and no one ever lounges.

To ensure we’re keeping this in mind, Zach has given us a rule for the room. From time to time, someone will shout the word LUNGE. When this happens everyone must lunge at the nearest person in an attack posture. Everyone shouts and growls and charges each other. It’s particularly amusing to see two people in casual conversation be interrupted by this. Even more amusing is seeing SQuja’ run away from the fight like the dishonorable little coward that serves as the impetus of the story in the first place. Makes me giggle every time.

Early this week we focused on fighting with the bat’leth, the traditional weapon of a Klingon warrior. In addition to being given basic ways to manipulate this fantastically beautiful tool of war, Zach has choreographed us each with different styles of fighting one another. For example, some people use more footwork, while others focus on the variety of ways to manipulate the blade. Here we get to benefit from Zach’s extensive combat experience as well as his imagination to make us look good.

And we do look good. There are four consecutive one-on-one duels, and each one has a different flavor and style. You won’t be watching the same fight over and over.

This Saturday’s rehearsal was a four-hour choreography session for a single fight scene which promises to be the highlight of my year. Three times I’ve tried to describe to friends the aspects of what I get to do in this fight, and three times the conversation has degenerated into the sort of primal joy a five-year-old expresses when trying to describe his favorite parts of an action movie.

Suffice it to say I feel wholly utilized in this fight. This is a brawl on a huge scale with about a dozen actors punching, kicking, leaping, being lifted and thrown, being knocked around, knocked down and knocked out. Several fights happen at a time, and there are as many visual jokes thrown in as there are bodies on the floor by the end of it.

I also developed an intense, new level of appreciation for my castmates. A fight scene takes trust between partners. It’s difficult to commit to an action if you don’t feel like you aren’t going to get hurt, and I absolutely look like I could hurt someone if something goes wrong. Yet everyone I fight in this show (which is very nearly everyone) exhibits and inspires total confidence in myself and one another. Stage combat is just another form of dance, and the best dancing is done between capable partners. This show, and the fights within it, are going to be the most glorious eye candy I’ve ever had the honor to be a part of, and I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to do it with.

It’s a cliché to be sure, but I can’t escape that it’s the plain truth.