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The 1975 Star Trektacular and Twelfth Night

on Tue, 11/04/2014 - 00:00

There are many ties between the Star Trek franchise and the works of William Shakespeare. The first season of the original series, for instance, featured an episode entitled “The Conscience of the King” in which Captain James T. Kirk becomes convinced that the main actor in a travelling theater troupe is a former colony governor responsible for the massacre of 4,000 people. Twenty-five years later, during the motion picture Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, a Klingon chancellor tells Kirk, “You have never experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.” Star Trek: The Next Generation, meanwhile, likewise contained multiple references to the Bard, and even included Shakespearean actors Patrick Stewart in the role of Captain Jean Luc Picard and John de Lancie as Q.

After three seasons of portraying a Vulcan on Star Trek—followed by two years as a “master of disguise” espionage agent on Mission: Impossible—Leonard Nimoy himself decided to tackle Shakespeare as Malvolio in a 1975 Pittsburgh Public Theater production of Twelfth Night. “Stretching yourself with different kinds of roles is what it’s all about for me,” Nimoy told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at the time. “I’ve been studying and reading and watching Shakespeare long enough to feel excited and positive about it. The biggest problem an actor has is finding good material. With Shakespeare you know that not only do you have good material, you have a proven piece that has been staged successfully many times.”

Despite a career almost exclusively centered on the television medium, Leonard Nimoy was no stranger to the stage by the time him arrived in Pittsburgh, having performed in such classics as Camelot, Fiddler on the Roof, The King and I and The Man in the Glass Booth. Two of those productions were directed by Ben Shaktman, founder of the Pittsburgh Public Theater and the organization’s first general director. It was Shaktman’s involvement in Twelfth Night that played a key part in Nimoy’s decision to make his Shakespearean debut in the Steel City. “I talked to Ben for a long time before the Public Theater got started and I knew all about his fantasies and dreams for the theater,” Nimoy explained. The actor was equally impressed with the strength of the theater community in the region. “I’ve seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and I sense the Pittsburgh audience is really interested in coming here and seeing these plays,” he added. “Cuckoo’s Nest is sold out. I understand Glass Menagerie did very well and we’re almost sold out for Twelfth Night already.”

Although Leonard Nimoy was in Pittsburgh for Shakespeare, he couldn’t escape Star Trek even though the three-season original ended a decade earlier and was still four years away from being revived on the big screen. “I’m laughing because I just can’t believe it,” Nimoy told the Post-Gazette in regards to the continued popularity of the series. “There’s never been another show like it. I think the interest in Star Trek is a healthy, educational thing.”

When Pittsburgh-based Star Trek fan Nancy Hoy realized that Leonard Nimoy would be in town for Twelfth Night, she decided to organize a Star Trektacular Convention in the city to coincide with his appearance. After contacting another fan club located in New York City, she further established that additional members of the main cast were available over the weekend of December 12, 1975, as well—including William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan and George Takei. Add Nimoy’s name to the list of attendees, and the two lone Star Trek actors missing were Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig, making Star Trektacular a mini-reunion for those associated with the original series.

In her book On the Good Ship Enterprise: My Fifteen Years with Star Trek, legendary Star Trek fan Bjo Trimble discusses various Star Trek conventions that popped up throughout the country during the 1970s. Many of them, including those in Chicago and Los Angeles, were organized by fans that had no prior experience at constructing such a convention, thus leading to a certain level of disorganization within the proceedings. Star Trektacular in Pittsburgh appears to have been no different as it was ripe with difficulties from the very beginning. The convention was originally scheduled for the Pittsburgh Hilton, for instance, but was relocated to the William Penn Hotel after a misunderstanding caused the Hilton to believe that the event had been cancelled. Souvenir programs for Star Trektacular were still being printed hours after the convention officially convened, meanwhile, and William Theiss, who served as costume designer on Star Trek, was stranded at the airport because no one was available to pick him up.

Despite such hiccups, however, estimates ranged from one-to-five thousand Star Trek fans attending the event—including Bjo Trimble herself, who is listed as “Honored Ambassador” in the program—with a confirmed 2,500 tickets sold beforehand. There was a full-slate of activities scheduled as well, including a breakfast with the actors that was limited to four hundred attendees, an art show, trivia contest and costume contest. Official hours for Star Trektacular ran from 11am to 4pm each of the three days that it was held, with episodes of the original series being shown during the evening hours and extending into the early morning.

Although it was only 1975, Star Trektacular was equipped with computer terminals courtesy of On-Line Systems Inc. that featured computer game simulations and trivia quizzes. John Johns, president of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh at the time, designed the souvenir program for the event, while an additional ten Steel City fans were listed as organizers of the convention along with Nancy Hoy. Then there was the Dealers Room, which featured a full-array of Star Trek themed items—from books to buttons, comics to posters, jewelry to T-shirts.

“It’s a good living because right now there’s not much competition,” one of the vendors explained to the Pittsburgh Press. His specialties were “Vulcan nickel” buttons that sold for 50 cents and a larger version that went for one dollar, each of which cost only 12 cents to produce. “I figure to sell one thousand buttons during the convention,” the dealer added. “You figure out what I’ll make.” At least one attendee, however, took exception to the hawking of Star Trek merchandise. “All the commercialism really is a shame,” Bjo Trimble told the Pittsburgh Press. “With the movies, trivia contests and fashion shows, these conventions can really be fun.”

Despite the onslaught of souvenirs for sale, as well as multiple missteps during the convention itself, the 1975 Star Trektacular extravaganza in Pittsburgh was no doubt a “fun” event as well. With Captain James T. Kirk, Science Officer Spock, Doctor Leonard “Bones” McCoy, Lieutenant Montgomery “Scotty” Scott and Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu in attendance, how could it not have been?

Anthony Letizia

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