It’s a beautiful summer day in north Portland. The towers of the green-tinged steel St. Johns Bridge create Gothic cathedral-like outlines in the park underneath, which is grassy and sloped downwards to an amphitheater. About a hundred folks are there, waiting. It’s two hours before the performance starts, but that makes no difference. These are nerds, son. To beat them, you’ll have to be better prepared.
Fast forward a few hours. The show is underway, and the audience is on the edge of their grassy blanketed seats. It’s a crucial battle scene, as the Captain is attacked by a member of the Andorian delegation. The Andorian has a knife, while the Captain only has his hands and his wits.
Oh, and a dog. In a commotion from stage right, a black dog bounds up and boards the Enterprise, with a plainclothes, flustered young man in hot pursuit. As the dog prances and yelps at the Andorian, obviously on the side of the Captain, the young man grabs the pup’s collar and drags him off into deep space, to much laughter.
As Captain Kirk incapacitates the Andorian attacker, critically wounded himself, he calls up to the bridge. “I’ve been attacked,” Kirk says, “by a member of the Andorian delegation. “
“And an ensign’s dog.”
Cue show-stopping clapping and cheers from the audience.
This magical experience is Trek in the Park. Each of the last four years, a group of young nerds from the Portland area have performed an entire Star Trek episode live, word for word, complete with sound effects, fight scenes, and in-sync jostling when the ship gets hit.
The ship always gets hit.
It’s delightfully campy and low-budget, much like the original Star Trek (and no, kids, I don’t mean the 2009 movie starring Chris Pine. Wikipedia it.) A brother and sister, Amy and Adam Rosko, gathered their friends and roommates four years ago to put on a performance for a few more friends. The performances are now a much-loved Portland tradition.
Part of that is because it’s a great time to be a nerd. Every dog will have its day, and now is the rise of traditional nerd culture. The geeks have become the gurus, as the internet has become the most prominent aspect of American life. We’re all hyper-connected and life revolves around the interweb…and the Geniuses that can help us navigate it.
So nerd is king and San Diego ComiCon is Mecca, though Portland is an especially geeky city. Portland loves being weird, off-beat and kooky. Look anywhere downtown, and you’ll likely see what looks like a mountain man, complete with beard and flannel, using Yelp on his iPhone to find good places for brunch.
So Portland is the perfect place to foster something like Trek in the Park.
While I am not a huge Trekkie (yet, there’s still time) I love the experience. You sit among other Portland city dwellers who eating organic food and using umbrellas—that they wouldn’t dare use in the rain—to shield them from the sunshine. Everyone is giddy with delight, fine with waiting for two hours just to watch a cult classic brought to life with nearly the same production value in the park as it had in the studio.
What I love even more is that the Roskos and company just decided to do it.
That’s the nerdiest–and best–part of Trek in the Park. I don’t know the Roskos, but I’m guessing Trek in the Park grew out of a love for theater and science fiction, and the crazy thought that hey, this could work. This could be something, if even just for us and some of our friends. This is a way we can express ourselves and what we love.
I’m sure they hoped people would come to see it. I’m sure they hoped that folks would rally around it, bring their friends, talk about it at work. I mean, Mrs. Rosko sewed costumes. They all invested time and money out of their own pockets to give this thing legs. Out of love.
What a silly thing to do.
Now the show averages a thousand people per performance. A thousand people on a grassy hillside under a bridge come to watch young actors mime (rather impressively) a spaceship being rocked by enemy fire. All thousand people love every second of it.
It’s the mark of a true nerd, to love something down to its smallest detail and to not care if someone else thinks it unimportant. To put yourself out there in hopes of encouraging and finding others like you, who share the same passions and joys in small and big things. To be brave and seek a community, and if you can’t find one, create one yourself. Find your niche. Do something big and see if it works.
As another nerd icon once said, “Do or do not; there is no try.” Too many of us choose the latter option—“do not”—because trying is way harder. It makes us sacrifice and step out in faith, saying this is important to me. I will give up my time and money for this thing that could either amount to nothing or everything.
I have other friends and people I know who are doing the same thing. People like Caleb and Stephen who started a theatre company (which I wrote about here) and Jen (with a lot of help from Dan) opening an art studio. People like Jeff and Jon publishing blogs and books by themselves. People like Jen and Jamison moving overseas to teach kids. These are amazing and bold people who are doing what they love, regardless of the cost.
These are the examples I hold onto when I start to get discouraged with my dear hipster generation’s tendency towards apathy, toward a cynical and dispassionate distaste for what they see is wrong with the world. Instead of doing anything, they simply criticize. They don’t want to make it seem like they love things, in fear of investing in something that will only let them down or prove to be ridiculous. Then they by default will be ridiculous.
Well, you know what is ridiculous? Star Trek. Also, Star Trek being performed in a park. It’s ridiculous. It’s also fun and engaging and joyful. It’s a way to learn about ourselves and others, and join in something together. It’s a way to say “yes” and become part of a community of nerds, rather than say “eh” and be an island of disinterest. Nerds have more fun, because they invest and they love and they share what they love with others.
I mean, even the ensign’s dog knew who the good guy was. We all knew. And we were all onboard.
Hey, live long and prosper, why don’t ya? And make something. Don’t be afraid to care about something. Try something. Do something.
Maybe you’ll find others like you out there.
If you’re in the Portland area, this weekend (Aug. 25-26) is the last weekend of Trek in the Park at Cathedral Park under the St. Johns Bridge. Saturday and Sunday, 5pm. Get there early, bring water, and enjoy! For more info, check out Atomic Arts and Trek in the Park on Sunday Morning on CBS.