Science Inspires Star Trek Live
Star Trek and Mad Science seem like a perfect, natural fit.
Star Trek, after all, is the venerable sci-fi franchise that for decades has touched the hearts and minds of millions, not to mention stoked their interest in space exploration and science. Mad Science, meanwhile, is a popular, award-winning producer of live, science-driven entertainment presentations designed for kids and young adults. Put Star Trek and Mad Science together and you get Star Trek Live, a 30-minute interactive show that features live actors, special effects, a Star Trek-themed story, modern-day science and audience participation. A touring version of Star Trek Live started in San Diego on June 11 and will venture to such other American and Canadian cities as Saskatoon, Birmingham, Charlottesville, Tacoma, Billings and Boise throughout 2010 and into early 2011. Meanwhile, an anchor production of the show is running now through September 6 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Asked what finally made now the time to meld Mad Science and Star Trek, Leonard Lipes -- managing director and vice president of production at Mad Science – replies with six words: the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie. “That’s really what inspired me,” Lipes says in a telephone interview. “When I actually saw the movie, it just said to me, ‘You don’t need to be a Star Trek fan to enjoy this movie.’ A, it’s a fantastic movie and it stands on its own as a single, unbelievable piece. B, because it’s a prequel in a sense, you don’t need any previous exposure to Star Trek to fully get and understand the characters. They’re all defined for you. Having picked up everything I picked up from working with Kennedy Space Center on a show they had running for nine years, and having a small, but interested view of Star Trek, I realized that I could marry these two brands, that I could take a fiction-to-reality approach and build a show foundation around it, and that I could appeal to the same audiences the movie did -- and the movie attracted a very wide demographic. This is my opinion, and I think the statistics would back it, but for a lot of people who saw the movie it was their first exposure to Star Trek ever. It was met with tremendous success and tremendous reviews and we felt that we could do the same thing with our live stage show.”
The next step was to craft a show that would appeal to kids ages seven to 15, and also entertain their parents, and that could be enjoyed, as Lipes noted, by Star Trek newcomers. The trickier task would be to satisfy the more hardcore Star Trek enthusiasts out there, especially those who might compare Star Trek Live to other productions, such as Star Trek: The Experience, that were targeted squarely at the fan base. “We did not build the show for hardcore Star Trek fans, but there’s certainly enough in the show for them,” Lipes says. “We touch upon things like Tribbles and we have an authentic tricorder, and we worked to get the costumes right. We put a lot of focus and detail into those elements to make sure that the show would resonate with the hardcore fans. The storyline, the science, the experience, those were all designed for the mass market. So, really, we’re trying to be all things to all people, with the understanding that the hardcore Star Trek fan may not get the same experience from this as, let’s say, somebody with less exposure to Star Trek.”
Perhaps the most unique element of Star Trek Live, and certainly the one that thrills Lipes, is the integration of current science. The plot boasts time-travel elements that whisk Star Trek into our here and now. “We still are very far away from a lot of the technology in Star Trek, but we’re coming closer,” Lipes says. “Look at Hubble. Hubble has opened up an eye to the galaxies and it has posed a lot of questions for astrophysicists and scientists, and the next generation of Hubble, which is the James Webb, will be launched in 2014. And it will answer a lot of the questions Hubble enabled us to ask. These are things we touch on in the story and they’re actually part of the plot. We talk about a cell phone, a 3G technology, and how they’re currently working on 3G technology that will sense biological and chemical exposure and be able to transfer that information in a handheld device. That, in theory, is very similar to what a tricorder is in Star Trek. It goes on and on and on like that. And another cool thing in Star Trek Live is that we’re able to transport people in the show using movie technology that didn’t exist years and years ago. Using green screens, we can place people anywhere in the solar system, pretty much, with any background. So I love the combination of real science and technology that relates directly to Star Trek juxtaposed with technology that allows us to portray that effect for theatrical purposes. Put all of that together, and I think we’re all very proud of Star Trek Live.”