Every weekend around the country and across the world, fans attending pop culture conventions are accustomed to waiting in line for an autograph or the chance to share a photo op with a favorite actor. This is certainly true for fans of William Shatner — but how many get to do it with him sitting in the captain’s chair on the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise?
If you’d been at the Star Trek Original Series Set Tour earlier this month, that could’ve been you.
Since its opening in early 2017, the tour is a premier destination for Star Trek fans of every stripe. For first time visitors, owner James Cawley’s amazingly detailed recreations of Desilu Stage 9 and the sets used to film the classic 1960s series’ Enterprise interiors are a jaw-dropping sight to behold. The tour even attracts notice from various Star Trek luminaries, perhaps none brighter than the original Captain Kirk himself. To the delight of many fans who made the trek (pun intended) to beautiful Ticonderoga, New York, the one and only William Shatner was waiting, making his third visit to the attraction.
As part of this second “Captain’s Inspection Tour Weekend,” Mr. Shatner hosted guided walk-throughs of the sets, beginning with the ship’s famous transporter room and progressing through other memorable locations such as sickbay, Captain Kirk’s quarters, engineering, and — of course — the iconic Enterprise bridge. Arranged just as they were during the production of The Original Series, the sets provided Mr. Shatner with plenty of reminders which he used to regale fans with stories and anecdotes from his work on the series.
Photo ops were a main draw on Friday, of course, with eager fans waiting for their chance to meet the captain on the Enterprise bridge. There also were plenty of opportunities to capture candid and funny moments throughout the weekend. Unlike convention autograph or photo sessions where there’s usually little to no time for any sort of real personal interaction, Mr. Shatner laughed, joked, demonstrated legendary “Kirk Fu” fighting moves, and -- to one fan’s delight -- declared, “He’s dead, Jim!”
And what’s better on a Friday night after such a busy day? Beer and pizza, of course. What’s even better than that? Attending a beer and pizza party hosted by William Shatner, which is exactly what fans those holding special event “Admiral’s tickets” got to do.
The “inspection” continued in earnest on Saturday, with Mr. Shatner again hosting tours through the sets and posing with fans for photos on the bridge. Then it was over to nearby Ticonderoga High School, where he signed autographs for fans before taking the stage in the school’s auditorium. The usual “question and answer” format was abandoned in favor of a fascinating discussion with the school’s principal, John Donahue, and teachers Joseph Defayette and Michael Uchal. The educators talked about the challenges they face but also how they inspire students to take an active interest in the sciences, technology, trade skills, and so much more. Throughout the day, the school also played host to vendors offering all sorts of Star Trek merchandise and collectibles.
Later that afternoon, Star Trek production alumni Doug Drexler, Michael and Denise Okuda, and Daren R. Dochterman were on hand to conduct their own tours of the Enterprise. Following these experts through the sets, fans learned all sorts of interesting facts and trivia about their design. The challenges faced by the set’s creator, art director Walter M. “Matt” Jefferies, and his production crew to surmount tight budgets and crushing deadlines while visualizing a believable future for television audiences are legendary. Tours were also conducted by members of the tour’s knowledgeable staff, many of whom have been with the attraction from the beginning.
Dayton Ward (he/him) is the New York Times bestselling author or co-author of numerous novels and short stories, including a whole bunch of stuff set in the Star Trek universe, and often working with friend and co-writer Kevin Dilmore. As he’s still a big ol' geek at heart, Dayton is known to wax nostalgic about all manner of Star Trek topics over on his own blog, The Fog of Ward.