September 10th, 2011

TOS: NCC-1701

Let's make some art!: Trek in the Park Edition!

I was part of an angry mob. For art.

What happened this morning -- then what happened this morning (*grins*) -- is still making me break out into giggles.

OK, I've told you about Trek in the Park. I've told you about the good people at Atomic Arts who've made the show happen since summer 2009. I've told you that this was seen from space. And I haven't told you about it, but you've likely heard about the sketch show Portlandia. And these have what in common?

This morning Atomic Arts put on a pretend Trek in the Park performance that Portlandia shot. And then after that, Atomic Arts performed one final-final performance of their latest Star Trek episode, "Mirror, Mirror."

Really. Out in the middle of Woodlawn Park and everything, same as every other outdoor performance Atomic Arts has done. This is the event that had me go to Woodlawn Park two weeks ago, because I'd mis-read the Facebook event invite and thought it was that day. But heck, that turned out to be a good dry run that told me I could make it on time when it did happen.

(Digression: a potential complication happened between then and now. The Facebook invite had been private, but it got to someone at The Oregonian. The paper decided to run it as an item, without checking with the troupe to ask if that was OK. It wasn't. Atomic Arts made its displeasure known, and the paper took down the online notice. But it meant that maybe a bunch more people than expected would launch a human wave attack on Woodlawn Park this morning...but the crowd wasn't unmanageably big. I shouldn't speculate on what that means for Oregonian readership; maybe it just means most people wouldn't want to get up as early for a film shoot as we did. Still, bad form, Oregonian. End of digression.)

Some panicked messages this morning on Twitter (hash-tagged "#trekproblems") had me briefly reconsider going, because people were showing up over an hour before the announced arrival time. I wondered if going at my planned time by bus would make me, due to people showing up early, too late. Should I drive and get there earlier? Then I told myself to get over myself, because this wasn't about me, it was about Atomic Arts getting to do something cool and I wouldn't want to make that more difficult. If it was too crowded by the time I got there, c'est la vie, and the people there would have a good time. But I got to be one of the people there, and I had a good time.

By 8:30, when I and a man in a trenchcoat and a couple in Star Trek uniforms got off the #8 bus and headed into the park, there was no human wave attack. The crowd that was there by the approximate 9:00 a.m. start was a manageable crowd, dotted with friends and people who are becoming friends (and some people I had apparent face blindness with, because I'd met them but hadn't yet retained the memory of who was who. Sorry!). I sat on the north end of the bowl where Trek in the Park's been performed, which meant I was in the sun the whole time -- and under at least three layers of sunblock, because I prefer not to burst into flames. A small Portlandia crew, what would probably technically be called the 2nd Unit crew but which the director called "the splinter group," which is cooler, was among us. The director introduced himself, thanked us for being willing to be up early enough for a 9:00 Saturday call, and explained what we were about to do.

What we did: watch the play until getting rudely interrupted by a passing police car that drives by, siren blaring, then hits a bicyclist. It'll be funnier in context, trust me. When the director told us a bit more about what the sketch this shoot was for would be about, the crowd chuckled knowingly. And that's all I'll say, as I don't want to kill a joke I was partly involved with before I even fully understand it. We had to react to a siren that didn't exist, other than the director suddenly yelling (and not yelling as loudly as he'd first said he would, plus he gave a different signal than he said he would; he quickly apologized about that), by first looking at the road behind the amphitheatre. Then we got mad, shout-y and gesture-y, pulling out camera phones and being generally angry and incredulous. Local burlesque performer and neat person Sophie Maltease yelled towards the cop car, "We're blogging this!"

Jesse Graff, who's been kicking ass as Spock, is the troupe member with the most prominent role. He's interrupted while telling us how to behave during the play. On his first take, he started the standard Trek in the Park line about how the audience needs to turn off communication devices per "Starfleet regulations"; when he said that he stopped and avoided cursing and added that he actually can't say that: turns out it'd be a copyright violation for Portlandia to mention actual Star Trek terminology without the copyright owners' OK. I hadn't noticed this, but for the shoot, Star Trek logos were covered, too. Good thing costumes and Vulcan ears fall far enough under fair use that that's OK.

So. That's the basic set-up: we're there for the play, Jesse talks to us, the cop car sirens by, we get mad. We did this several times over the course of nearly an hour, from several camera angles (one camera). Later in the shoot an actual police car joined us, to briefly blast a siren and drive by, giving us a real-world focus. I already knew filmmaking is repetitive and can take a while, but this gave me an added appreciation of how hard it must be to keep the comedy alive when you're doing a joke over and over and over for the purpose of multiple camera angles. And we weren't even really doing a joke, it was more set-up for jokes. The filmmakers have to trust that what they're doing is funny. I hope it is, too.

The director was gracious and generous; he thanked us for being a part of the shoot, and invited us to join the main Portlandia crew nearby after the actual "Mirror, Mirror" performance, because the main crew was going to shoot another sketch called "Brunch Village." That would need extras, too. The crew got out of the way, Atomic Arts prepared the set, props and themselves, then about 15 minutes later we saw "Mirror, Mirror" once more. Man, this is a fun show; that was the fourth time I've seen this year's performance. One change: the troupe's usual McCoy, Paul Pistey, is now in South Korea to teach, so in his place was the now beardless PDX Yar pirate Jaime "Master Dingo" Kirk, who also choreographed Trek in the Park's fight scenes. Admirable job as McCoy, and now Jaime knows he can look OK without a beard. He also told me that in Blackbeard's era, most pirates were clean-shaven, so Blackbeard having, well, a black beard (a big, thick one) was a really big deal. "It was his f***-you beard," I suggested to him. Jaime liked the sound of that.

(Other PDX Yar people were in the audience in garb. At the end of the episode when Capt. James T. Kirk cracks that "I always imagined [Spock] had a bit of a pirate in him," the PDX Yar pirates shouted "Huzzah!!!")

Then it was all over, except for congratulations and more visiting, and after that I walked towards NE MLK, passing the main Portlandia crew (including a smiling Carrie Brownstein in a wig) as it set up for another extras-heavy shoot. I was extra'd out, however, plus I needed more food. And to look in a mirror to be sure that the three layers of sunblock had done what they were supposed to do, which they had.

The sketch will probably air in December, though the director said he didn't know in which episode: sketches get mixed-and-matched. Still, I hope to see me, in my red Washington, D.C. t-shirt and with my "Evolution Kills" tote bag at my feet, telling off a cop.

I TOLD OFF A COP? Now you know I was acting. At least as much as my limited acting skills allow.
Me 1

And after I was in the Portlandia shoot...

...who do I completely randomly run into but family! I'd decided to go to the Popeye's at NE MLK and Ainsworth for lunch, and as I walked through the parking lot towards a door I heard honking. Then more honking. Then I looked back and saw a minivan with my cousin Steph, Steph's sister/my cousin Allie, Steph's husband Paul, and Steph and Paul's daughter Eloisa. I'd forgotten Allie was in town; I'd known Steph, Paul and Eloisa were, because they'd just moved here from Sparks, Nevada. They luckily spotted me while headed from their new NE Portland home to a furniture store down Milwaukie way, and rendezvoused with me. We laughed about this. Paul asked if I was lost. I told them a bit about the film shoot. We waved and wished each other well and went our ways, me to eat, them to shop.

Cool! And Portland's a small town, still.