“Arena Gorn Superstar” aims to beam fans back to Oregon theater

Arena Gorn Superstar
Arena Gorn Superstar

It was an interesting dilemma that the Director of Theater at Umpqua Community College faced. How to get students and community members back and involved in her program after a long COVID-induced break. After thinking it over, Dr. Christina “Chryss” Allaback came to an easy way to attract people back to theater.

Create a musical version of an episode from The Original Series. Allaback and Umpqua’s Director of Music, Jason Heald, came together and created “Arena Gorn Superstar,” which is based on “Arena.”

Heald had been kicking the idea around for a few years and created original music to go with the show. He even performs in the musical. His lyrics stay within the bounds of the original tale and are also hilarious at the same time.

Ariel Hicks as Kirk. Photo by Chase Gilley
Ariel Hicks as Kirk. Photo by Chase Gilley

Everything came together for Heald when Allaback beamed onto the school campus, which is located in Southwest Oregon. Allaback had been a part of several Star Trek acting troupes before joining Umpqua.

“I ran a little grassroots theater company in Eugene, Oregon called ‘Trek Theater,’” said Allaback, who said that her group was inspired by the “Trek in the Park” folks who performed TOS episodes.

“Then some people tried to start ‘TNG in the Park,’ and so I am a theater person, and I went and auditioned,” said Allaback. “They really didn’t know anything about theater — they were just some nerds who said ‘Well, they are doing ‘Trek in the Park,’ why don’t we do ‘TNG in the Park.’”

Allaback said it was “a real struggle” to get “TNG in the Park” up and running.

“It sounds like a great idea, but if you don’t realize how much work theater is…” said Allaback. She said their first episode was “Tin Man,” and she played Mr. Data. After that initial performance, she took over as the director. Soon, she ended up running the company, which she renamed “Trek Theater.”

Allaback said that she and Heald have collaborated before on a play based on “Amok Time.”

“I’m a big TNG, and he’s a big TOS — but I love all Trek,” said Allaback.

Allaback and Heald came together to create “Arena Gorn Superstar,” which is performed at the Umpqua Valley Arts Association’s outdoor stage. Everyone who attends the play is encouraged to stay socially distant. The performers even wear masks for a portion of the show.

Both Allaback and Heald consider “Arena” to be a very serious episode, with moral undertones throughout.

“But, when you throw a rapping Gorn into that, and you say — we’re making a Star Trek musical now,” Allaback said. “I added a lot of comedy and a lot of physical bits. It’s basically the same story.”

Spock and Scotty argue, as Una listens. Photo by Chase Gilley
Spock and Scotty argue, as Una listens. Photo by Chase Gilley

Fans will recognize the story from the episode, which even nonfans are familiar with. This is the one where Kirk (William Shatner) fights the giant lizard from an alien race (the Gorn). All the while, Spock, Scotty, and the rest of the crew watch in orbit, unable to help or assist. Meanwhile, the omniscient Metrons judge Kirk as he battles.

Those who show up to watch the “Arena Gorn Superstar” show in person or online will note that the Enterprise crew are outfitted with the correct uniforms of the era. Allaback was able to borrow those from friends. But the Gorn suit was not something that was borrowed. It was created by a student specifically for the show. Aside from the mask, the rest of the suit was built from scratch.

“She’s doing this for credit,” said Allaback. And the actor who brings the Gorn to life is named Gavin Pike, who declared that he should get special treatment in the show because his name is “Pike.”

But the most obvious change to the roster for this version of “Arena” is that most of the actors in the show are female. Lead by Ariel Hicks as Kirk and Cassandra Horton as Spock. Allaback told her cast that they would make the “role their own” and not do a Shatner impersonation on stage.

“It’s our interpretation of Trek,” said Allaback. “It’s not necessarily making fun of Trek. It’s a love letter to Trek. I don’t want to make fun of William Shatner as Kirk because I feel like when people do the Shatner impression, I feel like they are making fun of Kirk. I don’t like that.”

Allaback said that her “Kirk” certainly entertains in the starring role and took on the part with a lot of energy.

“It’s about the essence of Kirk and her interpretation of Kirk,” said Allaback of Hicks. “When she auditioned, I was expecting to just give her a small role… but she gave this great audition and thought, ‘Well, I am having a female Kirk!’”

Hicks is terrific in the role of Captain Kirk but be warned — the Gorn is a scene-stealer. While the TOS Gorn hissed, this interpretation of the lizard-man is a mustache-twirling villain whose “mwah-ha-ha” will make the audience giggle.

This is one performance that will undoubtedly make you stand and applaud. From the first moment of the show, sit back and listen to Heald and the band (along with the incredible voice of one of the company) performing the classic TOS theme. Fans will love the lyrics, the scenes, and the return of Una (from “The Cage”). The battle between Kirk and the Gorn is epic, and the finale of “Arena Gorn Superstar” is just fantastic. Certainly worth a virtual standing ovation.

Trek fans who are not in Oregon can watch the next showing of “Arena Gorn Superstar” this Saturday at 6:30 p.m. (Pacific Time) on the Umpqua Community College Theater Facebook page.