Monday, October 17, 2005

De Lancie didn’t actually take part in the workshop (he looked in occasionally, but mostly prowled the corridors with his cell phone.) But those who did---including director Gordon Hunt, narrator Alley Mills (a classically trained actor and currently a volunteer caseworker for disaster relief at the American Red Cross, best known as Norma Arnold on The Wonder Years)—explained how this particular production came about.

Because the L.A. Theatre Works does some of its radio plays before a live audience, there was interest in touring such a production, so people could see what a radio play looked like. They discovered that their most requested recording from high school teachers throughout the nation was “The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial,” written by Peter Goodchild using the actual Scopes Trial transcripts. So, on the 80th anniversary of the original trial, an 18-week tour of 23 locales was organized, which will take this production to Nashville, Omaha and Fayetteville, Arkansas as well as Los Angeles and suburban Washington.

Some actors would come and go, so some audiences would be seeing Marsha Mason, Mike Farrell and—replacing John de Lancie as Darrow, James Cromwell: Zephran Cochrane for Q.

It would also be seen on the Penn State campus at University Park, just a few hours up the highway from Dover, PA, where another trial involving the teaching of evolution in schools was going on as we gathered to discuss this production.

The assembled participants stressed that the production was not one-sided. Certainly the teaching of science, and keeping religious views separate from science education, was the core issue. But they talked about the principles and the fears that Bryan represented---the idea that to him and others, Darwinian evolution symbolized the threat of a soulless society, without human values. In some venues, the production would be followed by discussions involving experts and prominent voices in that community.

After the workshop I talked briefly with director Gordon Hunt about actors and voices. He said that with all the emphasis on the visual, younger actors were not getting enough vocal training. Even theatrically trained actors often lack the skills to act with their voices.

This is an often-overlooked element in Star Trek’s success: distinctive and powerful voices, and actors who used them well. It’s part of Star Trek’s debt to theatre and even to radio.

I also talked with actor Kevin Kilner, who hopes to produce a documentary about this tour. We continued our conversation as they all left the studio theatre. Outside, as the vans pulled up to take them away, I noticed John de Lancie and Edward Asner standing together. I knew I had only a few minutes before they left, so I had to make a painful choice: do I talk to Lou Grant (Mondays at 10 will always be sacred because of him) or to Q?

It was you, dear readers, who decided it for me.

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