News Column

William Shatner on a Mission With One-man Show

Nov. 26, 2012

Sharon Eberson

William Shatner at San Diego Comic-Con International 2012. (Kevin McDuffee, Creative Commons)
William Shatner at San Diego Comic-Con International 2012. (Kevin McDuffee, Creative Commons)

He might as well have said, "Ahead warp factor one, Mister Sulu," so familiar was the voice at the other end of the line. Instead, it was, "Hello, this is Bill Shatner," a friendly greeting from "Star Trek's" once and always Captain James T. Kirk.

To many fans, William Shatner exists in the parallel universes of his characters, such as his Emmy-winning role as "Boston Legal's" Denny Crane; the police sergeant who lent dignity to the name "T.J. Hooker"; "The Twilight Zone's" wild-eyed airplane passenger in "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"; a prolific author and documentarian, and the host "Rescue 911" on CBS and "Shatner's Raw Nerve" and "Aftermath" on the Biography channel.

After his recurring character, the Priceline Negotiator, was killed off in a January TV spot for the website, 94 percent of respondents to a company survey said they wanted the actor back. And to no one's surprise, he returned.

After an early career that included steady Broadway work and a role in the 1962 film "Judgment at Nuremberg," the Montreal native was cast as leader of the starship Enterprise in 1966 and helped launch a pop-culture phenomenon. The NBC show followed the now well-known course of three seasons and out before a universe of fandom took hold when the show went into reruns. The original "Star Trek" spawned an animated series, four TV spinoffs and a half-dozen theatrical releases.

Mr. Shatner wasn't always onboard with the fanaticism of Trekkers, but at age 80, he's grown comfortable with his view from the captain's seat.

His latest adventures include a trip back to Broadway for the first time in 50 years for the one-man show "Shatner's World: We Just Live in It." The 100-minute autobiographical piece that played a limited engagement in New York earlier this year makes a tour stop at the Benedum Center on Thursday. In his New York Times review of "Shatner's World," Charles Isherwood described it as "a chatty, digressive and often amusing tour of his unusual acting career."

That path through myriad genres of entertainment took Mr. Shatner back to his Canadian roots in September, when he attended Comiccon de Montreal with his fellow "Star Trek" captain Patrick Stewart.

"Here's an exclusive for you in Pittsburgh," Mr. Shatner said. "Patrick Stewart, his fiancee, my wife and I took a caleche -- do you know what that is? A horse-drawn wagon like they have in New York -- and toured Montreal for three hours, and I recognized very little, it's all so changed."

Montreal reminded Mr. Shatner of another city, where he had visited as a young stage actor and, more recently, to research a book at Carnegie Mellon University.

"I used to go to Pittsburgh when it was like a coal town, and now it's not steel-making, it's an intellectual city. It's a technological and a park city, and all of those terrible things that spewed toxins are gone. It's a totally different city, Montreal, and that's the way Pittsburgh is."

Here's more from Mr. Shatner about his career and what to expect when entering his "World":

Q. I know you talk about your relationship with your father in the show, which reviewers have pointed to as a very poignant moment. What made you want to put your personal story out there?

A. It is my personal life, but it's not like I'm talking about some deep dark secret that nobody knows but my wife. There are stories, the way I feel, what I saw, what I did, what somebody did to me, the growth of knowledge and some iota of wisdom ... the evening is heartfelt and very meaningful to me. And I've been successful to some extent in the performances I've given to communicate that to the audience. And I'm hopeful that in Pittsburgh, I'll be able to do the same thing at the Benedum.

Q. How does the story unfold?

A. I try to do it in a multiple level way, so that I do both -- I start chronologically, but it metastasizes into other things. It becomes more of a riff, a jazz thing. It's an improvisational -- although it's not -- way of entertaining. The [scripted] stories I tell are organic and stem from each other.

Q. What lured you back to Broadway after such a long absence?

A. The irony is, as the years went by and I was asked to go on Broadway, I was either too busy or I didn't feel right about it. The longer it went and the older I got, the less I wanted to do eight performances a week and uproot my family and my existence here in Los Angeles, and I sort of gave up on the dream. ... But when I toured Australia and Canada [with a one-man show], some people from the New York theater scene asked me to come to Broadway. So I said yes and rewrote the show almost completely, and then I opened on Broadway almost cold and it was successful.

Q. You attend conventions where you appear before huge crowds. What's the difference in this experience?

A. If you've been to Comic-Con, you've heard people talk and answer questions. I've really got a dramatic show. I have a beginning, a middle and an end with projections and intent. There's a real Broadway show going on.

Q: How is it different engaging a live audience in this way after all those years working in TV and film?

A: What I discovered as I did the show, and it sounds bizarre not to have known it, is I'm telling stories from my heart, so as an actor, I'm re-creating the moment that event happened, and I'm either moving you to laughter or tears or bewilderment or wonderment. It becomes an interesting moment in the theater, and people have come back to me and told me they were astonished, that it was totally unexpected. The way the stories follow each other, it becomes a totally organic experience.

Q: It seems you are always on our screens or your name is on our bookshelves. What's happening now besides the show?

A: We're preparing another documentary. I've done four or five documentaries; I have a new one called "Get a Life" [based on his book with Chris Kreski], and I've got two more being edited. I'm trying to sell another one. My book "Shatner Rules" is out in paperback. We're going to film the one-man show in Ottawa in November for an hour-and-a-half special. ... There's just a variety of things going on.

Q: Does it ever occur to you to slow down?

A: Slow down? This is it! I'm languishing by my phone and talking to you. I'm sort of yawning, I've got my feet up and I'm being massaged ...

Q: When you look at the audiences for "Shatner's World," what kind of demographic do you see?

A: The demographics are from 6 to 60, and 70, maybe even 80. And absolutely, it's a family show. Well, I may curse once or twice.

Q: What do you think of J.J. Abrams rebooting "Star Trek" as a movie franchise?

A: I think it's wonderful. It's a great ride, a great opening up of 'Star Trek' to modern audiences. It doesn't have the story heart that the best of my 'Star Trek' had, but it's a glorious motion picture.

Q: Do you think you could ever be involved, the way Leonard Nimoy was brought in as Spock?

A: I can't imagine how. I have to do some face work before I apply.

Q: Is there a particular moment in the show when you get a spark from the audience?

A: I'd like to think that from the beginning to end they are being touched or amused or entertained or getting some information that resonates with them. If there's a dull moment, I need to edit it out.

Q: Come on, one specific thing you can point to?

A: I'll tell you a story about "Star Trek" you haven't heard. [Long pause.] That doesn't mean I'm going to tell you now. That's the tease.

Source: (c)2012 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Distributed by MCT Information Services

Story Tools Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters