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Trek to the Wild Side: Improv Group Syncs to Shows : Comedy: The KIEV-AM parody can be played along with the Wednesday night episode to put different words in the well-known characters' mouths.

May 01, 1992|MICHAEL ARKUSH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Star Trek" has traveled to a new civilization.

It's called radio.

Each Wednesday at midnight, the crew of the USS Enterprise is hijacked by a North Hollywood improv group that dubs its own dialogue on Glendale's KIEV (870 AM) as the one-hour series airs on KCOP Channel 13.

Kirk, Spock, Bones and Scotty go where they've never gone before.

One week, Kirk and Spock became land developers throwing hippies off a planet. On another, members of a rock band tried to persuade Spock to rejoin them. Once, the crew grew frustrated because it couldn't rent any good movies.

The show is "Simul Trek," created by the performers at the Wild Side Theatre in North Hollywood.

On Tuesdays, Wild Side members find out which episode will air the next night. They rent the videotape and come up with an overall plot line. But such planning can easily be rendered useless by the unpredictability of improvisation and by Channel 13, which sometimes slices time off certain scenes to allow for enough commercials.

"We have to wing it a lot," said Sam Longoria, 33, who originated the parody idea, and who usually plays Kirk. "We never know where the cuts are going to come."

Longoria, who runs the theater, put the new "Star Trek" crew together over the winter. He recruited about eight regulars from the 75 actors who belong to the improv group, which stages shows Friday and Saturday nights. "Simul Trek" made its debut in March.

Ken Cope, 37, who usually plays Spock, said the popular science-fiction series is the perfect subject for a parody.

"Everyone has seen all the episodes without even realizing it," Cope said. "There are episodes just begging for this."

Added Dan Krause, 30: "If we were trying to do this with the episodes of 'Baywatch,' it wouldn't work."

The actors say they admire the series, and don't poke fun at the original performers, such as William Shatner or Leonard Nimoy.

"Just as much as I like the original series," Cope said, "I like the parodies."

So far, no objections have been voiced by Trekkies. Joyce Mason, founder and president of the William Shatner Connection, a fan club, said "Star Trek" fans view the parody favorably. "They think it's a cute and novel idea," she said.

If anything, Longoria said, the lip-syncing attempts to mock the medium of television, filled with plenty of jabs at the industry.

" 'Star Trek' was wonderful in spite of the way television is made," Longoria said. "Every 10 minutes, someone is trying to sell you cat food or make you feel bad for how you might smell."

To the actors, the most important challenge is timing their delivery with the actual mouth movements of the characters. Nothing is more frustrating than coming up with a great line but nobody to utter it.

"It seems funny when you're talking when the words are coming out of the characters' mouths," Pope said, "even if what you're saying isn't really funny."

In a recent episode, in which a network executive tells Kirk that he must cut members of his crew because of budgetary restraints, actress Sally Kellerman played a young officer newly assigned to the Enterprise. But, in the parody, the other characters constantly referred to her as "Hotlips," borrowing from her well-known role in Robert Altman's 1970 film, "MASH." She, in turn, acted stuck up and supreme. "Everyone should keep me 'cause I'm Hotlips," she said.

Paige Scurti, 27, who played the radio Hotlips, said the "Star Trek" parody helps broaden her theatrical range.

"It opens everything up," Scurti said. "I no longer am thinking within a box. I can go with whatever hits me."

Added Joe Daniel, 43, who plays Bones: "Unlike a play, it's not the end of world if your perfect line doesn't come out."

Some lines, however, come out just right. One of the signature lines in "Star Trek" lore comes from Bones, who always said to Kirk: "He's dead, Jim." In last week's episode, Daniel, playing the doctor who preceded Bones, kept pronouncing everyone dead prematurely.

"Jim, you're dead," he said.

When Kirk awakened, the doctor said: "No, you're not. Spock's dead."

Spock then got up.

For the actors, it becomes very real.

"I feel as if I'm on television," said Christina Johns, 39, who plays a variety of roles. "I tell people to turn it on."

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