BWW Interview: Kaelia Winterstein of A KLINGON CHRISTMAS CAROL at Lit Live
Amid this year's rush of annual Christmas-based plays and musicals we find an unusual entry, A Klingon Christmas Carol, which is being staged by Lit Live at Santa Susana High School the weekend of December 14. The play is a mash-up of the venerable Charles Dickens short story and the Klingon culture, which began with its introduction in the Star Trek television series in 1967. Since then, the Klingon history has been fleshed out to include a complete history of the race along with an entirely new native Klingon language. A Klingon Christmas Carol is performed entirely in this language, using super titles displayed in the theater. Originally created as a fundraiser for the Commedia Beauregard, it was written in 2007 by Christopher Kidder-Mostrom and Sasha Warren and was originally translated by Kidder-Mostrom, Laura Thurston, and Bill Hedrick, making its debut at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul Student Center. The show was expanded in 2010 for the Chicago debut of the show. Lit Live's production marks the show's West Coast premiere.
This is the first of a three-part interview examining the behind-the-scenes story of how this show was put together. We begin by talking to producer Kaelia Winterstein, who spoke to us during a recent rehearsal of the show.
VCOS: Whatever possessed you to take on this show?
KAELIA: That's a great question. As a producer of Lit Live, we always said that we would never do a Christmas or holiday show, basically because Ventura County already owns holiday shows. They are already done all over the place. But then a good friend of ours, Joe Drago, came to Steve Hayes, who is another one of our producers, and asked if he would be interested in a holiday show and Steve said no, unless he could show us something different, then they may consider it. And Joe said, "I definitely have something different." And then he started to explain how his daughter, who lives back East, was involved in a show called A Klingon Christmas Carol. And Steve said, "Uh...I'm listening." So Joe told him what he knew about the show, and then Steve brought it to me and I jumped on it. I thought it was brilliant. It is something that is never done and as far as I could tell from my own research, it had only been done back East. So I contacted one of the writers of the show, Christopher Kidder-Mostrom, who was very easy to find and contact. We started talking about year-and-a-half ago about this show before we actually committed to it and started running with it. When I first contacted him, it was clear that this was going to be a process and something that was going to take time and a lot of work.
KAELIA: One of the things is that the show is done entirely in Klingon. Part of what made me wonder every day how crazy I was to do it and why I needed to do it was because Christopher said, "The first thing you have to understand is that this is another language and you can't fake Klingon. Every single person in your cast must go through a Klingon seminar with a certified Klingon linguist."
VCOS: I was not aware that this language had been developed that far.
KAELIA: Absolutely. So after weeks of talking about it, Christopher came out for a weekend Klingon language seminar with our entire cast and our director. There was a three-hour Saturday night session and then a six-hour Sunday session, teaching the basics of the language, playing Klingon Monopoly, splitting our cast into teams and doing Klingon language games, and everything he could possibly think of to teach our cast the language.
VCOS: I'm guessing that one of the reasons this works is that A Christmas Carol is one of those shows where everyone can follow the story without knowing all the dialog. You could watch it being done in Russian or Swahili and know what's going on.
KAELIA: That is very correct. What gives this show such a hook is that you can be a Dickens fan, you can be a Star Trek fan, you can be strictly a Klingon fan, or even none of the above, just to see something new and different this holiday season, and no matter what your answer is to any of those questions, A Klingon Christmas Carol works for you.
VCOS: No Dickens completist could possibly avoid seeing this show then.
KAELIA: Absolutely. What's cool about this is that we are the West Coast premiere, so it's new, different, and epic in a lot of ways. Christopher was excited about us doing it because he wants the Los Angeles connection for this show and to tap into the Klingon/Star Trek fan base that is already out here. The idea of doing it in Southern California was really attractive and exciting for him.
VCOS: Is he coming?
KAELIA: Not only is he coming, he's in it! We had our full cast go through the seminar but after weeks of rehearsal, we discovered to our horror that we were going to lose one of our key cast members. He had gotten a lead role in an indie film so that was huge for him, but we were stressed because we thought we had finished the production. After a couple of days of panic attacks, Robert Reeves, our director, and I asked each other "Can we still do this?" So we decided to call Christopher and ask his advice since he's been doing this show for 10 years. We thought maybe he'd know somebody who could fill in who had already done the role. So I called Christopher and he contacted a handful of people who had played either Young Scrooge or Fred, which were the two roles we needed, and at the end of it, he struck out. No one was available. So then he asked, "Well, what about me doing it?" And I said, "Is that an option? You would have been my first choice!" So Christopher is playing Young Scrooge and Fred in the West Coast premiere.
VCOS: Is this the pinnacle of your directing career so far?
KAELIA: DEFINITELY! It could easily be the death of me as well. It's been quite a roller coaster but it's been worth every minute of it.
VCOS: And you're going to "make it so."
KAELIA: Perfectly said!
Next week we will speak to Robert Reeves, the director of A Klingon Christmas, and to Paul Carpenter, who not only plays a key role in the play, but has taken on the job of cast linguistic director, along with actor Nick D'Alberto, who plays the character of the Klingon Scrooge. For dates and showtimes, see the VC On Stage Calendar.