Activist, author, and raconteur extraordinaire George Takei took the stage at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey on June 20. And I mean took-the-stage! Takei stood tall, in the middle of the stage at the State Theatre for more than an hour, 82 years old and razor sharp in word and mien. From the moment he walked on, front and center, the audience was on its feet and predictably, his response was his signature “Oh MY!” From there, we discovered that Space may not be the final frontier.
Takei’s program was an hour in length and decades in breadth. He talked first about what it was like being part of a multi-cultural cast and when Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, shared his vision of what the show was about. This was 1966 and television shows were white with the occasional stereotype–Asian, Black, and Latin folk were servants or villains. Roddenberry introduced the cast to IDIC–Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations—and that vision is how a Nichelle Nichols, a Black woman, became the Communications officer; Takei, an Asian man, became the helmsman and a half-human alien; and Leonard Nimoy, in a career- defining role, as a being who values logic above all, tempering a white male Manifest Destiny-type leader, William Shatner, as the Captain. Takei gave us insight into a visionary who created the world he wanted to see and live in about 40 years before the CW network gave us such beautifully diverse casts. Roddenberry continually put his group in peril and they consistently worked together to solve problems–and isn’t that what we all should be doing?
Takei then moved on to more somber topics–like the events of February 14, 1942 when, in a knee-jerk reaction to the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States government issued Executive Order 9066, ordering the internment of Japanese American citizens in concentration camps in some of the most desolate areas of the country. More than 110,000 families who had built lives and businesses, contributed to the economy via those lives and businesses, were imprisoned. When he was only five years old, Takei’s family was taken to a camp in the swamps of Arkansas, about as different from his native California as a child could get. While children are incredibly adaptive—he used a story about capturing a small “fish,” and keeping it in a jar, only to see it sprout legs—there were dark aspects as well. The brilliant story of how a transformation can occur under difficult conditions was not lost on the audience.
Later, when the family was released, Takei asked his father why he suffered such indignities and didn’t try to fight back. Simply, his father sacrificed his sense of self for the welfare of the family. Only the densest of intellects would fail to draw the parallel when considering what immigrant families are suffering today.
Every day, Takei attended school, pledging allegiance to a country that treated him like a criminal. As manpower grew thinner in the war, some of the imprisoned Japanese men of military service age were given an opportunity to serve. There were two badly written questions in the test of allegiance, however, that led some of these men, who answered “no” to both and would have died for their country, to be imprisoned in Leavenworth. Others became the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which became the most highly decorated US military unit of its kind in US military history. These men had managed to answer those questions in a manner satisfactory to the government and ultimately freed prisoners of war in part of the Dachau complex. Yet when returning home, they faced the extreme prejudice that they thought they had left behind.
Takei’s family was relocated from Tule Lake in California and ultimately, through grit and hard work, his father moved from being a merchant to success in real estate. Originally studying architecture, Takei was soon bitten by two bugs–acting and activism. Although he initially begging his family to send him to New York and the Actor’s Studio, his parents wanted him to have a university degree, so ultimately he chose to remain in California. In so doing, he became involved in a number of campaigns, was cast in a Civil Rights musical, “Fly, Blackbird, Fly,” and got to meet Martin Luther King, Jr. That meeting is as present for Takei at 82 as it was for the young college student.
From the time he was 10 years old, Takei knew he was different. How different didn’t immediately manifest, but by the 1960s he knew that, as his acting career was taking off, it was difficult enough for him to find work–coming out would have completely derailed his career. In fact, Takei allows that realization of this difference is actually when his career in acting began–it was important to keep the mask of society and propriety in place. Later, when Takei met his running coach, who would later become his husband Brad, they supported activism financially rather than publicly. When Governor Schwarzenegger, who had run on a platform of LGBTQ friendliness, refused to sign the law granting Marriage Equality, they knew they needed to take the spotlight.
Since coming out as an activist and a proud gay man, Takei has been a voice of reason on Twitter with 2.9 million followers and more than 10 million followers on Facebook. Speaking out on LGBTQ rights and immigration, two topics on which he is extremely well-versed, Takei causes frequent outbursts in my house, as we give voice to his clever insightful word play. “An Evening with George Takei, Where No Story Has Gone Before” was the perfectly crafted tale of where he’s been and where we need to go. Human rights may not be the final frontier, but it is certainly the next one and George Takei leads the way.
State Theatre New Jersey has a panoply of cultural events for all ages. Check out what’s next for you and yours at https://www.stnj.org/