“I’m a hungry diabetic begging on the streets for sugar, and these men, these Romulans, they have cake.” Ellen Waddell is better with words than she is with relationships. She knows where she goes wrong and she knows why she does it, but she does it anyway, and this is the true story of how she ended up drunk and crying on a flight to Seattle to see the one man in her life whom she knew to be dependable: Jean-Luc Picard.
An experienced stage performer from her time touring as bass player with indie band Los Campesinos! of whom she was a founding member, her solo spoken word confessional sees her beamed into another world without backup, starkly painful in an unforgiving venue of bare walls and barely hung drapes.
The fifty minutes she speaks for, accompanied by a Powerpoint presentation of salient soundbites and screenshots, reflects the running time of an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation, the television show she would watch when she was seven years old sat at the feet of her father, a man whose frequent absences had lent him an almost mythical status akin to the captain of the 24th century Starfleet flagship.
Like Picard, Waddell’s father wasn’t good with children, but in other ways he was superior: “commanding, fair and only lost his temper in appropriate ways.” He was also reliable, unlike her father who moved out while the rest of the family were on holiday and later married a Morris dancer who preferred to watch Blind Date.
Punctuated with occasional needless vulgarity, Waddell explains how the world of Star Trek became her comfort, the closeness of the command crew a substitute paralleling her own fractured family where her mother trained to be a counsellor and the movement of her stepmother’s traditional folk dance was coordinated by the hive mind of the Borg, but while the crew of the Enterprise boldly explored with the aid of trained specialist officers her own attempts to achieve the approval of her distant father were not so guided.
With all her shields down, Waddell’s performance is enormously brave, personal and self-aware, and like her life, presents indications of a work in progress, but that is not a failing. As the science officer of an earlier Starfleet flagship once advised, “Change is the essential process of all existence,” and she seeks to improve herself and accept that it was not her who let her father down, it was he who let his family down.
That her journey of self-discovery involved a trip to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame makes it no less valid than any more traditionally accepted pilgrimage; that she is willing to share it is our privilege.