Being a Star Trek actor involves dealing with a lot of technobabble. The scientific terms, real and fabricated, that were peppered throughout the dialogue were difficult to pronounce, let alone remember. So, many of the actors had a hard time memorizing their lines. In fact, William Shatner has said that Captain James T Kirk’s signature cadence — slow, deliberate, full of pauses — came about because he had trouble remembering his lines.
Memorizing the reams of dialogue for each episode was made even more difficult because of the staggering pace of television production. Robert Beltran, who played Commander Chakotay, told the authors of Star Trek Voyager: A Celebration that sometimes late changes to the scripts meant that they had mere hours to memorize their lines.
Luckily, he came up with a handy trick for learning his new lines that he says other members of the Voyager cast used as well.
The Post-It Note Trick
Beltran told the authors that the lines with the most technobabble in them were often for scenes on the bridge. When his character, Chakotay, was on the bridge, he was often behind a tactical console pushing buttons or looking at the screens. So, when Beltran received last-minute line changes for bridge scenes, he’d write the lines, especially the technobabble, down on Post-It notes. When he got to set, he’d attach the Post-It notes to the monitor in front of him so he could read his lines while he was supposedly examining the screen of the tactical console.
Usually, this tactic worked. However, on one hilarious occasion, it backfired. When Beltran pressed the buttons on the screen in front of him as part of the scene, his Post-It notes flew off the console in every direction. Apparently, he yelled, “My lines!” as the small pieces of paper flew away.
His Costars Also Struggled With the Technobabble
Beltran insisted that he wasn’t the only one using the Post-It note trick on set. Though none of the other actors owned up to using the trick, many of them told the authors of Voyager: A Celebration that the technobabble was hard for them.
Kate Mulgrew, who played Captain Kathryn Janeway, said she had a particularly tough time with the scientific dialogue. She struggled not only with memorizing the technobabble but delivering it in a way that felt in line with her character. For her, it presented a huge obstacle to embodying Janeway, one that she had to contend with every day she was on set.
It got to the point where she decided that the only way to authentically deliver the dialogue was to completely understand it. So, she sought out a production document dubbed the “Okuda Bible,” a reference to Michael and Denise Okuda, two of the behind-the-scenes gurus that knew Star Trek inside and out. The “Okuda Bible” contained definitions for most of the technobabble, and Mulgrew set out to learn them all.
Once she finally understood the context behind the technobabble, she could deliver her lines with the authenticity she demanded of herself.
One ‘Voyager’ Star Didn’t Struggle at All
While most of his costars had at least a bit of trouble with the technobabble, Garrett Wang told the authors of Voyager: A Celebration that he didn’t struggle at all. The actor, who played Ensign Harry Kim, was a lifelong science-fiction fan. He joked that he also, “paid attention… in Physics class.”
Wang revealed that during the early seasons of the show, his costars would try to commiserate with him about the technobabble, but he couldn’t relate. Instead, he tried to help them understand their dialogue better.
For Wang, the most difficult thing about the technobabble was the fact that it confounded his coworkers. He lamented that sometimes shooting a particular scene would take an incredibly long time because one of his costars couldn’t nail their lines. He joked that one time they had to do “17 takes” of one scene “because Beltran kept saying ‘subspace bacon’ instead of ‘subspace beacon.'” Maybe he didn’t have his Post-It notes that day.
Though the technobabble was tough, as were the shooting schedules, the actors that made up the Voyager crew found their own ways of making the dialogue work for them. By the time it got to the screen, it was as believable as a starship exploring outer space can be.