Magazine article Variety

Personal History Informs This Pledge of 'Allegiance'

Magazine article Variety

Personal History Informs This Pledge of 'Allegiance'

Article excerpt

If you haven't come across George Takei lately, you might be living under a digital rock.

The former "Star TYek" actor has, over the past five years, morphed into one of social media's more prominent figures, posting everything from funny cat photos to impassioned support for LGBT rights. He has more than 6.2 million Facebook fans, plus another 1 million Twitter followers eager for the latest intel; in contrast, the "Star Trek" franchise's official Facebook page counts less than 3 million fans.

It's an unusual route back into the spotlight for a man whose greatest claim to fame used to be his vintage gig as Lt. Commander Sulu. But perhaps even more surprising is the fact that his Internet renown came about in large part due to his link to a Broadway-targeted musical - one that hasn't booked a Main Stem theater yet, but already has in place an active social-media strategy of which Takei is the most significant component.

Visitors to the actor's Facebook page will land on a cover photo that prominently features a promotional image for the tuner "Allegiance," with Takei posed alongside co-stars Lea Salonga and Telly Leung. The musical, a love story set against the backdrop of a Japanese-American internment camp during WWII, isn't just a job to him. His own childhood memories of life in such a camp inspired the show, which grew out of a chance 2008 encounter between Takei and startup entrepreneur Lorenzo Thione, the lead producer of "Allegiance" and its co-book writer.

Thione - who cashed in when the search-engine company he helped found, Powerset, sold to Microsoft - suggested Takei increase his social-media presence in service to the show. "We said, 'George, why don't you start a Twitter account?"' Thione says. "He surprised us by how engaged he is, with this dry humor paired with civic duty - and Twitter and Facebook started responding really well."

Takei recalls the process as one of trial and error. "We started with sci-fi topics, given my fanbase at the time, but I noticed that the funnies, the humorous, the comic memes (like LOLcats) are what's shared the most. I grew the following with humor, but once I did, I started introducing more serious issues" - such as LGBT equality, for one, as well as the story of the U. …

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