Singer, actor, and my friend Dana Thompson died last week, the result of a sudden and unexpected medical issue. Many will remember her as Lt. Uhura from Trek in the Park, a part she played for five consecutive summers to audiences numbering in the thousands. Thompson was also a singer in Dartgun & the Vignettes, "Portland's own psychedelic punk rock doo-wop group." With them she performed in pretty much every Portland music venue possessing four walls and a roof. Thompson also worked at the Multnomah County Health Department, where she was beloved by her colleagues and was an active member of the Employees of Color, speaking most recently at a county board Black History Month proclamation in February.
Thompson was an energetic presence in the Portland punk scene, the Portland nerd scene, and a half dozen scenes in between. If you were at a Portland party and noticed a boisterous woman with impeccable hair yelling enthusiastically about Star Trek, that was probably her. She was born in 1977, on New Years Eve, in Kansas City, Missouri and studied English at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri—where she joined a campus comedy troupe and developed an interest in performing. In 2001, she moved to Portland to intern at a local book publisher, back when people could do that sort of thing. Although paying work was initially hard to come by, she never stopped looking for creative outlets—modeling, performing, and appearing in everything from student short films to locally produced music videos. In 2009, she answered a Craigslist post looking for an actor to play Lt. Uhura. In the words of director Adam Rosko, "after we met Dana, we didn't need to meet anyone else."
Thompson was a fearless performer, whether she was brandishing a Terran Empire officer's dagger or cavorting with tribbles. She could rattle off Star Trek technobabble with the best of them, and when the ship was hit by phaser fire, she always rocked in the same direction as the rest of the crew (a feat even seasoned actors on the TV show struggled with). Backstage she was effortlessly charming, filling long stretches of downtime with her good humor and unmistakable laugh. Thompson was bold, sexy, curious, and stylish, qualities embodied by '60s Star Trek in general and Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura in particular. After a few missed connections, Thompson got Nichols to sign her arm in sharpie at a convention. She promptly got it tattooed permanently the next day.
When Thompson loved you, you knew it. She had a big personality and didn't hold much of it back. In a city that can often feel deliberately passive, talking with Thompson felt like holding both ends of a live wire. Above all, Thompson was true to herself. She said what she thought and what she thought you needed to hear, in equal measure. She was uncompromising in her support and generous with her compassion in a way that few people are. She's gone too soon, and will be missed by everyone she touched. If you would like to help contribute to her medical and memorial expenses, which obviously came up unexpectedly for someone so young, you can donate to the GoFundMe here.
Goodbye Dana. Hailing frequencies open.