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from Val #2

The past few weeks at home have flown by. I’ve never before had the luxury of extra time in between rehearsals and tech (this break happened because of our director Lisa’s Australian tour of her Obie-winning show AN ILIAD) - a hiatus like this is pretty unheard-of in the theatre world, and I have to say I LOVE IT.

Instead of a breathless, stress-filled race to opening night, we’ve had ENOUGH TIME to actually carefully consider what rewrites we wanted to do - review the video from our February workshop at ACT, have multiple skype calls with our bookwriter Joe, and send ideas back and forth - and then time to IMPLEMENT those rewrites, send them to Wade, and do some individual practicing before heading back to Seattle for brush-up rehearsals and tech. It’s such a civilized, productive, non-life-shortening way to do things; I know it probably adds to the budget, but I am supremely thankful for these weeks we’ve had.
I recently saw this visual representation of the creative process - and I think what this hiatus has allowed us is the ability to get ALL THE WAY THROUGH the cycle - so I for one am feeling great about where we are.


I’m not the only one, either. Ryan and Brendan were able to complete ALL the orchestrations (which sound absolutely gorgeous), and we had four long rehearsals here at our place where we troubleshot EVERYTHING: all the cues and synth programming and and violin patch changes and Ableton Live quirks (of which there are many! - this is the same computer program I use for my solo looping concerts, the brain-ripping one I think I mentioned in my last post).

It constantly astounds me just HOW MUCH WORK continues to go into all of this. We’ve been working on this show off and on for over five years…and there’s still a TON to do, now that we’re heading into our first production. Here’s a tiny taste of what I mean: a short video of Brendan and Ryan speaking their to-do lists for our March 10 rehearsal.

Today is March 25, and I just did a full runthrough, here in my room with all my equipment. Something I haven’t done in a VERY long time is play piano parts (I mean, if you have a Brendan in the house why would you, right??) - and I do play some piano in this show so I’ve been reviving those long-dormant skills, shedding on the keyboard. One week till Seattle, and I feel very ready! (Ready for everything except: packing all the stuff in the below photo and taking it to the airport with me. Hello TSA…)




Beyond the Shadow of A Doubt: Wade's Journey

T'was the night of the first polar vortex storm in NYC, and as the icy wind enveloped my janky apartment in Queens, I had the honor of being asked to jump on the “Shackleton Loves Me” ship.  I gleefully and gratefully hopped aboard to tell this magnificent story of relentless optimism, written, directed and produced by heroic icons of our theatrical craft.  It was literally 7 degrees fahrenheit outside and it was maybe a balmy 34 inside my apartment.  The icy wind was slipping effortlessly through the gargantuan cracks around my crooked windows.  As the house plants and I hid in the pantry, every few minutes a strange ice refracted lightning flash would envelope the apartment.  I thought, “This is fucking perfect.” So I took a walk.  I bundled up and began a trek to the East River, through the “Frankenstorm” polar vortex. I mean, when would I ever get another opportunity to do hands on polar-like research so close to home?  As I traversed the barren ice laden wasteland of Queens I tried to place myself in Shackleton’s shoes. (They are some awesome shoes!) As the lethal-cold gail force winds were burning my eye juices, as the frozen filthy snow piles were blowing oil covered ice grits into my stinging nostrils, as my feet began to feel the scathing pavement’s frost sink in (and I’d only walked three blocks,) I knew I had found crazy actor research gold… sense memory heaven!

I heard Ernest’s robust voice in my well chilled head: “Keep smiling even though it feels like your face will fall off!  Keep a spring in your step when your feet say, ‘Fuck off dumb-ass!’  Keep moving ahead towards your arbitrary goal despite the fact that everything in your keen corporeal nature says, 'Turn the fuck around and get back in the pantry with your houseplants!’  And when all the other voices in your head join in like a Bonnie Tyler choir singing 'turn around’… Don’t turn around!  Trust that your positivity and optimism can transcend biological imperative, trust that you can do more than ever imagined, trust that if you press on, with an unrelenting optimism that borders on insanity you will be rewarded with the fruits of rising above your own self imposed limitations.  For truly, the only way one can survive the unsurvivable is by KNOWING we can.  Knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that we will survive the impossible, we shall.”

I smilingly tromped on through the arctic tempest and when I reached the God forsaken wasteland of the East River, imagining it as Antarctica, I knew I would be the only brave (stupid?) soul out in the inclement, indecent cold. But alas, much to my surprise a jogger came jogging by (fucking New Yorkers) and yelled to me through the hurricane like wind: “Perseverance!"   Yes, I thought, Shackleton is with us, telling us to all to persevere.  Persevere through the waves of cynical fear that our culture has become accustomed to…  Through the storm of bad news… Through the raging winds of polarization and division…  Through the rocky shorelines of social justice, global community, economic inequality… Persevere so we may land on the shore of harmony, equality, liberty and happiness. Know without doubt that we will land on that shore where we all get along and quell these crippling conflicts.  Yes, the Bonnie Tyler choir may be singing: "I need a hero,” but what if - just what if each of us were that hero?   Each one of us with optimism, perseverance and trust can safely land our own makeshift lifeboats on the shores of collective peace.  

One hundred years after Shackleton survived the most harrowing, violent, impossible conditions known to the human race, we can ride his tsunami of inspiration to rise above our own self imposed limitations and arrive at an almost miraculous understanding.  This is what crossed my mind as I stared out over the river on that cold and fortuitous night.  Call it naive, call it insane, call it unrealistic, call it what you will, but the truth is, anything is possible if we can know beyond the shadow of a doubt.



Ryan Conlin

Ryan Conlin is the Property Master on Ernest Shackleton Loves Me (and Balagan Theatre’s beloved Production Manager)!  He has worked in various aspects of theatre all over the country and is now here in Seattle.

Here’s what Ryan had to say about props for Ernest Shackleton Loves Me (bonus Ryan is hiding in one of the pictures!):



“Here’s a fun game….. how many people here literally have the word “master” in their title? I do! My name is Ryan and I am the Properties Master for Ernest Shackleton Loves Me. Being a props master is kind of like being a professional scavenger hunter except you are given a budget and expected to find things that will make the director happy. My favorite note I got from Director Lisa Peterson in this process was for Bruce’s keys and keychain. Lisa thought about it for a moment and then told me that the keys should look like they might smell bad… 

This show has some really great things for me to work with as it takes place in two timeframes and two completely different locations. The New York flat is what it is and has it’s own fun challenges but the early 19th century nautical explorer items are the ones that I feel give the show the most texture. 

My favorite prop in ESLM is Ernest’s bag and it’s contents. It’s a collection of period items such as a bosun whistle, a sextant, a spy glass, a flask and whale blubber. Much like choosing a cast and company, each item was chosen not for how it worked, but how it worked in a collection.

I am so very happy to be on this scavenger hunt with these fine people and can’t wait to see how Wade and Valerie use the items that I have found.”



from Val #1

On January 11, I started rehearsals for the world premiere production of the show I may be more passionate about than any other: ERNEST SHACKLETON LOVES ME, which will start previews April 12 and officially open at Seattle Rep, under the auspices of Balagan Theatre Company, on April 18. (Have I mentioned how excited I am about this??) Brendan and I, along with the brilliant and hilarious Joe DiPietro, have been working on this piece off and on for about five years – first as a solo show for me to perform, and then in its much better version as a two-person musical. (As our astute and ingenious director Lisa Peterson said, in a show featuring Ernest Shackleton you have to SEE Ernest. How right she is.)

It feels like all the stars are aligning to make this happen the right way: various random delays made it so that we are now premiering the show in the 100th anniversary year of the start of Shackleton’s historic voyage, so that Shackleton awareness is at an all-time high; Lisa’s demanding schedule made it so that we have a nearly-2-month hiatus between rehearsals and tech, so that we can fit in some rewrites and improvements (and banjo practice!); the original venue fell through, so that we are now at the much-better-for-us gorgeous, intimate-yet-grand Leo K Theatre at Seattle Rep, an ideal space for our premiere.

Matthew Kwatinetz, impassioned theatre revolutionary, is our lead producer, bringing together vast numbers of disparate pieces and personnel to make this happen for real. Wade McCollum, chameleonic and transcendent performer whom we have adored since he played Woody in our first TOY STORY workshop, is my co-star and it is thrilling to share the stage with him.

We rehearsed like mad at ACT in downtown Seattle, and ended our initial Seattle stint, just as the city was erupting with joy over the Seahawks’ Super Bowl victory, with 3 workshop performances February 2, 3 and 4 (fully staged, but with no tech: meaning there was tape on the floor instead of platforms, lots of piano playing by our excellent music director Ryan O’Connell instead of full orchestrations, and a descriptive speech by our director instead of video projections).

This is where the caption goes.

Photo collection by Broadway World

I don’t think I’ve ever stuffed so much information so fast into my brain and body before; probably because I’ve never done quite as much movement/acting/blocking as this while playing – for example, leaping from ice floe to ice floe while playing a hoedown…it’s been hugely challenging, immensely inspiring, and one of the best things I’ve ever done. And it’s gonna be even better in April.

This is only a test.

sketch of the set by scenic/video designer Alex Nichols



Chelsea Cook

Chelsea Cook is the mind (and fingers) behind the fantastic costumes for Ernest Shacklton Loves Me.  She graduated from Cornish College of the Arts in 2006 and has been making a splash all over Seattle ever since!  Chelsea has worked for many theatres in the Seattle area including INTIMAN Theatre, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Village Theatre and Balagan Theatre.  Check out the other costume posts to see how Chelsea got her ideas for the characters we get to meet in Ernest Shackleton Loves Me!

Here is a rendering of Kat Chelsea created: 


Chelsea gives a sneak peek into her insights for Kat’s clothing, hair and makeup.  Check out these great boards!

Kat clothing

Kat Hair

Kat Makeup

Kat Bonus: Tattoos too!

Inspiration Board: Ernest Shackleton

Inspiration Board: Ponce de Leon

Inspiration Board: Bruce

And just for fun, this is Chelsea!



Stage Manager Sarah Mixson checking out the build at the Seattle Rep. The Rep is building “road boxes” that will live in Kat’s apartment and then transform into mountains, boats and more. Plus, see below the special Refrigerator full of fun surprises!