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INTERVIEW: Playwright And Actor Walker Vreeland Dishes On His Intimate One-Man Show, "From Ship To Shape," And More

T.J. Clemente

Walker Vreeland is bringing From Ship to Shape back to Bay Street. (Courtesy Photo)

Walker Vreeland is a storyteller. In From Ship to Shape, the story he is telling is his own personal compelling sequence of events that started singing on a Norwegian Cruise ship. Then he had a complete breakdown and recovered, but all with this fascinating tale.

From Ship to Shape starts in the summer of 2003,when then 24-year-old performer Walker Vreeland got a job as a lead singer for Norwegian Cruise Line. But, he could never have imagined the voyage that lay ahead. Boarding the Bermuda-bound ship would be the beginning of a mental breakdown so severe that he would wake up months later in 1 of the 101 beds at Johns Hopkins Hospital's Mood Disorder Psychiatric Ward.

From Ship to Shape is a funny and gut-wrenching account of one young man's struggle with mental illness in today's world. It's about losing your mind while chasing your dreams, the journey in pursuit of healing and how a cruise ship can push you over the edge.

In an interview about his show, From Ship to Shape, Walker was intimate and expansive on why he thinks his show has been successful and is very meaningful. Born into "a very waspy" Upper East Side situation, Walker's family started vacationing at their Bridgehampton family home in 1980. At the time, he was two. They still own that home. Later in life, he had a stellar radio career on the East End. Walker is best known for having hosted The Afternoon Show on 102.5 WBAZ-FM on Long Island, and as the creator and host of the podcast Interview with the Artist, where he has interviewed such stars as Cyndi Lauper, Joy Behar, Betty Buckley, David Brenner, Sally Struthers, James Frey, Paula Poundstone, Cheech Marin, Sandra Bernhard and Jane Krakowski. He's also been heard on 92.9 & 96.9 WEHM on Long Island, 103.9 WFAS in Westchester, NY, 96.7 'The Coast' in Norwalk, CT and WEBE 108 in Bridgeport, CT. On his radio experience he said, "I like to think I had a conversation with my listeners. That I helped them."

Along the way, Bay Street's Artistic Director Scott Schwartz has become a mentor. Walker explains, "Scott was a guest on my radio show talking about the Bay Street lineup and when it was over, I told him about my script, he said send it over and I did and he read it."

What happened next was a series of dinners that centered around fine tuning the scrip to make it a possible selection for the 2016 Bay Street New Works Festival. In the end, Bay Street Theater itself played a role because Walker revealed, "Scott allowed Bay Street to be a safe place to develop this."

Afterwards, when Walker decided to take the next step, he "hired" famed Academy Award and Emmy Award-winning Director Milton Justice to take the script to the next level and polish it for an off-Broadway opening.

Walker explained, "Even though I wrote the script, Milton had the ability to interpret this script and then direct me so that I could convey the messages. He actually was able to explain what I meant when I wrote the script. He pointed out things I didn't understand about what I had written myself about myself."

He loves the intimacy that the 300 plus seat Bay Street Theater creates through as he calls it, "...the raised seating. With the raised seating I can see the faces. I usually find a few faces and tell the story to them."

After a successful two-year run-in NYC, I asked Walker if he had altered any of the material of the Bay Street show and his answer is a big window into the mind of Walker Vreeland. He said, "I have changed very little since it opened in New York, however I am a very different person than I was two years ago."

I can promise one thing for sure: Walker Vreeland is a skilled and talented storyteller. During our phone conversation, he told me stories about living on the East End, going to art school in Boston and fascinating family stuff. He saved the nuggets for the June 10th show that I am definitely attending. He said, "My story is real, I am a living example, people seem to understand and relate... I am out there on a chair by myself...I love it."

From Ship to Shape can be seen at Bay Street on Monday, June 10 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35 to $45.

Bay Street is located at 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor. For more information, call 631-725-9500 or visit www.baystreet.org.

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