“From Ship to Shape,” Walker Vreeland’s autobiographical monologue, is docking again at Bay Street on June 10 for one night, and Vreeland couldn’t be happier.
“This is where it started,” he said, talking about the 2016 version which was presented as part of the New Works Festival. “I mean, I had a reading at Guild Hall in 2011, but at that point it was three hours long.” It’s now a tight 75 minutes.
Working with Scott Schwartz, Bay Street’s artistic director, was a gift, according to Vreeland. “He was so integral to the piece. It would not be where it is today without him.”
There is no better way to describe what this is all about than from the www.fromshiptoshape.com website, which reads, “When performer Walker Vreeland got a job as a singer for Norwegian Cruise Lines in 2003, 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, he would wake up months later in one of the 101 beds at Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Mood Disorder Psychiatric Ward.”
It continues, “‘From Ship to Shape’ is a funny and gut-wrenching autobiographical monologue about 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.”
“I want to share it with the East End,” he said. “I know it sounds kind of cheesy, but I want to give back. I developed it here; I wrote it here. The East End helped me get it to where it is now.”
Of course, Vreeland is well-known to the folks out here — he was voted Dan’s Papers number one personality in the Hamptons from 2013 to 2016. As a radio performer, he 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,” during which he interviewed people such as Cyndi Lauper, Betty Buckley, David Brenner, James Frey, Paula Poundstone, Cheech Marin, and Jane Krakowski, among others.
But lately, his attention has been on the play, and attention it has got. It has garnered a bevy of awards in New York and Sarasota, FL, where Vreeland received an “Outstanding Actor” award last year.
“It’s now in its most developed form,” Vreeland said. “As I was in rehearsal for the New York premiere with Milton Justice, the director, it was mostly cutting and pasting — moving things around. I added music; now there are four songs. It’s me right out of drama school — idealistic, very green, very naïve.”
But the actor — “I was such a people pleaser, with a wounded sense of self with a lack of self-worth” — took a job on a cruise ship, and it was there that the nervous breakdown began. “I was out of control. I was feeling like I had lost control. Yes, it’s about mental illness, but more than that, it’s about this particular breakdown, and looking back on it from the perspective of now, and trying to understand exactly what happened to me.”
There are plenty of laughs too. “Cruise ships are just inherently funny,” Vreeland said. “You’re in Vegas, but the ground is moving. Like an earthquake in the entertainment capital of the world. Couple that with a breakdown . . .” He laughed. “And when I went back a few years later and looked at my journals, I realized there was a show here. It shows the nature of a downward spiral. All the signs were there. It was just a matter of filling in the blanks.”
Audience members have approached Vreeland and opened up to him about their own mental glitches as well. “Look, when you relive your nervous breakdown on stage for an audience, they feel safe confiding in you. And that means so much to me,” he said.
“From Ship To Shape” is at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor on Monday, June 10, at 7 PM. For tickets, visit www.baystreet.org.