Judy Wensel: The Story Behind Shangri-La

Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013 at 12:00 am

During the summer of 2012, Judy Wensel paid a visit to Calgary to attend a theatre lab conducted by One Yellow Rabbit. The program included a lecture by Blake Brooker, a founding member of the group, whose bottom-line message to the audience was that we all have obsessions and we can choose to ignore them or pursue them.

"All of a sudden, I had permission to investigate that obsession," Wensel says, and in that moment, her fascination with nostalgia, specifically the 1960s, morphed from a short monologue about a teenager named Jeanne McCate into a full-length one-woman show called Shangri-La.

"That lecture was the catalyst," Wensel says. "I think I needed to hear that. That was what put me into high gear."

As somebody who hadn't performed a solo show before, never mind written one, or even given it a serious thought, Wensel has found "the exercise really, really valuable." What she previously dismissed as something other people did, she now considers a significant part of her development as a theatre artist.

"It's a very personal experience, and almost a lonely one," says Wensel, who prepared the show under the mentorship of Denise Clarke and Michelle Kennedy. "Being both creator and performer taught me to be more disciplined. You can't concentrate on all of it at once. Sometimes I was an actor, other times I was a writer. From the start of rehearsals, right up until opening, I was wearing two hats."

At this point, not even Wensel can say with any certainty what will happen to Shangri-La once it closes its run in the Shumiatcher Sandbox series, but she's hoping, of course, the show has a life beyond Globe Theatre.

"It was great to start doing it for an audience. It had been inside my head for such a long time. It's nice to finally be able to share it," Wensel says. "But, somehow, it doesn't feel like this is the end of it. With this show, I'm finding it hard to let go, which is something I'm usually good at."

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