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Shangri-La keeps it real

Judy Wensel creates a sobering and hilarious work of art. /image: Jared Carlson
Judy Wensel creates a sobering and hilarious work of art. /image: Jared Carlson

Let’s talk teen pregnancy

Article: Laura Billet – Contributor

Shangri-La, a one-woman play both written and performed by Judy Wensel, is set in 1963 in the small town of Mildred, Saskatchewan. The stage is set in teenaged Jeanne McCate’s room in the 1960s, complete with a record player, Bobby Darin records, and a craftily hidden stock of Calgary beer. It is an intimate set, making you feel as though you are a fly on the wall listening in on the life of Jeanne.

“The story of the show is loosely based on my mom and her teenaged experience,” says Wensel, “I take much, much liberty with it.”

Wensel explains that her mother grew up as the sister of a teen mom who decided to keep her child in a time when teenagers were sent to birth houses to complete their pregnancies, give the child up for adoption, and never speak of it again.

In Shangri-La, Jeanne’s sister becomes pregnant on her sixteenth birthday and scandalously keeps the child. Jeanne is left to deal with the shock of her sister’s decision and the stress it puts on her reputation. With a hearty dose of ranting, reminiscing and dancing, Jeanne gains the strength to deal with it all.

At times hilarious and at others sobering, Wensel has created a play that is authentic in its straight-up approach. Wensel wasn’t trying to create a complicated script; what you see is what you get. However, what you do see isn’t just another teenage pregnancy. Shangri-La is about the complications of family relationships, learning to deal with the opinions of those around us, and the struggle to do what is right when it is the hardest thing to do.

“Everyone has their baggage,” says Wensel, and this play is a testament to that.

Wensel is a seasoned actor, improviser, and director. She is active in the theatre community across the country and at the Globe Theatre in Regina. Shangri-La is a new experience for her.

“…New work and new play development has always been a real interest of mine. I’ve never done it completely solo though; it has always been in a collaborative form, so it is new that way. Often the way that I develop work when I’m in collaborate setting is on your feet in the studio. I did some of that, but [for] a lot of it, I was at a computer, writing, which was a different method of creation for me.”

As different and new, this method of play-writing and performing may have been for her, to the audience, she was in her element. Judy was charming and authentic, portraying teenage angst and adult issues to be relatable and entertaining.

Shangri-La finishes its run as a part of the Schumiatcher Sandbox Series Oct. 5, but Wensel is hoping to tour the show and further develop the script. The Sandbox Series isn’t over either, and is something worth checking out. Lipstick Smears and Mermaid Tears: Memoirs of a Sinking Soul by Tamara Unroe is next in the series, running from Oct. 24 until Nov. 2

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