By Dawn Watson
When Walker Vreeland first stepped foot on a Norwegian Cruise Lines ship bound for Bermuda in the summer of 2003, he was ready for the voyage of a lifetime.
At 24, the young actor was nervous and excited to set sail and begin performing as the lead singer for the entertainment troupe on board. But the seas quickly become rough, emotionally speaking, and the journey changed course, taking him in a far different direction than he could have ever imagined. Not long into the cruise, Mr. Vreeland suffered the initial stages of a mental breakdown so severe it landed him in the psychiatric ward at John’s Hopkins University Hospital.
The road to good mental health was arduous, but Mr. Vreeland—now a popular and award-winning radio personality and host of “The Afternoon Show” on 102.5 WBAZ—successfully undertook a trek that eventually led him back.
It’s been more than a decade since the debilitating struggles landed him in a hospital bed, and he’s never forgotten it. With time, therapy, journaling and proper medication, he was able to face his demons and find some resolution. Now he’s ready to share his story with the world in his autobiographical monologue, “From Ship to Shape,” which will be staged at Bay Street Theater on Sunday, September 27.
“From Ship to Shape” started out as journal entries, a means to cope and survive, says Mr. Vreeland. It took him years to heal, and seven years to write, edit and get the piece stage ready, he adds. And though it’s a deeply personal story, it’s one he feels strongly should be shared.
“Telling this story is part of my life’s mission,” he says. “Yes, it’s about me coming to terms with how to get better but it’s also a reminder that we’re all living on borrowed time.”
Most people have dealt with mental health issues, whether their own or with a friend or loved one, he adds. And it’s about time that the subject stopped being such a taboo.
“This needs to be talked about since mental illness is still stigmatized. Everyone has been touched by it, it’s universal that way, but we don’t like to talk about it.”
Mr. Walker frequently sheds light on the subject during his interviews with celebrities and local notables. Whether he’s talking to Joy Behar, Cyndi Lauper, David Brenner, Sally Struthers, James Frey, Bob Balaban or Sandra Bernhard, if the subject comes up naturally, he doesn’t shy away from it. It’s cathartic he says.
Switching his career focus away from acting and into broadcast was also extremely valuable, he says. Though he does still act occasionally, having a home base at the radio station has proved to be a good thing for him emotionally and professionally. And as for his recovery, he’s still mystified exactly how it happened, says Mr. Vreeland. But he’s glad for where the process has brought him so far.
“The healing didn’t happen overnight,” he says. “But I’m glad that I can say that I’m not a crazy person any more!”
From Ship to Shape: A Monologue Written and Performed by Walker Vreeland will be staged at Bay Street Theater, 1 Bay Street in Sag Harbor, on Sunday, September 27 at 2 p.m. For more information, visit baystreet.org.