Five Burning Questions with Ernest Shackleton Loves Me Star Wade McCollum
May 17th, 2017
by Josh Ferri
Wicked and Triassic Park alum Wade McCollum stars as the title character in the rollicking new musical Ernest Shackleton Loves Me at off-Broadway's Second Stage Theatre. Wade plays famed explorer Ernest Shackleton (you won't be able to read or say his name now without Wade's inflection!) as well as several other male characters in this two-hander opposite co-creator Val Vigoda. Through time travel, a video dating site, and Skype, Ernest and single mom musician Kat connect after she's been awake for 36 hours, and her music keeps Ernest going through his epic three-year expedition in Antarctica.
BroadwayBox caught up with the award-winning Wade to talk about a time he stayed awake for 36 hours, dream journals, and Ernest Shackleton.
1. At what point did you join Val and the creative team in the process of the show? How did it appear on your radar?
I came on pretty much in the very beginning, as soon as it had become a two-person show. It was originally going to be a one-woman show, but then when director Lisa Peterson came on board she interfaced with the material and immediately said, “We talk about Shackleton, we sing about Shackleton, he needs to show up.” (At that point he was a recorded voice.) Then we did a three-week workshop at Seattle Rep in 2014, so I’ve been involved for about three years.
You play so many distinct characters. Did they build that on you once they realized what you were able to do?
I did I Am My Own Wife, Santaland Diaries, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and the narrator in Fly By Night, which was like 30 different people. Val had seen me in the world premiere of Fly By Night at Theatreworks (where she actually started working on Shackleton), so she had seen me play a bazillion characters. Then I workshopped Toy Story the Musical for Disney (as Woody) and that’s how I met Val. So, they were familiar with my zany thing, then we added characters and cut characters along the way. It’s become, “let’s see how many different costumes we can put Wade in and see what he does.”
2. Have you ever been awake for 36 hours? When? What happened?
I had a crazy Monday in college—I went to a conservatory near LA. A friend of mine said on Monday morning, “Do you want to drive to Mexico?” I said, “Yeah, why not?” We got in his car with no idea how far it was, and it took a lot longer than we thought. We drove into Tijuana really late at night, and I had a student matinee of Oliver! at 9 in the morning on Tuesday. We drove all night back, and I performed. That’s 24 hours without sleep. Then we had a matinee and an evening show. I was young enough that I survived but I do remember I had to do bell kicks on a bar, and I just prayed, “Lord help me. Let me not fall off this bar and onto my face.” I don’t remember hallucinating any explorers though.
3. If you were going to be trapped for three years with just one artist's music, who would you pick?
My brain went in so many different directions. It’s an impossible question. My first brain impulse is Bach. My second is Michael Stipe and R.E.M. They could not be more different. Then if I give it a little more time….Jason Robert Brown. That runs the gambit.
4. Between tour life and your growing up, it seems you are quite familiar with nomadic adventures. What's always in your case/backpack when you travel?
My dream journal. I love to log what happens in the subconscious and I love Jungian ideas. I love the whole process of unraveling the collective unconscious and how our personal unconscious is connected to the whole—noticing synchronicity between my dreams and future events. I have shelves of journals. I went to college when I was 16 and that’s when I started journaling regularly. I’ve written a musical called The Other Shore, and it’s about Hermann Hesse writing his seminal novel Siddhartha; while he wrote it, he was in therapy with Carl Jung, so because of that I had to wrap my brain and heart around who this man was and what his ideas were. I think it will be a lifelong venture of investigating all of what Jung brought to us as a civilization and as a species. The ideas he’s infused our culture with. It’s an endless and delicious bucket.
5. You’ve played some remarkable roles regionally (Prior in Angels in America, Emcee in Cabaret, Hedwig, Tick in Priscilla, Dracula, I Am My Own Wife, Bat Boy, etc). If you could have preserved one of those performance for an HD download, which would you choose?
Hedwig and the Angry Inch, undoubtedly. I did it in Los Angeles and it was extended for eight or nine months—it just would not stop. I won all the awards. It was one of those zeitgeist pieces for me where I grew up in rock ‘n’ roll so I have this rock ‘n’ roll spirit in a major way—it runs in my veins—and I love drag and gender performance, and all the beautiful questions those bring up are really useful and valuable and exquisite. That play is so brilliantly articulated. I love how much freedom there is in the script. In the very beginning John [Cameron Mitchell] says, “This is merely one night of the thousand times I did this show. Every show was very different and this is one of those nights. Make it your own, make it topical, make it present, but don’t make me look like a fucking bad writer.” There’s a fluidity and immediacy to it, and the line between reality and imagination gets blurred in such a beautiful way. I had such a profound time doing that show.
Don't miss Wade McCollum in 'Ernest Shackleton Loves Me' off-Broadway at Second Stage through June 11.