Sometimes you just have to wait.
“We were trying to [stage the show] this summer, but COVID just stopped everything,” says Jalai Shelago-Hegna, White Bear Lake resident and writer of the new musical Yes, No? Perhaps, Maybe! “We had a reading at the Lakeshore Players Theater with the director Rob Thomas back in December. It was wonderful, and the response was really, really good.”
While production has been put on hold for now, Shelago-Hegna says she and her husband have been using the additional time to fine-tune the music. An extra year of waiting may be hard, but Shelago-Hegna has been crafting this story ever since events in 2003 first sparked her interest.
Yes, No? Perhaps, Maybe! begins in February 2003, after the U.S. House of Representatives has issued a series of retaliatory measures in reaction to France’s opposition of the war in Iraq. In the country’s rush to take sides, high school senior Amy Lefler is caught in the fray. She has a pen-pal in France and the opportunity to visit, but her father forbids her from going on her school trip to Paris.
“It just started coming to me and I felt strong about the message, about how judging other people based on stereotypes will always lead to failure,” says Shelago-Hegna. “I also wanted to memorialize that protest, which was the first coordinated worldwide protest that had ever happened in history.”
February 15th, 2003 marks the date of the first worldwide internet-coordinated protest against the impending Iraq War. “I started writing it after the protest,” Shelago-Hegna says. “It just all kind of came together, and I bounced it off of my friend Christina Graylee [who is Iranian-American], because we were waitressing together. She started helping me write it.”
Shelago-Hegna has another cowriter and advisor, Christopher Russo, who helped her with the French, but this was her first foray into writing for the stage. “I come from a very creative family,” Shelago-Hegna says with a laugh. “I have a lot of creative people in my life but, no, I don’t have any kind of writing degree or anything like that. I was a glass-blower professionally.”
When Shelago-Hegna moved to White Bear Lake, she knew she’d found the second setting for the musical she’d had in her heart and her head for years. “I moved here in 2016 and I was recovering from breast cancer. I began to learn more about the town, and I told Christi, ‘You know, this is the perfect place for Amy and her dad in the play.’”
While she was recovering, Shelago-Hegna volunteered as an usher at the former location of the Lakeshore Players Theater and was taken with the supportive nature of the arts scene. “There’s such a great vibe in the arts district here, and in the town itself," she says. "It’s very nice to write here.”
Although the musical won’t hit the stage for another year, Shelago-Hegna’s excitement is still palpable. “Having had this in my heart and mind for so long, and then having other people read the characters and really feel it, it’s very moving as a writer and an artist to actually have it come together.”