To Swim in Valleys

After spending his fall semester working as a production intern on the musical Sweet Charity, SFUAD student Triston P. Pullen is announcing his next major project—a stage adaptation of Colleen Hoover’s book It Ends With Us. Pullen, a junior PAD student, will not only be sharing the task of adapting the book with Hoover, but he will also direct the play when it premieres in Sulphur Springs, Texas, a town with which both Pullen and Hoover have emotional ties. Pullen plans to bring the experience gained in New York to his own theater production company Studio 1621, which will co-produce the play. The project includes various SFUAD students including Evan Eastep as graphic designer, Austin Creswell as stage manager, Chris Hanna as film production, Liam O’Brien playing Ryle Kincaid, Madeleine Garcia playing Alyssa Kincaid and Natalie Fox playing Lily Bloom.

Colleen Hoover's standalone book 'It Ends With Us' will come to the stage July 2017.

Colleen Hoover’s standalone book ‘It Ends With Us’ will come to the stage July 2017.

Colleen Hoover’s groundbreaking book, It Ends With Us, though only three months old, captured Pullen’s attention from the first read. A stunning story of heartache and triumph, the book follows Lily Bloom, a flower shop owner whose happily-ever-after proves frustratingly elusive as she confronts the lost-and-found loves of her life, Atlas Corrigan and Ryle Kincaid. Without giving anything away, it can conclusively be said that It Ends With Us is romance novel that pushes every boundary of the genre, a deeply personal journey rooted in Lily’s isolation in the valleys of her life.

It is the character of Lily who resonates with Pullen as he works with Hoover to adapt the story. “I [make] it my mission as a director to only direct things that inspire and promote strong women, whether it’s their downfall or their rise to glory,” Pullen says of his vision for Studio 1621. He seeks to fill a void in theater and “create the work that’s not there.” A desire to “[allow] Lily to have a voice” drove him to pursue this opportunity, which began with a Facebook post and quickly evolved from there.

Having never seen a book-to-stage adaptation, Hoover was understandably cautious when first approached by Pullen with an offer to adapt her new book. “I didn’t know how the essence of this book could be captured on a stage,” Hoover says. Ultimately, it was Pullen’s passion for the book and “commitment to stay true to these characters” that convinced her to take the plunge.

Triston P. Pullen is adapting and directing 'It Ends With Us.'

Triston P. Pullen is adapting and directing ‘It Ends With Us.’

Pullen and his company’s emphasis on strong women is in keeping with the female friendships and solidarity in the book. The relationship between Lily and her mother Jenny echoes throughout the book, beginning in a place of resentment and ending in the profound understanding that they were always on the same team, after all. Another standout relationship is the one Lily shares with Ryle’s sister Allysa, who becomes the most supportive friend in Lily’s orbit. Their pure and selfless friendship is central to the book—two women who love each other unconditionally and only wish the best for the other. Finally, in Lily’s isolated childhood, it is comedy queen Ellen DeGeneres to whom Lily turns in un-mailed letters, detailing her crushes, family problems, and daily life. This emphasis on the relationships between women strengthens the book even as Lily questions her romantic relationships.

The poster for the play was designed by Evan Eastep.

The poster for the play was designed by Evan Eastep.

Adapting a book as such as this to stage is not without its challenges, but Pullen is excited for the opportunity for creative expression. The book has many locations, from multiple apartments, Lily’s flower shop, the restaurant Bib’s, Lily’s childhood home, and the abandoned house in her neighborhood. These all represent opportunities to “break the mold,” in Pullen’s words. Another such opportunity lies in the central theme of the book, which revolves around a lack of sympathy for people such as Lily, who are caught in difficult situations between their head and their heart. A first person singular perspective creates reader sympathy in the book, keeping the reader close as Lily experiences years of great love, loss, and hardship. Pullen sees a chance to create empathy for Lily in the stage adaptation by fostering an intimacy between actors and audience, by showing them Lily’s life up close. He aims to “translate the characters from the book to the stage in an honest way.”

Perhaps the best metaphor that encompasses the magnetism of Lily’s journey is the one offered by Pullen’s own grandmother. “There are always peaks and valleys in everyone’s life,” Pullen explains. Valleys are defined by tears, depression, and isolation. What creates winners is who can “swim through your own tears to get back on top of [the] peak.” What makes Lily so admirable is that she did exactly that; she kept swimming, as Dory told Marlin. She swam until she made it out of the valley to the next peak. Lily is someone from whom everyone can learn, just as her mantra is one everyone may whisper to themselves until, like Lily, they “finally [reach] the shore.”

It Ends With Us will premiere in Sulphur Springs, Texas, on July 7 – 14, 2017. VIP tickets are available for the opening night gala, which will include perks such as a meet-and-greet with the director, actors, and playwright; the opportunity to participate in a Q&A; a picture with the cast; and a signed copy of the script.

Updates from production are available on the play’s Facebook page.