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Chicago couple’s trek around the world ends in a one-man show

Scoop Skupien his wife Barb. Skupien recounts couple’s quest for fulfillment enlightenment utopihis comedic one-man show “Questing for Shangri-La” opening

Scoop Skupien and his wife Barb. Skupien recounts the couple’s quest for fulfillment, enlightenment and utopia in his comedic one-man show “Questing for Shangri-La,” opening April 7 at the Annoyance Theater.

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‘Questing for Shangri-La’

8 p.m. Sundays through May 5

Annoyance Theater, 4830 N. Broadway


(773) 561-4665;

Updated: May 10, 2013 6:03AM

It was about ten years ago when Scoop Skupien and his wife Barb began to feel the itch to jettison their dead end jobs. He was selling advertising for the Yellow Pages and she was working in real estate. They were burnt out and looking for an adventure.

What the couple came up with to counteract their growing malaise was an around-the-world excursion. They made a concerted effort to save every penny, sold their house and bought “an around-the-world airline ticket” that cost $5,000 per person. It was good for 18 months but you had to keep traveling in one direction, Skupien says.

So in August of 2005, they headed west beginning in Sydney, Australia, and continued on to New Zealand, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, South Africa, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Panama and Costa Rica, returning to Chicago in July, 2006.

Skupien recounts the couple’s quest for fulfillment, enlightenment and utopia in his comedic one-man show “Questing for Shangri-La,” opening April 7 at the Annoyance Theater under the direction of Joe Canale. A regular at the North Side theater, Skupien has performed in a number of Annoyance classics including “Co-Ed Prison Sluts,” “Skinprov” and Susan Messing’s “What Every Girl Should Know: An Ode to Judy Blume.”

The Skupiens already were experienced travelers. “On our second date, we flew to San Francisco just to see if we would work out,” he said, laughing.

Skupien was working on a book about the more recent trip but eventually hit a dead-end with that project. He’d been out of the acting/improv world for a while and was missing it so penning a one-man show seemed like the logical next step. He turned to his old friend Messing for help in taking 220 pages down to 17 script pages.

“Susan took three Judy Blume books and made them into a show so she was the perfect eye for this project,” Skupien said. “There was so much I didn’t want to cut. It took someone on the outside to convince me.”

Messing felt Skupien had an incredible story to tell: “I strongly encouraged him to write it all down. Now people get to share in that journey from their seats without having to sell all of their belongings or getting painful inoculations or dysentery.”

Parts of the yearlong trip were planned; other parts were fly-by-night. In Tanzania, they planned ahead for a 12-day safari in the Serengeti. But in New Zealand, they rented a camper van and toured the country on their own.

They hiked, kayaked and canoed their way through rain forests, rivers and lakes. Skupien even climbed Mr. Kilimanjaro (“the pinnacle of the trip”). One hopes, Skupien is exaggerating when he mentions “close calls with death.” Most of these stories have to do with crocodiles, snakes, monkeys and one crazy creature, the Cassowary (“it looks like an ostrich on steroids”), which Skupien came face-to-face with in a rainforest in Northeastern Australia (“it was like Jurassic Park in there”).

And then there were the baboons in Tanzania. “They’re so fast and so big,” Skupien recalls, laughing. “And they really don’t care what they do. Groups of them would watch us and we had no where to hide.”

The couple, now both 43, searched the world for the perfect place to live and ended up back in the North Center neighborhood. In addition to writing and acting, he also does marketing for a software company; Barb Skupien owns the stylish accessories boutique Embellish (4161 N. Lincoln).

Skupien says that as the quixotic journey unfolded he realized that “the actual trip itself was Shangri-La.” They had actually pulled it off and grown even closer as a couple.

“If your marriage can survive 30 days in a camper van with a leaky roof and no running water, it can survive anything,” Skupien says, with a laugh. “What we found out is that we are stuck with each other for the rest of our lives.”

Mary Houlihan is a local free-lance writer.

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