Deborah Jean Templin’s “Unsinkable Women” Tells the Untold Stories from the Sinking of the Titanic

Deborah Jean Templin will perform "Unsinkable Women: Stories and Songs from the Titanic" April 27th at the Kirby Theater in Roxboro, NC
Deborah Jean Templin will perform "Unsinkable Women: Stories and Songs from the Titanic" April 27th at the Kirby Theater in Roxboro, NC
Deborah Jean Templin will perform "Unsinkable Women: Stories and Songs from the Titanic" April 27th at the Kirby Theater in Roxboro, NC
Deborah Jean Templin will perform "Unsinkable Women: Stories and Songs from the Titanic" April 27th at the Kirby Theater in Roxboro, NC

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic on April 15, 1912, the Kirby Theater Performing Arts Series will present Unsinkable Women: Stories and Songs from the Titanic, a one-woman show written and performed by Deborah Jean Templin, at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 27th, at the 850-seat Kirby Theaterin the downtown Roxboro, NC.

According to the show’s press kit:

“Deborah Jean Templin is no stranger to the highways and byways of America. In fact, during the last 10 years most of her time has been spent touring with such shows as the Tony®-winning musical Titanic and Mamma Mia! A rigorous schedule such as this is hardly conducive to writing anything, let along an original script. But while on the road she created a powerful solo vehicle for herself. It’s called Unsinkable Women: Stories and Songs from the Titanic, and it’s about the women who survived the sinking of the legendary liner on April 15, 1912.

“During the course of the play, Templin portrays nine unique individuals, shifting from one to the other without leaving the stage. Her roles include Madeline Astor [1893-1940], teenage bride of John Jacob Astor [1864-1912] and heiress to one of America’s greatest fortunes. There’s also New York housewife Daisy Spedden [1872-1950], whose son’s teddy bear survived the sinking with them and inspired her classic children’s book Polar, the Titanic Bear. Of course, no Titanic account would be complete with out the celebrated Molly Brown [1867-1932]; yes she’s here too — the bold, blunt, unsinkable character from Colorado who took charge of a floundering lifeboat and guided it to safety.

“Templin began writing Unsinkable Women while touring for 21 months with the stage hit Titanic: A New Musical. The show stimulated her deep investigation into the event which saw 1,500 people perish in the North Atlantic. ‘I always wondered what the third act would have been — what it was like when the survivors finally came home[,’ says Templin.]

“So when does Templin find time to write? Her system is called ‘morning pages’ in which she wakes up and jots down impression, ideas, and emotional moments. Over time, and after intensive editing and expanding, these fragments become her script.

“Among those who assisted Templin in creating Unsinkable Women was the writer Walter Lord [1917-2002], author of the quintessential Titanic history A Night to Remember [1955]. ‘He told me to use my imagination,’ recalls the actress who had to search long and hard for information on certain people and events and created an original character of her own. The vaudevillian Nora, for example, is a composite figure representing the ship’s third-class passengers, of whom little is known.

“Others, like the famed Philadelphia heiress Eleanor Widener [1861-1937], are well-documented and therefore easier to flesh out in performance. But all the women portrayed speak to Templin in a deep way. ‘Whoever they are, wherever they’re from, the characters are important to me because I know they’re based in historical fact,’ she says. ‘Giving a voice to people who lived through this pivotal moment, many of them unsung heroes, has been truly exciting.’

Madeline Astor Nora Violet Jessop
Madeline Astor: The beautiful teenage bride of John Jacob Astor, one of the wealthiest men in America Nora: A flamboyant fictional music hall performer on her way to New York to try her hand at American vaudeville Violet Jessop: A ship’s stewardess who tells of the friendships and loves of the serving crew below decks on the Titanic

“After trying out in a wide range of venues from Alaska to Virginia, Unsinkable Women finally made its New York debut at the York Theatre Company in December of 2000. Early on, Templin took the show to school auditoriums and community centers. This provided a good opportunity to determine which characters the audience felt the most connected to and which needed further exploration. She says, ‘The first characters I completed in this show were the ones I felt closest to. A lot of the challenge in creating the piece was getting to the essence of the person.’

“There’s more to Unsinkable Women than its striking dramatic portraits. The show is punctuated by period music such as Victor Herbert’s ‘Toyland’ and ‘Song of Old France,’ interpreted by none other than the Unsinkable Molly Brown.

“Templin is a seasoned musical artist and she continues to develop this gift with daily vocal exercises — a necessary measure when performing in plays as demanding as Mamma Mia! And while she’s certainly used to halls packed with thousands of people, Templin welcomes the opportunity to take on a more human-sized show. Her hope is to create a powerful, yet intimate theater experience. With a one-person piece, she feels audience members develop a greater connection to what’s happening on stage because the experience is so intensely focused. It’s also most like they are in conversation with the characters.

“In past years, Templin served as a Resident professional theatre associate and visiting professor at Cornell and Susquehanna universities. Now with her new endeavor she’ll be teaching again. What do we have to learn from her Unsinkable Women? Well, apart from telling the real story to the Titanic, Templin wants to make a point about the indomitability of the human spirit.

“‘These women were not traumatized by the Titanic[,’ claims Deborah Jean Templin]. ‘Instead, they stepped out of what were conventional female roles and went on to do extraordinary things, either in their personal lives or in the public arena.’ As Molly Brown says, ‘You can’t be looking down, you’ve got to be looking up.’ Embrace the present — and the future.’

The Kirby Theater Performing Arts Series presents UNSINKABLE WOMEN: STORIES AND SONGS FROM THE TITANIC, written and performed by Deborah Jean Templin, at 7 p.m. April 27 in the Kirby Theater, 215 N. Main St., Roxboro, NC 27573.

TICKETS: $10-$25 ($8 students).

BOX OFFICE: 336-597-1709,, or

GROUP RATES: 336-597-1709.







The Play: (official website).

The Playwright/Performer: (official website).

R.M.S. Titanic: (Encyclopaedia Titanica) and (Wikipedia).


Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).