Saturday, August 10, 2013

Spotlight On...Valerie Hager

Name: Valerie Hager

Hometown: San Diego

Education: NA meetings, strip clubs, and gypsy living.

Favorite Credits: The mime play I did with my dad.

Why theater?: Why not! Just kidding… my love for theatre began as a small child performing alongside my father, mime artist, Jerry Hager in San Diego as his sidekick Punky The Clown. It was watching him light up so many smiles in the faces and hearts of strangers that somehow through all the muck that later happened in my life this spark stayed untouched in my soul. I love performing! I love performance. It's magic! Even the stage I danced on during the 10 years as an exotic dancer was a theatrical experience for me. The theatre is my sanctuary.  My church. Whether on a stripper stage, performing in my apartment, or in a NYC theatre the stage is where I come alive. Especially now with Naked In Alaska the theatre has become a place of deep connection for me. A space to share. To get raw and honest with as many people as the theatre itself can hold.  To tell the truth. And in these exchanges something happens. I no longer experience myself separate from others but instead one living breathing mechanism. It's glorious! Theatre can be so many things. It allows unlimited amounts of creativity, expression, and soul to be released untamed. Free. Theatre is a master magician. I feel when I let go and let it move through me I am taken to places and worlds that I never knew existed.

Tell us about Naked in Alaska: Naked In Alaska is the true story of my career as an exotic dancer in strip clubs from Mexico to Alaska to California. It's told with live pole dancing and over a dozen characters who danced in and frequented the clubs. Naked In Alaska is a fearless look at the object I made of myself to fit in and the buried truths I had to face to have a chance at coming home. I dreamed of writing this show for years. I started working on Naked In Alaska in 2009 and it was then that I began to face the consequences of choices I'd made in my 20s. After struggling with eating disorders since 13, and a meth addiction at 14 I had finally entered into my 20s newly sober and desperate for a new life. And right then Raven appeared… A wild adventure into exotic dancing sounded perfect… but adventures aren't always what they appear. If you want to see what happens next come to see the show at FringeNYC! <3 Naked in Alaska is directed and dramaturged by Scott Wesley Slavin.

What inspired you to create Naked in Alaska?: I was living in LA and my career wasn't going the way I'd hoped. I was at a loss of what to do with myself in order to feel like I had control over my life and the work I did as an actress. I wasn't getting parts, or even calls at that point. I was doing what people told me I "should do." And, I think I got to the point where I was exhausted by my efforts to fit into some mold made by others. But, I knew I couldn't abandon my dream of performing. I just didn't know how to make it happen. So I moved to New York City! Cause that's what you do! : ) It was enlivening here. People thought differently. I mean they spoke to each other! They interacted in ways that LA wasn't set up for. New York awakened a part in me that I had buried deep.
There I was in my new apartment in the most amazing city in the world! And, I just starting going through dozens of packed boxes and I found these pictures and broken journals of my past. And it knocked the wind out me! And I was like, "oh my god, I forgot about this girl." And, it was here in this rebirthing of moving to NYC that I found what I was looking for. There was just a soft whisper in me that said, "you have to share this." And, I didn't really know what that meant. But I was tired of trying to fit in a box that wasn't my size. I was tired of paying for workshops, and doing things for free to MAYBE create a connection. And then walking away afterwards feeling like it just wasn't right. I wanted to take the power back and create work on my own terms. And I was ready to find the truest voice inside of myself and let her run the show and call the shots. So I did just that. I let go. I stopped doing all of the things that made me feel disempowered even when others where telling me "that's just the way it is... and what we have to do." I just let it all go. I focused on the work. I followed the muse in me and listened to her. I let go of the result. And then there I was in that place I think my dad found while he would perform for all those people. That magical place that sparked my soul. It was like a fire was lit inside of me and I was not going to put it out! I started taking classes and sharing little pieces here and there and the feedback was incredible! And all of the other muses I met and worked with along the way gave me the courage I needed to rise above and keep going! On my own terms. And I began to turn these experiences I had as a young girl into short performances pieces. I knew that if I had had these types of experiences, other women (and men) must have as well. And I didn't want anyone else to feel as alone as I did in those experiences. I wanted to shine a light on all of it and let people know that all of it matters, all of it can be made beautiful, and doesn't have to be shut away in the dark. This is how Naked In Alaska was born. And I am forever grateful to my teachers, family, and friends who helped build this from the bottom up.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Honest. Raw. Hilarious. Unabashed. Untamed. Heartfelt and True. Nature. My dogs. My brilliant husband and director Scott Wesley Slavin. My friends, family, strangers on the street. My past. My secrets. My shame. Stories from the those who are usually silenced. The homeless. The subway. Brownies! LIFE!

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Not fair! There is no one person for me. I mean I could throw out a name but there's so many brilliant people out there. Talented artists who don't have name recognition. Who no one knows. Who I've never met. But, who transcend time and space with their art. Who break open the hearts of those watching and create a space of transformation. I want to work with those people. People who believe in the theatre. Who believe in the power of storytelling and people who believe that magic still exists. Luckily, I have many of those people already within reach.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: There There held at The Chocolate Factory, Amidst held at PS 122, Most of the shows in New York City's Coil Festival, Shadowboxing a solo show written and performed by Grant Sullivan, Wanderlust a solo show written and performed by Martin Dockery. Oh! And absolutely SoHo Rep's We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as Southwest Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915. This show changed the definition of theatre for me. Brilliant!

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Me.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?:
Freshly baked chocolate chip brownies with ice cream and caramel sauce!  Oh wait… maybe Pink Berry! I don't know… it's a tie! : )

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be______: Traveling the world living from hut to hut. Eating chocolate. Working with as many young women as possible to claim their true voice and realize their potential, strength and courage no matter what obstacles may stand in their way!

What’s up next?: Naked In Alaska in The Chicago Fringe Festival ! Whoot! And a special shout out thanks to FringeNYC, Scott Wesley Slavin, Matt Hoverman, and Cheryl King.

For more on Naked in Alaska, visit