Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: The award-winning play, Naked in Alaska, will soon appear at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles, CA. What inspired you to tell this story, and how would you describe your creative process in bringing it to life?
Valerie Hager: In 2009, I said farewell to Los Angeles and drove to New York City with my then-boyfriend-now-husband (and Naked in Alaska’s director) Scott Wesley Slavin. Getting away from Los Angeles—and the weight of my past that often felt indistinguishable from the city itself—woke something up in me. New York was a fresh start. I felt so alive! For the first time in a long time, I felt fearless. And one night I sat on our living room floor and began unpacking boxes of photos from my past—lipstick-kissed pictures of dancing in the clubs, dog-eared journals, mementos… and suddenly something deep inside me whispered, “You have to tell this story.”
I started taking memoir and solo show classes. In L.A., I’d written short solo pieces about dancers that I’d observed in the clubs, but never anything truly autobiographical. It took me a while to get comfortable even imagining stepping onto a stage and sharing publicly the experiences I had been through—had willingly put myself in. But after two years, I got there and was all in. I enrolled in Matt Hoverman’s GO-SOLO workshops and spent hours working with Scott to remember and explore my years as a dancer. By 2013, I had prepared enough material for a full-length show and began submitting to local festivals. That first year of performances I now refer to as the “PG-13 version.” I wasn’t yet ready to share some specifically painful details from that period. But the more I witnessed my story resonate with audiences, the more I trusted myself to get more transparent. Finally, what seemed in the beginning terrifying to say on stage began to feel absolutely necessary.
In hindsight, the creative process of Naked in Alaska has really been like the peeling of an onion. It’s been iterative—I’d make a breakthrough and feel liberated, and then after some time, I’d realize that there’s a layer underneath that, and I’d begin to peel that one back, too. But I think one of the biggest lessons has been to trust the process and know that more can always be revealed in time, and to be open to that when it happens.
BD: You have performed the production at countless Fringe Festivals, as well as a critically acclaimed Off-Broadway run. How do you feel that each new production enhances or changes your approach to the show?
VH: In the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe, I had a 27-show back-to-back run at Assembly Roxy and had to cut 20 minutes off the show to make it fit within our 60-minute time slot. It was insane! But working with those limitations and performing in such an intense run taught me how to endure, let go, and recharge quickly. After every single show, I would run out to the front of the theater and acknowledge each person who attended by hugging them. I had so much gratitude that out of the 3,500 shows they had chosen to come to mine.
The Edinburgh Fringe was our first time performing the show outside of the U.S., and, initially, the difference in how the audiences responded was jarring. But two of my biggest takeaways from that run were to never judge an audience based on how they respond at any given moment during a performance, and to do everything I could to share my gratitude with the audience for taking time out of their lives to come to my show. I learned how to let go of a lot of attachment issues I had with how an audience responded to me, and I grew tremendously as an artist and a person as a result.
However, each time we perform Naked in Alaska, Scott and I work on making our rehearsal process more fluid and playful, exploring if there are stronger ways of embodying the characters or writing a scene, and thinking of new approaches to reaching audiences.
BD: What do you hope that audiences will take away from the show?
VH: I hope that people leave with a space of hope and compassion opened up inside them. The goal of the show is to help people soften, not harden, within. To accept the whole of who they truly are rather than compartmentalize and deny their past experiences and difficult emotions. I hope people leave feeling lighter—a lightness in their step—because they’ve unlocked the door behind which they had stuffed all the things they were ashamed of. And they realize that the courage and acceptance it took to do that has the power to change their life forever.
BD: What makes the Bootleg Theater an ideal venue for Naked in Alaska?
VH: It’s gritty, edgy, rock n’ roll, and feels just like home. It’s also an amazingly welcoming, loving, and art-driven family. The downstairs dressing room even sorta smells like the clubs where I worked! And that’s a compliment! Bootleg’s co-founder and producing artistic director Jessica Hanna took me in with open arms from the get-go, and I knew the moment I walked inside the space that this was Naked in Alaska’s home. There’s magic there. I hope to be a part of Bootleg for many years to come. The entire community I hold close to my heart.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects that you would care to share with our readers?
VH: Since 2012, I’ve been developing and teaching my own movement-based approach to crafting solo performances and storytelling. I call it SOLOfire, and it integrates all I’ve learned over 35 years of live performance from mime and physical theater, to dancing and expressive movement, to discoveries I’ve made as a student at schools like LAByrinth Theatre and Lucid Body House in New York City and Actor’s Gang here in L.A. I’m incredibly passionate about this work, and in 2014 the Kennedy Center brought me out to teach it at one of their theatre festivals. I’ll be teaching a version of the workshop at Bootleg as part of this run. If you’re interested in discovering and expressing the stories that are held in your body, this is an incredibly powerful and transformative workshop. Please come! I’ll be teaching it on Saturday, November 4th, from 1-3 p.m. You can enroll on Bootleg’s website here.
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell readers who want to learn more about and purchase tickets for Naked in Alaska?
VH: Get your tickets in advance to save $5 off the door price and use the code “Queen” to save another $5 when you buy online! Just go here: www.nakedinalaska.com. Bootleg also has live music after all night shows, and there’s FREE sitting services for children during all Sunday matinees.
PARKING INFO Bootleg Theater--there's street parking and most restrictions end at 7 p.m., if not earlier. But they also have a FREE lot at the blue church across the street on Beverly/Roselake.
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