Let’s go ahead and admit it: we all love a good juicy tell-all, a chance to peak into the life of someone else and discover that we’re not the only ones with issues. Well, theater-goers should mark their calendars—this one-woman show is all about hilarious and startling revelations, shiny sequins and giving the darkest parts of ourselves some time in the spotlight.
Co-produced by Tanya Taylor Rubinstein and Legendary Hearts Productions, Naked In Alaska is the autobiographical true story of actress Valerie Hager's experience as an exotic dancer, shimmying her way across North America in clubs from Fairbanks, AK, to Las Vegas, NM, and Tijuana, Mexico. Hager portrays over a dozen characters throughout the show, a broad range of personalities that dance in and frequent the clubs. Plus she does some truly impressive pole dancing.
The audience watches her transition from a meth-addicted teen to a newly sober 20-something, who, broke but hopeful, is convinced by her best friend Raven to take a job stripping in Tijuana. This chance for easy money and adventure led to a 10-year career, and Hager does not hold back either its joys or its dangers. All this with just a pole and a chair.
"The show is more than what it's like to be a stripper," Hager says. "It's about the shit we have to face to get honest about who we are…Naked in Alaska is a fearless look at the objects we make of ourselves to fit in, and the truths we must face to have a chance of coming home."
What started as a way to accept herself and come to grips with her past ended up "taking on a life of its own." To date, the show has been accepted into seven festivals and won the "Overall Excellence in Solo Performance Award" and the Chicago Fringe Festival's "Audience Favorite" award.
Although the show is solo, the spirit of community and collaboration is never lost. "I couldn't have done this alone, and I wouldn't want to," Hager exclaims. She developed the piece over several workshops in Matt Hoverman's "Create Your Own Solo Show" and onstage at Cheryl King's Stage Left Studio in New York City. Then, in 2012, Scott Wesley Slavin began directing the project and acting as dramaturge; "Scott helped to craft together all the pieces I had, to develop them, and pull out the humanity in the characters," says Hager. "There were so many resources that I used to pull it all together… having that kind of support, it's huge. It's what carried me."
In that spirit, Hager and her husband, Slavin, who directs the show, are also holding a one-time-only solo performance workshop, "Freeing your life with solo performance." The relief and transformation Hager experienced is one she's eager to pass along to others; "there's power in sharing our stories, in being seen, heard, and acknowledged with other people, not just being by ourselves, inside of ourselves" she tells SFR. "That's what this art, this form did for me. I used to feel very shameful about a lot of things…I would hide a lot about my past because I was afraid people would judge me…so I tell these secrets in a solo show, and it's like maybe I don't have to be ashamed or embarrassed about these things in my life."
Exploring these experiences has opened up a whole world of career possibilities. Slavin and Hager continue to work together on original pieces, and perform in many celebrated venues, including their own co-founded Room's Salon Series.
But Hager freely admits that forging her own path took time and guts, "I could have done this show years ago, but I was too afraid...I was trying to fit myself into this square box I thought I had to be in, in order to be successful in the world…now I'd say, just tell the truth. Be bold. And tell it all."
NAKED IN ALASKA
8 pm Friday and Saturday Dec. 6-7. $20 The Lodge, 750 N St. Francis Drive, 992-5800
FREEING YOUR LIFE W/ SOLO PERFORMANCE
10 am-4 pm, Sunday Dec. 8. $100-$125 Also at The Lodge.