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CCRI to host ‘Naked In Alaska’ performance, workshop, both free and open to public
Sept. 11, 2015
Award-winning actor, improviser and movement artist Valerie Hager will present a workshop and her autobiographical one-woman show, “Naked In Alaska,” this month in the Bobby Hackett Theater at the Community College of Rhode Island’s Knight Campus, 400 East Ave., Warwick.
The workshop and performance are both free of charge courtesy of the Charles Sullivan Fund for the Arts and Humanities, and no reservations are required. The performance will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 18. Hager will teach the Sept. 17 workshop, “SOLOfire: Freeing Your Life With Solo Performance” at 7 p.m. alongside her husband, Scott Wesley Slavin, who is also a director. Hager said it will help attendees dive deep into their own past using writing prompts, movement work and other exercises in the hopes of unleashing a small autobiographical story for each attendee. All are welcome.
“Naked In Alaska” traces Hager’s life through her struggles with eating disorders, addiction and her eventual recovery and sobriety.
“I had always felt like an outsider as an adolescent; I struggled a lot with body image and eating disorders and was always trying to figure out how to carve my way into the club,” Hager recalled . “And then I stumbled upon crystal meth.”
She spoke candidly of what she considered to be her rock bottom: “I was sitting in the beat up car of my meth dealer/boyfriend at the time, coming down off meth. I had a glimpse of myself in the rearview mirror, and I thought that I was looking at the devil in my eyes, they were so black and haunting.
“I had this whisper of a thought. If I kept going like that, I was going to die,” she said. “The next day, I found myself at a [Narcotics Anonymous] meeting, and I’ve been clean from crystal meth since.”
Seeking help was a major first step, but it was by no means the only hurdle Hager had to clear. Undereducated and underemployed, she could only find minimum wage work. Her best friend worked as a stripper, where she made good money and still managed to stay clean, and Hager joined her.
Despite the intensely personal nature of the show, Hager said the universality of the emotions goes beyond the immediate experiences it describes to connect with audiences of all stripes. “The whole show attempts to reach beyond one story, to talk about how we belong, and the lengths we’ll go to in order to belong,” she said. “It talks to the outsider in all of us … desperately just wanting to do anything to be validated and loved.”
Bert Silverberg, a professor in the Performing Arts Department who first saw “Naked In Alaska” at the New York Fringe Festival, called it “phenomenal.” When he spoke to Hager after the performance, he was struck by how approachable she was, particularly given the sensitive subject matter of the piece.
“She’s very honest, and doesn’t make any excuses for herself. From an acting and movement standpoint, her performance is really outstanding,” said Silverberg.
“Naked In Alaska” won the Overall Excellence Award for Solo Performance in FringeNYC 2013 and Audience Favorite Award in the Chicago Fringe. The show also took home a “Pick of The Fringe” award in The International Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2014.
Hager has studied improv at Upright Citizen’s Brigade, The PIT and Second City. She is a graduate of Bang Comedy Theatre’s five-level improv program and has performed throughout Los Angeles with her improv group George. She has appeared in film and TV including Warner Bros.’ “The Invention of Lying” with Ricky Gervais, Comedy Central’s, “Mind of Mencia,” Discovery Channel’s “Guilty or Innocent” and the award-winning short film “The Harshest Place.”
An improv, acting and creative movement teacher in Los Angeles and New York, Hager teaches for arts and outreach organizations including Lifetime Arts, Wingspan Arts and Elders Share the Arts. She earned her teaching artist certifications from New York City's Community-Word Project and the Mark DeGarmo Teaching Artist Institute. She lives New York City.