by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

“What made you choose this show?”

I got sidelined at the after-party by the artist’s promoter while waiting to offer a quick congrats.

“Well, to be honest, I’m an athlete and a dancer. I was fascinated by the pole acrobatics in her Instagram videos and highly curious as to what kind of story she was going to tell. And when we chatted on Twitter, she was just so nice! I was really taken.”

The prospect of seeing Valerie Hager pole dance live, might be at least half the reason peeps are going to attend Naked In Alaska, The True Story of Stripping in the Last Frontier, a solo part-narrative, part peeler performance appearing as part of The Bootleg Theatre’s Solo Queen Fest, having also toured Europe and the U.S.

The show follows actress and movement artist Valerie Hager’s ten-year career as an exotic dancer (most of which takes place in Alaska) as she strives to redeem the outcast and addict she was as a kid.

At 21, newly sober and recently evicted, Valerie is invited by her best friend Raven to work at a strip club. An evening that begins in innocence and excitement over making some easy cash seduces her into a ten-year career that tests the limits of friendship and her will to survive.

Valerie Hager Naked In AlaskaThat’s the description. What’s on offer however, is much more naive and stupefying when you really think about anyone surviving the kind of life she’s lived.

According to Valerie, “So many strippers everywhere have reached out and told me that they’re so happy that someone is finally telling their story.”

In the weirdest way, it’s a bizarrely innocuous presentation with bedazzling built-in glamour via the costumes, choreography, wow-lighting and full-on transitional, 7-Up Factory strip sets. But the thing is, Valerie is so damn sweet. (Huh? Yes! Exactly!) Even the roughest moments, the embarrassments, the struggles for friendships, the competition for customers, the brutal put downs, the physical abuse that she endures is told by what seems like an innocent little girl playing with her dolls. It doesn’t seem real.  Except it is. And it’s painful, breath-stopping, enlightening. You are often giggling and rooting for her every step of the way while voyeuristically getting a better-than-peep-show-primer on what to expect should you choose this mission.

But that’s the heartbreak and triumph of this woman’s life. Valerie is legitimately messed up when she starts off. She’s dying to fit in. Desperate for love. Seduced by the need for acknowledgement and deep acceptance that she’s willing to endure it all with a smile and sure…a few tears too. But yes. Thankfully. There is a happy ending!!!!

Profoundly honest and unbelievably elevating Naked In Alaska has been a Fringe Festival Winner in New York, Chicago and Edinburgh, also garnering Critic’s Picks and Best Bets and a Charles Sullivan Award for Arts and Humanities.

One of the most Highly Recommended shows to see this season for the content and the physicality.

Director & dramaturg: Scott Wesley Slavin

Total Run Time: 80 Minutes (no intermission)

There is some audience participation if you’re sitting in the front rows.