Al Val is a professional stand up comedian from Toronto. Her 'newness' out of the closet and into this drastically different phase of her life makes for some interesting and compelling material, which she delivers with an endearing, universal, playful honesty.
Tell us, what's been exciting about participating in this season of Drag Heals?
It's been exciting stepping (somewhat) outside of my comfort zone and trying on a different show format! It's always exciting getting a chance to express myself artistically outside of the platforms I'm used to. I've always had plenty to say - not all of it funny - and I relish an opportunity to say something completely different for a change.
What do you find has been the biggest challenge with participating in Drag Heals?
It's been a big challenge silencing my inner critic, which ironically enough is exactly what my piece is about! Although the cast and crew have made me feel welcomed and supported, I still feel like I don't resonate with drag as an art form, and am therefore not necessarily performing a 'drag' number; as a result it does kind of feel like I'm cheating the show and not being a good sport about playing along. I hope people don't mind! It's also been difficult navigating how much of my trauma I'm willing to share, because there are still some wounds I need to scar over before I can feel comfortable enough broadcasting them to the world. Lastly, it's been quite the challenge squeezing all the material I want to share into this 8-minute space. It's certainly been an exercise in concise but evocative writing.
Why do you think a show like Drag Heals is important when it comes to representation in today’s media? I think the 'healing' aspect of "Drag Heals" is the strongest quality of its representation in media. While it is important to tell stories about queer trauma, I think it's just as important to 'conclude' these traumatic threads with some positivity and optimism. "Drag Heals" does an excellent job of representing triumph over trauma, but also does an insightful job of zooming in on the in-between: the work that it takes to confront our own demons and reshape them into something beautifully resonant and representative of our own individuality.
What conversations from Drag Heals should be had more in today’s world?
I think the gender diversity of this cast has fostered a unique platform for conversations about gender expression and the gender spectrum in general. In addition, I think it's opened an interesting conversation about what 'fitting in' means to LGBT people, and how a large portion - I would even go so far as to say a majority - of queer people feel like they don't belong. Diversity may be a strength, but there are so many intricacies to the queer experience that it seems common to feel like one doesn't 'fit in' with certain gay norms. I'm confident that every cast member has felt 'left out' or disconnected from the gay community at one point, and I think it's an interesting subject that could afford to be explored a lot more in popular media.
What is the biggest takeaway or transformation you have gotten out of participating in Drag Heals?
MY biggest takeaway has been a joy of dancing!! I've been so repressed my whole life and I only really dance when I've had enough alcohol - usually copious amounts of it - to relax my inhibitions. Also, if any part of me doesn't like the song (and my music tastes can be extremely picky), I won't find any joy in dancing to it. However, this closing number that we've been rehearsing has been a major breakthrough for me in terms of connecting with the joy of dancing and for acutely accessing my femininity while I do it, which is such an exhilarating joy! I often feel like such a graceless gorilla, and this closing number has made me feel feminine, lithe and sexy! I just want to hang onto that feeling forever. I'll continue to work on being courageous enough not to care what people think, getting on my feet, and just enjoying moving my body to a beat that I like!
What was it like working with someone like Tracey Erin Smith, as well as the rest of the cast and crew? Working with Tracey has been eye-opening, for me. It's been incredible watching her work on her feet, finding insightful prompts and questions during some pretty emotionally precarious moments. For example, in our "Exaggerated Self" exercise she asked some incredibly insightful leading questions that helped myself and other cast members go to some more intimate personal places, and I was so struck at her therapeutic way of drawing out and supporting the emotional response when we got there. She's really good at what she does. I don't know what this says about me, but I want to make her proud! It's been really lovely working with this cast and crew. Honestly, I've felt supported and celebrated, and it's made relaxing my guard and immersing myself wholeheartedly into the experience that much easier. I truly feel that I'm not being judged, and that is a rare, inspiring feeling for me.
Who or what made the biggest impact on you when participating on Drag Heals? I feel like I've learned in pieces what the black experience feels like from Rose-Ingrid, and I've been inspired by Tristan's gender-play: Tristan makes me want to explore outside my single-mindedness about my transition goals, and to challenge the cisnormative standards I'm so used to desperately trying to live up to.
How would you describe your drag, or sense of fashion and artistry in general? My sense of artistry and fashion tend to be pretty direct, when I think about it. My sense of fashion is still a bit in the early stages of experimentation, but it tends not to be particularly flamboyant and pretty understated (minus the ripped jeans, which are very much a staple of mine). Likewise, my sense of artistry tends to feel, in my opinion, just as plainly expressed as my clothes are: I tend to be fairly blunt and straightforward about my messaging and my own experience. My comedy is honest and transparent about my life's experience without too much exaggeration. However, I am pretty silly and expressive, so I suppose that's where my clothing tastes and performance style differ.
What makes you a unique drag performer?
If any of what I do could remotely be categorized as 'drag' then I suppose I'd be a comedy queen with a rock n' roll edge. I think what makes me unique is that I don't necessarily play a character, and that what you're seeing is very truly what you're getting: just a sexy lady on a mic, crafting insightful, relatable and vulnerable jokes with a positive spin - all ass, no sass.
What message should audiences, near and far, take with them after they watch Drag Heals? I hope that audiences watching "Drag Heals" can understand that they deserve their catharsis. Of course it isn't easy processing deep hurt and while it is a courageous endeavor that requires work and discomfort, we all have it in us to make that journey. Furthermore, we deserve to make the journey. I just hope people understand that however you find your happiness, it does take work and internal confrontation sometimes, but it is truly worth it in the end.
Watch now! https://www.border2border.ca/drag-heals