The Green Hulk, as in the famous Marvel Comic Book character, is a fictional hero. The Pink Hulk, on the other hand, is very real, and very much also a hero.
Valerie David, the playwright/creator/performer of this dynamo one-woman show that has now traveled the world in an astounding 26 theatre festivals,
including an Off-Broadway run, and other indy performances, does not have as much stature or muscles as the fictional Hulk, but her super-powers are in full display on and off the circuit. Once you meet her, or see her perform, there is no doubt that this lovely lady has what it takes to make a global impact with grit, humor, and resolve. LocalTheatreNY.com had the opportunity to interview her recently, and is delighted to start off the new year with her inspirational story.
LocalTheatreNY.com: Wow, you mentioned to me that you performed in 26 theatre festivals since your one-woman show, The Pink Hulk. debuted in 2016. How did it all begin, and did you ever expect to be in so many festivals?
Valerie David: I had no idea that The Pink Hulk would be in 26 festivals! I think I became a festival addict. LOL. I love doing them so much, and especially love the travel and the lifelong friends I have made. I kept applying and applying and did not want to stop. I was thrilled and honored with getting into so many. The very first play festival that got the ball rolling was Planet Connections, which is where The Pink Hulk debuted as a full production (2016). It first began as a reading at the New Works Festival of the Emerging Artists Theatre Company, where I am also a member. I’m so grateful for these two festivals. This is where The Pink Hulk got its start with such support, and it really took off because of these festivals. The play went from page to stage in less than 6 months!
LocalTheatreNY.com: What did you set out to do when you entered your first festival, and what are your goals now that you've done so many?
Valerie David: I set out to gain “street cred” by performing in these festivals. I was so glad I did all of them. I have a bevy of wonderful reviews, as well as feature articles, and both radio and TV interviews—the most recent one for NBC4 New York Weekend Today show. I’m humbled by the number of accolades and awards the show has won. I perform this show to empower and inspire people to fight back against any adversity in life, and these positive reviews and interviews will help the show continue. The goals now for the show are to perform overseas again, and be hired to perform at conferences, hospitals and colleges. I would like The Pink Hulk to continue being a teaching tool for doctors, nurses and staff, to help them understand what a patient goes through and to be sensitive to that and their needs. I also want to keep raising money for domestic and international cancer organizations. That is and has always been one of the primary goals of The Pink Hulk. I also want to keep having audience talkbacks, which has been an incredible experience.
LocalTheatreNY.com: Over the course of so many performances, what has changed, or shifted in your story, performance and experience?
Valerie David: The biggest shift in The Pink Hulk story was creating and performing three different endings to reflect that I had been diagnosed with cancer for a third time, whereas the play was originally created when I was a two-time survivor. Having beat the third cancer diagnosis, the show is now about being a survivor of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Stage II breast cancer and Stage IV breast cancer. I had such a wonderful response to the new additions to the show. When I was in the New York New Works festival finals, I had a PET scan at my hospital to determine what the third cancer was. The PET scan ended at 4:30 pm, and I had to be on Theatre Row at 6pm for a performance. I had to bring my costume and props to the hospital because I did not have time to go home to get ready. So I put on my makeup and costume in the hospital bathroom—then went straight to the theater to perform. After the performance a huge guy who looked like he could be on the Sopranos (yes, his name was Tony) with a thick NY accent came up to me, and was crying. He said he never went to a show and cried before. Touched by The Pink Hulk, he gave me a hug as his mother was going through cancer. Over time, I have been spontaneously receiving gifts from audience members and then I incorporate them into my play: a woman in Gothenburg, Sweden, gave me a pair of pink sunglasses and now I wear them in the show.
LocalTheatreNY.com: Looking back, what would you do differently? Any festivals that you would avoid? Any that you feel are a must? Tell us about that and why.
Valerie David: What I would do differently: I would have created a better budget of how much the show was going to realistically cost me to produce and perform for the festivals and runs in Manhattan, especially my Off-Broadway run—factoring in everything that goes into the production and producing the show, such as the cost of tech, the theater, the rehearsal space, designing the program, copying the program, renting the mic, etc. I am happy to say that the festivals and my Off-Broadway run were huge successes, but I lost a lot of sleep because of doing things myself. I wish I had gotten help sooner and fund-raised a little sooner too. I had to pull many all-nighters to get things done. It was a case of penny wise, pound foolish, and I won’t do that again. I now have a great team of people who are helping me move forward with future Pink Hulk performances.
The most significant festivals: Festivals that are juried, rather than a lottery, are something to strive for. I have done both and loved both, but juried festivals are more selective. Both give you an amazing opportunity to keep perfecting your show, plus you make amazing contacts that lead to other festivals. It is a great network. I learned something from each festival and treasure the friendships I made. Through The Pink Hulk, I also got to meet family I had never met before. For instance, I performed in the Providence Fringe Festival and got to spend time with cousins who live there. It was incredible. One of my best friends, Karen, from England, came to see the show with her family when I performed it in Manchester. And my English friends, Steph and Sarah, whom I roomed with in the Cincy Fringe produced my Manchester show. It was so special. I had the time of my life.
LocalTheatreNY.com: A solo show is a unique art form. What advice would you give to other artists looking to take their solo show to a festival?
Valerie David: I would advise solo artists to have several readings of their work before they submit it to festivals. Make sure it is ready to go by having readings and a short run in the city you live in to try it out first. And once on the festival circuit, keep an open mind that the play is going to change and that is OK. You will learn a lot about what the show needs or lacks based on the audience reactions to each performance. I reshaped and rebranded The Pink Hulk two years after I started touring with it because of the experiences I had on the festival circuit. Don’t be afraid to revise it. It will be ever-evolving as a show, as well as yourself as a performer. That is the beauty of the solo show’s unique art form. Also, each solo artist’s journey is different and do not compare yourself to others and their successes. Focus on your show and what you want to achieve. There is room enough for everyone on this playground, so be supportive of other solo artists. You cannot do this alone. It is wonderful to have a great network of fellow solo artists, and I feel lucky that I do.
LocalTheatreNY.com: What would you say is your most memorable moment from this experience? Would you share your highpoint? Low point?
Valerie David: High point: I was so nervous to take The Pink Hulk overseas for the first time. In 2018, I toured The Pink Hulk and performed in England, Sweden and Finland. The Pink Hulk then won The WOW Award in Sweden's Gothenburg Fringe "for the show which inspired awe in audiences with its creativity, humour and content." I was so truly honored as this was the first time performing my show where English was not the primary language. Audiences remarked in both Sweden and Finland that this translated, and they completely related to the play's content. Another high point was performing The Pink Hulk in the two cities I grew up in: Richmond and Virginia Beach, VA. It was thrilling to perform for and be reunited with friends and family I’ve known all my life.
Low Point: In the fall of 2018, I was opening The Pink Hulk in Portland, Oregon. The day the play was opening, I was entering the theater for a tech rehearsal when my cell phone rang: It was my oncologist calling to tell me that my recent biopsies had revealed Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. I was completely shattered. With the show opening that very night, I was not going to let cancer stop me. I performed The Pink Hulk and finished the run. I was very proud of this achievement, knowing I had Stage IV cancer. I am happy to say that because of the advancements in medicine and the oral hormone therapy I am on, I no longer have cancer. There is no trace of it. I beat Stage IV cancer, and my show is even more important now in giving people hope even in the worst of circumstances. Never give up!
LocalTheatreNY.com: What about other performances? Have you had the opportunity to tour and bring your show outside of festivals?
Valerie David: Yes, I have been very honored to have performed the show beyond the festival circuit several times. One of the most memorable was when I performed The Pink Hulk at Rhode Island College (RIC) for the Nursing Department as an educational piece for the nursing students, and then a second performance for the RIC’s Performing Arts Series with audience talkbacks at both events. After the performances, the nursing students told me that they have a better understanding of what patients go through and feel they have become better nurses because of seeing the show and my frank, honest portrayal of what is it like to be a cancer patient.
LocalTheatreNY.com: What's next for you? For The Pink Hulk? Where do you hope to see all this work go?
Valerie David: I will be performing in a festival this winter and plans for another summer European tour are in the works. I want this play to keep inspiring audiences and empowering people to never give up hope. I also would like to get sponsors (as well as grants) for the show to help it continue, especially the drug companies who manufacture the medicines that helped save my life. It is so gratifying, especially when cancer patients reach out to me and thank me for inspiring them, and even others without any affiliation with cancer. I have found my life’s purpose!
Visit https://pinkhulkplay.com/ for more information.
Photo by Emily Hewitt Photography. Video below by LocalTheatreNY.com