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SHATTERED: An Interview with Diana Varco

By on October 2, 2017

[A version of this interview was originally published by LA Stage Alliance. It can be read here.]

All her life, pole dancer, writer, and actor Diana Varco hasn’t really hit it off with the fellas. In third grade she kicked her crush in the crotch and her dating life didn’t really improve from there.

Shattered takes an unapologetic look at the variety of ways our sexual boundaries can be crossed and how that affects an individual,” Varco said. Despite the weight of the topic, Varco also brings light and humor to her show, as well as a clever approach by personifying her emotions and states of mind. Audiences get to meet Shame, Truth, Denial and her personal favorite Mortified, along with characters from her past. Her show is being guided by acclaimed solo show artist and director Jessica Lynn Johnson, who Varco said was integral in the decision to share her story.

“Sexual assault is something people judge and joke about, but they don’t really understand it unless they go through it,” Varco said. “I wanted to write a show that explained the darkest parts of my journey, as well as the amazing strength that emerged in the process.”

 Shattered premiered at the Whitefire Theatre SoloFest in Jan of 2017 and then went on to do a run at the Hollywood Fringe in June. Diana garnered rave reviews:

 “Just go. She is a comedic and emotional genius. The show is a perfect gem in every way.”

 “A true demonstration of the resilience of the human spirit.”

 “This show is like what would happen if Inside Out had a baby with SVU- it’s a girl… it’s a powerful girl- watch Diana (literally) find her strength in this powerful show.”

 The show has continued to pick up steam ever since, booking up runs in New York and Los Angeles. In all this momentum, I was able to catch up with Diana on a sunny Saturday morning at Solar de Cahuenga. In flip flops and a black tank top, Diana is effortless and at ease with herself. She’s a passionate artist who’s as excited to share her story as we are to hear it. Over a green tea late at a back corner table, I asked the usual questions about inspiration and the genius of the project. This was a good warm up for both of us. Interviews are odd beasts and often need time to find their rhythm.

As she’s discussed before, a big catalyst for the project was the frequency of rape jokes in the comedy world. But, as a victim of a sexual assault, she struggled to laugh when the world around her joked about rape. “Often, I would leave therapy only to go to class where my peers were glorifying rape,” she said. “But I stayed silent because I was too ashamed to share my story.” A lot of comedians bristle at feminists and survivors’ distaste for rape jokes. They cry censorship or lack of humor in those who are offended by their jokes. However, Diana’s show is both funny and about rape. She’s quick to point out the difference between a rape joke that “punches down” at the victim and one that “punches up” at rape culture and rapists. “It’s not that we humorless about rape. We just demand better jokes that are not at the victim’s expense. Just yelling out ‘rape!’ and excepting a laugh is cruel and lazy. That doesn’t make you a good comedian. Or a good person. One in five women is an assault survivor. That means there’s a high chance someone in your audience – and even your scene partners – may be survivors. Be more thoughtful when you approach the subject. I think that it’s not that we can’t joke about rape or any dark subject…it’s HOW we joke about rape and other dark subjects that needs to change. “

Chose to be smarter. Chose to be more thoughtful. Yes, thoughtful is a great way to describe Diana, not only in her handling of rape in a one woman serio-comedy show (not an easy task) but in her relationship to herself and her art. Being the writer, actor, and subject of your own piece in no small task. I asked her which of the 35 characters she plays are her favorite ones to act and to write. For acting, she recalled Suicidal Thoughts immediately slipping into a seductive character. Arms thrust upward, coolly looking down her nose, “Hello, Diana…” She beckons to herself. Suicide is seductive, she explains. When you’re dealing with the PTSD of rape trauma reality becomes distorted. Back in character, she coos, “Isn’t the anxiety unbearable, Diana…I know a solution. Your wrists. C-c-cut your wrists.” It’s chilling. It’s the truth. “It’s not that I wanted to die. I just wanted peace.” She clarifies, “ That’s an important point.”

She explains further, “Personifying the darker characters helps me handle them when they show up in real life. Shame, Mortified, and Denial pop up all the time. But then I put what they’re saying to me into their characters and it becomes funny. Less threating. The characters become a way to take control of emotions and feelings that might otherwise feel overwhelming.”

“Now when I feel shame, I play Shame instead – and it turns the moment into a story, rather than a downward spiral into feeling badly.” Name it and claim it, with a fun theatrical twist. I like it. “And for writing,” She continued, “My favorite character is Truth.” Ah, yes. Of course. The truth shall set you free. I immediately imagined a noble goddess, or Wonder World, or some Champion character. I was dead wrong.

“Truth is a nerdy Turtle Professor!” As she says it she slips effortlessly into character, hunching her back and pursing her lips. She adds a stutter. “Di-di-diana. The truth of the matter is…” She continues to offer pearls of wisdom but I’m still stuck on what a fun and unique version of Truth she’s created. The truth isn’t always the most shiny, sexy, or “feel good” choice. There’s always the temptation to go with an easier feeling. But just as “slow and steady wins the race”, the truth, however humble, will always set you free.

“Another character I love to play is my therapist.” Diana just offered it up. We had gotten that raw in our conversation. “My therapist saved my life. She caught me when I was falling.” I nodded in agreement, I didn’t want to pull focus by jumping in, but I know that feeling well.

 

Diana takes a long breathe. That was a lot to unpack. But now that we were through the basics, I take the moment to move the conversation over to a top no interviewer has covered yet: pole dancing. You see, I actually know Diana from pole dancing class. (spoiler alter!) I know pole has impacted her deeply and plays a part in Shattered. I asked her if it was okay to discuss. Not one to shy away from the truth, she agreed to talk about it. She explains that pole is very private for her. When I asked for a picture to included with this interview, she said no. “It’s something I only share on my terms.” She did send this beautiful shot of her feet during a pole session. It captures the sensuality and vulnerability of the movement without making her feel too exposed. Beautiful. Perfect. Like her body, that she shares if and when she wants to.

She explained that one of her college friends, Christina Grance, had become a pole dance instructor at Shelia Kelley S Factor. At Christina’s urging Diana finally tried a class. …. Once she did what she found was more than pole tricks and “how to be sexy.” “I found a safe place to explore what feels good to me. I found my body had so much to say. So many hidden emotions I hadn’t let out. If there was a song talking about being sorry, and there was someone I hadn’t said sorry to, I could dance out that feeling, that apology. It felt good.” I asked what songs she liked to dance to. Her eyes lit up as she answered. “Anything by Sia… Bird Set Free…” She sinks into sense memory, then says with conviction, “Chandelier.” She leveled with me. “I was drunk when I was raped. I was never in drugs or anything, but I was a ‘party girl’. I had a lot of things from my childhood, feelings I wanted to push down and not address. I was in a lot of pain. Drinking helped me not feel it. I blamed myself for being drunk when I was raped.  Intellectually, I know it wasn’t my fault but I’ve had to work really hard on my shame surrounding the whole thing.

Dancing to Chandelier helped me move through those feelings.”

Party girls don’t get hurt
Can’t feel anything, when will I learn
I push it down, push it down
I’m the one “for a good time call”
Phone’s blowin’ up, ringin’ my doorbell
I feel the love, feel the love

1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 drink…

Sun is up, I’m a mess
Gotta get out now, gotta run from this
Here comes the shame, here comes the shame

1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3 drink…
Throw ’em back till I lose count

“Pole dance was so healing for me. I also learned just how much I wasn’t alone. Every women at the studio was going through something, moving through something.” Diana then recalled the first time she felt that realization, that she wasn’t alone in her pain. “It was that hashtag, #Yesallwomen. Just seeing all those stories, experiences, and feelings. So many of those were mine. I wasn’t alone. I didn’t have to carry the pain or shame so privately.” Of course we all know the backlash to #yesallwomen, was #notallmen – for those who totally missed the point of why #yesallwomen was trending. It was for women like Diana. She got it loud and clear. The narrative was about the collective experiences of women, not the defensive responses of men. If it’s really #notallmen, then maybe be quiet and listen for all minute? Because #yesallwomen have something to say.

Diana Varco is one of them. She’s a comedian, writer, dancer and actress. She’s got 35 voices alive and well in her head. She’s a rape survivor. She’s a self described Phoenix rising from the ashes. She’s Shattered. But like a mosaic, from those broken pieces she’s been able to create a truly beautiful and inspired work of art. Catch her if you can.

Follow her on Twitter: @shatteredsolo and @dianavarco

 

 

 

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Katie Johnson

is a Los Angeles based Fine Art Model, Actress, Writer -- and most importantly - Pole Fitness Devotee. She's been called everything from “magic” and “fearless” to “dependable, bendable” and even “the balliest f***ing model I’ve ever worked with!”

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