Out actress Kristina Valada-Viars continues to expand her life in theater.
A big part of this is thanks to the Steppenwolf and the Princess Grace Foundation. The foundation was started 36 years ago by Prince Rainier III of Monaco to honor the legacy of his wife, Princess Grace.
The goal of the foundation is to find emerging talent in theater, dance and film. Valada-Viars fellowship is with acting and directing through the organization. With this she worked as an assistant director on BLKS and Doppleganger. She also played the lead in the Steppenwolf Young Adults production of The Crucible.
She has a long list of theater credits, but has also appeared on Showtime's Shameless and Fox's Empire. She is also part an all-female creative team with a new Chicago made web series called The Force.
Windy City Times: You are from Iowa?
Kristina Valada-Viars: I wasn't born there, but that is where I grew up. It was good enough to me, much like New York, to land me where I am. I was lucky to grow up in a community theater run by my parents. I came out at 15 years old, in 1995. I had a natural gay adolescence. I am grateful for that.
When I was growing up, it was not a national conversation since it was two years before Ellen Degeneres came out. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was very present and "if you have sex, you will die" was a big thing.
WCT: Condoms in school was [a controversial topic]…
KV-V: My high school made national news about that! We protested for condoms in schools.
WCT: What was the first show you ever did?
KV-V: I was in a show at 5 years old called Twas the Night Before Christmas. I missed an entrance because I was sitting on a toilet! Now I am ridiculous about going to the bathroom before shows.
One of the first shows that I was excited about was Tina Howe's Coastal Disturbances at age seven.
WCT: You also did A Christmas Carol at Goodman Theatre.
KV-V: Yes. I played a nephew named Fred who was changed to a niece named Frida. The director Henry Wishcamper was someone I knew before. We moved to Chicago at the same time. He was the assistant director on August: Osage County where I understudied and when I first worked for Steppenwolf. I played Belle and Fred's wife for two years. I asked if I could read for Fred and I auditioned that way.
WCT: Had you ever auditioned like that before?
KV-V: Nothat was the first time. There was something so meaningful to me about that scene with me asking why Scrooge had never met Fred's wife. Fred has the best speeches in the play, which I knew really well. My hope was that Fred would still have a wife, but baby steps…
WCT: Talk about how August: Osage County changed your life.
KV-V: I understudied three roles on Broadway. I went on close to 20 times. That was my first Steppenwolf affiliated thing. The people in that play felt I had a Chicago vibe. August was a huge moment for me with what I had been working towards. Having a couple of final bows on Broadway is something I am deeply grateful for.
Thanks to that really high-paying gig, I was able to take a leave of absence and do something else.
WCT: What are you working on now?
KV-V: I just finished a show called Cry It Out at Northlight.
My fellowship concludes at the Steppenwolf, but I am working on my self generated piece that was a part of it. I am hoping to build an artist led cultural exchange between Chicago and New Orleans. It was part of the Princess Grace proposal. It is get communication going with artists that are off the commercial pipeline of Chicago, New York and LA, like New Orleans or Detroit.
It is a huge benefit that there are theaters in those communities.
I will be directing a show at 16th Street Theater called Small Jokes About Monsters. It will be the first show of their season.
I will be in a show at Lookingglass called Acts of God Feb. 13 through April 7. It is by Kareem Bandealy, who is a company member there [and] who I know from Christmas Carol. I still have circles of people that I have worked with that I get to work with again.
WCT: Are you worried that, with Lookingglass Theatre Company, that you will have to be acrobatic?
KV-V: With every show I am worried a bit about what it will do to my body. I did Diary of Anne Frank and got gray hair very early.
I am not worried about Lookingglass because it is their specialty. I am playing an anarchist, socialist, hobo lesbian so it is really perfect!