There is always going to be humor in everything Sara Juli does, but making people laugh isn't her only goal. She has higher aspirations.
"Humor will always be part of my work, but I use it as a portal to peel back some layers and examine the important issues underneath," said Juli. "I learned quickly that performance was very healing for me. What I do is self-serving, but it also connects me to the audience and hopefully empowers them to deal with issues that they might have."
Juli will bring her one-woman show, "Tense Vagina: An Actual Diagnosis," to the Capital Region this weekend for a series of shows at Skidmore College and the University at Albany. Juli, a 2000 Skidmore College graduate, will perform at Skidmore's JKB Theater on Saturday at 8 p.m., and will take the UAlbany Performing Arts Center stage on Monday and Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
"Tense Vagina," which premiered in New York City in 2015, is just one of a handful of one-woman shows Juli has been doing for the past 15 years. The New Yorker compared "Tense Vagina"' to a "stand-up routine performed in a supine position while doing Kegel exercises." The Press Herald in Portland, Maine, where Juli moved with her family two years ago, said her routine "had the audience laughing out loud as she lay bare her personal secrets."
After graduating from Skidmore with a degree in dance and anthropology, Juli headed to New York City to seek her fame and fortune as a dancer, choreographer and a creator of "innovative solo work." A native of Waterford, Connecticut, Juli says her liberal arts education at Skidmore, while perhaps a little vague, has served her well.
"I wanted to be a professional dancer, but I didn't really know what that meant," said Juli. "I learned quickly that a lot of arts programs aren't taken that seriously in the real world, so I thought maybe I should major in something else. So, I chose anthropology, and that was pretty hilarious. It's equally not all that helpful out in the real world. So, I remember getting off the bus in New York City and thinking, 'Well, I'm going to be a struggling artist.' Looking back, my liberal arts education helped me develop a lot of the skills I needed."
Along with performing, Juli landed some administrative positions in the not-for-profit arts world, then found gold with her one-woman show "The Money Conversation" in 2007. The show focused on Juli talking about her relationship with money, and in it she brought $5,000 in personal savings to each show and offered it to audience members to either keep or return. The show caught fire in New York City and toured internationally for five years.
"I had $20s, $50s and $100 bills that I would give to the audience, and it was up to them to either put it in this bowl as they left or keep it," said Juli. "It was like a massive psychological experiment. I did around 50 shows and I probably spent more than $5,000 doing them. But it became this critical pop piece and it allowed me to work around the globe. It really put me on the map as a performance artist, and I toured around the world for five years doing it. The money was well spent for someone trying to build a career, because you can't put a value on that kind of publicity. It was well worth it."
"Tense Vagina" focuses more on Juli's life as a mother, particularly her time after giving birth to her two children.
"I lost proper functionality in some private places, and it took me six and a half years to say something to my gynecologist," said Juli. "I was peeing in my pants. I wasn't enjoying sex. Talking about these things was taboo to me, and to work my way through it and deal with it was really healing. So much attention is given to the baby after they are born. We have to pay attention to our own bodies and not be embarrassed about getting the help you need."
Juli often gets the audience involved in her shows.
"I like to work with the houselights on and I talk to the audience," she said. "There's no fourth wall. A nice black box theater with around 200 people is my sweet spot. I do touch people, so if you're uncomfortable with that don't make eye contact with me and you better sit in the back row. But I'm a professional, and I'm looking for people who want to play, not people who don't want to."
Juli is excited about returning to Skidmore. She has many fond memories of downtown Saratoga Springs.
"I can remember getting quite drunk and going to Esperanto at 4 in the morning," she said. "I remember their doughboys. I also remember seeing a lot of concerts at SPAC and going to programs at the dance museum. It's a hip town, and I fell in love with it on my first visit. I applied for early admission. It was a very quick and easy decision to make for me."
'Tense Vagina: An Actual Diagnois'
WHAT: One-woman show with Sara Juli
WHERE: Skidmore College's JKB Theater and UAlbany's Performing Arts Center
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday (at Skidmore) and 7:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday (at UAlbany)
HOW MUCH: $12 for adults, $8 for students (Skidmore); $15 for adults, $10 for students (UAlbany)
MORE INFO: www.theater.skidmore.edu, www.albany.edu