For the first time ever in her 23-professional-years, Sara Juli is performing in the Windy City and she’s bringing an elaborate Pepto-Bismol pink bathroom set in tow.
For those of you who may not know, Juli is a vulnerability-driven performance artist known for turning raw, compelling, relatable, and sometimes uncomfortable content into works of elaborate magnitude. Using text, movement, sound, song, audience interaction, and humor to communicate her experiences with complex issues, Juli is a fearless creator ready to tackle her issues head-on in front of strangers. It’s therapy in performance.
During a brief 20-minute phone call with the Mainer, we were able to unpack a small yet valuable fraction of what her art means to her, what the audience should expect from “Burnt Out Wife,” and the vitality of vulnerability in performance art.
Narratively speaking, “Burnt Out Wife” is about navigating marriage and romance with the addition of children to take care of and the stresses of day-to-day life—something most parents can relate to. When asked if the need to create the hour-long, one-woman show was sparked by a single moment or an accumulation of interactions, Juli explained it was more due to her realizing she was generally unhappy in her marriage.
“I got to a place where my children were a little older—in the next phase after toddlerhood—and I was more settled in my parenting, so I started to do an internal check at where the pain points in my life were. What I realized was I’d be neglecting my marriage, it was not in a good place. And so therefore I needed to make a dance about it.” So, alongside a team of collaborative artists—long-time costume designer Carol Farrell, set designer Pamela Moulton, and lighting designer Justin Moriarty—Juli was able to bring the world in her head to life.
“Burnt Out Wife” is but the latest creation in a long line of emotionally-charged art, but it’s the first time Juli has incorporated stand-up comedy into her live performance. Audience members can look forward to a 20-minute interlude of laughs, which is a deviation from her modern dance and improvisational background. Juli even jokes, “In my dream world, if Deborah Hay and Amy Schumer had a child, it would be me.”
When asked how “Burnt Out Wife” compares to her previous work, she mentioned that, though the content is different, the emotional experience for the audience remains the same. “Healing with the audience and connecting with the audience is so important to me—I can’t be the only person struggling with what I’m making a dance about. My work runs concurrently with where I am in my life, so pieces I was making in my 20s are different from the ones I made in my 30s and those I’m making now in my 40s.”
In going to see the show, audience members get to see a glimpse into Juli’s deconstruction of married life, but that doesn’t inherently mean that’s all audience members will take away from her work. “I work in abstraction. I’m not necessarily on stage telling a narrative from beginning to end like a super clear play. I really love it because I know what I’m saying but the audience doesn’t 100% know what I’m saying. It allows them to insert their own interpretation, which is skewed by their own relationship to the topic—audiences see what they need to see, what they want to see."
And while the work is deeply personal, so far it has sparked an array of responses from audience members. “You know, I had someone email me saying that after the show their partner and they had a really meaningful conversation about their relationship on the long drive home. Ultimately, it was a really important conversation for them, and they thanked me for providing a platform for them to have that conversation. And all I could think was, YES! That’s why I do this, that’s me doing my job, that’s the role that arts can play in fostering communication and impacting change.”
When asked about the degree of vulnerability and where the courage to be the catalyst for conversation comes from, Juli humbly thanked me for giving her the opportunity to touch on the subject. “There’s something about the magic of being onstage—I take it very seriously, I don’t want to abuse the privilege of what it means to be a performer. It creates a very soft opening for me to share my story knowing that it will help someone else. With my friends, I have the ability to talk about my personal issues, but with them, I am not as vulnerable. I don’t carry the desire to tell everyone everything. But there’s something about the magic of live performance that creates confidence and creates a safe space to share.”
“Burnt Out Wife” makes its Chicago debut at The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago on April 22. Deemed as a performance for mature audiences only—due to some explicit language and sexual conversation topics—adults and college students alike can find something to relate to within the performance. “Come with an expectation of having a great time. Come to laugh, come to cry and not know why. Bring your partner, bring your girlfriends, I maybe wouldn’t bring a first date!”
“Burnt Out Wife” is at The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago on April 22 and April 23, both performances at 7:30 PM. Tickets range from $10 to $30 and can be purchased through the event listing below.