Carolann Valentino on choosing show biz over steak and getting a customer to close her legs

Opening tonight at the Boulder Fringe Festival, Carolann Valentino's one-woman show Burnt at the Steak features song, dance and improvisation to tell the true meta-story of Valentino leaving a job at a ritzy New York steakhouse to pursue performing. In advance of her performances, we spoke to Valentino about choosing performing over meat, living your truth and getting a restaurant patron to close her legs.

Westword: What was one of the strangest customer stories that you were able to translate into your performance?

Carolann Valentino: A woman not wearing underwear and flashing the entire front section of my restaurant. And this is, like, a high class woman. I wish I could tell you who it was. She was very upscale. And she finds nothing wrong with it, she actually thinks we as Americans are fucking retarded because we have a problem with her "little kitty cat" running free in the restaurant. So I had to approach her, and I'm like, "Could you please help me help you help all of us by closing your legs?" and then she's like "Fuck You" and I'm like "No, fuck you. Close your shit." The story is actually funny because all of it is so very true.

You see the transition of me coming to New York from Dallas, Texas where I had an interesting upbringing because I'm an Italian girl from Texas. People like me don't grow on trees there -- everybody's blond-haired, blue-eyed, so everybody thought I was Mexican. So you see me starting out in Texas and being like, I'm heading to New York City, and then you see me planted in the restaurant. I made, you don't even wanna know what my salary was.

The whole twist of the show is, it's very funny, it's very real, but the nitty-gritty part of it is it's easy to leave something behind to pursue something else when you hate what you do and you're not making money, but it's another thing to leave a job that you love, with people that you love, and leaving a shitload of money. That's not easy.

What was the catalyst that made you leave the steakhouse to pursue performing full time?

It was actually a very spiritual thing, because I'm into energy and things just don't happen; your body and your energy tell you if you're on the right path or not. Several years into managing a restaurant, it wasn't so fun anymore. And I loved what I was doing, but I didn't feel well and I didn't look well and it was because I was resisting my insides, my soul saying, "You are supposed to be doing this now." The whole time I was managing the restaurant, the CEO of this company, they would let me perform, leave for a month, go film things because I was always a professional performer. They liked me so much that they were willing to work around my schedule, which made it hard for me to want to leave.

But I got chronic fatigue, you know, really ill. There was no specific thing, just my whole body shutting down on me. My doctor was like, "You need to make a choice here. You can't be doing both careers, this is ridiculous." So I made the choice of leaving it behind with the help of my body telling me to do so. A lot of people don't listen; they stay. they're afraid of not having money, they're afraid of leaving security. And it was scary as hell. Very, very scary.

What do you hope people take away from the show?

Live their truth. Listen to that voice within them. It's okay when you listen, and when you do listen, amazing things happen. Does it take a lot of courage? Yes. Is it always perfect and rosy? No. But that's part of the path. If there wasn't any contrast in life there would be no joy in achieving something.

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Robin Edwards
Contact: Robin Edwards