(Contributed)                                Sarah Hagen: “Perk up, pianist!’ kicks off ALT Fest at the ACT Arts Centre in Maple Ridge on Feb. 1.

(Contributed) Sarah Hagen: “Perk up, pianist!’ kicks off ALT Fest at the ACT Arts Centre in Maple Ridge on Feb. 1.

Professional burnout leads to comedic success for concert pianist

“Perk up: pianist!” kicks off ALT Fest at the ACT in Maple Ridge

Sarah Hagen’s career as a classical concert pianist has been nothing short of extraordinary.

The award-winning musician has toured the country from coast to coast. She has performed in Sweden and Germany and even made the journey to New York City’s Carnegie Hall for a solo performance. She has lived the dream of most musicians.

That is until she burned out.

“I think I was playing a lot,” said Hagen.

“I needed to know why I was doing it. Why I was playing all these concerts. You always want to feel like your life has meaning. I felt exhausted,” said Hagen.

So Hagen decided to turn her role as a concert pianist into a one-woman comedy act pairing anecdotes with music as a recovering burned-out pianist. The show is created, written and performed by Hagen, including original piano compositions.

Perk up, pianist! tells a bit about Hagen’s own journey from playing the piano as a child to finding her own voice in adulthood.

The first draft of the show was submitted to the Toronto Fringe Festival for consideration in 2016.

It was during her burn-out period that she received a surprise draw into the festival.

“That was the motivation to finish it and put it on stage in some kind of form,” said Hagen.

Her first time performing in a comedic role was with a touring show called I Am Woman Hear Me Laugh, about the same time she received the invitation into the Toronto Fringe Fest. She was performing at the arts centre in Cowichan when the executive director asked her if she would do a seven minute set.

At first Hagen panicked but then she thought she might as well start somewhere if she is going to perform at fringe.

What Hagen enjoys most about comedy is that it softens harsh truths about life. She also thinks that comedy and tragedy are only a hair’s length apart.

“It’s why sometimes people will break out in laughter at funerals and it will feel so good. Or it’s why sometimes when you hear a joke, I don’t know, it kind of touches your heart in a really pure and easy way,” she explained.

Another thing Hagen loves about comedy is that, she says, an audience will never fake laughter.

“So I think it’s a really great challenge as a performer. People will fake applause. You can’t always trust that but no one ever fakes laughter,” she continued.

Hagen has performed her one-woman act at five fringe festivals, including the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival and has been continuously rewriting and reworking it.

Maple Ridge will be the second stop for the full-stage length version of the show.

Hagen will be playing the piano throughout the performance.

“I play a bit of classical, a bit of [Sergei] Rachmaninoff. I also improvise, cocktail style is the best [description]. It’s like I’m sitting at the piano and kind of practising and telling people secrets,” explained Hagen.

“It’s very punny. So people who hate puns should stay away,” she laughed.

Hagen hopes that her work will serve as a mirror for people to see themselves in a different way or to see life in a different way.

“That is, I think, the greatest hope for me as an artist.”

Sarah Hagen: Perk up, pianist! will be kicking off ALT Fest at the ACT Arts Centre, 11944 Haney Place in Maple Ridge.

The show takes place at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 1 and is suitable for those 15-years and older due to mature themes.

Tickets to the show are $25 for adults and $15 for youth.

ALT Fest runs until Feb. 4 with a different show each night.

SNAFU Theatre presents Little Orange Man on Feb. 2, a one-woman piece written and performed by Ingrid Hansen about a Danish girl who re-enacts her grandfather’s grisly folk tales to young neighbourhood children. Hello Baby takes place Feb. 3 and is an instructional lecture by a first-time, semi-competent father written and performed by Lucas Myers. And the Rémi Bolduc Jazz Ensemble pays tribute to Oscar Peterson with Swingin’ with Oscar on Feb. 4.

Tickets to all four performances are $85.

Donations of non-perishable food items for the Friends In Need Food Bank will be collected throughout ALT Fest.

• For more information call 604-476-2787 or go to theactmapleridge.org.