What She Looks Like: Valerie Astra Powers, Producer/Writer/Director

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Valerie Astra Powers – Single Mom/Producer/Writer/Director & Son on the beach

Since pilot season is wrapping up, I’ve opened the What She Looks Like series to television – and a powerful story of single motherhood and resilience.

I went to high school with a girl named Valerie Powers. The school’s focus was high education and the arts. What started as a random collection of a small handful of students turned out to be a rather gifted group, many of us becoming professional artists long into adulthood and still going. (Go Falcons.)

Valerie was no exception to this gifted community, but her story has always been exceptional. With a history of moving through foster care and unconventional home life, Valerie had every reason to fall behind the curve. Instead, she showed up on the first day of school, after years of being absent from the school system, better read, better motivated, and readily more passionate and engaged than most adults, much less high school underclassmen.

Her intelligence, vigilance, and artistry not only keep her succeeding as a professional but also now as a single mom in the industry. In this interview she openly shares about the questions that rose up in her when confronted with life on set and life as a mother, people who said to her face that it was impossible for her to do both, as well as how she’s defied that impossibility, calling it “freelancing in expert mode” to describe the invisible juggle professional artist moms know all too well and are tempted to keep under wraps – all the while including insight to the profound balance that comes from embracing the chaos as part of our beautiful, human character.

“Happy is happy, and normal is not real. Its okay…to raise your child in your trailer/studio/on your set/in your workshop, as long as you do raise them.”

– Valerie Astra Powers, Producer/Writer/Director

She’s also writing a book about the wildness of her life story leading up to this point, appropriately titled, “Leave Her Wild,” which you can find on Patreon.

I’m so proud to know this incredible artist-momma, from childhood to now, and can testify that she has been unstoppable and brave enough to stand on her own feet since the beginning. Here’s Valerie:


 

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Valerie Astra Powers – Single Mom/Producer/Writer/Director

Name: Valerie Astra Powers

Profession: Story Associate Producer (National Geographic, Discovery), Director (The Howard Fine, short film, music video, webseries), Screenwriter/Playwright, reluctant Actor (A Fold Apart, Sleepwalking)

Status: sole parent to a 6 year old boy

What surprised you: For years I controlled the narrative of my life in networking and professional settings, thinking that being known as a single mom would create doubt at my candidacy for the jobs I wanted. How can you spend 16 hours on set? Who is watching your kid? Do you really have time to prep a production? I had even been told flat out by successful (childless) authors that the life of a writer was incompatible with being a parent. I was having drinks with a high school friend and her successful screenwriter beau when she outed me as having a child. I cringed inside. I joked and smiled about it, explaining that I don’t reveal that piece of the story in order to keep my son’s life private, and for the aforementioned reasons. To my surprise I saw on the screenwriter’s face a look of surprise and respect.

“How do you do it?” He asked, in genuine wonder. “How is it even possible to produce a show when you have a child?”

I went on to explain about my personal resilience and flexibility, and how remarkably unashamed I am to text-blast friends to watch my child to make it to a last minute meeting.295316_10152520656765657_303564701_n

“I can put on lipstick while begging into a phone and making a sandwich, and show up hair in place hands steady as a surgeon’s. I’m crazy like that. Freelancing on expert mode.”

I’m sure not everyone is as generous with their perspective as he was in asking and listening with admiration and encouragement. That said, I have found the scarcity of single Moms in the industry does elicit more respect than pity when I am understood to be one. Anyone who has done the job knows that it is hard enough without a child, the fact that I have one only adds to my credibility as being hardworking and capable. I don’t volunteer the fact but neither do I cringe anymore when someone outs me. As I realize more of my peers have been raised by single Moms and are appreciative of how difficult the undertaking of sole-parenting is even of itself, the scarlet letter is slowly turning into a medal of honor. Once you move out of the sandbox of mediocre minds, little emphasis is placed on how you screwed up and much is placed on how you stood up and showed up.

 

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Valerie Astra Powers – Single Mom/ Producer/ Writer/ Director

What excited you: I would have never done the things I have if it weren’t for my son. I fell into a true depression when I found out that I was pregnant at 21. I had to drop out of school, had to quit a job I loved in a smoke-filled bar. As I fought through the melancholy of thinking my life was being stolen from it the struggle was won in a beautiful revelation: anything I could do without a child, I could do with a child. The scope of my dreams wasn’t so great that it couldn’t include him. I never thought that I would be a good Mom so I had never even considered having a child. I found out that being his Mom is something I’m good at because it required me to take an honest index of where my life was headed, and what I really wanted out of life. He put into perspective, by seemingly jeopardizing, everything I truly wanted – and then he became the reason for doing it all. You wouldn’t think it would work that way, but for me it did. Instead of a dead weight he became the anchor I needed to find my barrings and chart a course to where I wanted to be all along.

What challenged you: Climbing the mountain of being an ambitious artist is undeniably harder when you’re carrying a child on your hip. It paces me. I can’t get too far too fast, but for that reason I haven’t burnt out. I haven’t given up. You don’t meet many single Moms in the industry. After being active almost four years I’ve met one, and she’s hardcore. For that reason also its uncommon to encounter empathy. I find myself needing to work harder than others, to get all the same work done by the time daycare is going to close because staying late is seldom an option. I have to be a powerhouse, I don’t have room to skate by. Time is at a premium, and if I borrow time from him to invest in a meeting, or networking, or even a shoot I’ve planned for months, I have to live with the cruel sting that it is his childhood I’m siphoning time from. I know that Dads, single or otherwise, are praised for working long hours to provide and further their careers but the same charity is not always extended to Moms doing the same. Making my relationship with my son a priority and a constant effort to make the time we have together count has really helped to ease the shame I once felt at not being a stay-at-home, nor having a “normal” life with a husband and mortgage. Children are tough, they just need to see that you are constantly considering and contributing to the happiness in their life. That is a challenge all its own, and the most rewarding way to spend your life. Going to bed exhausted each night is a small concession for knowing you’re literally spending your life on something that is singularly worth your exertion. It takes every inch to make it work, to raise a happy child and still see your name at the top of call sheets, but you don’t do it because you want to you do it because you love to.

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Valerie Astra Powers – Single Mom/Producer/Writer/Director & Son

 

What you look forward to: I’ve come to think of my work as a writer/director as if it were my “other child.” The art is sometimes more needy than its corporeal brother, but generally the process of developing them both is the same – I spend quality time with both each day, and watch them both grow, and in the process I myself also grow to become better at helping them to become what they will be. Watching them develop and become actualized is the absolute expression of who I am as a person. My job in TV is merely to support them, both of them. My son and my work as an artist are essential to me and my happiness in life. I look forward to seeing what they both grow into as they take on lives of their own. With regards to both, my happiness is in knowing that all my effort will be worth it on the day that they are released into the world and that if I have done my job right they will be understood, loved, and beneficial to the lives of those who encounter them. Also, I cannot wait for my son to learn how to read – he’s getting so close!

What you think people should know:
Your child needs you to be true to yourself. I didn’t truly understand this until after I moved back to Los Angeles (because sometimes the test comes before the lesson). On the first show I worked on there was a Supervising Producers named Sarah who was filing in for my boss who was, believe it or not, out on maternity leave with her first child. Sarah was as cool as it is possible to be while still working on unscripted television. She was almost ethereal. I was girl-crush at first sight when I saw Sarah in the hallways because she just exuded originality and genuine kindness. One day we sat in her office and I opened up to her about my trepidation at raising my then 3 year old by myself in Los Angeles.

img_20160818_162848“I grew up backstage,” Sarah told me, and described to me a childhood where her father raised on the road while he produced gigantic international rock shows. The more she spoke the more I realized her awesomeness came from growing up around the planet, in the company of artists, and the “normal” life was not one she felt she missed out on. I even felt a pinch of innocent jealousy at the experiences she recounted. I was looking at the happiness in her eyes as she spoke to me. She didn’t grow up in an orthodox way, but she grew up happy and loved nonetheless.

I realized then, and still hold true, that your child needs you to be yourself. The fullest expression of yourself. They will never understand themselves unless you do. I am a weird artistic Mom, and I am raising a silly, wonderful artistic child. I tried in vain to normal myself up for years in the hopes it would help him to be normal, thinking as many Moms do that normal means happy. Happy is happy, and normal is not real. Its okay to be a strange actor/writer/director/costume designer/Executive Producer/Cinematographer Mom, to raise your child in your trailer/studio/on your set/in your workshop, as long as you do raise them. Being a Mom with a camera in your hand is no different than being a Mom with a broom in your hand, work is work and someone has to do it. You can set an example for your child in how to be happy and fulfilled in the work that you do. So long as you are genuine and loving, so long as you are emotionally present and supportive of them, so long as you take whatever time you have with them seriously in filling their childhood with meaning and magic, they will be proud of the life your career gave them. They may not be normal but they will be happy. Isn’t that the most any Mom can hope for?


1901414_10153975464270657_1915479375_nYour favorite mommy-artist story:

My first job in TV at 25 was a show for National Geographic and I was determined to make a good impression. I had heard through the grapevine that the EP hated when workers left early, and he loved seeing people working late – it mirrored his own sensibilities. Desperate to secure my spot in the production for future seasons, I worked late as often as I possibly could. I did a lot of apologizing to the sweet Israeli woman who kept him for me during the day, sometimes 14 hours all in all. That Halloween I dropped my 3 year old off at his babysitter’s in his sweet little fireman costume with the promise that when I picked him up we’d go trick or treating. My plan was to go to a fall festival at a church down the street from his baby sitter. We were still relatively new in town and the boarding house we lived at in South Central wasn’t the ideal location for trick or treating, or making eye contact with neighbors for that matter. I shouldn’t have stayed late that day, but I did. Everyone else with a child in the office had gone home. I stayed behind, just trying to get a little more work done than the guy next to me who was the same age but childless and cut early to go to WeHo. When I finally got out that night I raced up to Encino to get him but by the time we got to the church but they had closed up shop.

I felt terrible. I felt like I should have a citation against my license to parent.

“The party is over Mommy!” He said as we rolled slowly through the empty lot. I was bracing myself. This was going to get ugly. My mind was racing – how to word my apology in a way that deescalated his crying? How can I make this better once he goes nuclear in 3, 2…?

But like the Great Pumpkin, Scream-aggedon never came.

“We can just go to the store and get some candy.” He told me simply.

“YOU WANT TO DO THAT?” I asked smiling ear to ear, trying hard to feign excitement while fighting tears at how sad it was that he didn’t realize I had messed up so royally.

At the Ralph’s later I pointed him to giant bags of Halloween candy, shedding my aversion to the idea of pumping a three year old full of simple sugar in favor of medicating my disgust at being that Mom – at the store with her costumed kid because she obviously dropped the ball on Halloween. My low key prince surprised me again when he insisted he only wanted a single bag of regular M&Ms. Back in the car I buckled him in and by the time I got around to the driver’s seat he had his Star Wars Angry Birds bucket in his hands. He held it out to me, smiling.

“Trick or treat, Mommy!”

I put the M&Ms in his bucket. Then I softly cried the whole way home. Tears of self pity at my failure, and gratitude at how incredibly kind he was being in spite of it. He didn’t realize what I had done but I did, and I would not forget that feeling. I swore I would never rob him of another holiday again. I knew I got lucky this time. My son had a sweet enough heart that he wasn’t hurt by my mistake. I resolved that the only way to protect that sweet heart of his was to never test it again. All the money and success in the world isn’t worth breaking one little boy’s sweet heart.


I’m continually moved by each mother’s ability to be transparent both with the struggles and incredible strength of motherhood in our creative professions. Valerie nails the pain of disappointment while admitting the love she still has for what she does. That incredible paradox is home for many of us, and what a beautiful way to continue the conversation by hearing from a mom who has been doing this on her own.

Well done, Valerie. And thank you.

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“So long as you are genuine and loving, so long as you are emotionally present and supportive of them, so long as you take whatever time you have with them seriously in filling their childhood with meaning and magic, they will be proud of the life your career gave them.” – Valerie Astra Powers, Single Mom/ Producer/ Writer/ Director

My favorite Quotes – What are yours?

“It takes every inch to make it work, to raise a happy child and still see your name at the top of call sheets, but you don’t do it because you want to – you do it because you love to.”

– Valerie Astra Powers, Producer/Writer/Director

“Happy is happy, and normal is not real. Its okay…to raise your child in your trailer/studio/on your set/in your workshop, as long as you do raise them.”

– Valerie Astra Powers, Producer/Writer/Director

“Being a Mom with a camera in your hand is no different than being a Mom with a broom in your hand, work is work and someone has to do it.”

– Valerie Astra Powers, Producer/Writer/Director

“I realized then, and still hold true, that your child needs you to be yourself.”

– Valerie Astra Powers, Producer/Writer/Director


Be sure to write to me in the comments after you see Susie’s show! I cannot wait to read its impression on you.

More profiles coming soon!

If you are or you know a performing artist professional and mom who wants to share thoughts, answer these questions and shoot them to me at this contact form!

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2 thoughts on “What She Looks Like: Valerie Astra Powers, Producer/Writer/Director

  1. Guest June 18, 2017 / 7:24 pm

    I tried to look up your writing or directing credits and found nothing. What exactly have you directed and don’t you have any credits?

    Like

    • Auditioning Mom June 19, 2017 / 4:16 am

      Hi! Thanks for the inquiry! Valerie’s has almost 30 credits listed here on her StaffMeUp page alone – the majority being at pay level and all verifiable: http://staffmeup.com/profile/valeriepowers

      I wrote Valerie for additional info, and she gladly offered a few more relevant work pieces:

      “I directed a play called “The Golden Ticket” at the Howard Fine theater in Hollywood when I was 19, and I took a long break from directing around the time I had Rhett. In 2015 I wrote and directed a short called “Left and Leaving”, a short film called “Albatross” that was written by Meghan Warner, and a web series called “Characters on Characters”, then last year I directed a music video for the song “40 Hours” for Mateo Katsu who is an Echo Park local musician. (He and I are in talks to do something again soon). I’m about to shoot another short film called “The First Men” which is an adaptation of an award winning story by Stacy Richter and a feature film called “Consent” that is another original piece…Oh – and I directed a horror short called “Roadkill” in 2007 that was in the running for George Romero’s Diary of the Dead distribution competition. It didn’t win but we came pretty close and it was also really fun.”

      Thanks for your interest! Valerie is working non-stop, and I’m proud to offer up work info on any of our moms killin it on here. Proud to know them!

      Like

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