Interview: Faith Salie Is Not Seeking Your Approval, but She Does Want You to See Her Show
Audible's production of Salie's Approval Junkie is running at the Minetta Lane Theatre.
Faith Salie is a multi-hyphenate. TV audiences might know her from a string of appearances on '90s shows like Married…With Children and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (a two-episode turn as Sarina Douglas netted her a trading card). Over the last two decades, Salie has become an in-demand host and journalist, contributing to CBS Sunday Morning, NPR's Wait Wait…Don't Tell Me!, and more.
In 2019, she adapted her memoir Approval Junkie: Adventures in Caring Too Much for the stage at her hometown theater, the Alliance in Atlanta. Now, after a debut that was initially announced pre-pandemic, Salie is bringing Approval Junkie off-Broadway, to Audible's Minetta Lane Theatre for a run through December 12. Here, she tells us about the experience.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What's cooler: being on a Star Trek trading card or having your own stage show?
You know, as much as I love being in the Star Trek universe, I am a theater kid, so this is beyond a dream come true. I grew up acting and doing musical theater in the seedy underbelly of children's theater in Atlanta, Georgia. I performed tons of theater in college and grad school, and then I lived for a lost decade in Los Angeles, focused on doing TV or trying to get cast to do TV.
And then, I very randomly got picked to host a national public radio show, having no experience whatsoever. And it was in New York. As I say in my show, I left LA a needy actor trying to be pretty enough to play parts written for me and landed on public radio as a disembodied voice with a brain people suddenly wanted to hear. After that, it was like, "Oh, you're on public radio? You must be smart. Write for Oprah Magazine. Be on CBS Sunday Morning. It's so interesting to me that the way most people know me now is as a host-comedian-writer, and what I feel I really am is an actor who got to do all those things. When the show premiered at the Alliance in 2019, I kept saying, "I feel like I've returned to myself."
How did you come to adapt your book into a solo piece?
The fact that the show ever happened at the Alliance Theatre is so miraculous, because I didn't make it happen. I mean, I said yes, and I wrote it, but the book came out in 2016. Many months later, on what would have been my mother's birthday, I got an email from Susan Booth, the artistic director, who I had never met. She asked if I would consider turning it into a one-woman show for their 50th anniversary season, which was 2019. And I wasn't going to play hard to get. I wrote her back. But here's the beshert thing about it — the Alliance Theater was Broadway to me as a child. Twice a year, I got to stay up late and get dressed up and we saw theater there. And that's where 8-year-old Faith was like, "I have to do that." So, to have her asked me to turn my life story into a play for the very stage where my dreams began was just such a gift. I always say that this is a dream coming true that I didn't even know to dream.
Your book is filled with stories, anecdotes. How do you pick the best ones to include in a 90-minute show?
My director is Amanda Watkins, and she is, in every sense, my collaborator. I would fly down to Atlanta and we'd sit on the floor, or she'd fly up to New York and we'd sit on the floor, trying to decide what not only deserves to be told, but in what order, because that's really important. And I cannot tell you, the Post-it notes. We would run out of Post-it notes. They'd be everywhere. We didn't want it to be as simple as starting as a kid and ending up my age now, and we didn't want it to seem like my self-possession came out of marrying the right person and having kids, even though chronologically, that's where the arc goes.
I was doing a CBS Sunday Morning profile on a very famous chef, who runs one of those restaurants where you have to be on the list for three years to get in. While the camera crew was setting up, I happened to notice a little sign that said, "Creativity is subtraction." That certainly works for his food, because it's very clean and surprising, but Amanda and I would say that all the time. Clarify and distill what needs to be taken from the book. What specific stories will resonate the most?
What about this experience are you most excited about, beyond the fact that Audible is recording it and it will live forever?
I open the show with a prologue that we wrote for this version, which is the story of taking my 104-year-old friend Ruth to vote. I'm excited to sit on the side of the stage, and when the lights come up, just very simply tell this story about this amazing, salty woman who is still with us. I talk about it in the context of approval because [when I've tweeted about her story] she was so overwhelmed by the validation and love that she got towards the end of her life. It was a real lesson to me. We all think that you get to a century of wisdom and you don't care anymore, but it doesn't work that way. And to me, that's what the essence of the show is about. It's not about people-pleasing or desperately seeking approval from everyone. It's about the journey of figuring out what approval matters and being vulnerable enough to figure out who it matters from.