There’s just a certain power in believing that this person in front of me went through these things that they’re describing – the physical as well as the emotional experiences.
That’s TJ Dawe describing the power of autobiographical monologue performances. Having been on the fringe festival circuit for 21 years and having spent the last 15 years focusing on autobiographical monologues such as Medicine, Lucky 9, The Slipknot, A Canadian Bartender at Butlin’s, and Totem Figures (any of those sound familiar from previous fringe festivals?), TJ knows a thing or two about telling his own stories while alone on stage.
That’s what he’ll be doing when Fringe Theatre Adventures is hosting him for a two-night run of his latest show, Marathon, April 17 and 18 at the ATB Arts Barns.
Marathon interweaves two different story lines together, which seem to be unrelated at first until TJ brings them together into a play that shows the importance of self-discovery and recognizing and dismantling the things that hold us back. In this case, those two story lines are his high school desire to be a track athlete that was foiled by a body that “didn’t exactly cooperate.” The second story line revolves around the Enneagram personality typology, which TJ now uses as a way to discover more about himself and mitigate the challenges that hold him back.
“Being an athlete was the way to social acceptance in high school. My dad was actually my principal and he was a coach as well and of course I wanted his approval and didn’t realize it at the time… But I kept trying and I focused mostly on track and field, so I tell the story of wanting to be part of the school’s biggest team and wanting to have this glorious finale and everybody watching and wanting to have a radical improvement like what happens in a montage in an 80s movie and ultimately discovering how unrealistic that expectation is. And then the other thread is about learning about my blind spot: getting into the Enneagram, traveling to study it, about the core teaching that I applied to my life and discovering that my blind spot is the social instinct and that’s a big gap in my life and wanting to work on it. In my late 30s I had similarly unrealistic expectations to what I had in my teens about running – that I would have this 80s montage style improvement in a short amount of times and fix it because that’s how it happens in the movies.”
For those who are skeptical about personality typing methodologies, TJ understands where you’re coming from. “Initially I had an aversion to [the Enneagram]. I didn’t want to be put into a box. I resented any system like that that involves putting people in boxes because I’m an individual and we’re all individuals so fuck that. And then I took the test anyway at the insistence of a very good friend of mine who I trust and respect. When it brought me to a chapter that outlined the personality profile that I might be according to that test and I started reading it, within a few seconds it started saying things that instantly I recognized as the truth. In some cases things that I’d never phrased before, even to myself. And I just thought, ‘This has something to teach me.’ … This connects exactly to [my blindspot in Marathon] about excluding myself from groups. Always beliveing I didn’t fit in, didn’t have anything to offer. Now, when I can get past that and experience a social situation chances are I really enjoy it and it’s really healing to me.”
Obviously TJ’s work is highly personal. “There’s a certain nudity to [autobiographical work]… It’s quite something to see someone open themselves up and let you see their vulnerability without the mask of saying, ‘This is a character’. And without the mask of it being someone else’s story, someone else’s words… There’s a vulnerability in that which helps people see that we’re all vulnerable underneath the surface that we project on the world. That to me is incredibly interesting and hugely comforting too.”
And that exposure and complete honesty is something that has drawn TJ to the monologue theatre form. “It’s just such a simple form of theatre. Just a person telling a story about something that happened. That’s it. Like someone might do in a conversation… It can completely transform you, it can take you out of yourself and take you somewhere you’ve never been. Whether it’s the other side of the world or just into someone else’s head.”
Presented in conjunction with Marathon is the workshop Developing a Creative Practice, which is led by TJ and his partner Lindsay Robertson. TJ says the workshop and the show work hand-in-hand. “Within Marathon, part of the story I tell is how I delved deeply into this personality typology that I’ve been using for years to help explore my shadows and a lot of stories come out of that, which is the source of a lot of my shows. So, I explain the structure of what I learned this particular time and that structure is what we use in the workshops to explore we get in our own way in terms of having some creative thing that they like to do on a regular basis… The goal of the workshop is to help people access their creativity. Because I believe everybody has the capacity to be creative… I think everybody would be happier and emotionally healthier if each of us did something creative on a regular basis: painting or woodworking or crocheting or acting or playing an instrument – whatever it is. Whether there’s any chance of becoming professional at it or not. People tend to lock those two things together. ‘If I’m not going to become rich and famous doing it, forget it, why bother?’ As opposed to, ‘I want to do this because it’s fun. Because it makes me feel alive.’ The workshop is all about figuring out how and why we stopped doing that.”
Marathon runs in the PCL Studio Theatre at the ATB Arts Barns April 17 and 18. Tickets are $21 through Fringe Theatre Adventures. The Developing a Creative Practice workshop is from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Saturday, April 18. Registration is $100 and includes a ticket to Marathon.
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