Vancouver playwright, actor, and Fringe Fest favourite TJ Dawe doesn’t necessarily believe in lucky numbers, but he has noticed a particular pattern: his one-man shows evolve in increments of 25.
“Even though I know it’s coming, it’s still a surprise, and a delightful one, that at about 25 [performances], then 50, and again at 75, I feel relaxed into it in a certain new way,” Dawe says, speaking over Skype from Adelaide, Australia, where he recently tucked performance 25 of his newest monologue, Marathon, under his belt. “That’s one of the reasons I do so many festivals. No matter how rehearsed or how much time I’ve spent crafting the script, there’s no substitution for an audience.”
Vancouverites will be the lucky recipients of this iteration of Marathon, which returns to Granville Island following a successful Fringe Fest run last September.
Those familiar with Dawe’s intimate, personal, and often profoundly funny monologues won’t be surprised that Marathon treads similar ground, but this isn’t Dawe running in circles. He’s been working, he says, on getting closer to the truth of who he really is, with this production using interwoven narratives in which Dawe reconciles the past and present in the hope of moving forward. So, yes, of course that means reflecting on long-distance running, high school, his father, ’80s movies, Enneagram tests, and Satan.
“It’s hard to get into this without basically doing the show for you,” Dawe says, laughing. “There’s a part of me—and this becomes part of the show—that feels I don’t actually have any real value as a human being unless I’m always pushing the boundaries. That’s part of being on the road, being on the road in new places, and that’s part of new artistic creation. Like a blank screen or a blank stage is terra incognita. It’s terrifying, but it’s thrilling at the same time.”
Dawe says that when he was a teenager there was no escaping the message that high school was everything. His parents were both educators, his teachers assured him that it would never get better than these years, and ’80s teen movies constantly reinforced that assumption. Many of those movies also indicated that through a small burst of hard work and intention, anybody could be radically transformed and have all their problems solved.
That, obviously, turned out to be a pretty big lie, and in considering his failures as a high-school athlete, Dawe found parallels in his adult life that he wanted to explore.
“My blind spot is the belief that I don’t actually belong in any group and that I’m not fit to join any group, that groups would reject me if I tried to join,” he says. “It’s not actually the truth, but it’s what I’ve believed my entire life and then I tried to work on that.”
But Dawe also wanted to remain conscious of his tendency to equate personal worth with creative and professional success.
“They help me work through a lot of shit,” he says of his monologues, which release him to revel in the joyful absurdity of life. Marathon is equal parts art and personal exorcism, but it’s also entertainment. Balancing the heady and heavy with comedy and catharsis is Dawe’s specialty, as is wrangling multiple narrative threads into one cohesive hour.
“I do cover a lot of territory,” Dawe says. “But I speak really quickly, so there’s that.”
Marathon runs from Tuesday (March 17) to March 29 at Studio 1398 on Granville Island.