Vancouver actor-playwright TJ Dawe will be in Nelson this Saturday performing his deeply personal dramatic monologue Medicine, about his experience at a healing retreat led by author, doctor and activist Gabor Mate.
Dawe, a longtime fan of Mate’s work, signed up for the week-long retreat with only a vague idea of what might go on there. He knew that he’d be expected to ingest the Peruvian shamanic psychotropic plant brew ayahuasca — that was okay with him. But he didn’t realize he’d be expected to take part in group therapy sessions — something that terrified him.
“I might not have gone if I’d known it was going to be like that,” Dawe admits. “For someone who feels socially alienated, like I have all my life, spending days sitting in a big cycle sharing our feelings, it’s just not something I’d like to do.”
Though Dawe has built a career on sharing his personal experiences on stage, he says talking about these things off script is totally different.
“On stage it’s scripted and rehearsed and I’m in complete control of what I’m revealing and what I’m not, and the audience only has certain means of responding,” Dawe explains. “In a group therapy session, anyone can speak at anytime and you have to engage with people individually — it’s much different and much more frightening for me.”
But the initial discomfort of therapy was nothing compared to what he’d go through when he finally tried the ayahuasca.
“It was the worst night of my life,” he says unequivocally. “It was physically grueling and emotionally painful. I was really brought to my lowest point.”
The drug has a different effect on everyone, and a different effect on each person every time they do it. During the second ayahuasca ceremony of the retreat, he had a much better experience.
“I don’t know if I would have gotten to that place [of healing] if I hadn’t had the bad experience first,” Dawe says.
Reflecting back on the experience, Dawe says he has no regrets. But he says it’s not for everyone. “I would never lightly recommend it to anyone. If anyone were to do it, they need to know they could be in for the worst night of their life.”
The play runs 90 minutes, with no intermission. It’s performed on a bare stage, and has minimal technical cues. Dawe will answer questions following the show.
Medicine is coming to Nelson through the support of Nelson actor Lucas Myers, a old theatre school friend of Dawe’s. Myers usually produces his own show this time of year, but decided to focus his efforts on bringing Dawe here instead.
The show is Saturday, October 5 at 8 p.m. at the Capitol Theatre. All tickets are $20, available in advance at the Capitol Theatre box office and at capitoltheare.bc.ca.