TJ Dawe has a habit of weaving research into his autobiographical monologues. In Roller Coaster, on November 13-15, he paraphrases the book Blood Rites: Origins and History of the Passions of War by Barbara Ehrenreich. In this Q&A, TJ talks about his interest in Ehrenreich’s work, and why everyone should be as obsessed with her as he is.
Theatre Wire: How did you first discover Barbara Ehrenreich’s writing?
TJ Dawe: An aunt and uncle of mine recommended her book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, where she worked a variety of minimum wage jobs in different parts of the US, living only on the money she made from them. I read it, loved it, and have bought everything of hers I could find since then.
TW: What was it about her writing that grabbed you?
TJ: She mixes her personal experience with hard research, so you get to know an issue through the eyes of a real person and find out the facts that surround the issue. I think of her as a participatory journalist. She’s full of insights, and she’s an excellent crafter of prose. She can be brutally honest and hilariously funny. Her books are always short too, so they’re quick, easy, addictive reads.
TW: What’s your favourite book of hers?
TJ: It’s a tie between Bright-Sided, which is her look at the positive thinking industry, and Dancing in the Streets, which is a history of collective celebration. I’ve read each of those at least three times and foisted them on countless people.
TW: What made you want to include her work in Roller Coaster?
TJ: Roller Coaster combines a number of threads based on what was swirling around in me when I wrote the show in 2016 and 2017. One of the elements was the bitter partisanship and hatred surrounding the US presidential election, which has only gotten worse since then. Blood Rites is Barbara Ehrenreich’s theory about why war has been a constant in human civilization since forever. As far as I know, her theory is hers alone.
TW: What is it?
TJ: The short version is that it’s a hangover from the millennia we spent as prey to animals. We developed the ability to combine efforts to fend off big cats, and we have a lingering anxiety about being attacked by a malevolent force we can’t negotiate with. Since wild animals haven’t been much of a threat since we started building fences and living in cities and such, that anxiety needed somewhere to go, so we project it onto others. Hence, we’re still at each other’s throats, full of fear. If we don’t deal with this part of ourselves, we just might destroy everything we’ve built.
TW: Is this the major theme of the show?
TJ: That’s one thread. I also talk about the bigger significance of pop culture, about my relationship with the city of Orlando, and offer a bunch of predictions I came up with on the evening of Donald Trump’s election. And there’s miscellaneous other stuff too.
Roller Coaster runs November 13-15 at Performance Works, located at 1218 Cartwright Street on Granville Island. Buy tickets now, or purchase tickets to this show and two more Theatre Wire Package shows and save 20% on your tickets. Choose tickets to 6 or more shows and save 30%. Tickets are automatically discounted when added to your cart. Check out all the shows that are part of the Theatre Wire Package and read up on how the Package works here.