ORLANDO – The Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival kicks off at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 18 at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, and this year the nearly three-week long festival will feature the largest line-up of shows in its history.
One of the most popular trends is performers who are actors, playwrights, and directors all in one — and who perform solo shows. That will include “Burn Job,” written and performed by T.J. Dawe. This will be T.J.’s thirteenth Orlando Fringe, and his 103rd Fringe worldwide. In “Burn Job,” he tells stories about quantum leaps he’s made on altered states, including his experience with holotropic breathwork — “which brings you into an altered state with a simple breathing technique,” he noted. The show also features a new element in TJ’s approach: “many, many sound cues,” he said, which he’ll operate live on stage.
Freeline Media asked T.J. about his show, and here’s what he had to say.
FM: How did you get involved in writing and acting solo shows?
T.J.: I went to theatre school. I did okay in my acting classes — but not great. I auditioned. Rarely got cast. And fair enough, y’know? I didn’t put that much effort into my auditions. I just wasn’t passionate about Chekhov. Or Shakespeare. Or Caryl Churchill. Or Neil Simon. The artists who really got my bells ringing were Spalding Gray, George Carlin, Daniel MacIvor — a Canadian solo performer — people who created their own material, who did their own thing, their own way, who owned the stage, who blazed new paths into the unknown.
I had no experience as a writer. I’d never taken a writing course. But I wrote a lot. Poems, journal entries, I’d sit down with a pen or at a typewriter and barf out my thoughts. Just because it felt good.
So my love and admiration for these courageous artists mixed with my inclination to crystallize my thoughts and feelings in words and sentences — and my frustration with not being in most of the plays that were happening in my theatre department. And I wrote my first solo show while still a student. Got a better response for that than I’d ever had for any play, any scene work, anything at all. And I’ve been doing it ever since.
FM: What do you find most invigorating and stimulating about doing a solo performance in front of a Fringe audience.
T.J.: Nudity. And I don’t mean boobs and butts. A solo performer has no castmate to rely on. Usually the script is their own, too. In my case, it always is. Just one person up there, saying “This is me, folks. This is what I’ve got. Whaddaya think?” There’s massive vulnerability in doing that. The danger of that is tremendously exciting. The greater the risk, the bigger the pay-off when you can actually make it happen and reach people.
FM: How will “Burn Job” differ from your past Fringe shows?
T.J.: The most tangible way it’s different is that it’s loaded with sound cues. I have an elaborate sound design, and play bits of music and sound effects that are intrinsic to the story. And the cues and my vocal mic are patched through a sound pad with all kinds of effects, so I can manipulate them to simulate being in altered states.
A less obvious way it’s different is that usually my shows braid various stories and ideas together. Story a, story b, story a, story b. Jumping from one to the other without tangents. I don’t do that in “Burn Job.” This show is structured with stories nested within stories within stories within stories, reemerging to the original story. Nested memories, basically. One thing leads to another.
FM: What’s the origins of this particular piece, and what do you hope to accomplish?
T.J.: A year and a half ago I had an experience with holotropic breathwork, which is a breathing technique that brings you into an altered state comparable to being on acid, or ayahuasca. It’s done in a therapeutic setting, and I had a vivid experience, which linked up to my first acid trip in my late teens — a period of my life I’d found myself thinking about a lot. The relation of one to other suddenly became apparent, and boom, a show was born.
What I hope to accomplish is the same as what I hope for every show I bring to the Fringe: to take the audience on a ride. If the show gets people looking at their own stories in a new way, that’s a bonus. A major theme in this show is questioning the story you’ve been telling yourself for all these years. It can be very healing to discover the parts of ourselves we’ve disowned or ignored, and bring them back into the fold.
FM: How do you find Fringe audiences respond to solo shows.
T.J.: It really depends on the show. Some are hilarious, some are heartbreaking. Some knock your socks off, some make you wish you had a blunt object you could clobber yourself to death with so you didn’t have to be there anymore.
What I consistently find with Fringe audiences is a desire to be played with. If they wanted the same old same old, they wouldn’t be at the Fringe. Fringe audiences want to see something they get, done in a way they’ve never seen before. They want innovation. They want to see things transform before their eyes. Doesn’t matter if it’s done on a low budget. Doesn’t matter if it’s one performer or thirty. Surprise me. Delight me. Don’t leave me behind. Make me see the familiar in a whole new way.
And what performer could ask for a better attitude in the audience than that?
“Burn Job” is being performed in the Black Venue on the following dates:
* Saturday, May 21 at 1 p.m.
* Sunday, May 22 at 1 p.m.
* Monday, May 23 at 7 p.m.
* Tuesday, May 24 at 7 p.m.
* Saturday, May 28 at 1 p.m.
* Sunday, May 29 at 1 p.m.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright and author of the book “Bloody Rabbit”. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..