Some Assembly Theatre Company’s production of How Star Wars Saved My Life follows actor and writer Nicholas Harrison as he weaves his story of childhood abuse at the hands of priests; the subsequent years of shame, guilt, and silence; and his journey from victim to survivor to Jedi master. Save for the companionship of a life-size model of R2D2, Harrison single-handedly takes the audience on an emotional journey and breaks down barriers of silence that still hang over the experiences of male sexual abuse survivors.
Harrison was born in a cold, small town to a warm and loving family. They enrolled him in a local Catholic school, where he experienced years of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse at the hands of the school’s priests. He was told that if he spoke out to anybody about his experience, God would kill him and his family—and so he remained silent and afraid for many years. They were years that brought darkness, aggression, depression, and suicidal thoughts. But one day, as if by chance, Harrison discovered Star Wars. Its allegorical fight between darkness and light, victimhood and resilience spoke to him on a critical level, and catalyzed his slow journey towards healing.
Harrison did not get closure from the criminal justice system, nor from his abusers. He found his own answers through therapy and the alternate world of the Star Wars galaxy. How Star Wars Saved My Life reads less like a performance and more like the audience is privy to Harrison’s own therapeutic journey. We watch as he struggles with himself and with the isolation from his family and loved ones, as he tries to protect himself and the child within himself, until he ultimately finds strategies for healing.
Harrison infuses the show with just enough humour and quirkiness to make it accessible and hopeful. It is a powerful piece, one that talks about a topic with little public attention, even in the theatre. Harrison’s work is groundbreaking in bringing forward the topic of male sexual abuse survivors. It is deeply personal, yet speaks to countless other, far larger themes, including silence and shame, and the church’s lingering legacy of harm to indigenous communities. And though the play deals with heavy content matter, it does so responsibly, with counsellors present at each show. How Star Wars Saved My Life is a powerful piece, and an important one to absorb.
How Star Wars Save My Life will be running until December 10 at Performance Works on Granville Island. Grab tickets here!