In an alternate universe, the force has moved mountains, dethroned despots and fine-tuned fighting instincts.
For Nicholas Harrison, the force has had a more tangible application — it saved his life.
Harrison is at the helm of a one-man show called How Star Wars Saved My Life, an 80-minute long play that debuts at Performance Works on Granville Island Dec. 6.
The production hones in on Harrison’s experiences as a survivor of sexual and physical abuse and how he reconciled those episodes of abuse as a teenager, and then as an adult.
“On the outside, I’ve got a doctorate, I’m a successful artist and I do all these interesting things,” Harrison says. “It sounds great. But underneath that, what people don’t see, are these hidden stories that we are taught to supress or to feel shame or guilt about. We are told to keep quiet.”
The play is set in a fictional northern B.C. town called Hopeless, and the story picks up with Harrison as a five-year-old. He is subjected to four years of rape and physical abuse from priests and others at the Catholic school he attended.
The tipping point in Harrison’s abuse came when he was nine. It happened after receiving a particularly nasty beating with an electric kettle cord. His mother saw the welts on his body, but at first, Harrison denied what happened.
“I was terrified to tell my parents what was happening because I was told it was my fault,” he says.
Harrison was pulled out of that school the next day, and entered the public school system shortly after. It was through friends he made at school that he found himself at a birthday party held at the town’s theatre complex. Party attendees were there to see Smokey and the Bandit, but Harrison snuck into a different theatre. Though he was eventually found by his friends, he saw enough of the first Star Wars film to begin his self-empowerment and healing.
“I can still visualize everything that I saw. It was this weird, shiny gold robot talking to this white kitchen garbage can,” says Harrison, 49. “Here was this movie about this seemingly mixed bag of personality types coming together and taking on such a structured organization all to help other people. That just rang so true to me.”
Harrison says his life veered towards some dark places during his teenage years: attempted suicide, overeating and weight problems, and the desire to hurt others. Of all the things that helped him, Star Wars was the catalyst. He enrolled in kendo — a martial art that emphasizes swordsmanship — got in shape, and started down a path that saw him eventually earn his doctorate in theatre history.
“The hole that religion took out of me was filled by the Star Wars universe and the idea of the force. That became my go-to as a child because the idea of the Jedi is very Zen, very Buddhist. My moral compass was gauged off of the Star Wars universe. I would think to myself, what would look Luke do? Or what would Yoda say?”
How Star Wars Saved My Life runs nightly at 8 p.m. from Dec. 6 to 10. A 2 p.m. matinee showing is also slated for Dec. 9 and 10. Ticket info is online at starwarssavedmylife.com.