1 woman. 10 characters. How theatre freed Raven Dauda from her own addictions
In her new play Addicted, Dauda plays multiple characters in various stages of recovery
For Amy Winehouse it was alcohol. For David Duchovny it was sex. For Prince it was opioids.
It's not a secret that many high performing artists have struggled with mental health and addiction while producing some of their most well-known works — but while addiction has meant tragic consequences for far too many people to name, some artists have investigated their own recovery stories to create some of the most honest, vulnerable and inspiring work of their careers.
Dora Award-winning actress Raven Dauda — now two years sober and counting — did just that, opening up about her own struggles with alcohol, smoking and sugar addiction in her new play Addicted. Addicted looks at many well-worn forms of addiction — sex, drugs, alcohol — but also delves into less talked about compulsive behaviours such as gaming and hoarding. It is an intergenerational story, set primarily in the Saving Grace rehab clinic, with Raven playing multiple characters in various stages of recovery.
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When Raven started drinking, it was both as a socially accepted behaviour amongst her peers in the service industry, as well as liquid courage for a shy young artist. Internally, she struggled deeply with self-esteem, but outwardly, she presented confidently. This informs the play and its choices not to sensationalize stories of addiction — straying far away from incoherent characters, overdoses or drunk driving depictions. Instead, each character you meet — whether it be a friend, family member or co-worker — reminds us that for most, addiction is deeply hidden, rooted in our family histories and normalized through our daily routines, which makes it much more difficult to detect and resolve.
In my initial days of sobriety, I needed creative projects to keep myself busy and to also address what was going on. This play closely follows my experience.- Raven Dauda, playwright and actress
From Star Trek: Discovery to Orphan Black, 'Da Kink in My Hair to Suits, Raven has played her fair share of characters over the years, but began to think about the stories that were important for her to tell. While studying the Anitafrika method under d'bi young anitafrika at the Watah theatre — a methodology that involves deep internal exploration and the creation of biomyths — Raven decided to mine her untold personal trauma and transform it into art. This is where Addicted was born. The creation of the piece helped her to focus her sobriety into something creative and to unpack the unhealthy narratives she once held about herself. All of this while allowing her to play in a space that was safe and familiar to her: the stage.
"In this play, the [characters] allowed to look at many issues within the world of addiction that I myself had challenges in addressing," she says. "It freed me."
Art can be a powerful tool for healing. Presented in the round, at times it feels like an invitation into a therapy session. The result is a candid, often humorous conversation, about addiction, recovery and self compassion. While she does not view the play as brave — "I don't know really if I would call it brave. I think, it's really something that I had to do because there's still a feeling of shame around it that I personally am working through" — it has inspired courage in some who have seen it, to share their own stories.
"One show, a kid came in and during the talkback he said, 'This is my first day sober.' The air just went out of the room. People are coming out and opening up themselves and that's how change happens."
Addicted. By Raven Dauda. Until April 21. Aki Studio Daniels Spectrum, Toronto. www.addictedtheplay.ca