Written, produced, and starred in by Mia Raye Smith, I Am Hope, playing at the Toronto Fringe Festival, is an autobiographical account about what it is like to live with mental illness, how to deal with anxiety, and the struggle that comes with it on a day to day basis.
Coincidentally, I watched I Am Hope just a couple of hours after watching SELF-ish. Here is another one-woman show and in some ways, another one that dealt with similar themes of loss and the sorrows that come with it.
Unlike SELF-ish however, I Am Hope is less about Mia’s relationship with the grandfather she lost or the outgoing life-of-the-party mother she looked up to. Instead I Am Hope is focused on her own self, where she fit in in the world growing up, from her early years in Detriot to moving to New York City in her most formative years, and her own journey to recovery. It is, for lack of better words, more about hope, less about disappointments.
There’s a particular cadence to Smith’s performance. She wants you to laugh, wants you to experience her story as if you are a wide-eyed participant. Smith takes you along with her from her days as a young girl, spending countless hours watching rental movies from Blockbuster, and boldly rejecting boys over the phone because she’s too busy watching said movies. It’s charming and endearing and I am all in.
Here’s the thing though: to say that I Am Hope left me reeling only in laughter is not enough. There is sadness too. There were tears, but these moments of despair are brief and understated. There were moments of struggle when confronted with the reality of how inexplicably stifling and impossibly hard to understand anxiety disorders and panic attacks are.
For a one-woman show, Smith carried herself and her story throughout the entire 40 minutes so well that by the time the lights dimmed back to black, I couldn’t believe it was over. Part of what moved the show was how the lights and the sounds helped transition from one scene to the next, flawlessly weaving each vignette of her story.
As I write this review, I find that there is a different weight to the production and development of a show as personal and as difficult as this, shared so openly with an audience of strangers. If Smith’s intention is to create better and more positive dialogues about mental health, she succeeds in I Am Hope, doing so with just the right amount of wit, charm, and vulnerability.
- I Am Hope plays at Tarragon Theatre – Solo Room (30 Bridgman Ave)
- Tickets are $12. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1026), from the Fringe Club at Scaddling Court, and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Content Warnings: Not recommended for persons under 14 years of ago
- This venue is not accessible.
- Thursday 6th July, 09:30pm
- Friday 7th July, 06:30pm
- Saturday 8th July, 05:00pm
- Sunday 9th July, 02:45pm
- Monday 10th July, 04:00pm
- Tuesday 11th July, 08:30pm
- Thursday 13th July, 04:30pm
- Saturday 15th July, 08:00pm
Photo of Mia Raye Smith by Keith MacDonald