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The ties that bind James Ince

Toronto writer’s one-man show explores living with mental illness

James Ince’s The Ties That Bind is a semi-autobiographical solo show exploring his experiences with mental illness. Credit: Julia Fice

James Ince’s The Ties That Bind is a semi-autobiographical solo show exploring his experiences with mental illness. But when asked about the struggle that led to its creation, he’s quick to point out a flaw in my question.

“I hate it when people talk about the experience of mental illness in terms of something you suffer from,” the Toronto-based writer and performer says. “It’s not something you can get rid of, just something you can manage, so I’d rather see it as something you live with.”

Ince’s own history includes episodes of depression and a prolonged battle with bulimia, ultimately leading to a suicide attempt shortly before he turned 30. The Ties That Bind follows Sam Ward (a veiled version of Ince) as he struggles with oppressive bosses, homophobic co-workers and a mother obsessed with painting pictures of cocks. Moving back and forth in time, it lays out the puzzle pieces of Ward’s life, showing everything that’s made him the person he is.

Ince has been working on the script off and on for more than eight years, using it as a space to unpack many of the challenges he’s dealt with. Rather than writing a straight-up autobiography, he felt he’d get more theatrical mileage by putting a fictional spin on his story. Since the show isn’t just about the experience of mental illness, but also about society’s perception of those living with it, he also needed some distance from his life to reflect on it in a meaningful way.

Though Ince has been through some dark times, at the moment he seems practically upbeat.

“I’m actually doing especially well — I would even go as far as to say happy,” he says. “It’s taken a lot of work to get here, but all of that work and heartache has been worth it to bring me to the place I am today, and I’m very grateful for it all. Learning that there’s actually hope has been a powerful lesson.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Ince’s character Sam Ward.