Theatre that Transforms Us – 2016/17 Season Retrospective

Cotton candy cocktails, ghosts, riots, vans stuck in the snow, standing ovations, tears and a lot of laughter. It really is hard to believe that another season has gone by – our 17th one in Winnipeg to be exact! Just over a year ago, we launched a season themed on Transformation and it truly was life-changing.

Breaking Through
“They were commenting on how they thought they were the only ones feeling a certain way until seeing this play and being able to realize that they are not alone.” – Loveeza Arshad, Friends Housing

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The cast of Breaking Through takes a bow

Thanks to your support we enjoyed an incredibly successful run of the culmination of our Mental Health project. We hope the dialogue will continue outside the theatre for some time to come. We’ll keep you posted as we work towards publishing the play!

 

IWW 2017 Starting Over
“Engaging and inspiring, these powerful performances rooted in real experiences provided brilliant insight. In our case, the complex realities of both youthful and mature immigrant women were are the forefront. Exploring these themes is so vital, with increased cultural diversity and amid global striving for women’s rights. Women of all nations and cultures can relate to themes of place, space, marginalization, hope, potential…”– Pamela Hadder, Agape House-Eastman Crisis Centre

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A packed house at IWW2017: Starting Over

This year, we worked closely with newcomer women and girls and the results were some incredible pieces.  We were proud to provide a platform for women’s stories, to promote equity on Canadian stages and to provide access to the arts. A great big thank you goes out to Manitoba Status of Women and the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg. Without them, this Cabaret would not be possible. Special thanks to Neighborhoods Alive! and NERI for supporting our North End performances.

One Night Stand Series
“Amazing job, everyone! And for those involved in [my piece], thank you so much for helping me bring that world to life… Truly an inspirational night!” –  Marjorie Roden, featured playwright

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One Night Stand Fringe Frenzy! at Carol Shields Festival of new Works

With the help of producer Tatiana Carnevale and Prairie Theatre Exchange we re-launched the One Night Stand playreading Series. The Series gives playwrights the opportunity to test their work, while giving audiences a chance to take part in their development process.  Look out for the launch of One Night Stand next season at closing night of FemFest! We will be featuring readings from Judith Thompson and our most celebrated local playwrights.

 

Workshops for Emerging Artists
“So much good info!”
“Extremely beneficial”
“It was great! More workshops!” – Feedback from workshop participants

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Our Artistic Director Hope McIntyre facilitates at Auditioning 101

We served 85 emerging artists with our Emerging Artist workshop series this season.
We tackled some of our most-requested workshops this year with Grantwriting & Taxes for Artists, Auditioning 101 and Mock Auditions for Advanced Actors.  We thank our partners Winnipeg Arts Council, Manitoba Arts Council, ACI Manitoba, Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, Theatre Projects Manitoba and Winnipeg Jewish Theatre for helping us support education opportunities for emerging artists. Plans for the 2017/18 Emerging Artists Workshop Series are already underway! Drop us a line if there is a workshop you’d like to see.

North End Workshop Series
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to study theatre but now I’m sure!” – Sabil, youth participant

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Youth facilitator Erica Wilson offers direction as the youth participants work on their scene

We kicked-off 2017 with a focused series of theatre workshops for North End youth. Youth Coordinators Frances Koncan and Cherrel Holder alongside a series of guest artists, introduced theatre techniques and worked on scenes with youth. On February 22nd we celebrated with a showcase of the youth involved. We have already heard from multiple youth that they have decided to pursue theatre and we look forward to supporting them with mentorship in 2017/18.

 

 


Women’s Comedy Night Fundraiser

“Congratulations! What a great evening!!” – Brigit Krasovec
“Great turn out! Amazing show.” – Tim Gray

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Actions shots of some of the comedians at the Women’s Comedy Night Fundraiser

We took a leap and tried something brand new with our comedy fundraiser. We teamed up with Winnipeg’s hilarious women comedians to produce the Women’s Comedy Night. The event saw unprecedented success—selling out and packing the venue with an incredible mix of Sarasvàti supporters and comedy fans. We had a blast and you better believe we’ll be doing this again next year.

 

 


Shattered
High School Tour

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The cast of Shattered

“Things aren’t what they seem and we should never assume things about people. I learned a lot and I
could tell my fellow audience members also learned something new. I realized a lot more people in our
school had experience with mental illness than I thought.” -Student at Fort Richmond Collegiate

We broke pervious records by performing to 6,161 youth and educators in Manitoba. Shattered has received overwhelming praise from teachers and students alike. It was also transformative for the cast who were touched by the number of youth who approached them after performances to share their own struggles with mental health.


FemFest2016: Transformation

We were proud to present such provocative touring shows as Miss Understood, Mouthpiece, as well as clown favourites Morro & Jasp Do Puberty. The world premiere of the previous year’s Bake-Off winner Sherry MacDonald’s The Seduction Theory made a huge impact as audiences discussed the ways we continue to victim-blame.

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These are just a few of our highlights. What stood out for you? Save the date for August 4th at 7pm and stay tuned for exciting details about our 2017/18 season launch.

FemFest Celebrates 15 Years!

Our beloved festival in support of women playwrights turns 15 this year! We are celebrating with the theme Coming of Age and a line-up that will blow you away.

We are ecstatic to be bringing in one of the most highly regarded playwright’s in Canadian history, two-time Governor General award-winning playwright Judith Thompson!  Thompson will join us for Mulgrave Road Theatre’s production of her play Watching Glory Die,  a harrowing play based on the true story of Ashley Smith. She will also teach a playwriting master class (September 20, 21 and 22 from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.) give a Real Thing lecture and be part of the Human Library ™.

Tomboy Survival Guide is a live stage experience that defies genre and gender boxes with fearless truth-telling and compassionate defiance. Ivan Coyote and an all-tomboy band take the audience on a musical journey navigating the narrow halls of public washrooms, skirting the childhood threat of being picked to be a flower girl, triumphing over tying a double Windsor knot, and discovering the beauty in being handsome, not pretty, all along. This is also our first time taking FemFest to the West End Cultural Centre!

We focus our in-house attention on producing Two Indians by Falen Johnson directed by Sonya Ballantyne. After years apart two cousins meet in a Toronto alley to recreate a ceremony from their childhood, but can they remember how? When the words missing and murdered, truth and reconciliation, occupation and resistance are everywhere, how do two Mohawk women stand their ground?

We’ll share a workshop preview of New Beginnings, a work in development created with the Winnipeg newcomer and refugee community.  Come and see a preview of this exciting culmination of story and dance from around the world.
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As a company dedicated to transforming society through theatre, we’ve witnessed the impact  that story-sharing can have on breaking down stereotypes and prejudices. This year we are thrilled to present a Human Library ™ as part of FemFest.  In partnership with the Millennium Library, Sarasvàti Productions has curated an incredible line up of Human Books that you can ‘take out’ for a one-of-a-kind learning experience.

Bake off 2016The beloved Bake-Off is back! This FemFest favourite challenges 5 local female playwrights to write a scene in 8-hours using three key top-secret ingredients. Scenes will be performed as part of the Festival on Sept. 18.
Winner of the FemFest 2016 Bake-Off, Jessy Ardern presents a reading of her play in progress, Kit and Joe.

WebFor ages 6 and up, Castlemoon Theatre presents Grounded Heroes. 10 year old Jess loves Lego, but her friends think it’s childish and weird. While researching a class assignment, Jess encounters three girls from history who were also a little bit weird for their time, and together they discover what it means to be true to yourself.

And you definitely won’t want to miss our closing night! This season, we brought our classic One Night Stand play reading series back with a vengeance. In honour of Winnipeg’s own celebrated female playwrights we’re curating a special One Night Stand dedicated to showcasing works in progress by some of these prolific writers who will be joined by Judith Thompson.

Workshops, readings and a dynamite Opening Cabaret will be a staple again this year. Get your passes now and celebrate 15 years of FemFest!

The Power of Story: Sarasvàti presents human rights activist Ali Saeed

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A delicious traditional Ethiopian meal prepared at Gohe Restaurant. Photo by Serge Gumenyuk, The Uniter.

An amazing meal, a powerful story and supporting inspiring theatre – what more could you want in an evening! On Thursday June 15th at 6pm join Sarasvàti Productions for a full course meal of traditional Ethiopian food followed by the powerful story of award-winning human rights activist, Ali Saeed. Fresh from speaking at the 2017 Winnipeg TEDx, Ali joins us to share his transformational experience in support of transformational theatre.

Ali Saeed is a former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience [i] who was imprisoned on more than one occasion because of his work as a human rights defender in his home country of Ethiopia. He spent a total of seven years in custody and was held in eleven different prisons during his incarceration in Ethiopia and Somalia. He was tortured and subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment during this period.  After being released from imprisonment in Somalia in 1984, Ali Saeed immigrated to Manitoba.

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Ali Saeed

Even though he had survived unimaginable horrors as a direct consequence of his human rights activities in Ethiopia, Ali immediately resumed these efforts in Manitoba by working on behalf of other refugees seeking safety from persecution while placing emphasis on promoting the rights of women.

Since arriving in Manitoba Ali has transformed the lives of many. Ali has worked to sponsor 104 refugees through the Ethiopian Society of Winnipeg by working in collaboration with Hospitality House and the Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, traveled to Parliament Hill along with his daughter to present a petition highlighting concerns about women who had been disappeared or were being held as political prisoners in Ethiopia and produced the award winning Memories of a Generation, a feature length documentary on human rights which has reached over 5,000 people in Europe and North America.

Hear Ali Saeed speak at Honouring Courage and Celebrating Diversity on June 15th at Gohe Ethiopian Restaurant. The evening includes a world-class Ethiopian meal, a silent art auctions and more. Tickets are just $45 (tax receipt for $25) and available at our office – call 204-586-2236 or info@sarasvati.ca. All funds raised will support the transformative theatre work of Sarasvàti Productions.

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[i] Prisoners of conscience are individuals who have been imprisoned solely for the peaceful expression of their beliefs or because of their race, gender or other personal characteristics.

Breaking the Silence Together

We have been honoured to hear about how Breaking Through affected audiences and all of those involved. Through the course of the run, over 600 people saw the play. From initial story-gathering workshops to the lively panel discussions that followed select performances, so many people have spoken up about their experience with mental health. Here are some snapshots of what people have had to say.

“Amazing show! Thank you Sarasvati for bringing mental health issues to light and sharing the struggles breaking down stereotypes and stigma! BRAVO!” – Debbie Radi (Facebook)

18738812_10158648658995328_1417637719958705646_o“What a show!! Giving us some hard truths about mental illness… and plenty of fine acting. Real, relevant reportage from one of the front lines of human suffering (and it’s also good theatre).” – Kevan Bowkett (Facebook)

“I had a great time at Sarasvati Productions’ Breaking Through. It’s so important to talk about mental health and illness. It meant so much to meet Hope McIntyre and her colleagues!” – Angela Taylor

Thanks to generous donors, we were able to provide access to those who would not otherwise have been able to attend.

“First off, thank you so much for providing the financial ease on Friends Housing as we are a non-profit organization and also for contacting us to come see this breathtaking play. I brought three residents. There were tears but also laughter, but most importantly they were very engaged. All three of them felt a real connection to the play and empathized for the characters. They were even commenting on how they thought they were the only ones feeling a certain way until seeing this play and being able to realize that they are not alone. Thank-you again for inviting Friends Housing, we had a wonderful time.” -Loveeza Arshad, staff at Friends Housing Inc.

“A few of our volunteers were able to watch “Breaking Through” by Sarasvati Productions last weekend. “It was a very moving portrayal of people with differing mental health needs. It was very real, graphic at times, and they didn’t shy away from confronting the hard issues. Excellent actors and very true to life!” – Corrie Neil, Volunteer Coordinator at Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba.

We were excited to share the stage with a diverse range of speakers in our panel discussions. We are overwhelmed with gratitude for all of those who shared experiences and perspectives after performances.

“It helped overcome the fear of interacting with someone with a mental health condition which would probably be a big factor in stigmatization.” – Dana Rungay, Red Threads Playback Theatre

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“I’ve experienced mental health challenges due to living with a chronic illness. For many years, it was something I felt I couldn’t talk about. Through online support groups, I discovered the power of shared experience, which has been integral to both my physical and mental health. I feel honoured to be in a play rooted in real mental health journeys, expressed with such honesty, respect, and humour. As my character Stef says, ‘silence is the illness.’ I hope the audience will keep talking long after the show is over, whether it be in reflection of their own experiences or others in their lives.” – Elena Anciro ‘Stef’ in Breaking Through

“The story of Breaking Through reminds me to respect the inherent value of every human being, sick or well. All people have needs, feelings, & wishes.” – Harry Nelken ‘Joe’ in Breaking Through

“There is massive pressure from our social media world to look a certain way, or act a certain way, and I think seeing Val struggle with This concept will really resonate with audiences.” – Spenser Payne ‘Val’ in Breaking Through

“I know [the playwrights] have talked with people, from every aspect possible, – in mental health centres, in hospitals, in drop in centres, in the community as a whole and what they have developed – both with Shattered and with Breaking Through – is a very real snapshot. We all share the parts of being through Spiritual, Emotional, Mental, and Physical. It’s important to address all aspects for balance. This is why Breaking Through resonates with me. It is bringing to balance one area of our whole.” – Marsha Knight, Female Ensemble in Breaking Through

Breaking Through resonates with me because it echoes a few of the personal experiences I had in my own life. Members of my own family have struggled with mental illness. As a child I endured first-hand trauma as a result of psychotic and manic episodes that a family member was going through. The underlying message of Breaking Through is that we all need to re-think how we treat those dealing with different lived experiences due to their unique minds or their circumstances.” – Josh Ranville, ‘KoKo’ in Breaking Through

We could not have envisioned a stronger creative team to have pulled this project together. Every artist involved has brought something unique to Breaking Through. Thank you to everyone who made Breaking Through such a huge success!
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Breaking Through has everyone talking!

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Molly (Dorothy Carroll) and Kennedy (Marsha Knight) are turned away from an emergency shelter.

Breaking Through opened on Tuesday and has had everyone talking since.

“Saw Breaking Through yesterday, and recommend it, it is honest but done with humour too. Still shows this week. I love all the characters, especially KoKo.” – Mary Scott

“I identify with some of the characters as I have gone through mental struggles of my own… I think what it certainly got across very well was that each character was a sort of individual element, not of their own choosing, but they’re trying to find some means of attaining normalcy. This is what I’ve gone through—the struggle to find normalcy when you have a condition that leaves you feeling anything but.”  – Patrick Lowe, Winnipeg Filmmaker

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KoKo (Josh Ranville) is visited by her spirit guide (Marsha Knight)

“Brilliantly done and very well-researched. The actors really took on the roles. Everybody’s characters just stay with you.” – Angela, audience member

Check out a feature in The Times on actor Harry Nelken who plays Joe, a 72 year old character who has been living with schizophrenia since he was 19. Read the Winnipeg Free Press preview by Randall King and the blog review by Winnipeg theatre artist Lorraine James. Breaking Through has also been featured in the Winnipeg Free Press Arts & Culture, CBC News, The Herald, The Lance, The Pilipino Express, Global News Morning and more!

Come and see for yourself. There are four performances left! To see a performance schedule and book you tickets click here.

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“Plays like this are good messages. They’re valuable, in a sense. What I also like about the play is it was meant to be entertaining throughout. It wasn’t really a ‘downer’. It was trying to be an ‘upper’” – Patrick Lowe, Winnipeg filmmaker

Photos by Janet Shum.

 

 

Review: “Breaking Through”

An insightful response to the preview of “Breaking Through.”

Lorraine James

I’ve done several shows with Sarasvati Productions and have seen many more. I love the diversity of voices expressed in this company and that every piece challenges you to think, planting a seed about the subject matter. I never know how entertaining or educational the piece will be with any theatre until it’s finished.Going into this, I wonder if the title means to break through stereotypes about mental illness, about an individual breaking through to come out onto the other side of “sanity”, for their surrounding circle of friends and family to break through and communicate with the individual?

Breaking Throughis an hour and a half long play about a diverse group of people struggling with their mental health, finding their way to surviving every single day as they do so. Not focusing on a particular illness but commenting on how mental illness itself is being perceived. The show…

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Keeping the Conversation Going – Panel Discussions at Breaking Through

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Joe (Harry Nelken) takes it upon himself to welcome Stef (Elena Anciro) at the Mental Health Centre in Breaking Through

Speaking up is the seed of Breaking Through. Feeling able to speak, qualified to speak, and comfortable to speak are some of the challenges we’ve heard from the 400 Manitobans we worked with in the story-gathering phase of this project. Without the generosity and bravery of the individuals who contributed, this play would not have been possible. Now that Breaking Through has come this far, debuting to public audiences in a week, we want to keep the conversation open.

We have put together a series of panel discussions to take place after select performances of Breaking Through. We hope these panels will keep the conversation going while responses are fresh. Check out our panel discussion schedule to plan your experience.

May 24, 8pm –  The Creation Process Panel – Shirley Grierson and Dana Rungay of Red Threads Playback Theatre with Cairn Moore, co-writer of Breaking Through.

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Cairn Moore, Dana Rungay, Bequie Lake and Karissa Martins at Selkirk Mental Health Centre

Playback Theatre is a form of improvisational theatre that starts with listening deeply to people’s stories and then transforming them spontaneously into theatre. It is especially powerful in honouring the voices of people from marginalized communities and in helping to build understanding across differences.  Dana Rungay is a founder of Red Threads of Peace Playback Theatre. The traditional use of the arts of storytelling, music and dance are natural ways of restoring connection and community – the social support determinant of health.  This was the intention of their Playback Theatre involvement at Selkirk Mental Health Centre in collaboration with Sarasvàti Productions in the development process of Breaking Through.

 

 

May 25 , 8pm – Breaking Barriers Panel– Bryan Young, Dara Hallock, Danielle Sicotte, Co-Executive Directors and Event Director of the Breaking Barriers Summit on Mental Health.

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The Breaking Barriers Summit on Mental Health was the first student–led, multi university conference on mental health in the province. This year, they launched a collaborative initiative that brought together students from the three major academic institutions in our province. Students from the University of Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg & L’Université de Saint-Boniface joined together in an effort to not only reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, but to also effectively break down the barriers between our academic institutions.

May 26, 8pm – Varied Perspectives Panel – Jan DeFehr, Patricia Johnstone and the Winnipeg Police Service Vulnerable Persons Unit.

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Kennedy (Marsha Knight) seeks help for her sister Molly (Dorothy Carroll) in Breaking Through

Jan DeFehr, MSW, PhD, has twenty years experience as a clinical social worker in programs focused on youth ‘corrections’, violence in intimate partner relationships, crisis & trauma, and suicide prevention. She is an Associate of The Taos Institute, an honourary faculty member of the Houston-Galveston Institute, and a regular lecturer with The Kanankil Institute in Mérida Mexico. An Assistant Professor in the University of Winnipeg Faculty of Education, Jan presents her work locally and internationally and teaches mental health courses that expose and confront the misinformation and potential for harm in mainstream mental health services.

Pat Johnstone is the Mother of three children, all of whom have experienced some form of severe and persistent mental illness.  She is an advocate for improving the community supports, such as appropriate housing and benefits, to help the mentally ill to succeed in their recovery journey.  She chairs the Family Advisory Committee (friends and family members of patients) for the Selkirk Mental Health Centre (SMHC).

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KoKo (Josh Ranville) is visited by spirit guide (Marsha Knight)

Perspectives on this topic are just as varied as the people they come from. We don’t expect everyone to agree with what all the characters expresses in Breaking Through. Whatever your response is, we want to hear it. We encourage you to share any and all responses to the show. The panels provide a chance for dialogue and much needed discussion.

Breaking Through runs from May 23-28 at the Asper Centre for Theatre & Film.  Tickets are available in advance or at the door.

Watch a behind the scenes video by Ora Walker.