Self-Care in the age of COVID-19

As we approach the ninth month of a pandemic and we start to get more and more snow, the feeling of pandemic fatigue weighs quite heavy on our consciousnesses. Today, I turned to my theatre community online looking for inspiration on Self-Care in the age of COVID-19.

Hi, my name is angelica schwartz, and I followed the fad of buying a Nintendo Switch at the beginning of the pandemic to play Animal Crossing only to sell it two months after to pay some bills. I am a mediocre sour-dough baker, theatre artist, and the Marketing and Community Outreach Manager at Sarasvàti Productions.

When we went through our first lockdown in March, I was living alone in a basement suite with very little sunlight in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal. I was in my last month of the Directing Program at the National Theatre School of Canada (NTS). For three months, the only person I saw was my amazing playwright friend, Gillian Clark, who also lived alone.

We had very strict rules in place to keep both of us safe. Gill taught me a lot about self-compassion and self-care during that period. We both graduated NTS together in May 2020, but during the April lockdown, we put all our energy into creating our final school project together. Throughout our creation time, we would have long social distant walks to check in with one another. We would leave snacks on each other’s doorsteps. We would send photos of sunsets with pink cotton-candy skies to remind each other, ça va aller (a French saying that translates as “it will be fine”).

a brown paper bag with sharpie writing on it that says "angelica" in an alley way.
a little package Gillian left outside my apartment

I asked Gill what her methods of self-care during a pandemic were and her response was, “Honestly, just hearing about other people’s ideas and jamming with them. I think it’s all about feeling a sense of worth and meaning”.

I really appreciated that response. I remember a dramatic shift happened within me at the beginning of lockdown. I have been living in a self-focused path for the past few years, but now all I can think about is community, community building, and practising radical empathy as a form of healing, forgiving myself for mistakes I have made in the past. I thank adrienne maree browns book, Emergent Strategy, for that.

Over two years ago, I was living in Winnipeg and working full-time as a Barista. I spent most of my life working various theatre production jobs (usher, technician, IATSE calls, various design gigs, but primarily stage management), I even went to two theatre schools for production (but only graduated one of them), and yet I was feeling so unsatisfied. I was severely burnt out and frustrated that I was taught that mental health in the arts was not a priority.

In desperate need of change and the hunger for more creativity, I looked into directing and creating new work. I applied to NTS, a program that only accepts two people every two years, looking for the universe to give me some sort of sign, and the universe returned my call. I need to add that the call was also paired with my best friend singing “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” by Rod Stewart, loudly, in the room next door, as I received my acceptance call.

a pink and purple sky sunset on a street

I spent those two years really focused on my self-growth. Focused on self-care for not only me but the health of my collaborators. When Tiohtià:ke/Montreal went into our first lock-down, I watched the majority of my classmates/friends leave town and return to their respected communities and families. It made me really question, who is my community? What does home look like to me? Having a nomadic history, that last question was especially challenging, but the answer I kept coming back to was Winnipeg.

With the desire to reconnect, it felt natural that I move back to Winnipeg to be with the community I feel most close to. Even though I am not able to reconnect in person, I feel very grateful for the last-minute move. I now live in a beautiful affordable home in the heart of Corydon with three amazing roommates, two cats, and ample sunlight.

In my search for answers of self-care, I talked to local theatre producer and improviser, Kristina Guevarra, and asked them what the best thing they did for themselves during the pandemic was.

“Probably the panic apartment move (Kristina moved at the beginning of lockdown), following my instinct on environmental change really helped my peace of mind, I find that with moving around little things too, re-decorating, finding that feng shui. Leaning into the pleasure of taking care of myself” we then proceeded to chat about how we both moved in this time “Yes, we both did! We take care of ourselves”.

Cultivating a safe and cozy home is so important to well-being. In conversation with knowledge keeper, Gayle Pruden, Gayle spoke about how her self-care is her home.

“I live in a big house,” she says. “I have roommates I never see because they live in a different reserve and so when they come into town, they stay with me. I never got the time and chance to really enjoy my home because I travel a lot and before I was rarely home.”

“But now, with this pandemic, I’m just loving my home. I didn’t realize I had such a beautiful home. Caring for my home is my form of self-care. I have a friend who is going to come in and he wants to come to celebrate his birthday here. He’s been self-isolating, I have been too, and he is going to bring his pipe and we’re going to do a pipe ceremony together. He’s going to bring wild meat and we’re going to cook together, and it will just be the two of us. He still remembers Ojibwe, I’m slowly losing the language, but with him, we can speak and laugh together. That is something I have to look forward to.”

a pink and blue sky surrounded by brick montreal apartments

For our Artistic Director, Frances Koncan, self-care takes place through elaborate bubble baths.

“It involves a curated selection of plants, candles, incense a bespoke Spotify playlist, and a tea all crafted around the theme of a specific novel I am reading,” says Koncan, who reads a new book every week. “I always take a photo and share it on Instagram, so the internet knows it happened.”

“My favourite thing I have done for myself so far is sleep,” she continues. “I sleep a lot and I love sleeping. Every day I wake up and make coffee and count down until I am able to go back to sleep.

“I’m not depressed,” adds Koncan, although sources say she is, in fact, a lifelong sufferer of depression. Right now, she takes Prozac. Is it helping, I wonder?

 “Look, angelica… it was it is and it be like that sometimes.”

I’ve been thinking about sleep a lot. Sleep as a form of healing. There is amazing group, founded in 2016 by Tricia Hersey, called The Nap Ministry, which is an organization that examines the liberating power of naps.

“We engage with the power of performance art, site-specific installations, and community organizing to install sacred and safe spaces for the community to rest together. We facilitate immersive workshops and curate performance art that examines rest as a radical tool for community healing.  We believe rest is a form of resistance and name sleep deprivation as a racial and social justice issue.”

I find this organization deeply inspiring. I think this pandemic has forced us to ask ourselves how do we take care of ourselves? Especially, in an industry that often overlooks mental health, when we are gifted with time of self-reflection, how do we slow down, rest and recharge?

For more answers, I reached out to my community on Instagram and asked, “THEATRE ARTISTS, what is your method of self-care amid a pandemic?” and various anonymous responses were:

“channeling my creativity into as many facets of my day as possible, not forcing it though”

“weeeeeee-eeeeeeed”

“Not doing theatre lolz. Jokes, but in truth, reading, writing, creating not for the sake of theatre, but enjoyment”

“Hair masks!! Meets impulsivity “CHANGE HAIR NOW” needs AND makes hair healthier”

“Books”

“Yoga & meditation”

“Leaving the industry…”

“Sweating and purging my system of toxins through physical exercise”

“Smoking and watching comfort shows!”

“Baths, baking, lots of dancing and naps”

“RUNNING! And journaling and eating healthy and yummy food – taking care of my body”

“Drink a beer if u want, jog in the morning/night, work yr ass off at a shitty job and make $$$”

The winter is just upon us, the dark days are ahead, and the harsh truth is that we are still in a pandemic. But it’s important to remember to take of yourself and your well-being amid the long days.

“I am not of the belief that everything happens for a reason – at least not a discernible one; it comforts me sometimes to know there is chaos, there is nonsense. But I believe that regardless of what happens, there is an opportunity to move with intention – towards growth, relationship, regeneration.”- adrienne maree brown, pg. 71, Emergent Strategy.

How do you be patient with yourself? How do you take of others? The only way through is together. Share with us your thoughts in the comments below.

Ideas for You

We’re starting to look ahead at the possibilities of 2021 and what the next year might bring. According to my trusted news sources – random people on Twitter – the tail end of 2021 may feature a vaccine for COVID-19 and signal a change in the winds leading into 2022. 

But what to do until then? 

Here are some ideas I’d like to share with you, in an award-deserving format that is sure to make my former employers say, “Glad we got rid of her!”

You can also watch the film adaptation of this incredible play, starring the brilliant Kathleen MacLean, HERE.


IDEAS FOR YOU

A short play 

by Frances Koncan

Setting: In your apartment. 

Characters: You and a ghost.

ACT I, SCENE 1  

Lights up on You, sitting on your bed, typing furiously on your 2015 Macbook Pro with a CD-ROM drive and a sticker on it that says, “I heart theatre”. Ambient coffee shop noises from a YouTube playlist fill the air. 


YOU: I gotta finish this play in time to submit for Sarasvàti Production’s FemFest 2021! 

Suddenly, an incorporeal entity appears at the foot of your bed. You scream


YOU: Gahh! 

GHOST: Don’t forget to put the accent thing on top of the A! 

YOU: Gàhh! 

GHOST: That’s not what I meant.

YOU: Who are you? 

GHOST: I am a ghost. 

YOU: What do you want? 

GHOST: Nobody’s ever asked me that before. 

YOU: Do you want to talk about it?


GHOST: Yeah I do. 

YOU: Okay, but first I have to finish this play by the deadline. 

GHOST: Understood. 

The GHOST floats quietly and waits patiently for you to finish your script. For extra support in the final hours, you turn on your YouTube playlist featuring ambient coffee sounds. You’re on the final page of the script when the worst happens: the YouTube server crashes and your music.  

YOU: Oh no! How will I finish this play without my ambient coffee shop sounds? I’m nothing without my ambient sounds playlist. Ever since I was a little kid I could only write when I had my ambient coffee shop noises playing. I am nothing without it and will never finish this script in time.  

GHOST: You could always send an incomplete draft.

YOU: An incomplete draft? Would the reading committee be okay with that?

GHOST: Sure. 

YOU: How do you know?

The GHOST is silent for a few beats. 


GHOST: Because… I am on the reading committee. 

YOU: No! But you’re a ghost! How…?

GHOST: I think the better question is… when?

YOU: What? 

GHOST: Exactly. 

YOU: I suppose submitting a work-in-progress is okay, knowing I will still have many months to work on it after the submission deadline on November 30th. But this page is still incomplete. And I can’t finish it without the ambient coffee shop sounds.  But maybe… no. It would never work. 

GHOST: What would never work? 

YOU: Maybe if I think really hard and imagine myself in a montage… maybe then I can finish the page. 

You imagine you are in a movie montage and finish the page. 

GHOST: You see? The power was in you all along. You didn’t need the ambient coffee shop music. You just needed to believe in yourself. 

YOU: Thanks ghost. And what about you? Do you still want to talk? 

GHOST: Yeah, I do thanks for asking. 

YOU: No problem. 

GHOST: So… if you haven’t noticed, I’m a ghost.  

YOU: Right.   

GHOST: But I still have all this corporeal money and I don’t know what to do with it.  I want to use it to make a difference, like by giving to an Endowment Fund for a small non-profit theatre company on Treaty 1 Territory. But which one? 

YOU: I know the perfect one. 

YOU and GHOST: Sarasvàti Productions! 

END OF PLAY 


All of us at Sarasvàti Productions hope you will consider submitting your work for presentation at FemFest 2021. We can’t wait to read what you’ve got cooking and are very welcoming of work of all kinds and in all stages of development. You can find submission guidelines HERE.

Nov. 26 at 11am is the next deadline for donating to our Endowment Fund, which provides stability of future income for companies like us. A donation to our endowment fund honours the legacy of the donor in forever and gets matched thanks to programs by the Winnipeg Foundation and the federal government. Your donation supports us in realizing our artistic and community goals! You can learn more about it HERE.

And we always appreciate donations of any amount right here on our website

For rights to this play, please contact my agent, Tucker the Dog at tuckerkoncan@gmail.com

Interview with Seven Visions Elder, Gayle Pruden

What is your name and pronouns?

I like introducing myself with my spirit name which is Dancing Bear and my clan is Black Bear. My name is Gayle Pruden, I am transgender, and I prefer to be called she.

What does 2spirit mean to you?

I don’t know why we all need to be under labels, we should be who we want to be regardless of gender, this is why we’re here, to be yourself, not to be labeled. But 2spirit for the Anishinaabe people is another word for being gay or whatever the other way there is to describe our being. You walk with the 2spirits of a woman and a man on two sides of you and it’s up to you what life you want to live.

What is your role on Seven Visions?

Well first of all I was shocked when I got invited, they invited me to sit on as their knowledge-keeper. I am 56 now, I am not saying I know everything, but I know enough to share. What I understood was that they went to these youth centres to collect data to find out what the children/youth know about reconciliation and effects of residential schools.

They named it Songide’ewin which in translation means strong heart, which is what was needed to put all this information together. So, when I got there, I sat in a sharing circle with the youth and I was blown away by how knowledgeable they were. The youth are so brilliant, they are great big shining stars who are ready to burst. In my era, we were never able to talk to elders or adults, we were always chased away and told to be quiet because it’s impolite but to see these children be so comfortable and speak from the heart, it’s great to hear them and work with them.

I sat there, I got my beadwork, and got my hair done just to show that we are beautiful people, we have a beautiful culture and we can dress well. They really liked what they saw when I walked in because I wore my ribbon skirt and I was just myself; I think they were very comfortable around that. Hearing what they had to say (about reconciliation) was so mind-blowing to me because I don’t know the effects of residential schools and it was a learning process to me to hear their stories to hear what they thought and what they knew about residential schools. So that is how I became involved and with this play.

Also, I speak my language (Ojibwe) fluently which I’m really fortune and very proud. It was the only language we spoke in my household, it was so hard for me to speak the English language but it has to be spoken in order to live in this world, but I prefer Ojibwe language always but (laughs) what can we do right? I do have a lot of friends who are fluent so it’s like I practice my language every other day and them too loved hearing me speak my language. I said Creator gave us a beautiful gift of language and this tongue was given to us to use, same with our other languages in our nations, it’s a powerful tool to have language, I speak it as often as I can.

Back to the play, they gave me a script to read, I read it, but I always speak from the heart so I got the idea of what they wanted me to say and every time I would speak it in a different way. Speaking the (Ojibwe) language, some of the youth said that they felt what I said, even if they didn’t understand, because it’s such a beautiful language. I loved it so much, I speak the language, hold my feather proudly and speak on their behalf to Creator and pray (which I usually do). I really had a great time being with them and meeting other people. There is so much to learn within our people.

Can you tell me more about jingle dancing?

I’ve been dancing jingle for close to 20 years now. I’m a 2spirit jingle dress dancer, and a lot of the women didn’t know (that I was 2spirit) until they saw my video on YouTube CBC 2spirit dancer. When they found out that I’m 2spirit in a jingle dress, it was so positive, some of them came up to me and said, “I didn’t even know but you’re my sister and I still love dancing with you”.

I am from central Manitoba, this was where I was raised, but a lot of my teachings come from Lake of the Woods in Ontario because I have so many Elders whom I look up to and I get all my teachings from them. The Jingle Dress came from White Fish Bay and that’s where I get the teachings on the Jingle Dress, which is a very important healing tool that creator has gifted us. The dress itself is a healing tool.

It started off where a medicine man was very concerned of his sick dying little girl and he asked creator what he could do and he had a dream about this dress and four women dancing by and he told his wife about his dream and his wife got community members together to make this dress. When the dress was done, he was showing which way to dance. They picked up their little girl, where she was laying sick, and took her to a ceremony and brought these four women and the jingle dress and he told them about his dream of how he plans to save his daughter. So, they went to the ceremony, gathered around the sacred fire, the women in came in dancing as the girl laid there, I guess you could say in her death bed, as the jingle dress came by, she opened her eyes and she could see.

There are different stories around the jingle on the dress and what the jingle’s sound like. All I know is it invites the grandmother and grandfather spirits and all kinds of spirits and that’s where the healing starts. Some people say it’s the sound of water, but for myself, it sounds like great big eagle wings. If you ever listen to a lot of jingle dresses, you’ll hear the sound and that is when the healing starts.

So, the first round the sick little girl opened her eyes, the second round the women went by and she got up and started looking at them and you could see the healing taking place. The fourth round she got up and started dancing with them and this is what healed her and brought her full life back. In the jingle dance, when you go to a Pow Wow, you’ll see the jingle dress be requested to come in and to heal whomever needs to heal. Normally it’s for the community or mother earth, or someone who is sick, or even yourself. Because this is our communication with Creator asking for the healing and this is when ancestors come in to take care of what they need to care of. So, this is a really important dress.

Seven Visions is a Forum Theatre piece about reconciliation – what does reconciliation mean to you?

Reconciliation is getting the world back together. For myself, I have different pain as a youth and it’s going to stay there regardless of what counseling there is or how many times you talk about it. Because it’s so instilled in your heart there’s no way you’re going to heal but you can live the best you can for the time that you have. This is what I’ve been learning from when I hear these stories (from the youth), they are so outrageous and so evil for anyone to go through what they’ve been through. With reconciliation it’s really being brought out into the open and people need to help one another and it’s going great, and the work that is being done out there, you can see it, but there needs to be more. Just keep at it.

What is your hope for Indigenous youth for the future?

Oh my god, what a good question! I love the youth so much! We need to support them, the best we can, as much as we can. Regardless of the drugs that are out there killing our youth, but there are good youth who can speak, and we need to idolize these youth and give them the strength to continue their good walk that they’ve been through so far. Encourage them, be there for them, they are our future. The youth is going to be speaking for us, on our behalf, and also, they will be the ones leading us and taking care of us and so now is the time we need to give them full support and guide them to the best we can and let go of your own past and let them make one for themselves regardless how bad or good it is just be there as support.

I hear about a lot of Elders who don’t listen, that is one of the most important things for an Elder to learn is to listen, right to the bitter end, doesn’t matter how awful the stories of whatever this child is talking about. Sit and listen. We don’t have all the answers, if someone comes up to me and talks to me about knowledge, I tell them I don’t have the answers but I’m here to listen and I’m here to guide you in how you can get your answer. It’s really important to sit and listen, especially with what our youth have to say because they’re so brilliant and so beautiful and I just love being around the youth and I know they like being around me because I like to joke (laughs) sure life is serious but I don’t take it too serious you need to have you need to laugh once in a while, let go of your ego, on this earth we are all equal in Creators eyes, regardless how much money you have or how beautiful you are, in Creators eye’s that means nothing we’re all equal and the youth needs to know that. They are so important. 

 Seven Visions Digital School Tour runs from November to the end of January 2021. For more information or to book a performance contact info@sarasvati.ca or call 204-306-5303. To learn more about the process and the larger creation story check out an overview on our website.

Getting Ready for the School Tour

Today is the day!

What day? Well, you’ll just have to keep reading.

Today is the day our Seven Visions school tour gets documented, in perpetuity (that’s a word that lawyers use, I learned it from Legally Blonde), for the viewing pleasure of students far and wide.

Since we can’t take our tour into schools like we usually do, we’re filming it and bringing it students and schools via streaming. With a mixture of pre-recorded and live footage hosted by actor, facilitator and all-around awesome person Josh Ranville, junior high and high school students from across Manitoba – and maybe even further – will still have the opportunity to experience this powerful story about what reconciliation means to today’s youth in the style of forum theatre that Sarasvàti is known for presenting.

Forum Theatre is a type of theatre created by the innovative practitioner Augusto Boal as part of what he calls “Theatre of the Oppressed”. While practicing earlier in his career, Boal would apply ‘simultaneous dramaturgy.’ In this process the actors or audience members could stop a performance and attempt to change the outcome of what they were seeing.

This was an attempt to bring audience members into the performance and give them input into the dramatic action they were watching. Students experience and develop a deeper sense of awareness when given the opportunity to contribute and reflect, which is a necessary and an important aspect of the drama curriculum. With Forum Theatre, students are encouraged to step outside themselves and to explore different ways of thinking and being.

In our adapted tour presentation, Josh will be streaming live from our new office space, chatting with youth across the province about the play and hosting conversations about how situations within the play could be navigated differently.

And even though the actors can’t be there live to improvise these new scenarios as suggested by the students, there will be plenty of extra scenarios to explore in a choose-your-own-adventure style that stays true to the idea of forum theatre.

(If you’ve ever seen the movie Clue, with its multiple endings, it’s kind of like that!)

Prepping to film a theatre production and figuring out how to deliver it to schools and students in a meaningful, interesting way has been a lot of hard work, but in a few days that hard work will be ready to share with schools, with Josh ready to give teachers a much-needed break from virtual teaching and give students an experience with theatre unlike any that have had before.

You can stay up to date with Sarasvàti as it explores the landscape of digital theatre more via our social media platforms. Upcoming not-to-miss posts will very likely include any or all of the following:

  • An actor getting drenched in ice coffee repeatedly in order to get the perfect shot
  • Many outtakes of failed improvised scenarios
  • Copious amounts of hand-sanitizer, face masks and face shields
  • And so much more!

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Setting up the new office with Frances!

Greetings readers,

Welcome to my blog post. The “my” in question is me and the “me” in question is Frances Koncan, incoming artistic director of Sarasvàti Productions.

As the company says goodbye to two decades of dynamic leadership by founder and outgoing artistic director Hope McIntyre, we’re also saying What’s Good? too many new and exciting things, including a brand new office space located in the heart of the Exchange District.

But what does it take to put a new office together? What does the process entail? Great question. Stay curious. I can’t answer that, because Wren and an enthusiastic group of volunteers who were not in any way coerced to help did all the heavy lifting.

But decorating? That, so far, has been me. I love pretty things and I love making things look pretty. I think this stems from my lived experience of being not pretty but able to trick people with makeup.

Our new office space is in no way complete, as we have many more serious things to attend to, like school tours, and balancing budgets, and worrying about the upcoming presidential election even though it doesn’t directly impact us. But we wanted to give you a little taste of where we’re at so far, aesthetically speaking.

Welcome to 415-70 Arthur Street.

As you enter the heritage building, you will be struck and awed by the main foyer, which features a ceiling lamp of undetermined origin. Your journey will take you straight ahead towards a digital listing of the building occupants. To your left, will be the stairwell and the elevator. Choose your path forward and come on up to Unit 415. Don’t forget your mask!

Our new office space is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., during which time you will find any one or all of us present to assist you. Often you will also find the office therapy dog, Tucker, napping on the floor. He is a very good boy and enjoys pets and snacks.

a photograph of a black large dog wearing a purple harness that reads "emotional support". In the background is a green apple coloured wall with an arm charm and a lighting tree.

Right before moving into the office, I spent a weekend refreshing the paint with a colour scheme that incorporated our collective favourite colour, purple and pulled together the remaining green and blue walls with a pop of coral. I was later informed that the green and coral colour scheme was also the colour scheme of the University of Winnipeg Asper Centre for Theatre and Film, so I somewhat regret making that paint choice. But it’s too late to change because I am too lazy to change it, so here we are!

Green apple painted wall with a white counter in front that has a microwave and coffee mugs. In front of the counter is a small patio chair and table set with a bottle of sanitizer and two mugs on top.

In the main room, you’ll find a tiny fridge, multiple coffee mugs, and – hopefully, someday in the near future – an espresso machine. Our printer also lives here, as does a collection of valuable artwork by Carl Beam, that was donated to us many years ago. Should we auction it off or frame it and put it up in the office? Vote in the comments!

Entering the room on your right, you’ll find Wren and angelica. As you can see, I am the decorative brains behind this all.

a view from the floyer on looking two rooms with their doors open. The room on the left is painted green and has a desk inside. The room on the right is painted coral and in front of the door is the black large dog.

Now, enter the room on your left. What’s that intoxicating scent? It’s the smell of rain falling on freshly cut grass. Let the seafoam and green apple walls wrap you in their summertime vibes. With 5 new plants from Verde Plant Shop (one of them might be dying, but I’m trying my best, I swear) and an overarching accent colour of rose gold, I’m so happy to be able to carve out a comfortable space to learn and create in.

Frances Koncan sitting at their computer desk typing.

I know many people look down upon the things I talked about in this blog as frivolous or unnecessary, but holding space for each other and ourselves is important, and making sure that space feels good is important, too.

Frances Koncan sitting and reading while petting her dog.

So, I encourage all of you to refresh your own space! Get a new plant; touch up some paint; steal my dog; transition into a new role guiding a theatre company during a global pandemic. It’ll all work out, I promise.

Frances

Meet the new team of Sarasvàti!

We are going through an exciting time of transition here at Sarasvàti, we are thrilled to announce our new trifecta that will lead the company beyond its first 20 years in Winnipeg! Our new team consists of Frances Koncan as Artistic Director, Wren Brian as Office Manager, and angelica schwartz as Marketing and Community Outreach Manager. Let’s get to know them better!

What are your pronouns?

Wren: She/They.

angelica: they/she.

Frances: She/They.

What is your sun sign?

Wren: Pisces.

angelica: Cancer.

Frances: Taurus.

Where were you born?

Wren: Whitehorse, Yukon – Territory of the Kwanlin Dün & Ta’an Kwäch’än.

angelica: “you were born on a very sunny day!!!!” – text from my mom, I was born on a sunny day on Treaty 1 Territory.

Frances: I was born in Fort Frances, Ontario on Treaty 3 territory. I like to spread the rumour that they named the town after me.

When did you know you wanted to work in theatre?

Wren: Around age 10 when I learned about the high school Music Arts Drama Program and wanted to be in it after seeing their shows

angelica: When I was nine years old, my sister forced me to watch the 2005 musical movie Phantom of the Opera with Gerard Butler, and I never looked back.

Frances: In 2007-2008, I saw the original Spring Awakening on Broadway a lot and would always sit onstage. The cast always made it so much fun to be there and being welcomed over and over again and getting to know everyone as artists and as people made me realize that things, I thought were impossible dreams were totally possible. When I graduated in 2010, I had no idea what to do with my life, so I turned to some of the actors in that show for advice to help me decide between going to law school or pursuing writing and theatre. So here I am. Because when Jonathan Groff tells you to do something, you do it.

What was the first play you ever saw?

Wren: Cinderella or Wizard of Oz…community theatre group at the Yukon Arts Centre!

angelica: The first stage show I ever saw was an international tour of Hairspray. In this production, the two actors who played Edna and Wilber broke character on stage and they took a whole ten minutes to recover from their laughter. When I came out of the theatre, I found my car was broken into and I started laughing in shock for about ten minutes. I remember thinking: wow, theatre is as unpredictable as life.

Frances: The first musical I ever saw was Grease and the second was CATS. I don’t remember what the first play I ever saw was, but the first memory I have was seeing Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane in The Odd Couple, which I thought was brilliant at the time because I was an innocent naïve youth full of hope. It was probably not that good. I was just star-struck by Ferris Bueller.

What is your greatest fear?

Wren: Toss-up between being afraid of not being a good person and dying without having really lived/enjoyed life. Both have kept me up at night and exacerbated the latter fear.

angelica: Drowning. I had an intense near-death experience last summer and now anything to do with being submerged or traveling through water freaks me out. I should maybe learn how to swim…

Frances: It used to be being forgotten and not accomplishing anything with my life. I think that’s still the case, but now I’m honestly just too exhausted to be afraid anymore. Also, clowns.

Who is your favourite playwright?

Wren: Sarah Kane.

angelica: Young Jean Lee or Larry Tremblay.

Frances: It’s Tennessee Williams, I’m sorry, I wish it wasn’t a white guy, but it is.

Andrew Lloyd Webber has asked you to re-direct the CATS film with your dream cast – who do you cast as the Rum Tum Tugger?

Wren: You could not pay me enough to direct a musical film. Tried film and directing, neither are my forte nor bring me joy, just burnout.

angelica: I lasted 20 minutes in the 2019 movie before I fell asleep, which means I have a lot of opinions on the movie and contrary to popular belief, I think Billy Porter would make an excellent Rum Tum Tugger.

Frances: Okay I have thought a lot about this since December 2019 when I first experienced CATS the movie directed by Tom Hooper starring Jason Derulo as the Rum Tum Tugger. If I was asked to direct a reboot of CATS, I would firstly insist it should be a miniseries with each episode focusing on a specific cat. Secondly, I would go a little against type and cast Timothee Chalamet as the Rum Tum Tugger. While not the physically commanding presence one might expect from a Mr. Tum Tugger, I am confident he could pull it off.

What is one issue facing local theatre that you are most passionate about amplifying and improving?

Wren: Local creators, particularly emerging that are telling stories/perspectives that have not or rarely get seen.

angelica: Winnipeg theatre is extremely behind on conversations within race, accessibility, and gender, and I hope to work towards collaborative action within our community to move us into the future.

Frances: Western theatre was built on a foundation of racism and it’s time to do some renovations.

Drop your socials here:

Wren: Not good at social media, but I’m sort of active on Instagram: @wrenbrian – website is wrenbrian.com – I still enjoy emailing.

angelica: I deleted all social media except Instagram at the beginning of the pandemic but now working with Sarasvàti, I will be on the socials again soon. Stay tuned but for now HMU on insta: @aschwartz.jpg

Frances: Twitter: @franceskoncan | Tiktok: @franceskoncan | Insta: @franceskoncan | LinkedIn: lol | Snapchat: @franceskoncan | YouTube: @franceskoncan | Vine: RIP

Frances, Wren, and angelica will be spending the next few months together in our new office space at 70 Arthur St, in the Exchange District, dreaming of the future of Sarasavàti. Stay tuned for their exciting plans come 2021!

Note 10:55am: In retrospect, Frances believes her answers are too long but refuses to edit them.


Wren Brian (she/they) started her diverse career in Whitehorse, Yukon (territory of the Kwanlin Dün & Ta’an Kwäch’än) where she was born and raised. Currently based in Winnipeg on Treaty 1, Wren is a playwright as well as an arts administrator and producer. In 2014/15 she did a short contract as the Emerging Artist in Residence at Sarasvàti. After four years gaining experience at a variety of contract jobs in theatre and film, she was happy to come back as a part-time Administrator in January 2019. For more information on her playwriting visit wrenbrian.com

angelica schwartz (they/them) is a director and collective creator born on Treaty 1 Territory (Winnipeg, MB). schwartz has had the pleasure to collaborate with some exceptional companies including All Out Arts in NYC, Buddies in Bad Times, Electric Theatre Company, The Chop Theatre, SpiderWebShow, ITSAZOO, Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, and more. After graduating the National Theatre School of Canada and Studio 58, schwartz has returned to Treaty 1 Territory with a hunger to reconnect and expand their community. In addition to schwartz’s work as an artist, they enjoy fine coffee, perusing TikTok, and attending a biweekly queer bookclub.

Frances Kocan (she/they) is a playwright, director and journalist of mixed Anishinaabe and Slovene descent hailing from Couchiching First Nation in Treaty 3 territory. After graduating with an MFA in Playwriting from Brooklyn College, she returned to Winnipeg and has been active in the theatre scene ever since. You might know her writing from plays like Women of the Fur Trade (RMTC Warehouse, 2019/20 Season) and from articles in the Winnipeg Free Press. “I am enormously excited to be joining the Sarasvàti team and to continue to champion the work of under-represented artists, voices and stories through the transformative and radical possibilities of theatre,” said Frances Koncan.

Wren Brian (top left), angelica schwartz (top right), Frances Koncan (bottom left), Bernadette Peters (bottom right).

Hitting the Highway

Every two years we hit the road with an original, interactive performance for middle and high schools. Of course this year will look a little different. We won’t be renting a van and hitting the literal road. The digital highway will have to do this year.

Seven Visions will allow students to experience reconciliation. It will be a virtual experience, but a way that we can still share the insightful, powerful, and profound stories of over 70 Indigenous youth who worked with us over the last two years. In August we brought a socially distanced and livestreamed performance of Songide’ewin to general audiences. Since then, our youth consultants have helped to craft the original source material in to a new version of the script targeted to their peers. They also advised on how to make it interactive on video.  

Our team has also been working in consultation with teachers to find the best way to move forward during the ongoing pandemic. Some students will gather at school for a viewing party with tech support and facilitation by our team. Others will watch from the comfort of their homes as part of remote learning. All students will still have an opportunity to test out options for how to address the conflict in the play, virtually stepping into the shoes of a character and exploring solutions to the challenges they faced. This is a powerful process that encourages youth to use their voices.

Our past tours (like Home 2.0 pictured above) have shared the experiences of newcomer youth, mental health struggles, youth in foster care, racism, and explored how to deal with the lure of gangs. In 2018 we travelled all over rural Manitoba, to Brandon, and dozens of schools in Winnipeg with Home 2.0. Being in the room with students, meeting them, doing workshops, and getting them hyped with dance moves cannot be replaced in the virtual medium. However, a digital offering will allow us to share the work more widely to regions beyond our usual travel radius, with more performances than a live cast could manage, and to spark a dialogue about reconciliation with a greater number of students.

The virtual tour of Seven Visions will run from midNovember to the end of January. Spread the word to teachers, schools, and youth. For more information or to book a performance contact production@sarasvati.ca or call 204-306-5303.

To learn more about the process and the larger creation story check out an overview on our website.

FemFest Recovery

Well…we did it! FemFest 2020 happened. It happened in a very different way. It happened safely, outdoors, in the streets, online, and from across the country – plus New York!

Our team worked so incredibly hard! It took learning new skills, creating new support roles that we’ve never had in theatre before – showrunner, livestream monitor, health officer… Mostly it took everyone fully committing to the importance of theatre and supporting each other.

There are many, many people to thank. There were many lessons learned. Now that we are on the other side of it, we can see clearly what an incredible feat it was. It was a joy to share the work with a broader audience, to allow for a return to creation and to do the work we love to do. There is no other way to describe it other than blessed. The weather cooperated for all of our outdoor events, although a bit chilly for those who joined us at Assiniboine Park after nightfall. We also wrapped things up before the need to return to tighter restrictions.

Perhaps one of our volunteers said it best:

I’m proud to volunteer for FemFest. The shows not only push the boundaries of traditional theatre, but they showcase the full spectrum of talent this city (and the world) has to offer — actors and writers from different backgrounds each sharing their skills and stories. To say FemFest is diverse is an understatement; I not only see representation, I feel it. I also feel like I have a sort of “premier pass” to Winnipeg’s local talent because FemFest offers a literal stage to those who are just starting their careers (writing, creating, and acting). I’m proud to be a part of it and I’m happy to contribute, even in a small way, to theatre that simultaneously inspires change and strengthens community. – Saz Massey

And because we are not willing to rest on our laurels, or maybe because we are lacking in good sense, we have come off the festival right in to sweeping changes. We are packing up our office of the last 18 years for a new home. We are transitioning to our new leadership team. Plus shifting our biannual school tour to an interactive virtual offering.

We also are thinking ahead. FemFest 2021 is in the works! We don’t know what the fall of next year will bring, but we are committed to finding the best way to continue to showcase artists and share the power of theatre. Our theme is ‘Celebrating Difference’ and the festival is set for September 20-27. We’ve just released our call for submissions – spread the word!

What’s Left in the Fest

There are only three days (!) left of FemFest 2020: Engaging Community. With that said, these three days are also our busiest and most jam-packed with readings, cabarets, and workshops. Before we get into what’s to come, let’s do a brief wrap-up of some of the highlights from the last four days!

A sold out reading of Agency
Last year’s Bake-Off winner, barb m janes, developed her script Agency into a full-length show that was read Monday night as part of FemFest! The show had over 50 people watching the livestream and the in-person reading at The Dalnavert was sold-out. We’d call that a success for sure!

Marsha Knight wins the Bake-Off
Marsha’s play ‘Mary’ was about Mary Two-Axe Earley, a Mohawk woman and activist who advocated for Indigenous women’s rights – specifically for them to maintain their Indigenous status after marrying a non-status person. Marsha will receive dramaturgical guidance over the next year to develop ‘Mary’ into a full-length script, to be premiered at FemFest 2021!

Phenomenal feedback for bug
We heard incredible things about bug, which was originally one of our touring shows that pivoted to be offered online. Despite the new execution, the folks who saw the show commented that it was “an amazing and powerful show” – we agree!  

There have been so many more incredible moments over the last four days: if we were to write out each one, this blog post would be more like a chapter in a book! 

Here’s what’s left in the fest:

Tita Jokes premieres tonight
That’s right – the award-winning musical sketch revue, Tita Jokes, premieres tonight at 6:30PM! The show, which is Tita Jokes with a twist, will be offered virtually. Tickets can be bought here.

An embodiment workshop
Our last workshop of the festival: Embodied Storytelling takes place on September 26 from 11AM to 1PM. Hosted Facilitated by Sarah WaisviszEleanor Crowder, this dynamic workshop will invite participants to use techniques from storytelling, theatre, and choreography to narrate and embody their own biographical stories. We still have spots open! Register yours here.

Two free events
A collection of script readings by various local playwrights – “Shorts” is on today at 6:30PM7:45PM – 78:15:30PM live at the Dalnavert. Come Together, Oour Cclosing Cabaretevent takes place on September 26 at 8:30PM. The show, which also takes place at the Dalnavert, is officially a part of Culture Days. Both events are free, but in-person tickets need to be “purchased” on our website since space is limited! Both events will also be livestreamed on our Facebook and YouTube Pages if you prefer to watch from home!

An fabulous online raffle
That’s right folks! The FemFest raffle is back and there are some incredible prizes to win. All proceeds help us at Sarasvati host transformative theatre, workshops, and artists next year. 

Below is the full schedule for the next three days! Look it over, grab yourself some tickets, and enjoy the rest of FemFest 2020: Engaging Community.

Thursday, September 24
5:00 pm – 6:00 pm
The Launchpad Walking Tour
TBA, Winnipeg
Thursday, September 24
6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Tita Jokes
ONLINE, from Winnipeg
Thursday, September 24
7:45 pm – 8:15 pm
Shorts Readings
Dalnavert Museum, Winnipeg MB
Thursday, September 24
8:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Monstrous
ONLINE, from Winnipeg
Friday, September 25
12:30 pm – 1:30 pm
Tita Jokes
ONLINE, from Winnipeg
Friday, September 25
5:00 pm – 6:00 pm
The Launchpad Walking Tour
TBA, Winnipeg
Friday, September 25
6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Monstrous
ONLINE, from Winnipeg
Friday, September 25
8:30 pm – 10:00 pm
Alice and the World We Live In
Assiniboine Park, Winnipeg
Saturday, September 26
11:00 am – 1:00 pm
Workshop – Embodied Storytelling
ONLINE, from Winnipeg
Saturday, September 26
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
The Launchpad Walking Tour
TBA, Winnipeg
Saturday, September 26
2:30 pm – 4:00 pm
Alice and the World We Live In
Assiniboine Park, Winnipeg
Saturday, September 26
6:30 pm – 7:30 pm
Tita Jokes
ONLINE, from Winnipeg
Saturday, September 26
8:30 pm – 10:00 pm
Coming Together – Closing Event
Dalnavert Museum, Winnipeg MB

Everything You Need to Know About FemFest 2020

FemFest is right around the corner – seriously, it’s two days away! This year’s festival is unique for so many reasons. Not only is it Artistic Director Hope McIntyre’s final festival before Frances Koncan transitions into the role of Artistic Director, it’s also the first time we’ve had such an eclectic mix of in-person and virtual events.

Whether you want to see readings, cabarets, or full-fledged productions, or whether you want to experience the magic of live theatre or watch comfortably from your home, there truly is something for everyone. 

Let’s get into what you need to know about FemFest 2020: Engaging Community.

All three touring shows are virtual.
If you’ve been following the news, this won’t come as a shock: for the safety of the performers and creative teams, each touring show will only be provided virtually. With that said, this is still a great opportunity to indulge in nationally regarded theatre from the comfort of your home. The three touring shows are so different in tone and genre, but they’re all great theatre. bug is a solo show about a young girl and her mother fighting the effects of colonialism in their bodies.

Tita Jokes

Tita Jokes is a musical comedy revue that centres the Filipinx folks in the Tita Collective’s lives. Monstrous is a show that integrates storytelling, multi-genre dance, music, song, and projections as the protagonist sifts through the facts and fictions of her mixed-up, mixed-race family history. A ticket for each show can be bought for $15, or all three can be enjoyed with a platinum pass for $30.

There are three locations where you can see live theatre.
For those of you wanting to experience live theatre in a safe and controlled environment, there are a few different events taking place in the great outdoors. The first is a “guided theatrical experience” that will take place in Downtown Winnipeg. The show, which is called To: Morrow, has been developed by our emerging artists unit, Launchpad. This promenade-style performance will include art in all forms in unexpected places. Short performances will tackle the theme of climate change while being situated in our own downtown environment.

The Dalnavert Museum in Downtown Winnipeg

Next is one of our featured shows Alice and The World We Live In which takes place at Assiniboine Park. Starring Elena Anciro and Ray Strachan, the play is an abstract and emotional exploration of a woman’s struggle to push through the grief of losing the love of her life to a random act of terror. Finally, there are quite a few events taking place at the national historic site, Dalnavert Museum. From a live-watch viewing party of the Opening Cabaret, to readings of Agency, Shorts, and The View From Here, there’s so much great theatre to take in. Cap it off with our Closing Cabaret, a free event live at the Dalnavert as part of Culture Days. Only a small group will be accommodated for live shows, so be sure to purchase your tickets ASAP!

There are virtual workshops and presentations galore!
If you’re someone who doesn’t just want to watch theatre, but also wants to participate in it or pick the brain of someone succeeding in it, we’ve got a few workshops and free(!) presentations for you to choose from. First off: we have the perfect workshop for theatre artists with a passion for climate change. “Theatre and Climate: What Stories Do We Want to Tell?” is a workshop hosted by Chantal Bilodeau that encourages participants to take stock of the kinds of stories that are put forward by mainstream media around climate change.

Yolanda Bonnell is our Real Thing lecturer

New narratives will be explored to find a different, more positive approach. Then short performances will be created using some of the ideas they came up with. Taking place on Sunday, Sept 20 at 12:00pm, this workshop costs $15 to participate. Next, an Embodied Storytelling workshop from Sarah Waisvisz. This dynamic workshop will invite participants to use techniques from storytelling, theatre, and choreography to narrate and embody their own biographical stories. This virtual workshop takes place on Saturday, September 26 @ 11 AM and is only $15. Finally, our free lectures include Real Thing Lecture with Yolanda Bonnell and One Playwright’s Journey Through the Climate Crisis.

Like we said earlier: there really is something for everyone. With FemFest starting so soon, we hope you’ll help us spread the word, attend some shows, and take this chance to reconnect as a community. You can view the whole schedule here.