Women and Art for Social Change

I’m excited to be joining colleagues, Shawna Dempsey (Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art) and Tricia Wasney (Winnipeg Arts Council), on Monday for a panel discussing women and art for social change hosted by the Manitoba Women’s Advisory Council. So much of the work Sarasvati does is based on what we call tranformative theatre. Basically, theatre that deals with issues in our community and increases understanding or dialogue around these issues. We want our audience to walk out of our shows feeling inspired, challenged, having seen a new perspective and sometimes even moved to action.

As I prepare my presentation, it is rewarding to look back at the work we have done and the effect it has had. It reminds me why we keep doing it despite the many obstacles and challenges. Whether it is tackling bullying, racism or violence against women we know the work has a profound effect. Some of our most rewarding experiences have been performing outside of the actual theatre, taking our work out to the community has lead to important discoveries for both our artists and community audiences who may not have believed that the arts were for them.

Most recently we heard from young Fillipino women after performing the monologue Miss Orient(ed) by Nina Aquino and Nadine Villasin at our cabaret of monologues. Performer Stephanie Sy related to the character who was trying to be “pretty as a Canadian” by stripping away her black hair and dyeing it blonde. One audience member shared that it validated her experience as a young women trying multiple times to get rid of her own dark hair. It is empowering to share these stories, to let women know they are not alone in their struggles, and to help others understand the struggles of women from different cultural or economic backgrounds.

As we have been working on our latest project with criminalized women, we have been inspired by how theatre can allow women to let their walls down, explore a sense of play and develop confidence. Our main goal as we work towards creating a script based on our research and work with incarcerated women is to make clear the humanity of these women who are often painted as monsters and sensationalized in the media as women out of control. This journey began with us getting to know these women as we sat in a circle in correctional institutions with an array of women playing theatre games, discovering their sense of humour through impovisation and being surprised by their creativity and talent.

If you want to hear more, come check out the panel on Monday – http://sarasvati.ca/women-and-art-for-social-change/ .

-Hope McIntyre, Artistic Director


  1. Wow… I would love to know more about your work with criminalized women… there must be challenges, important walls that need to be broken down.

    Did you work slowly with these people, building trust over time? Be great to hear more about this…


    • Thanks for your interest. There were certainly challenges. One of the biggest was that it is a very transient population. There are a lot of transfers and women coming and going, especially from the Remand Centre. So, we weren’t able to build a relationship slowly over time as we would have liked. What we tried to do was plan the drama sessions in such a way that initial exercises allowed them to relax and have some fun. This seemed to break down walls very quickly. We were also pleasantly surprised by how willing the women were to share their stories when asked. I think because they aren’t often asked and felt that their voices were being given come value. Many were grateful that we wanted to tell their stories and discuss the issues of incarceration for women.

      It’s been a long process and we are now working towards a workshop presentation of the resulting script on September 21st and 24th. Some of the women are now back in the community and we hope they come see the piece.

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