Fresh(ish) Faces

Yes, summer is approaching and we can always tell because our team expands – although this year it’s a remote expansion. This month we welcomed two members to the Sarasvàti team! We have Samantha Desiree returning as our Production Assistant and Riva Billows joining us as the Marketing and Community Outreach Assistant.

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Sami Desiree, Production Assistant

You may recognize Sami as she filled the same position leading up to and during FemFest 2019. Sami is currently working towards her BAH at the University of Winnipeg, with speciality in Stage Management. She is an artist with many interests and has been working in production, directing, acting and producing. She started in theatre at a young age, performing as Buttercup in The Princess Bride. After that performance she received handwritten letters from young girls who had seen the show and “wanted to grow up to be like Buttercup.” That was when she learned the power of theatre. She founded Beau Theatre Co. in 2017 and since has produced six full productions with them and was slotted for a 5 stop Canadian Fringe tour this year (which has been postponed). She thanks her cat Zella and partner Matt for their support.

Riva Billows is a local improviser, comedian, and a recent graduate of the Creative Communications program. She was voted the second funniest person in Winnipeg in this year’s Uniter 30. She’s performed at the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, Montreal Sketch Festival, and the Winnipeg Fringe Festival the last four years.



Riva Billows, Marketing and Community Outreach Assistant


Riva was an actor in “Can You See Me Now?”, a partnership between Sarasvàti and West Central Women’s Resource Centre that told women’s experiences of homelessness. “Looking back, doing that show and collaborating with these incredible women just solidified how important it is to tell the untold stories,” she said. “That was probably the first time that I really saw, firsthand, how theatre can be a vehicle for change.”

Sami believes theatre can change perspective and create empathy and compassion which is something she incorporates into all her work. She is so grateful to be back working on FemFest for a second year, with such brilliant humans!

The two are looking forward to seeing the exciting (but still secret!) performers featured in FemFest 2020 – no matter what shape that may be.

We’re excited to have these two on board as we move closer to FemFest 2020FemFest will run in some shape or form from September 19 – 26. Stay up to date by following us on one of our many social media platforms or check out our website as we start to announce the line-up for our 18th festival. 

Virtual Dating for Playwrights

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We are excited to announce the line-up for our first virtual One Night Stand: A Series of Readings Focused on the Development of New Works! We had a wonderful array of work submitted to us for consideration, so we hope this will be just the start of a revised version of our initiative to support playwrights. Each edition will offer excerpts of new works in early stages of development, read by an ensemble of actors, and tested before an audience. The goal is to focus on the playwright and what would help them get to the next stage with the script they are working on.

Jonathan Mourant photo


On Thursday, June 11th at 7pm we will share ten minute excerpts from 5 plays in progress. It will be hosted by our new One Night Stand coordinator Jonathan Mourant. We are welcoming folks to either join in to provide feedback on Zoom or simply tune in to listen on our Facebook Page.



Learn about our first round of playwrights:

Love Letters for Juliet
by Makrenna Sterdan
conceived by Makrenna Sterdan and Joanne Roberts 

Makrenna Rose Sterdan is a producer and writer. Sterdan has had her work produced in South Korea, Canada, and America. Sterdan also owns and operates Red Lips Productions (RLP), a company that creates theatre and film pieces internationally, both in person and remotely. For more information, go to RLP’s website at or Sterdan’s personal site



The Bridge
by Veralyn Warkentin

Veralyn’s plays have been produced by the Manitoba Association of Playwrights, Winnipeg Mennonite Theatre and Tara Players who commissioned her script about the Irish Famine, Like the Sun, which was then produced in Winnipeg, Milwaukee, Chicago and Limerick; and published in Canadian Mosaic II: 6 Plays. Additional scripts have had staged readings by MAP (Land of Hope); Theatre Projects Manitoba (Criminal Element); and Sarasvati presented Quite an Undertaking, based on the memoir of Canada’s first female mortician, at FemFest 2009. Other scripts have placed 1st (Mary & Martha, 2002) and 2nd (The Death of Polly Anna, 2012) in Winnipeg Mennonite Theatre Playwriting Contests.



Seekers of Atlantis
by Kevan Bowkett

Kevan Kenneth Bowkett’s work has been presented at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival (Time’s Fancy, 2017), at the Carol Shields Festival of New Works by SIR (Time’s Fancy, extended version, 2013), and at Wine and Words 2015 by Theatre by the River (“Bacchus’ Song”). His Fringe-length Time’s Fancy was read in-house by the Knavish Hedgehogs (2016). He wrote his first Shakespeare-esque scene at age 14. Since then he’s been in the Canadian Forces Reserves, washed dishes, planted trees, collided with an open car door while bicycle couriering, done door-to-door sales, weeded gardens, slept in an igloo, worked in a daycare, and run for Parliament.



Strawberries & Cream
by alison mcLean 

alison has a BA (Film & Theatre) from the U of M, and an MFA in Playwriting from UBC. Her plays Chick Night and Bond Night premiered as staged readings at FemFest ’03 and ’04. Her monologue “Hockey Mom” was part of the International Women’s Week Cabaret produced by Sarasvàti Productions in ’11, the same year her scene “Sister Wars” was published in the anthology Generation NeXXt. Her most recent play, Skin Deep, was given a staged reading at FemFest ’14. She attended a Masterclass with Judith Thompson as part of FemFest 2017. alison is also the lead singer for the cover band Nameless + Shameless.



The Planet
by Ty Ballingall

Ty is a queer and gender unbound actor and artist living on Treaty One Territory on the land we call Canada. The Planet is the first play they have ever wrote and are very excited for this opportunity! They are currently living life in Osborne and are just going with the flow, hanging with friends and hugging trees. They practice witchcraft, they like the colour green and are happy to be here.

Keep up to date on our FB Event as we finalize the ensemble cast and other details!

FemFest – Planning for the Unknown

Yes, there will be a FemFest! What that will look like is still a work in progress. Our amazing team is developing multiple contingencies depending on the reality that we may be in come September. We are optimistic that there still may be live events. Perhaps smaller audiences nicely spread out. Maybe it will be a hybrid year with some live and some virtual offerings. Like many other festivals and performing arts organizations we are exploring, experimenting and ready to offer the best programming we can.

FemFest 2020 logoFemFest 2020 will run from September 19 to 26. Our theme this year is Engaging Community. We chose it two years ago as part of long-term planning. Now of course this theme means something very different. Ways to engage have certainly changed, but at the core of our work has been and will always be community. Before the world paused we had lined up three amazing touring shows and a stellar guest artist. We’ll be announcing these acts with our brochure later this month as our ideal for September. It is a mix of work that tackles identity in terms of the struggle to fit in to a community; work that continues to allow us to pursue our commitment to reconciliation; and even some sketch comedy to lighten the mood.

Most exciting is working with guest artist Chantal Bilodeau. She is truly living through the crisis, as a former Canadian now in New York. Whether live in Winnipeg or virtually, we have an array of activities planned with her facilitating on the theme of climate change and the arts.

Chantal Bilodeau photoChantal Bilodeau is a Montreal-born, New York-based playwright and translator, whose work focuses on the intersection of science, policy, art, and climate change. Her plays and translations have been presented in a dozen countries around the world, and she is a recipient of the Woodward International Playwriting Prize as well as the First Prize in the Earth Matters on Stage Ecodrama Festival and the Uprising National Playwriting Competition. She serves as the Artistic Director of The Arctic Cycle and is currently at work on a series of eight plays that look at the social and environmental changes taking place in the eight Arctic states. 

“I really look forward to FemFest! I’m excited to connect with people in Winnipeg and start to imagine together the just and sustainable future we want to create.” – Chantal Bilodeau

Ah, the FemFest ramp up is beginning! This time of year is always fun for us as we welcome the energy and enthusiasm of summer youth positions. Although they won’t be physically in our office quite yet, we are excited that Samantha Desiree – our PA from last year – is returning. Sami runs Beau Theatre Co. and is finishing her degree in theatre at the University of Winnipeg. Stay tuned for news on our Marketing and Community Outreach Assistant summer position. You can expect to hear more from both of them as the journey to the festival continues.

In the meantime, we still have a couple slots in our Producing 101: Virtual Workshop and save the date for our first virtual One Night Stand reading series on June 11th at 7pm.

Long Distance Work

It’s the 7th week that our staff are working remotely! It’s hard to believe, but we have all adjusted to a new normal. Only our Artistic Director is working out of the empty and much too quiet office. This week’s blog is dedicated to the thoughts, discoveries, and advice from our amazing staff.

1. What things do you never want to have to do again post-isolation?


Wren’s home office

Wren Brian, Administrator

  • Stress about keeping 2 meters away from people (hard on sidewalks & in apartment buildings).
  • Resist the urge to pet cute dogs out with their humans.
  • Limit grocery shopping to once every three weeks – it’s a lot to carry (my shoulders are definitely getting stronger though).

Hope McIntyre, Artistic Director

  • Zoom multiple times a day – so many tiny faces on the screen
  • Avoid people, which has led to the most bizarre game of ‘stay away’ in grocery stores
  • Postpone work we love to do!

Fawnda Neckoway, Administrator


Fawnda’s home office

  • Feel like it’s wrong to visit my family, worry about hugging my nieces.
  • Deem taking my son grocery shopping unsafe.
  • Be restricted from places I enjoy going (lockdowns/checkpoints aren’t fun).

Liz Whitbread, Assistant Artistic Director

  • Stand six feet away from my loved ones
  • Clean my oven ‘as a fun treat’ on a Friday night

2. What things do you want to keep doing that you started due to the isolation?


  • Keep more of a routine, particularly some of the treat days I set up to help me keep track of the days of the week (Whiskey Wednesday, Take-Out Friday, Strolling Saturday, etc.)
  • Watch more recordings of theatre productions in other parts of the world (if they are made available still…I hope they are!)
  • Connect with friends in other cities more regularly.


  • Going for long walks – it’s become an end of work day ritual with my partner and we’ve discovered new parts of our neighbourhood
  • Evenings at home – my cats have never been so happy
  • Buying local – we’ve made an effort to order from local restaurants


  • Beading, I put them down for some time but it’s nice to start again.
  • Long drives just because. We explore when we can.
Liz's WFH

Liz’s home office


  • Talking to my friends on the phone! I’ve rediscovered my junior high love of long telephone conversations with loved ones.
  • Journaling every day

3. What are three things you can’t wait to do again post-isolation?


  • Go visit Whitehorse, Yukon, my hometown.
  • Going for a drink and some food with a group of people (particularly the theatre units!).
  • Plan my life. Well, more just plan more than a month into the future with a bit more certainty.


  • Teach in person
  • Meet in person
  • Go to live theatre


  • Go to the gym!
  • Have a big BBQ somewhere.
  • Let my son play freely with his friends in our backyard


  • Hug my friends!
  • Go dancing!
  • Hold hands!

4. Anything you want to share in terms of tips or lessons learned from working at home.

If you can, have a work station, one area of your home where you only do work. And when you’re done for the day, try to create a separation (personally I put a light blanket over the turned off computer & hide my lists & notebooks under there too).
If you’re feeling stressed by the situation, find a comforting quote or two that keeps you grounded in the moment and have them near your workspace to refer to (taped to your desk or computer, even the wall). I used to work contracts and often found myself unemployed for a few weeks or months with nothing lined up, so once I made a collage featuring a quote I really like, it’s in a frame on my desk now.

As mentioned above, I’ve enjoyed and found it helpful to label days with treats (food, drink, fun activity, etc.) for yourself to keep track of days of the week.

Sarasvati office

Empty Sarasvati office

Routine, boundaries, get away from the computer at the end of the work day! I’m lucky as I was able to keep working in the office, but the pitfall was the temptation to work much longer hours and sit at the computer for way too long. I felt it in my back and eyes!

Music helps 🙂

For me, creating a morning routine has been essential:
Changing out of pyjamas (even if it’s just into a slightly more structured pair of pyjamas); getting outdoors first thing in the morning – usually just for a stroll around the block while my coffee is brewing; trying not to look at my phone for a good half hour after waking up to ease myself into the day; starting work around the same time each day. It’s helped me retain a sense of structure and given me something to focus on.

We hope you are all managing and staying healthy. We look forward to all being together again when it is safe. In the meantime, feel free to contact us at