Sound of the Beast: speaking truth to power

In March 2013, Tunisian rapper Ala Yaacoub, also known as Weld El 15, was sentenced to two years in prison for his song Boulicia Kleb (The Police Are Dogs). It was his response to police violence, a cause for anger if ever there was one. Donna-Michelle St. Bernard pays tribute to Weld El 15 in her solo show Sound of the Beast, produced by Theatre Passe Muraille with direction and dramaturgy by Andy McKim and Jivesh Parasram. The piece has continued to evolve since its first performance, so FemFest audiences will get to see the latest version of the piece.

Sound of the Beast is part of Donna-Michelle’s project to write one play inspired by each of the 54 countries in Africa. Yes, that means 54 plays. And yes, she’s an amazing playwright. She’s been nominated for the Governor General’s award. Twice. In Sound of the Beast, Donna-Michelle brings a story from Tunisia to a stage in Canada to remind us that police violence doesn’t just happen far away (or just south of the border). With the passionate power of storytelling, spoken word, and hip-hop, Donna-Michelle calls out the Toronto police for their gun violence, particularly against people of colour.SoundoftheBeast photo by Michael Cooper

Lynn Slotkin’s review states that “Donna-Michelle St. Bernard tells a gripping, compelling story that is happening all over the world. Her stories and their telling are not clichéd into sameness. Each one is perceptively drawn, calmly told, clearly illuminated and will make you suck air for all the right reasons. She is a compelling presence who tells a vital story.” Chris Klippenstein emphasises in his review that Donna-Michelle “get(s) the audience to realize something about themselves” and describes the piece as an “intense, memorable constellation of storytelling.”

Sound of the Beast
There’s a 100% chance that Sound of the Beast will make you feel something. Don’t believe me? There’s only one way to find out. Get your tickets here! You can see it at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film on Thursday, September 20, at 1:00 pm (followed by a talkback), Friday, September 21, at 9:00 pm, or Saturday, September 22, at 7:00 pm. You can also catch Donna-Michelle’s Real Thing lecture on Wednesday, September 19, at 12:30 pm. You won’t be disappointed!

 

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Our Friends at the Fringe!

It’s that time of year again! The Winnipeg Fringe Festival is coming up next week and as usual, you can catch our team out and about spreading the word on FemFest 2018: Staging Resistance, including the chance to win a free festival pass! Big thank-yous go out to all the companies who are helping us promote FemFest 2018.

We had the opportunity to preview some amazing shows at our One Night Stand series in May, featuring new work by eight local companies as part of Prairie Theatre Exchange’s Carol Shields Festival.  If you’re looking for some great shows to see, check out some of the fantastic productions put on by our past collaborators:

ONEDATECITY.fin (1)One Date City presented by It’s All Relative Productions

Written by Reba Terlson and co-created by Craig Terlson
Directed by Kaeleigh Ayre

Cast: Reba Terlson, Rachel Hiebert, Drew Jensen

Best friends Morgan and Julie have awful luck with dating. Julie just got out of a relationship and forgets how to date, and Morgan can’t remember the last time she had a worthwhile date. They place a high-stakes bet to see who can go on one great date.

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Mother’s Little Secret presented by Broken Record Productions

Written by Jo MacDonald, winner of the FemFest 2017 Bake-Off!

After her latest accident, two daughters conspire to move their mother into a retirement facility. But Casa Espia is no ordinary senior’s home.

 

 

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Animosity presented by Downside Up Productions

Written by Wren Brian

Directed by Ntara Curry & Sami Desiree

Cast: Melissa Langdon & Sophie Smith-Dostmohamed

Two people. Trapped in an abyss. Refusing to get along. In this absurdist/existentialist play two people struggle with feelings of fear, disconnection, and anger at each other, the space, and themselves. This is a companion piece to last year’s Anomie (winner of the Harry Rintoul Award for Best New Manitoban Play at the 2017 Winnipeg Fringe).

 
Fractured Expectations Graphic (715x800)Fractured Expectations, a collective creation presented by Timeless Weaver

Directed by Rachel Smith, co-director of our International Women’s Week Cabaret of Monologues

Cast: Alicia Coulson, Jacob Janzen, Matthew Lupu and Erica Wilson

What kinds of expectations do you have in life? Finish your degree and immediately find your dream job? Go on a blind date and find the person of your dreams? Expectations can become a positive mantra to help you achieve your goals. Other times they can be a curse: an endless stream of disappointments.

 

2018-96735-web.jpgConfessional presented by The 28th Minute

Written by Tennessee Williams

Directed by George Toles

Cast: Heather Roberts, Jen Robinson, Kevin Ramberran, Justin Fry, Sylvia Richardson, Ivan Henwood, Sherab Rabzyor Yolmo, and our 2018 production assistant Reid Girard!

Tennessee Williams’ play-writing voice is always a lyrical plea for mercy. In Confessional, he takes us to Monk’s Bar, not far from Treasure Island Trailer Park. Eight characters, variously down and out, form a loose community of the not quite vanquished.

 

2018-125778-web.jpgThe Last 48 presented by ArtLaunch Theatre Company

Written by Camille Intson

Directed by Raffie Rosenberg and Simon Miron

Cast: Wes Rambo, Chris Sousa, Pamela Roz, Jack Maier, and Emily Meadows

Stage Managed by our Associate Producer, Daphne Finlayson

Five young associates are forced into competing for spots at a top advertising agency by a mysterious robotic surveillance system. When the workers begin to realize that their pairing together is anything but random, the company’s system of ethics is questioned as the employees struggle to complete their tasks.

There are dozens of more great shows, with amazing artists we have had the pleasure to work with and will feature in our season, but we only have so much space! Check out the Winnipeg Fringe Festival’s website for a full look at what’s up next for independent, experimental theatre!

Burnt: Norah Paton travels to Burning Man, Burning Man travels to FemFest

At FemFest this year, Norah Paton’s Burnt will take you on a theatrical trip to Burning Man, a temporary community in the desert in Nevada. You will meet all kinds of people played by Paton herself. The festival gets its name from the ritual of burning of a huge wooden effigy at the end of the festival. It is founded on ten principles: radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy.

Paton created the piece by visiting Burning Man in 2014, 2015, and 2016 and recording interviews with the people she met there. But instead of any old documentary, Paton wrote a script that is a collage of interviews and brought it to life with her captivating acting skills. She plays a surprisingly varied cast of characters, each with their own distinctly recognizable personality. Ian Huffam wrote in his review that “Paton’s physicality and vocal texture when embodying the subjects of her interviews deftly captures the essence of these people.”

The aesthetic of the show is wonderful, too. The sound design is by AL Connors and the play features electronic music, just as Burning Man does. Dominique Coughlin’s costume and set designs remind us of Le Petit Prince, as Ian Huffam points out, which shares its desert setting with Burnt. Lighting designer Sarah Mansikka creates fascinating visual effects. Dramaturges Emily Pearlman and Brad Long complete the artistic team.

Paton premièred Burnt at the Undercurrents Festival in Ottawa in 2017 and received glowing reviews. Jared Davidson described the première as “fascinating, clever, and immersive” and added “with a script and performance this strong, it will be interesting to see how it develops.” Our Artistic Director saw this production in Ottawa and was excited to share it with FemFest audiences.  And now that Paton has developed it further, Winnipeg theatregoers will see its best version yet.

Paton’s brilliance doesn’t stop at the sheer originality of this concept. The play also criticizes the hypocrisies of Burning Man: how a money-less city that operates on giving has become a capitalist venture, how a place where people are not supposed to leave any traces has developed a litter problem, and how racism and rape culture have crept into a community founded on inclusivity.

The Ottawa Citizen quoted Paton saying “Some of [the ten principles of Burning Man] are totally contradictory, and I definitely do look at those paradoxes…For me, it’s really interesting to see how this temporary city becomes a microcosm of all the issues or tensions or problems that we all see in our lives.”

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Come and enjoy Burnt at FemFest at the University of Winnipeg Asper Centre for Theatre and Film, 400 Colony Street, on Tuesday, September 18th or Wednesday, September 19th at 9:00 pm or on Thursday, September 20th at 7:00 pm and prepare to be amazed!

New Beginnings and Endings

After two years of community interviews and workshops, the world premiere of New Beginnings took Winnipeg by storm! Over the course of the run, we had multiple sold-out shows and over 750 people came to see the play. Every performance offered a conversation circle to continue the dialogue sparked by this production, allowing audiences the chance to ask questions and learn more about the stories reflected in New Beginnings. Here are some of the great things people had to say!

It was wonderful, I cried and laughed. Those stories are so powerful. The first one with the burka is how we escaped.  I actually wore one for the first time in my life then. You guys did a great job bringing these stories to life.” – Ellie Towfigh via Facebook

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I’m excited to be a member of such an amazing company that inspires audiences to reach out and connect with others to promote social change in such powerful ways…  Perspective is hugely important to being a positive member of a community and I believe that it can often be overlooked.  But New Beginnings brings forward so many unique stories that can perhaps open horizons for our audiences and introduce the realities of immigration and resettlement.” – Alanna McPherson, Performer

“New Beginnings by Sarasvati Productions is beyond amazing. This production cannot end. The message of reality of resettlement should be heard by thousands more. The actors, content and music touched my soul.” – Judy Rose via Facebook

Thanks to a generous grant from the Inter-Action Program, we were able to offer a wide variety of accessibility services including ASL interpretation, child-minding, translation, transportation, and counselling for any audience members affected by the play’s subject matter. On May 24th, we played host to close to 100 Yazidi refugees from Operation Ezra, offering Kurmanji translation via headset and child-minding provided by Operation Ezra and West Central Women’s Resource Centre.

Congratulations on an excellent production! Thank you so much for having the Operation Ezra families at the show.  It was a great opportunity for them to experience live theatre. We really appreciate you going above and beyond to make it accessible to all. The translation and child care allowed many of the attendees to experience their first live show. We had no idea what to expect yet we found ourselves laughing at times and crying at times.  We recognized some of the stories which made it even more impactful.” – Karen Shpeller, Operation Ezra

Over the course of the run, we had representatives from Winnipeg’s newcomer community speak after the show, allowing audiences to hear their stories and share their own as well. We also hosted Kamta Roy Singh, whose story appeared in the play.

It was fantastic show last night. The individuals who act as Kamta and employee did amazing job. Congratulations.” – Kamta Roy Singh, Kamta’s Story

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Kamta Singh and Lu Fayokun

I would like to commend you, your cast and all the others involved in this performance a great “BRAVO” on an excellent performance. I was in attendance at the world premiere of Sarasvati Productions presentation of New Beginnings and was so impressed with it… A very great performance by the cast. Representatives of the Jamaican Association of Manitoba were invited to answer questions and share comments with the cast and audience at the end of the performance. A great evening.” – Patrick Moore, Jamaican Association of Manitoba

 

We couldn’t have made this production happen without the community members who participated in our workshops and allowed us to share their stories onstage. Big thank-yous as well to our incredible creative team, our hard-working volunteers, and everyone who came out to support New Beginnings!

Exploring Immigration Across Generations

Newcomer stories from all over the world will be appearing in New Beginnings: from Syria to Ethiopia, Vietnam to Zimbabwe! We have such a diverse range of artists bringing these stories to life, including some familiar faces as well as newcomers to Canada! Get to know this week’s featured New Beginnings artists below.

 

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Melissa Langdon

Melissa Langdon is thrilled to be a part of the New Beginnings team. She is a graduating Honours Acting student from the University of Winnipeg. Through her time at the university, she appeared in Time and the Conways, Concord Floral, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. She’s also appeared in a number of films including Grief (Kaiju Productions) and Harmonize (Prairie Kid Productions). In addition to performing as a dancer, Melissa appears in Usna’s story, which focuses on a group of women fleeing their home country of Afghanistan.

 

As the daughter of an immigrant parent, Melissa has learned so much about the struggles and triumphs that many newcomers face while arriving in Canada. “The conversations that have emerged while discussing the struggles of new Canadian citizenship and the immigration process have been extremely powerful: from resettling after arrival to long-term personal growth and adaptation,” says Melissa.

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Dagmawit Habtemariam

 

Dagmawit Habtemariam (or Dagm for short) is new to the Sarasvàti stage, having been born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She moved to Winnipeg with her husband and two children in July 2011. Her educational backgrounds include an M.A in Social Anthropology and a B.Ed. degree in History, both from Ethiopia. Currently, she is taking an undergraduate degree in Human Rights program at the University of Winnipeg while working as a Graduate Studies Admission Officer.

Dagm is excited to share the stories of immigrants’ lives with Winnipeggers: particularly culture shocks, the ordeals of coming to Canada, as well as hopes for themselves and their children in a new home. “I am an immigrant myself and the different scenes of the project discuss the opportunities, challenges and commonalities that immigrants face when moving to Winnipeg and Canada.”

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Anjali Sandhu

Dagm also appears in Karwan and Irekanmi’s stories, both of which focus on how different generations experience settlement. Joining Dagm in Karwan’s story is familiar face Anjali Sandhu. Anjali is a Winnipeg-based comedian, actor, writer and law student. She has performed stand-up at the Winnipeg Comedy Fest, SheDot Comedy Festival, Sirius XM’s Next Top Comic, and more. Anjali was a writer/adapter of The Trump Card which she performed with District Theatre Collective at the 2017 Winnipeg Fringe Festival. She also wrote and performed an original piece for Sarasvàti’s 2018 Cabaret of Monologues, Flight 182. Anjali’s original show I’m Not Taylor Swift will premiere this summer at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.

 

Like Melissa, Anjali also comes from a family of newcomers. “I’m excited about working with new artists,” says Anjali. “As the daughter/granddaughter of immigrants, I am excited to explore what my family members’ may have experienced through this piece.”

You can catch all of our amazing artists when New Beginnings premieres on May 22nd! The production takes place until May 27th at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (400 Colony St). Don’t miss out – get your tickets today!

New Faces and Newcomers

Through casting New Beginnings, we have had the amazing opportunity to meet and work with a whole new branch of emerging artists in Winnipeg! Representation is incredibly important – doing newcomer stories justice by doing our part to cast them as accurately as possible.

With this project, we’re introducing a number of new faces to the Sarasvàti Productions artistic team as well as welcoming back some familiar ones! Get to know this week’s featured New Beginnings artists below.

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Denisse Samaniego

Denisse Samaniego is currently a third-year Theatre and Education student at University of Winnipeg. She has been performing since she learned how to talk. This is her debut performance with Sarasvàti Productions as well as her first professional job as a performer. She is honored to be a part of such a wonderful and real piece and can’t wait for everyone to experience it.

Having come over from the Philippines at the age of three, Denisse can relate to her character Hazel’s story. “I’m an immigrant and my parents, like Hazel, started from nothing and worked hard to where they are now to provide a better life for me,” says Denisse. “I want to thank my parents for everything they have done because I literally wouldn’t be here in Canada doing what I love without them.”

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Reena Jolly

In addition to Hazel’s story, Denisse will also take part in depicting Ariana’s journey about a family of women escaping a dangerous situation to come to Canada. Also in Ariana’s story is Sarasvàti Productions veteran Reena Jolly. Reena is a fourth-year arts student at the University of Manitoba. She has been keeping herself very busy this year when it comes to theatre, having acted in two out of the three Black Hole Theatre Company mainstages: Nothing Sacred and Marat/Sade. Reena also appeared in our 2017 and 2018 IWW Cabaret of Monologues. Source material has been drawn from the monologue she performed in 2017, You Say Tomato, I Say Goodbye. It is the story of Irekanmi, a young high school student trying to balance assimilation into Canadian culture with her own heritage.

“I’m excited to bring the character of Irekanmi to life!” says Reena. “It’s so cool that they have transformed her into a complete, well-rounded character. Plus it’s an added perk that that some of the lines from the monologue are in the play, so I have fewer lines to memorize!”

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Bosun Amao

Joining Reena in her third piece for the show is Bosun Amao, performing a snapshot from his own life. Hailing from Nigeria, Bosun has over fifteen years of experience in financial advisory, operations and project management. Aside his professional experience, Bosun has served at different times as head of drama/theatre group as well as co-founder of a dance group between year 2002 and 2003 with four other friends. He has handled various theatre projects and also coordinated the production of a film.

For all our these incredible stories and more, you can catch New Beginnings running May 22nd – 27th at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (400 Colony St). Don’t miss out – get your tickets today!

“New Beginnings”: Meet the Artists!

We’re so excited to start introducing the artists behind our upcoming production, New Beginnings! This incredible collaboration features a team of over thirty people to bring to life stories of resettlement from all over the world. This production has given us the chance to work with newcomers of all backgrounds to share their experiences with Winnipeg audiences.

We had the privilege of sharing the story of Rachel Awur Moijok Chol as part of our 2017 IWW Cabaret of Monologues. Lost Girls focuses on the missing girls of the South Sudan, pairing Rachel’s voice with movement performed and choreographed by Sydney Macfarlane.

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Sydney Macfarlane

“I am really looking forward to the challenge of bringing someone’s story to life through movement,” says Sydney. “It forces me to dig deep into expressions and put me in the shoes of the person I am portraying. Some of these stories are just so empowering and it makes me feel really happy to help someone’s story be known and give a visual to their voice.”

Dance has always been a huge part of Sydney’s life, allowing her to connect more with music and herself. Sydney started dancing at the age of 5 taking tap and ballet before branching off to jazz, contemporary, lyrical, modern, acrobatics and hip-hop throughout the years. Recently she has been trying to learn more about Latin ballroom styles to grow her dance vocabulary.

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Olaolu Fayokun

Performing for the first time with Sarasvàti Productions is Olaolu Fayokun. Originally hailing from Nigeria, Olaolu (Lou) now resides in Winnipeg. Olaolu established a love for the dramatic arts in high school and has since taken up studies in law and theatrical arts at the University of Manitoba, playing a prominent role in the university’s Black Hole Theatre Company. Most recently he appeared in their 2017-2018 season as Gregor in George F. Walker’s Nothing Sacred.

“I’m excited about the way in which this piece gives the audience numerous perspectives on immigration – how it affects not only the present, but future generations,” says Olaolu. “I personally connect with the unique stories depicting the journey people took to carve a safe and promising future for themselves.”

 

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Jonathan Chipalata

Jonathan Chipalata is a current student at Gordon Bell High School, where he received a Best Actor Award in 2016. He’s been acting since the second grade, appearing in musical theatre and performing for big crowds.  Born in the DRC, Jonathan immigrated to Canada with his mother, father, and siblings from South Africa. As part of the production’s acting ensemble, both he and Olaolu will be portraying Kamta’s story, which focuses on two generations of newcomers at the most Canadian of workplaces: Tim Horton’s.

 

You can catch both of these powerful stories – and many more – at the world premiere of New Beginnings May 22-27. Stay tuned in the coming weeks as we feature more of the amazing artists involved in this production. For more info and to buy tickets, click here!