The Long Journey to Breaking Through

Two years…that’s the average lifespan of a robin. Why work on a project for two years? It might be your first time reading about Breaking Through or perhaps you have you been following its progress for two years? Either way, as we launch in to rehearsals for the world premiere, we thought an overview was in order.

SMHC Playback

Playback group

In 2015 we launched “Mental Health is Everyone’s Health” with Artists in Healthcare Manitoba and Red Threads Playback Theatre. Much of the genesis was supported by the Selkirk Mental Health Centre where Red Threads did amazing playbacks sessions with residents who shared their stories and where co-writer Hope McIntyre had the honour of interviewing those in the geriatric and acquired brain injury ward. Sarasvàti also put out the word that we wanted to hear as many stories from as many perspectives. A need to break the silence and counter misrepresentation led to those with lived experience, health care workers and caregivers coming forward for interviews and to participate in open workshop sessions. We were hosted by the Manitoba Schizophrenia Society, Rainbow Resource Centre, St. John’s High School, Resource Assistance for Youth and Aurora Family Centre’s male newcomer peer support group. In total almost 400 people shared their experiences! We were blown away. Writers Hope McIntyre and Cairn Moore with the support of facilitator Nan Fewchuk faced the difficult task of compiling so many diverse perspectives in to a compelling play. In fact, they would have liked a third year to take on this daunting task!

Nan Fewchuk and Cairn Moore

Nan Fewchuk and Cairn Moore make notes at a workshop reading of Breaking Through, 2016.

It was decided in consulting with all our partners that the ultimate goals was to increase empathy and understanding, highlight the reality that everyone has mental health, and demonstrate that everyone’s experience of illness is unique. All that as well as making it artistically engaging! Breaking Through was read in various drafts for those who contributed their stories. Then a full staged reading in May 2016 allowed actors to contribute their insights while testing the play out in front of an audience.

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Over one hundred feedback forms were received! Overall an extremely favourable response, but with amazing insights leading to round after round of rewrites. Then another workshop with actors thanks to the Manitoba Association of Playwrights and the guidance of Sharon Bajer in January 2017.

The process has already created a platform for people to talk about the importance of mental health for everyone. It is easy to think of mental health with an “us vs. them” mentality: people who have a mental illness and people who do not. However, it is important to know that this apparent line is a lot blurrier than many people may think. One in four Manitobans will receive medical treatment for a mental illness. Many people are affected in one way or another and some people to do not stop to consider their own mental health.

Finally we arrive at the beginning of the final stage. Our first read-through on Tuesday was exhilarating for everyone! We can hardly wait to share the results of this journey with the world or at least with Winnipeg audiences as a start.

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The world premiere of Breaking Through is coming up May 23-28, 2017 under the direction of Kevin Klassen with an accomplished Winnipeg cast and crew featuring Elena Anciro, Dorothy Carroll, Richie Diggs, Marsha Knight, Harry Nelken, Spenser Payne and Josh Ranville. Plus design team Kim Griffin (set/costumes), Dean Cowieson (lighting) and jaymez (video/sound).

For more information on Breaking Through and how to get tickets visit our website! http://sarasvati.ca/breaking-through-world-premiere/

Acing Your Next Audition

This spring, Sarasvàti Productions delivers audition workshops to best serve you!

“This is what we’ve seen the greatest demand for”, says Angie St. Mars, Associate Producer and workshop coordinator for Sarasvàti. “We are pleased to respond to the needs of local actors with two levels of audition workshops, and we’re excited to be working with these Winnipeg theatres to do so!”

Artistic Director of Sarasvàti Productions, Hope McIntyre will facilitate Auditioning 101: The Basics for Beginners on Sunday April 23rd. This workshop is designed for those who are new to auditioning, who have only done a few auditions, or who have yet to audition for a professional theatre. After twenty years of auditions, our Artistic Director has seen a lot of the same mistakes made over and over again. As part of our goal to support emerging artists we want emerging actors to be able to put their best foot forward. The workshop will cover do’s and don’ts from choosing a monologue to etiquette, as well as provide tips to getting the part! If you have a headshot and resume you can bring them along for critique. Those who have prepared monologues will also have a chance to present an excerpt for direct coaching!

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Hope McIntyre, Artistic Director of Sarasvati Productions

Auditioning 101 will take place at the Asper Centre for Theatre & Film on April 23rd from 1pm-4pm. The registration fee is $30 and the deadline is April 10th. To register, please call 204-586-2236 or email associate@sarasvati.ca.

In order to serve theatre actors who have advanced experience auditioning we’ve partnered with the Artistic Directors from three theatres in Winnipeg to present a Mock Audition Workshop for Advanced Actors. Sarasvàti Productions is thrilled to be working with Ardith Boxall, Artistic Director of Theatre Projects Manitoba, Krista Jackson, Associate Artistic Director of Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre and Ari Weinberg, Artistic Director of Winnipeg Jewish Theatre in order to deliver a comprehensive mock audition-style workshop on Wednesday, June 14th.

In the first half, participants will have a 5 minute slot where they each perform one 1-2 minute monologue for the panel of Artistic Directors and receive individual feedback. The second half of the workshop will be devoted to group feedback and a moderated Q&A .

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The Mock Audition Workshop for Advanced Actors will take place on June 14th at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre rehearsal hall from 4pm-8pm.  Applicants must have experience auditioning for a professional theatre. The registration fee is $30 and the deadline to register is May 10th. Please include  a list of any auditions done for a professional theatre with your registration. To register, please call 204-586-2235 or email associate@sarasvati.ca.

We’re looking forward to helping you put your best foot forward at your next audition!

How It All Comes Together

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This week we welcome our Associate Director’s perspective on our unique approach to International Women’s Week. Rachel Smith is an actor, director, writer and acting coach. She has a MA in Theatre & Performance from the University of Manchester, UK and a BA Honours in Theatre & Film from the University of Winnipeg. Rachel has worked with Sarasvati many times and enjoys her continuing work with the company. 

The Cabaret of Monologues is an event that I look forward to every year. It is such an interesting and diverse array of artistic works that beautifully captures the year’s theme. This year the theme of “Starting Over” was particularly relatable for me, and for many audience members who I encountered. Starting Over can mean different things for different people. The variety of monologues featured in the cabaret was a wonderful representation of the different perspectives on that theme. I found that I could relate to most of the monologues in one way or another.

This was the fourth year that I have been the Associate Director on the cabaret. I was delighted and honoured that I was able to work on them again this year. It is an interesting project to work on because it is not rehearsed like a normal play is. Ten separate pieces are rehearsed once a week until the weekend before the full cabaret when it all comes together. Many of the actors do not even meet until the dress rehearsal. Each monologue is given the same rehearsal guidelines but the individual pieces are so different. It is great to work with the different actors and work with the unique challenges within the individual pieces. When working on them during the months of January and February, they feel almost like separate entities that do not relate to each other. When they all come together at the beginning of March it is amazing to see the full picture: the collage that is revealed.

Each monologue is powerful in its own way. I felt that the monologues developed with the newcomers to Canada were especially powerful. Some of them had heartbreaking stories yet were filled with joy and hope. When the monologues were presented as whole it became all the more powerful. Rachel Awur Moijok Chol was one of the women whose story was told during the performance. Her story was presented as a voice over recording of Rachel speaking while Sydney Macfarlane did a movement piece. At the matinee performance on March 11, Rachel sang an absolutely beautiful song after her story was presented. While she sang, Martha Akuch Maketh joined her on stage dancing with Sydney, while the rest of the cast joined the trio to prepare for the curtain call. The image of all those women dancing together on stage is one I do not think I will ever forget. It was so incredibly powerful to see them all up there, these amazing women portraying such important stories.

– Rachel Smith

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Eager to experience more transformative theatre? Join us for the world premiere of Breaking Through (May 23-28) an awe-inspiring new play about mental health.

Shattered Launches Tonight!

Although it is targeted at youth, Shattered is a powerful production and a must see for everyone! At our recent open rehearsal, one viewer asked “where were you when I was in high school?”

The interactive style is what truly makes it unique and empowering. As the audience’s guide for the experience, GeNie Baffoe has a presence that even the toughest audiences—aka grade 7 to grade 12—will warm to. Confident, expressive, and welcoming, GeNie is the Joker (a term used for a facilitator in Forum Theatre). He will have lots of back-up with the talented group of young  actors in the cast. They hit the road next week to open up the discussion about mental health with students at dozens of Manitoba schools.

“If you disagree with what is happening in the scene, if you notice that a character could be making better choices I want you to clap and yell stop at which point you will rise from your seat, join us up on stage and take the place of one of these characters, are you ready?”, announces GeNie. The actors step into place and begin the scene. In this scene, a young man berates another young man at school after finding out that his mother has a mental illness. Many characters are bystanders, but nobody steps in.

*Clap!*

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The scene freezes. GeNie identifies the clapper and invites her up on stage. GeNie asks, “What do you think this character could have done instead?”
And just like that youth are up on their feet, engaging in proactive solutions to stopping the stigma and providing support for those dealing with mental health. It’s a beautiful sight to behold.

Sarasvàti Productions set the course for this play for youth while working on their larger Mental Health Project. The project saw Sarasvàti’s team of artists facilitate workshops with the public and a number of community organizations in order to gather real Winnipegger’s experiences with mental health. At the urging of youth a piece targeted to high schools was created. Shattered is set in a high school and is performed entirely by a young cast.

Since we can’t bring our fans and supporters in to high schools we have partnered with Graffiti Gallery and Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba to offer a special public preview. Funds raised will help take Shattered to schools that would not otherwise be able to afford it. Join us tonight, October 6th, at Graffiti Gallery (109 Higgins Avenue). The show starts at 7pm and tickets are only $10, available at the door. The performance is open to everyone. This is your chance to watch the play and hear what youth in our city are dealing with in terms of mental health.

We hope you can join us for the Shattered Fundraiser preview. If you’d like to support but you’re unable to attend you can contact the office at 204-586-2236 or donate at our website sarasvati.ca.  If you know of a school that should host a performance please contact Erin at touring@sarasvati.ca.

 

Communing with Theatre – Magnetic North Reflections by Artistic Director Hope McIntyre

Theatre in the bush, in a school, in an old railway station where a trolley now runs and rising out of the magical Yukon River. I’ve experienced that and more in the last five days. Now I’m sitting in the Calgary airport. It seems Whitehorse didn’t want to let us go as our departing flight was delayed meaning missed connections in terms of flights, but greater connections with colleagues as we sat at the gate discussing the shows and what it all means in the larger theatrical picture.

 

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For those who don’t know Magnetic North Theatre Festival is a national showcase of touring works produced in partnership with the National Arts Centre. Every second year it takes place in Ottawa, but in other years it travels to different regions in the country. As part of the festival, an Industry Series is offered so that those who present touring work can see all the offerings, in addition to panels, keynotes, one to one meetings and pitches. Over the years it has allowed me to explore shows and partnerships for FemFest in Halifax, St. Johns, Calgary, Vancouver and now Whitehorse.

As welcoming keynote speaker, Louise Profeit-Leblanc, wisely pointed out the festival has truly earned its name in finally coming to the real north! She also set the tone by using her storytelling skills to highlight the notion that art is about spirit, about healing and about humanity. Artistic practice is living and that was exemplified one evening as over a hundred artists, presenters and theatre lovers boarded buses in to the bush for Ramshackle Theatre’s immersive experience. We were welcomed onto Brian Fiddler’s property to see ten minute works by an array of artists. Six days earlier each had been given their location in the bush and had to create a work to take place there. We played a guitar tree, as the forage station blended tasty treats and were offered the most romantic outhouse we’d ever seen. It was magic and despite the midnight start and a wrap up at 2am, I felt energized. The sun setting as we began and hovering in a permanent state of dusk without twilight ever coming was part of this unique Whitehorse experience.

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After producing work by Artistic Director Patti Flather in one of our first FemFests, it was a real treat to finally see the work of her company Gwaandak Theatre in the flesh. Map of The Land, Map of the Stars had the actors enter from the river as the drum beat. It truly felt like we were connecting to the history of the land. It was a crucial reminder that stories go back to a very ancient time and it left me with a feeling of gratitude to be hosted on the land of the Taa’an Kwächän and the Kwanlin Dün.

The second keynote by Laurel Parry harkened back to the beginning of local theatre in Whitehorse when they weren’t allowed to flush the toilets backstage. She echoed the powerful message at the end of Jordan Tannahill’s Concord Floral – 10% of people are cruel, 10% merciful and the other 80% can be moved either way. Parry, and likely most of us working in theatre, believes theatre has a lot to do with moving that 80% towards mercy.

This also picked up on an important dialogue that was underlining this year’s festival. For the first time Magnetic North was offering a Pay What You Decide option for 20 of the 50 performances. It is part of a new model to make theatre accessible. I had really interesting discussions with Fusebox Festival’s Brad Carlin about this concept. It was also tackled in a panel with three other international presenters. Brad argues that since ticket prices don’t come close to covering the cost of producing a performance piece, why should we pretend that it does? Fusebox has made their art and events free to view and attend but has clarified that it is not free to make. Artists have been subsidizing work for centuries. They have switched their focus from marketing and making art a transaction to engagement. People do still pay for the art just not at the door, allowing those who can pay more to do so through donations and sponsorship, while having the actual presentation fully open to one and all. They have seen their attendance increase, along with revenue from other sources. I was left wondering how we make this work in Winnipeg? How do we create a real conversation about the value of art?

A few other highlights:

  • Live dogs on stage always steal the show, but audiences love it!
  • Tomboy Survival Guide – wow!
  • When you bring a ten-year-old on stage as part of audience participation, you have to be prepared for anything.
  • Offering food as part of a performance creates a sense of communion.
  • Jani Lauzon is a fabulous storyteller.
  • Unfortunately it is hard to take risks unless an audience is willing to also take risks.
  • There are so many amazing works I wish I could bring to Winnipeg.
  • There are fabulous companies doing important work across the country.
  • Borealis Soul aka BoSo blew me away.
  • Having a Jacuzzi in your hotel room isn’t such a big deal when you are in panels and shows from 9am to midnight every day!

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There is so much more I could speak about after seeing multiple shows, meeting so many fabulous artists and presenters and getting to experience the beauty of the Yukon. I’ve been able to start some great conversations and I expect our audiences will see the results in the FemFests to come.

A huge thank you to the amazing team at Magnetic North and in Whitehorse. Most shows I attended sold out and it was clear that this is a community that truly believes in the arts.

If you are in the area, the Magnetic North Theatre Festival goes until June 18!

Meet the Cast of Characters

Breaking Through word collage

We began by listening.

We listened to the community, to caregivers, and to many people who are living with mental health issues. We gathered hundreds of stories and now, we have woven them into one great, big, beautiful inter-connected play.  This story is full of magic, songs (yes songs!!), hope, humour and truth. And we are thankful for the wonderful team of people who are going to help us tell it.

THE CAST

Ian Bastin will be reading for the prickly but charming, Joe. Suffering from schizophrenia  Joe has a long history with various treatments for mental illness. Joe is never short on stories to tell, but will anybody listen?

Kelsey Funk will be reading Molly. Molly has bipolar episodes which often manifest as religious fixations. As a single parent living in poverty, she is forced to rely heavily on her already over-stretched sister.

Spenser Payne will be reading Val, an aspiring actor who has bulimia. Val wears a mask to hide her reality. She struggles to defeat the voices inside her head that tell her she is not enough.

Rachel Smith will be reading Stef, who lives with OCD and anxiety. Stef’s mental health issues threaten to shut her in as she struggles to leave the house and maintain relationships—even with those who care for her the most.

Erica Wilson will be reading KoKo. KoKo is a young, Indigenous two-spirited person with attitude. Will her creativity and strength outshine the depression and suicidal tendencies brought on by a lifetime of trauma?

Akalu Meekis, Ashley Chartrand and Nan Fewchuck read for a wide range of characters—including caregivers, a psychiatrist, police officer, and spirit guide.

After the first read of the script of Breaking Through, the cast summed the story up with one word each. The above collage is the result. Let us know what you think after you hear the story!

Breaking Through
A staged reading by Hope McIntyre and Cairn Moore
In collaboration with the Mental Health Community

Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (at U of W, 400 Colony Street)
Tickets $15 Regular / $10 Students & Seniors
May 22 at 3pm
May 24-27 at 7pm
May 28 at 3pm

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Breaking The Silence

What if we got it wrong? What if we left an important story out? What if it’s a big mess. What if they hate it? Unveiling a brand new draft and opening it up to audience feedback is both exhilarating and nerve-wracking!—especially when that audience is as invested in the stories as our youth audience at Rainbow Resource Centre on Monday night.

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Nan Fewchuk in our production of Fefu and Her Friends

“This is very important to them”, said Nan Fewchuck, who has been working with us since the beginning stages of “Breaking Through”.

 

In a project that began a year ago, Sarasvàti artists met with community groups and heard from almost 400 individuals wanting to share their experiences with mental health. We found these workshops to be an incredibly inspiring experience. People wanted to talk about mental health. So many people approached us, eager to share their story. We were blown away by the youth at the Rainbow Resource Centre drop-in. They were so generous in sharing their experiences, that we wanted to bring the draft back to them so we could incorporate their feedback before the play script makes a public debut this May.

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Cairn Moore and Hope McIntyre launching their last co-written project “Jail Baby”

“I wish I had three more hours to talk to them”, said Cairn Moore, who has been weaving hundreds of stories into this script with co-writer Hope McIntyre. “It is so helpful to have this opportunity. They are so young and they have a lot of life experience—they give us some of the most helpful comments”

 

The youth at Rainbow Resource Centre were eager to share amazing insights when we finished the reading.  “They are clearly celebrating the fact that this is being done”, said Nan, “we can see what we’ve touched on, and what we need to go further with.”

“Breaking Through” explores challenges for those with a mental health diagnosis, while also exploring the reality that everyone has mental health. How can we support each other and increase compassion? The play follows five characters as their stories weave in and out to depict experiences with the system, community response, internal struggles and ultimately the desire for understanding.

We are so excited to share this script with the public! Join us at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film from May 24-27 at 7 pm, and May 22 & 28 at 3 pm. On May 27th Breaking Through will be followed by a performance with Red Threads Playback Theatre where the audience can tell of their own experiences with mental health and see them improvisationally “played back.” We invite you to add your voices to this valuable process.
Mental Health is everyone’s health.

MHP poster draft3Visit www.sarasvati.ca for more information, or to book tickets!

And if you didn’t hear the news we were honoured that our Artistic Director, Hope McIntyre, won the Winnipeg Foundation’s Fast Pitch event on April 7th. The grand prize will provided funding for the high school adaptation of Breaking Through to tour to schools in the fall of 2016!