What Does Starting Over Mean to You?

Have you ever relocated, tackled a new job, new relationship or even just discovered your true self? This year we explore what is perhaps the most universal topic we have tackled in the International Women’s Week Cabaret of Monologues. Erin Meagan Schwartz asked all of our performers what this year’s theme means to them.

“New adventure! But that was my idea when I was eleven years old and I came to Canada”, says Cherrel Holder, “then doing it when I was 20–moving to Australia for school–starting over was scary.” Check out the promo video for all of our performers responses!


Kim Kakegamic rehearsing “The Pit” in front of playwright Alissa Watson and Directors Hope McIntyre and Rachel Smith. Photo by Nik Rave.

Alka Kumar shared her story of starting over with Angie St. Mars. The two co-wrote one of the monologue sin this year’s cabaret based on Alka’s experience. “Sharing my story provided me space for reflection, even helping me process my experience in a deliberate and considered manner”, said Alka, including that it is a technique and useful tool within narrative therapy. “I found this useful as it was a good opportunity to go back to my `lived experience’ after the fact, almost separating it out of myself (externalising it, as it were) and through such a process of articulation becoming more aware of it.”
The piece created from their process is called Diaspora. It focuses on an Indian woman, once a newcomer herself, as she welcomes a young newcomer to Winnipeg.

The Cabaret features monologues that take you through ten different stories of pivotal moments in very different women’s lives. From the moment when an Ojibwe activist must choose to apologize or stand by what she believes in, to the moment a young Nigerian woman tells her first generation immigrant parents that she wants to go home: this year’s selections will have you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“I hope the audience [members] who share my experiencing of my everyday dilemmas, struggles, and negotiations with my many homes will get to know me a little”, said Alka. “Even more significantly, I hope the monologue and my voice will resonate, and that it may help in their personal processes and journeys of reflection, and exploration, as ideas and emotions around identity, belonging, and being comfortable being who we are wherever home is are important questions for everyone.”

There are two chances to catch all ten monologues on March 11th at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film. Tickets are available at the door, but we recommend getting them in advance, as this event will sell out.


Grateful for this Chaos

Andrew Lizotte blog

Photo by April Plett

Do mental health and comedy go together? As we have been focusing on mental health for our next project, Breaking Through, we thought it would be important to explore the role of comedy. Andrew Lizotte is a Winnipeg-based artist, and like many of us, he is a jack of all trades; playwright, performer, dramaturge, comedian, and teacher. Last year Andrew was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety disorder. Almost immediately Andrew did something that many people affected by mental health issues are never able to do; he went public.


“I went to the doctor and then an anxiety clinic. Wackiness ensued both times. I couldn’t not comment on it, because at the heart of things I’m a comedian”, said Andrew.

Like most comedians, Andrew often posts jokes and quips on social media. He had no idea that a post was about to change his life significantly.

“I made a harmless Facebook post about the irony of being left alone at the anxiety clinic and my life exploded”, he exclaimed “the outpouring of support was overwhelming.”

Exploring life is what artists do. But for artists who live with mental health issues, that can entail being incredibly public about something that you are still coming to terms with for yourself.

“I think whether you want to or not, you end up in your own work, and the more you can do that the better”, said Lizotte. “Audiences always want to feel like they shared a genuine moment.  That said, if this hadn’t happened to me so abruptly it would have been years of me just sharing hints of self.”

When it comes to something as stigmatized as mental health, the process of going public can be stressful;  at times it can be empowering, at other times discouraging. So many people keep their mental health issues a secret, even from friends and family, because the stigma surrounding mental health is still so pervasive.

“I wanted to ignore it. I was afraid of someone telling me I was crazy”, said Andrew. “Mental illness is a lot like cancer was in the 50s. You don’t talk about it and then you go off  and maybe die. There is a huge amount of stigma and shame behind it.”

Andrew Lizotte blog2

Photo by Leif Norman

Andrew remembers things happening quickly. In the early stages of coming to terms with his diagnosis, Andrew was already talking about it on stage in front of hundreds of others. “Suddenly I was doing a mood disorder gala at the Winnipeg Comedy Festival”, said Andrew, “suddenly I was playing a fundraiser at the Pantages Playhouse, suddenly I was doing speaking engagements at mental health clinics.”

Although being public about his mental health issues was overwhelming at times, Andrew believes that is has led him to have many conversations that we he would not otherwise have had.

“Oddly enough I was forced to do the healthy thing against my will and talk about my emotions” said Andrew. “It got me up in front of the best audiences of my life. Audiences that knew what I was going through and let me get as honest as I wanted. Now my voice as a writer/ performer has never been more clear and natural. I’m having the best shows of my life.”

Andrew is confident that he has benefited from speaking out, “To be frank I think I went through years of therapy in a matter of months.” But Andrew still worries about the consequences of being stigmatized.

In an upcoming documentary for the CBC Andrew will be featured alongside other creative people living with mental health issues. Although Andrew is proud to be a part of this project, he still has reservations when it comes to being so public with his mental health issues. “This documentary caught me in some pretty vulnerable moments. There were times I was in a really bad head space. So naturally I’m worried people will think that’s the real me. When the truth of me is much closer to right this moment.”

The arts are a forefront for discussing stigmatized issues that we are hungry but not always able to discuss with one another. Socially, we are in a place where we are starting to encourage people to speak up about mental health. It’s crucial that while we encourage people to speak up we also deconstruct the stigmas that make it difficult for them to do so.

“I’m very worried about how people will treat me after [the documentary] comes out” said Andrew. “At the same time I don’t deny that it’s all real moments that people may need to see to get a better understanding of mental illness.”

Andrew shared a list of some of the other things that have helped him through his experience from diagnosis to present date.

  • The Canadian Mental Health Association. I got right in to talk to someone when I needed it. Go now.
  • Growing a beard for the first time. A doctor told me to do it for at least a month. It looks terrible, but it teaches you patience, and I went outside feeling vulnerable and nothing bad happened.
  • Taking everything I’ve learned from performing improv for years and making me apply it to my off stage life.
  • A friend got me hooked on Buddhist meditation.
  • Thank you letters from strangers who saw me speak at a clinic.
  • Teaching kids. Most of my journey has been learning how to be as present as possible, and you have to be 100% focused with kids. They demand attention. Your problems and worries are automatically the least important thing in the room and it’s amazing. Also, talking to kids with the same problems I have, has taught me to be kinder to myself.
  • One of those kids told me that she likes to make silly faces in a mirror till she feels better. So now it’s the first thing I do every day.

You can catch Andrew Lizotte performing comedy at Wee Johnny’s on April 29.

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.

Fefu (2)

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.

McNally book launch photo4

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!

Come Celebrate International Women’s Week with Us!

Are we there yet? What more do you believe needs to change in order to achieve gender equality? It’s that time of year when the world can celebrate how far we’ve come and reflect on how far we all have to go to achieving gender equality. International Women’s Day has been celebrated by the UN every year on March 8 since 1977 and has since been expanded to include activities throughout the week. This year there has been some great steps forward in the fight for equality for all women everywhere such as the UN Women’s Solidarity Movement HeForShe, the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict (the largest summit of its kind), and Malala becoming the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for her amazing work advocating for girls’ education.

With these achievements and others we certainly feel like celebrating, so come celebrate with us at our full performances of our annual Cabaret of Monologues on March 7th! Hear from nine ordinary and extraordinary SuperWomen in a line-up of thought provoking and funny monologues written by talented Canadian playwrights and performed by local actors.

These amazing SuperWomen have already been empowering people with our community performances of select monologues. We’ve performed at Siloam Mission, Portage Place Shopping Centre, Rainbow Resource Centre, U of M Womyn’s Centre, Cancer Care and that’s not all, we have three more to go! The monologues have been a hit everywhere we’ve been, from the historical figure Isobel Gunn talking about her time working for the HBC in Rupert’s Land to Bea having to make a difficult decision about her mutated cells to Glory Girl having to escape from her nemesis.

To purchase tickets to see these awesome SuperWomen and others on March 7th at 4pm or 8pm in the UW Asper Centre for Theatre and Film, click here!

And if you want to do something on March 8th consider going to Winnipeg’s International Women’s Day march! It is open to all genders and ages and will offer light refreshments and inspiring speakers. The rally is meeting at 1pm at Portage Place and is walking to Union Centre at 1:30pm. For more information check out the Facebook event.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane…it’s SuperWomen!

Would you rather be extraordinary all the time or ordinary but do amazing things? Check out the mix of superheroines and women who have overcome great odds as we celebrate International Women’s Week! Our first presentation is only three short days away and we couldn’t be more excited to share these amazing stories with you. Between March 1st and March 8th we will be doing 11 performances. Here is a sneak peek of what we have in store:

Sam Walters as Super Girl in our Cabaret of Monologues in 2013

Sam Walters as Super Girl in our Cabaret of Monologues in 2013

In Scott Douglas’s monologue Glory Bound, Glory Girl acts like an actual superhero but she must battle more than just evil villains – “The point is – it’s about choice. And that’s what makes me a hero when you get right down to it: not the superpowers, or the costume, but choice. Instead of moaning about the inability of the Comple City Police Department to keep supervillians off the streets, I choose to put myself in harm’s way.”

Meanwhile, Loretta, the single mother of a teenage boy in Step Taylor’s monologue, is trying to reclaim her power by admitting she was wrong – “I always sensed that a mother shouldn’t lie to her child, but it was only after I did it that I knew a mother shouldn’t have anythin’ to hide from her child if that’s what she expects in return.”

ff2013_dreamingautism_IMG_8893 (533x800)

Christine Rodriguez in Dreaming in Autism at FemFest 2013

Linda in Christine Rodriguez’s heart wrenching monologue Of Heart and Tree is also struggling with feeling inadequate as a mother, especially as she tries to help her autistic son – “I did everything that a mother could do. I sought out therapy for him but we kept switching therapists because he didn’t like any of them. I was desperate to find him help. What more could I do?”

Ever heard of Isobel Gunn? She made a name for herself as a tripsman for the Hudson Bay Company, only they knew her as John. In Sandy Klowak’s monologue we find out all about Isobel’s adventure and the price she paid – “Stay calm. Stop shaking. You belong here, just like all these other men. For the first time I am looking at the island I was born on and I am not a part of it. I’ve left dry land.”

Zelda Fitzgerald is often overshadowed by her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald but in Frances Koncan’s monologue Zelda with a Z she hosts her own TV talk show – “For those of you just tuning in, we’ve spent this week celebrating heroes of all kinds: super, ordinary, and otherwise. What makes a hero? How do you define a hero? And most importantly, how do you become a hero? For those of you watching at home, we just did an anonymous audience survey over the break, and now we’ll take a look at the responses.”

We also wanted to know the answers to this! So we asked our actors who their personal SuperWoman was and why. Check out this video to hear their answers and then leave a comment or tweet who your personal SuperWoman is!

For a full list of our community performances or to get tickets to the full show on March 7th click here! We tend to sell out, so get them now while you still can!

Going Forward with Giving Voice

Giving VoiceWe are thrilled with the amount of people who came out to see our workshop presentation of Giving Voice at FemFest 2013: Revelation and Revolution! The comments and feedback we have received from audience members have been helping us revise and move forward with the project. With a school tour set for the fall of 2014, we have plenty of work to do! One of our upcoming goals is to take the revised script into high schools this November for a “test” workshop presentation. From there, we will ask students and educators for their feedback and advice and work to complete a fully revised version of the script. Are you interested in learning more? Keep reading for more information on the project, ways you can contribute, and what people are saying about this unique and relevant piece of theatre created by youth who have shared their stories and experiences with us.

What is Giving Voice?

logoGiving Voice is a new play developed with VOICES: Manitoba Youth in Care Network. It was created in the Forum Theatre method through various workshop sessions with youth who have experience in care. It is an interactive piece and explores issues that youth in care have had to deal with from the stigma of being in care to the transition to adulthood after care. According to an article published in the Winnipeg Free Press earlier this year, Manitoba has the highest rate of youth in care in Canada. It also stated that a First Nations youth is four times more likely to enter into foster care due to abuse and neglect. With Giving Voice, We hope to begin a conversation about the state of Manitoba’s foster care system from the perspective of someone who has, or is currently experiencing it.

What is Forum Theatre?

Movement BrainstormForum 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. In this method, students are encouraged to step outside themselves and to explore different ways of thinking and being.

Have you done projects like this in the past?

Yes! Projects like No Offence…, and last year’s Diss are all youth based forum theatre pieces which have successfully toured to various Manitoba high schools. Although not interactive, Ripple Effect was also created through community collaboration.

What are others saying about Giving Voice?

“I applaud Sarasvàti for bringing attention to this very important area, and efforts to raise awareness.”

“Great play for High School students. I think this would be great for them to see this! Great acting and commitment.”

“I think that this type of show could be very successful in a high school setting. The crowd interaction and humour sets it apart from similar shows.”

How can I help?

We are currently in the process of contacting local high schools who would be interested in hosting a FREE test workshop presentation of Giving Voice in late November. If you are an educator, or know someone who is, and are interested in bringing this script into your school, please contact us by calling our office at (204) 586-2236 or by e-mailing info@sarasvati.ca. If you would like to make a donation to help support Sarasvàti Productions in our goal to produce theatre which inspires dialogue and explores issues that youth are facing, please visit our donation page by clicking here.

Meet Christine Rodriguez of “Dreaming in Autism”

Christine Rodriguez

Christine Rodriguez

In the weeks leading up to FemFest 2013, we asked some of the performers to write about what participating in FemFest means to them. We start this series off with Christine Rodriguez, writer and performer whose play Dreaming in Autism has placed her on the proverbial map.  The play was awarded third prize at Ottawa Little Theatre’s 72nd National One-Act Playwriting Competition. Adjudicator Garry Davey says the play is a “strongly imagined piece with a distinctive style” and that it is “both funny and heart-breaking at times.” Dreaming in Autism was also nominated for Chapters Best English Script and won the Théâtre Denise-Pelletier Fred-Barry Award for Best Production Design at the 2012 Montreal Fringe Festival. Christine’s work is largely informed by her mixed-race heritage and her multicultural environment.

Here’s what Christine had to say about being part of FemFest 2013:

“I’m very excited about bringing Dreaming in Autism to FemFest 2013.  It’s an opportunity to perform and to share my story with an entirely new audience.  I’m looking forward to exchanging thoughts and ideas with the Winnipeg theatre community, to share with fellow Canadians.  I hope that the play continues to create awareness about autism issues and reach out to people dealing with autism.  I’m interested in hearing about people’s experience with autism in Manitoba.  How different are things there compared to Québec?

Beyond the issue of autism, I think that Winnipegers will enjoy the show not only for the drama or the story about a mother dealing with a mildly autistic child, but also for the theatre, the conception, the unique and daring way Liz (director), Jody (technical director) and Logan (set designer) chose to interpret the play.  We’re very proud of our work, humbled by the opportunity to show our work at FemFest alongside other great artists and thrilled to be taking our creation beyond Montreal’s English theatre community.

Art knows no boundaries.

See you all soon!”

For more information on Christine and her play, Dreaming in Autism, please visit http://sarasvati.ca/fem-fest-showsdreaminginautism/

FemFest 2013 Sneak Peek!

It is hard to believe that June is here! We’ve wrapped up our amazing run of Jail Baby and have quickly turned our attention to FemFest 2013: Revelation and Revolution. We have all the shows confirmed and are just putting the schedule puzzle together for our big brochure release later this month. We just can’t wait to share a few juicy tidbits though.

We have another amazing line-up of touring shows coming to Winnipeg for FemFest! What is really exciting is that some of them feature former Winnipeggers returning home to share their work. Lisa Codrington is one such former local gal now based in Toronto. She has been doing amazing work as a performer and playwright. Her play Cast Iron was nominated for a Governor General Literary Award and she will be presenting her latest play The Aftermath at FemFest.

Lisa Codrington

Lisa Codrington

bahia watson will also be returning to Winnipeg from Toronto. She and co-creator liza paul will be performer their widely popular pomme is french for apple.

liza paula & bahia watson - pomme is french for apple

liza paula & bahia watson – pomme is french for apple

Finally we will welcome Christine Rodriguez from Montreal to perform her powerful and inspiring play Dreaming in Autism.


Christine Rodriguez – Dreaming in Autism

Of course we will also be showcasing local talent once again. Last year we included our first Bake-Off in the festival, where female playwrights were given ingredients and two weeks to write a piece incorporating these elements. Staged readings were then presented and the audience voted on which piece they most wanted to see as part of FemFest 2013. Based on demand we will be producing Jessy Ardern’s new play Harold and Vivian Entertain Guests. Last year’s reading from the piece had the audience in stitches so you won’t want to miss the world premiere of the full play at FemFest.

Stay tuned for the rest of the line-up, including other local productions, readings of new works in development and our popular cabaret evenings!

FemFest Welcomes Ducks on the Moon

Kelley Jo Burke in "Ducks on the Moon"

Hello Winnipeg.I can’t tell you how much this Fort Richmond Collegiate/U of W grad is looking forward to bringing my odd duck of a play home. 

Ducks on the Moon, which is also a book, and a documentary that aired on CBC radio’s Ideas,  is a memoir, about the first five years of my youngest son’s life, and about our family’s coming to terms with his autism. I call the play a stand-up documentary, since it’s non-fiction, and it is about the long journey from first clues and doubts,  to acceptance…but it’s also just theater, and storytelling and sometimes comedy.

When the book came out, and I was touring the show, I thought journalists would ask me about autism, or parenting, or one-person performance. But most often what I got asked about was why on earth I would write a play about the hardest five years of my life, and then go out on the road and perform it as a 75 min. monologue. I suspect they might’ve been questioning my mental health. Or possibly sorting out if I was that sort of crank who needs to go on and on about how hard her life is, and requires an audience for that activity. And all I could say was that I had begun the process because of another question that I was asked very regularly, years before, when we first got our son’s diagnosis.

“When did you first know that your son was different?” people would ask me, often a little anxiously. Some clearly had some other child at the back of their minds, that they were concerned about. And I would sift through my memories–that were tied up in these “funny” stories I used to tell my friends about coping with my at that point undiagnosed son—because when your life is complete chaos, what is there to do but turn it into a funny story and laugh about it?–and I tried to sort out when I did know…and realized that “know” is a really strong word–there were all kinds of clues–the question when did I know, but when could I know….

So I started making a play of those stories. I realized each story reflected a different point in the struggle between my tenacious clinging to who I expected him to be and my recognition of who he really was. I also began to realize the story was not about autism at all, ultimately. It’s about any and every parent who has had to overcome their prejudices, and accept a child as the human being that he or she is.

Now, the other thing people always ask me all the time these days, is, how does your family, particularly your autistic son “Noah”, feel about you performing their lives for others, on stage, and on national radio?

Very good question.

When I first wrote the play, I invited my older children and partner to read it.  And I asked each one of them, am I remembering right? Are you comfortable with me telling this story? So, they have signed off on anything you read in this book.

But what about Noah, who couldn’t read when I first wrote this? Well, I went to him, and said, “Bud, I’m going to do a play where I tell stories about you when you were little. Is that okay?”

“As long as you don’t make people laugh at me.”

And I promised that would never happen.

As we got closer to production, I let him hear sections of the play, on tape, and we talked it through together. I told him that it was really the story of how much I loved him. And he was okay with that.

And that, finally, is how I would ask you to consider Ducks on the Moon, as a love story.

Be good to see you there, 
Kelley Jo Burke, Aug 2 2011.