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.

 

Art as a Way Out

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There are so many amazing stories about the healing power of art! Sarasvàti Productions’ new play script Breaking Through was created with this in mind. Our artists worked with people with lived experience, caregivers, mental health organizations, and the general public to collect experiences of mental health. It made sense as we prepared for staged readings of the play, to also gather the perspectives of artists in our community who live with mental health issues. We’ve been excited to interview artists about their experience with mental health, the stigmas they have encountered and the unique role art plays in their lives.

Quinn Whitlaw is a Winnipeg-based visual artist. He works mainly with ink and pencils and has been been creating more than ever over the past four months during his residency at ArtBeat Studio. It was only this past winter that Quinn re-discovered his love of drawing while he was in the hospital in recovery and treatment for Major Depressive Disorder and anxiety.

“I think there’s a lot of negative stigma around mental health and addiction problems. They really, really go hand in hand for a lot of people” said Quinn. He remembers feeling depression and anxiety beginning in grade 8. “I wouldn’t want to tell my friends because I wouldn’t want them to know about it. I wouldn’t want them feeling bad for me.”

Trying to cope has lead him to addiction problems throughout the years.

“People will look at someone that has mental health issue but is using drugs to deal with it and they’ll just think ‘he’s a druggie’ and ‘he’s no good’, when in actuality that’s the person’s only way out–the only way out of what they’re feeling ” said Quinn.

Quinn remembers liking to draw in grade 10. He hadn’t done it much since then, but Quinn took it up again while he was in the hospital because he had time on his hands. One of the hospital workers told Quinn about ArtBreat Studio, and he thought it sounded like a great idea.

ArtBeat Studio is a recovery-oriented program that is mental health consumer-initiated, and peer directed. It’s a community-based studio that accommodates artists whose mental health, social connection, and income make it impracticable for them, individually, to acquire a work space where they might advance their artistic technique safely and securely. Over a six-month period, nine artists are supported and mentored in managing their own workplace, production, and marketing within the operating parameters of the studio. Quinn is currently one of nine artists doing their residency at ArtBeat Studio.

“I think being an artist has given me a way out”, said Quinn, “when I feel down or am having a tough time I know that if I just sit down and start drawing everything will take a step back and I can focus on what I’m doing for once.”

We’ve spoken to a number of artists who describe creating and performing as therapeutic. For Quinn, drawing helps with his anxiety and depression,” Doing art puts me in a place where I can sit back and relax for a bit, which I can’t normally do” said Quinn. “You get a good feeling when you finish a piece of art. It feels good to accomplish something.”

Quinn is preparing to showcase his work this summer in ArtBeat Studio’s public exhibition. Although Quinn is looking forward to exhibiting his work, he admits that the stigma surrounding depression and anxiety prevents him from being more open about it.

“I still don’t really talk to anyone about it except for my doctor”, said Quinn.  “It’s hard to come out and talk about it because you never know who’s going to understand and who’s going to tell you ‘just suck it up’”, said Quinn. “It’s hard because people don’t always understand, and at the same time you can’t expect them to know unless they’ve dealt with it themselves”, explained Quinn. “ I think the stigma is around being sad all the time, not having as much friends, not going out and living life like you should—which sometimes is true when you’re in such a down spot, but not all the time. There are little glimmers of light that come out once and a while, right?”

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To find out more about ArtBeat Studio and their residency program visit artbeatstudio.ca. To see Quinn Whitlaw’s work in the flesh, and take in the work of all resident artists check out the exhibition at ArtBeat Studio from July 21- July 30.

Get your tickets to the staged reading of Sarasvati’s Breaking Through today!
May 22 & 28 at 3pm
May 24-27 at 7 pm
Asper Centre for Theatre and Film

 

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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A Caregiver’s Perspective

RACHEL SMITH headshot cropped for blogRachel Smith has been a part of our mental health project since the project first launched. Rachel is a theatre artist currently based in Winnipeg. She is also a caregiver to her father, Morgan.

When my Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease my mind flooded with fears of the future. I wept at the idea of what was to come” said Rachel, “but then I realized that I could choose to dread what might happen or I could appreciate my Dad while he is still here.”

Rachel initially provided input to the project as a caregiver through interviews. She then became part of the community workshop series, helping us to present the script and gather feedback. We are very excited that Rachel will now be working as an actor in the workshop sessions and for the public staged readings of Breaking Through.

I think it is very important to talk about mental health. There is still a stigma around it and I don’t really understand why.”

The caregiver’s perspective is a powerful one. Caregivers face incredible demands, taking on the emotional and physical duties of caring for a loved one, providing support to family members all while trying to meet the demands of their own life and maintain their own emotional health. In addition, Rachel has had to deal with the effects of stigma and lack of understanding surrounding Morgan’s mental illness.

“I found there have been a lot of assumptions made, especially in the beginning. My Mom and I experienced accusations and blame placed for not doing something about it sooner. That somehow we should have been able to prevent it from happening or we should be able to stop it or do something about it. That somehow the difficulties we were experiencing were our own fault”, explained Rachel, “For myself, I found family suddenly coming to me to talk about what was happening almost like they were keeping it a secret from my parents.”

Rachel strongly believes in the value of human understanding surrounding mental health issues.

“One of my more amazing experiences was when there was no stigma, but an understanding. I described to a friend what I was going through in a lot of detail because he is a good friend who I have not seen in a while. He sat and listened, asked questions and then he began to cry. He completely empathized with me for what my Mom and I have been going through and gave me a big hug” said Rachel.  “I cannot help but think how wonderful it would be for others to experience that kind of empathy. For someone to say to them ‘I understand’ and give them a big hug.”

That’s why she is most excited to see how the audiences at staged readings of Breaking Through will respond to the ideas brought forward in the script.

“I feel that a project like Breaking Through is a great way to start the conversation. It is a way of communicating an understanding about what many people experience and why it is important to listen to them instead of making assumptions. It is also a way of telling people who are affected by mental illness in one way or another that they are not alone.

When we refuse to stigmatize people with mental issues we are able to see them for who they are.

“I think I most admire my Dad for his eagerness to help others and his gratitude for those who help him”, said Rachel, “when I think of my Dad I do not want to think of a disease; I want to think of who he is and how strong he is to get out of bed every morning with a smile on his face, ready to meet the challenges ahead.

You can read more about Rachel’s experience here and find resources for caregivers here.

Support Breaking Through by attending and adding your voice at the staged readings from May 22-28.