A Robot Learning to be Human: An Interview with Jon Mourant

To get ready for the virtual edition of One Night Stand: A Series of Readings Focused on the Development of New Works on Thursday, June 11th at 7pmwe’ve interviewed Jon Mourant, co-ordinator, host, and Launchpad alumni.

Jonathan Mourant photo

Jonathan Mourant

Q: Jon! Tell us a little bit more about yourself and some of the things you’ve written.
A: I use the term “trans-disciplinary artist” which translates to improviser, playwright, drag performer, producer, and whatever other job I feel like taking on. My favourite phrase to describe myself is as a “robot learning how to be human,” which connects in a lot of ways to what I write and the ways I approach them! I’m fascinated and somewhat obsessed with how I see myself and how other people see me – both negatively and positively. In my writing I try to interrogate how personal relationships often force someone to come face to face with who they are, either because the company they keep holds them back or challenges them to be better.

Q: I know you were part of the Launchpad team this past year, can you tell us a little bit about that experience?
A: Launchpad hands down changed my life. It was my first time working on a project that was dedicated to women, trans, and non-binary artists, which fundamentally changed the way we worked. The creation of our show “To Kill a Lizard” was incredibly collaborative, with each participant taking on a piece of writing and directing while also performing in the show. There isn’t a moment of that show that wasn’t touched in some way by every single participant in the room.

Q: What drew you to playwriting in the first place?
A: I started playwriting in high school when I wrote 30 Rock spec scripts to perform in front of the school once a month. I found a joy in creating stories and characters, and more than anything building a world and defining its rules. To me, playwriting is the power to make anything real, and with that comes a sort of freedom that you don’t find anywhere else.

Q: What are you most looking forward to during next week’s edition of One Night Stand?
A: The most exciting thing to me is finding new discoveries in the work. I can’t wait for the moments where a playwright hears their work and thinks “Oh, I know what to change.” That’s the best feeling in playwriting and I hope that every playwright experiences it at the reading.

Q: Do you have any advice for emerging playwrights?
A: It’s cliché but be yourself. Something I’m always reminding myself is that I’m not trying to write someone else’s story or in someone else’s voice. I’m writing my play, and I need to trust that the best way to do it is the way that I do it.

This event will be livestreamed on our Facebook Page and will feature the following actors: Dylan Hatcher, Ady Kollar, Matt Paris-Irvine, Riva Billows, and Cheryl Soluk. Just a reminder: if you want to give verbal feedback to the playwrights we ask you to click “going” on the Facebook event page (we only have five spots left!), otherwise you can leave written feedback on our Facebook page, where the event will be livestreamed. We’re so excited to see these plays come to life – virtually, of course!

 

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.

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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. 

We Want YOU!

There are so many exciting things to look forward to in the near future. From workshops, to festivals, we can’t wait to gather once again as a community and share our art. We would love for you to join us! We are currently accepting submissions for our One Night Stand playwright development series and applications for our Launchpad Project! 

one-night-stand-poster-april-11-e1524149136777Every year, we host our One Night Stand reading series as a way for emerging and established playwrights to share their work and gain some feedback. We are seeking 10-minute scenes from Manitoban playwrights of all ages, genders, and backgrounds! Our first virtual, One Night Stand will take place in June, 2020. All submissions must be received by 11:59pm on May 8th, 2020. More details on how and what to submit HERE. 


We are so excited to welcome former Launchpad participant Jonathan Mourant in helping to coordinate future ONS editions! 

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Jonathan Mourant in the 2019 Launchpad Project

Jonathan Mourant is a trans-disciplinary performer, producer, and also a robot learning how to be human. They have been improvising for just under a decade and have performed and learned at festivals and workshops across Canada, including the Winnipeg Improv Festival and Toronto SketchFest. This year, Jonathan wrote and directed Here Together for the 2019 Winnipeg Fringe Festival and created Jon After Hours, an experimental late night talk show featuring local personalities. Recently, they have begun performing drag as Nora Vision, and are thrilled at the opportunities to combine improv, theatre, and drag into their own unique performance.


You may recall our Launchpad Project from FemFest 2019. A group of emerging female and non-binary identifying artists gathered weekly for a series of workshops, before creating and performing their final work To Kill a Lizard during FemFest 2019. After a successful pilot project that supported ten young artists, we are excited to change it up this year with a new focus. This intensive residency will take place in August/September 2020. Participants will be working on performance pieces that explore climate change. They will perform them in site-specific locations in downtown Winnipeg during our fall festival of FemFest 2020. The best part is participants are paid – as all artists should be!. For more details on who, what and how to apply, click HERE. 

We hope you will consider submitting for one (or both!) of these exciting initiatives. It is important to remember that there is still a lot of exciting things to look forward to and so much art and theatre still to create! 


 

Postponed, Cancelled, Thriving

It is with a heavy heart that we recently announced the postponement of our May 2020 performance of Songide’ewin, the culmination of our Reconciliation Through Theatre Project at the Forks. We have been holding on with great hope and optimism. We have amazing stories compiled from over 70 Indigenous youth. We have an incredible artistic team and community partners all lined up. We would like to say we are making this choice, however it ultimately was out of our hands as permits and regulations were no longer allowing gatherings in to May and June. We do believe it is the safest decision and what is best for all involved.

Songide'ewin

On April 1st we had a wonderful reading of the draft script under the guidance of our director Tracey Nepinak and with actors Sara Demers, Katie German, Braiden Houle, Jessica McGlynn, Akalu Meekis and Josh Ranville. Incredible designs are underway thanks to Production Designer Louis Ogemah and we have such beautiful art ready to share from so many talented youth.

91609969_10158340738552533_7649438720994574336_nWe are 100% committed to seeing the show through, but at this time cannot provide new dates as we are working with our venue to sort out what is realistic and feasible. We will continue to share all the inspiring work happening in the interim and cannot wait to celebrate when the time is ready! We are grateful for how the community is rallying at this time, thankful for all those working so hard to provide essential services, and for all our supporters, funders, partners for their belief in our work.


These are truly uncertain times we’re in! The arts are taking a hit as performances, workshops, festivals and more are being cancelled or postponed on the daily. In times like these, we understand it’s a challenge to remain positive. But, not all hope is lost. In fact, it is more alive than ever! There are still plenty of resources on creative ways to keep your mind and the arts active. Here are just some examples:

Watch theatre at home!

Free virtual acting classes!

Art from a distance!


Our friends at I Like Hue created a documentary following the process of our reconciliation through theatre project. The documentary outlines the Seven Visions art workshops at our partner youth organizations, eventually resulting in our final production Songide’ewin. You can watch the video HERE on our Facebook with closed captioning or HERE on our Youtube account! [Poster] Sarasvati - 7 Circles

Songide’ewin may be postponed, but the conversation on reconciliation is not. We want to continue to support our artists and collaborators anyway that we can, which is why we will be introducing “Songide’ewin Sunday”! Every Sunday, starting next week, we will be featuring a Songide’ewin artist on our social media platforms. You can keep up with Songide’ewin Sunday on our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Stay tuned for updates on Songide’ewin once more information is available to us. We hope you are all remaining in good health and high spirits!


 

 

Accessibility Online

Lots of companies are offering free virtual workshops, discussions and play readings. We were so grateful to host the accessibility panel discussion, “Accessibility On Stage and Off” on Saturday, April 4th along with Arts AccessAbility Network Manitoba and Sick + Twisted Theatre.

91937880_10158356493302533_3700888570668515328_nWe hosted the discussion online so panellists and workshop participants could participate from the comfort of their own home! We were even able to broadcast the discussion to or Facebook livestream so folks could choose to just watch and observe. It was nice just to do something beyond the usual quarantine routine and to have an important and valuable conversation pertaining to accessibility in the theatre industry. We were even able to have ASL interpretation for the Deaf.


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Joanna Hawkins

Some of the points and ideas brought up included a calendar of events specifically for accessible performances and productions, suggested by Joanna Hawkins, a local Deaf performer. She also brought up the idea of using ASL videos to announce local events, in order to appeal more to the Deaf community. Joanna also shared insights on the importance of communication, “communication is something we all do, we are human beings!” One of the other disability advocates, Hannah Foulger, also mentioned the importance of communication, “the more we talk about what some venues are already doing, the more the other venues will listen and change.” As did our Sick + Twisted Theatre host and moderator, Debbie Patterson, “it’s all about connections and communication. We observe, we pay attention, it’s a network it’s not any one person!” While our other partner Jenel Shaw from Arts AccessAbility Network Manitoba expressed the importance of venues and organizations understanding the need for accessible spaces, “if more organizations saw accessibility not as a burden or expensive but as an opportunity to grow, it would really benefit everyone. More than a quarter of the Canadian population has a disability.”

Panellists Hailley Rhoda and Hannah Foulger also discussed the importance of hiring

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Hailley Rhoda

disabled performers. “Seeing people with disabilities on stage reminds me I am worthwhile, my life is worthwhile and we have important things to say,” Hannah Foulger. “The difference between knowing you’re allowed in a space and knowing you’re welcome in a space, the.re is a huge difference,” Hailley Rhoda.


This discussion was incredible informative and beneficial in many ways. We want to thank the panelists, the participants and everyone who tuned in! We are grateful to be able to keep conversations like these going and we hope to have many more! It is also important to move it beyond talk and walk the walk. Here are some amazing resources:

Stay tuned for more updates on our season. We hope you all are happy and healthy!


 

World Theatre Day at Home

“Together, let’s transform the stage into a world of echoes, a world where laughter, pain, brutality, gentleness and complexity can all spring forth.” – Geneviève Pelletier, World Theatre Day Canadian Message

This year, we celebrate World Theatre Day from the comfort of our own homes. In these uncertain times it’s important to keep the arts alive, and to continue to live and fully experience every single day. We may no longer be able to gather in groups, but we can keep the spirit of Canadian theatre alive online!

26167280_1114217765381168_994219125870190171_nWorld Theatre Day was brought to life in 1961 by International Theatre Institute and occurs every year on March 27th by theatre communities around the world. This day is meant to celebrate the power of theatre as a bridge for international understanding and peace. Every year, this day brings together theatre lovers from around the globe to celebrate and appreciate the art.

pelletier-genevieve-04-1Manitoba’s very own Geneviève Pelletier, is the author of this year’s Canadian message. Geneviève is an Actor, Director and Artistic and Executive Director of Winnipeg’s Cercle Molière Theatre. You can check out the full message in French or English on Playwright’s Guild of Canada’s website [https://playwrightsguild.ca/world-theatre-day/] For more inspiration, this year’s international message is by Pakistan’s leading Playwright Shahid Nadeem [https://www.world-theatre-day.org/messageauthor.html]. “In South Asia, the artists touch with reverence the floor of the stage before stepping onto it, an ancient tradition when the spiritual and the cultural were intertwined. It is time to regain that symbiotic relationship between the artist and the audience, the past and the future.”

The Playwrights Guild of Canada is offering a “Play Reading Relay” to celebrate the day, x6lSUUM8_400x400“The show must go on…line.” 29 different playwrights will livestream 10-minute readings from their plays over the course of 7 hours! Running from 10am-5pm Central time. You can find the line-up of plays by clicking HERE and find the Zoom link by clicking HERE! This is an amazing way to bring folks together to celebrate theatre and a creative way to spend a good chunk of the day at home!

There are many other ways you can celebrate World Theatre Day this year. Read a play, write down future ideas, join in a livestream, watch a production online or simply discuss the world of theatre today with a friend. These are all amazing ways you can celebrate the day from home. You can read more about World Theatre Day and how you can celebrate on the World Theatre Day website, HERE.

pngguru.comIt’s important to keep our spirits lifted and theatre in motion. We hope you are all staying safe and healthy and wish everyone a Happy World Theatre Day! Don’t forget if you’re looking for more discussion on accessibility in theatre, we are hosting an online webinar/discussion through Zoom on accessibility on April 4th! Join in the conversation or simply watch and listen. Email info@sarasvati.ca to register and for full details.


 

Keeping the Arts Alive

In light of recent events surrounding the COVID-19 virus, we find ourselves with a myriad of questions and dilemmas. The arts industry has taken a huge hit and will continue to be effected during this time of social distancing. There are plenty of things you can do in order to help support local companies taking a hit.

The virus outbreak affects us all. Specifically in the theatre community, most companies in Canada have had to either reschedule, postpone or cancel productions for an unforeseen amount of time. This is a huge issue as it forces people out of work, from the performers on stage to the crew behind the scenes. So the question is, what can we do? How do we help? Some ways you can help the industry to stay afloat is through donations. For example, if you purchased tickets for a cancelled production, consider donating the refunded money back to the theatre. In need of childcare or freelance work? Consider hiring an arts industry worker for the time being. This will not only give them work, but assists with your own needs.

COVID-19 (Corona Virus)If you are an artist put out of work, consider reaching out to folks who may be in need of childcare during the school and daycare closures. Take this time to reflect on past work and create new work! Lots of arts companies have created online systems to host virtual workshops, book clubs, classes and more to keep you busy, occupied and creative. Some examples can be found HERE and HERE. Keeping up a routine is most important in not letting isolation get the best of you during this time of stress.

Spread kindness, understanding and positivity. In the face of a pandemic, anxieties and panic can be high. It is crucial to stay calm and do what you need to do in order to keep yourself and those around you positive and safe. Be sure to do your research and know the facts of the virus and how it has affected your area. Follow health regulatory body directives. Wash your hands regularly, avoid unnecessary social interaction and mass gatherings, strive for a balanced approach and if you are feeling ill seek medical attention and avoid contact with others. Find creative ways to fill any void knowing that we will soon come together again to connect through the arts.


Songide'ewin(3)At this time, we have not cancelled or postponed our May 2020 performance of Songide’ewin. It is a huge initiative and we will wait to see how all the amazing action to flatten the curve pans out, then make an informed decision when and if it becomes necessary. In the meantime, you can support the work by purchasing tickets for the performance at The Forks. You can read more about the project through our website HERE! If you’re interested in group bookings, please call (204) 586-2236 or email us at info@sarasvati.ca


As for our Accessibility On Stage and Off, our roundtable discussion with Arts AccessAbility Network Manitoba and Sick + Twisted Theatre on April 4th, we are currently exploring ways to bring the discussion to you virtually! Stay tuned for updates and developments coming soon. Then tune in and join in the discussion.


 

Cabaret in Review

This year’s International Women’s Week Cabaret of Monologues tour took us all around Winnipeg and surrounding cities/towns. Our travels were filled with inspiration, excitement and meaningful experiences. All eight of our pieces went out on the road to share the transformative stories of the women in this year’s line-up.

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Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie Performing at Sunshine House

Many women’s groups around the cities welcomed us into their spaces to share our monologues. North End Women’s Centre hosted an event and invited three of our performers to share their pieces with the staff and clientele. CTV Winnipeg made an appearance at North End Women’s Centre and interviewed our artists to cover International Women’s Week! Other amazing women’s groups we were happy to visit were Sage House and Women’s Health Clinic.

Wanda St. John's

waNda wilsoN performing at St. John’s Library

Our monologues were not limited to women’s organizations. We were happy to visit other community groups and venues. Sunshine House and Rainbow Resource Centre are two organizations with an open inclusivity mandate and advocacy for LGBTQ+ issues. Both welcomed our artists with open arms and open discussion. A disabilities class at The University of Winnipeg welcomed our Deaf performer, Joanna Hawkins in to perform her mime piece for students in a more intimate setting. St. John’s Library, a local staple in our North End Community, welcomed our musical performer waNda wilsoN for

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Lizzie Knowles performing at CMHR

a special and intimate performance. We were honoured to bring five of our monologues to The Canadian Museum for Human Rights on their First Friday’s free event night. Our pieces on the subject of “Change” were a perfect fit in an institution that promotes and supports human rights.

We love expanding beyond Winnipeg and our first road trip took us to Steinbach for a performance hosted by Agape House during an evening dedicated to raising funds for

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Genesis House, Winkler

this important shelter. On the final leg of our tour, we took one group of monologues to Winkler and another group to Altona! Both performances were for special Women’s Day events. Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie’s spoken word ‘Traumatic Resilience’ and waNda wilsoN’s music about not giving up and remembering those who have been lost to us, were the

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Performers and Staff in Altona

perfect bookends to a moving presentation by Wilma Derksen and Odia Reimer in benefit of Genesis House women’s shelter. Meanwhile in Altona our performers were invited to judge a “fancy hat” competition! It was the perfect way to celebrate International Women’s Day and the end of our tour.

These eleven community performances were in addition to the two full performances of all the pieces in a theatre setting on March 7th. Here we welcomed almost two hundred audience members to experience the work.

All-in-all, our International Women’s Week was a success! The subject of Changes is so relevant to today’s society and to being a woman in this day and age. It doesn’t end here, we need to continue to share the conversation and support women in the arts every day of the year. We are so grateful to have the opportunity to work with local performers and artists and help to showcase their art across the city and across the province. We can’t wait for next year!


 

Accessing Diverse Theatre

Accessibility and Diversity are two burning topics in society right now. Especially in the theatre community, we are trying more and more everyday to make our spaces more accessible and diverse. But what does that mean? What does it look like?

On February 16th, we were happy to host a panel on Diversity with Out From Under the 69098045_104007547644963_1207535746102067200_oRug Theatre Collective. Established in 2019, Out From Under The Rug Theatre Collective is focused on creating works by, for, and about people of colour. Based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Out From Under The Rug intends to highlight the experiences of those whose voices often go unheard – or more often told to stop talking. As a collective, their goal is to emphasize a dedication to safe and accessible spaces. They would like to acknowledge our privilege of living, working, and creating on the traditional lands of The Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene Peoples and the Homeland of the Metis Nation. Visit them on Facebook HERE!

DSC_0019Panel discussions included topics such as, creating works of theatre with characters of colour where their ethnicity is not their entire personality. As well as how to create these characters and describe said characters when the playwright doesn’t share the same ethnicity. Panelists touched on the importance of representation in the arts and media, they specifically spoke on being a person of colour and how it feels to see yourself represented on the screen and on the stage. Out From Under the Rug’s member Sophie Smith-Dostmohamed described herself in childhood only ever wanting to watch the Disney film “Aladdin” as it was the only place she saw characters that looked like her, further emphasizing the need for representation.

During this panel, we were able to open up a conversation in a safe space about diversity in the theatre industry, where it’s headed and how we can improve. This panel was open to all and free of charge in a physically accessible building (wheelchair accessible, gender neutral restrooms, ASL interpretation). To further the conversation on diversifying theatre and allowing for more accessibility; not only in audiences but also for performers, we will be hosting a roundtable on accessibility on April 4th!

Accessibility On Stage and Off will occur on April 4th, 2020 from 2pm-4pm at the Cargill Boardroom at RMTC. Sarasvàti Productions, Arts AccessAbility Network and Sick + Twisted theatre will host a discussion on the subject of accessibility in theatre. This discussion will be lead by a panel of disability advocates. The discussion hopes to open a conversation on accessibility, what it means to be accessible and how we can improve on what theatres in Winnipeg are doing to make their spaces more accessible. We plan to discuss the importance beyond just the audience’s accessibility and touch on accessibility for performers.

Stay tuned for more on the Accessibility workshop coming soon! For more information on upcoming workshops visit our website HERE.


 

The Monologues on Tour

Our International Women’s Week Cabaret of Monologues: Changes is not a onetime event. Every year, we take our cabaret on the road to various venues and organizations to spread the word of International Women’s Week across Manitoba. Visiting various locations during International Women’s Week not only helps to spread the word, but also makes the Cabaret more accessible to those who would otherwise not be able to make it out to the public performances.

This year, we are so excited to be hosted by eleven different venues in Manitoba! Including…

  • AGAPE HOUSE (Steinbach)
  • ALTONA UNITED CHURCH (Altona)
  • CANADIAN MUSEUM FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
  • GENESIS HOUSE (Winkler)
  • NORTH END WOMEN’S CENTRE
  • RAINBOW RESOURCE CENTRE
  • SAGE HOUSE
  • JOHN’S LIBRARY
  • SUNSHINE HOUSE
  • THE UNIVERSITY OF WINNIPEG
  • WOMEN’S HEALTH CLINIC

Some locations are even offering a full event in celebration of International Women’s Day as well as featuring the monologues.

Agape posterAgape House will be hosting an evening of events featuring wine, apps, and entertainment… all in the name of empowerment! Agape House’s Women, Wine and Theatre Event is Friday, March 6th from 7-9 at the Pat Porter Active Living Centre. Tickets are $20 and are selling fast! Purchase tickets online HERE, or E-transfer $20.00 to admin@agapehouse.ca with password IWD2020.

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights will be hosting their “free night” on March 6th. Access the museum for free, explore the exhibits and at 6:30pm, five of our eight Cabaret of Monologues performances will take place. 85 Israel Asper Way, Winnipeg, MB.Altona Poster-page-001

Altona United Church will have a special Women’s Day Church Tea on March 8th at 2pm. Our monologues will be featured as well a live music, prizes for best dress and refreshments! Tickets are $10 available at the door.

st. john'sSt. John’s Library will also be hosting a special thirty-minute event with waNda wilsoN’s musical entertainment! Free to attend on March 5th at 6:30pm, 500 Salter Street, Winnipeg, MB.

Of course, there is also our two public performances featuring all 8 of the monologues AND a special performance by drag performer Petty Davis. On March 7th at The Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (400 Colony Street) join us either for the 4pm performance or the 8pm*.

*8pm performance will have ASL interpretation.Sarasvàti Productions

The Asper Centre for Theatre and Film is wheelchair accessible with gender neutral restrooms. We hope to see you on March 7th for one of the two public performances, or along the tour at one or more of these amazing venues! Purchase your tickets in advance, HERE!


 

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