Getting to know the Band behind Tomboy Survival Guide

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photo by Robin Toma

On stage Ivan Coyote, Sal Zori, Pebbles Willekes and Alison Gorman are known for rousing audiences from their seats with a high-energy story-driven performance that will leave you breathless. Off stage this fantastic four have a lot of interesting hobbies and strong feelings about fishing. Get to know the talented collaborators of Tomboy Survival Guide in this week’s blog. As a special feature we’ve been asking all FemFest artists about their childhood after all our theme this year is Coming of Age!

Ivan Coyote
Writer/Lead Vocals

  • third generation Yukoner now based in Vancouver
  • author of eleven books, creator of four short films, six full-length live shows, and three albums
  • will be given a Honorary Doctorate of Laws at Simon Fraser University for their writing and activism
  • if Ivan wasn’t doing this they would be an electrician
  • as a child they would play the saxophone and write stories and go fishing

Sal Zori
Drummer/Percussionist

  • born in Iraq and grew up moving back and forth between the United Arab Emirates and Canada
  • for a brief time was the percussionist for Aretha Franklin
  • DIY-er, tennis player, videographer, barista
  • playing tennis was a favourite past-time as a child
  • hates karaoke
  • If you could go back in time, where would you go and why? “1920’s. The music.”

Pebbles Willekes
Bass

  • born and raised in Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  • Graphic designer, WordPress nerd, avid gardener & cook of vegetarian food
  • has fantasized about running a small farm
  • “I spend most of my childhood outside, in the West side of Amsterdam, riding my bike, building huts in the dense butterfly bushes. Roasting potatoes over a campfire.  Making up stories about how me and my best friend were stranded on an island and had to survive.  Started playing music (punk rock) when I was 14, then most time was spent inside.”
  • go-to karaoke song? Rebel Rebel – David Bowie
  • If you could go back in time, where would you go and why? “I’d probably go back to the late 60’s, early 70’s, to see a young Bowie in concert”

Alison Gorman
Trumpet

  • “ I eat a troubling amount of olives.”
  • go-to Karaoke song – Runaround Sue
  • “My brother used to take me fishing at the crack of dawn every weekend. I hated fishing, but liked hanging out with him. (He still thinks I like fishing).”
  • “If I weren’t in music. Jeez. I had a brief, failed attempt at an air traffic control career. Packing groceries in bins, I suppose.”
  • If you could time travel, what year would you go to and why? “Vancouver 1990’s? I’d buy up all that real estate, yo.”
  • Alison directs the band Queer As Funk [link], Vancouver’s own LGBTQ Motown, soul and funk band – they play weddings!

See Tomboy Survival Guide at FemFest 2017 one-night-only SEPT 17 at the West End Cultural Centre. Tickets on sale now.

Mulgrave Road Theatre brings harrowing Thompson play to FemFest

“Judith Thompson’s Watching Glory Die is a call to action and a cri de coeur.”
-THE CHRONICLE HERALD

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Watching Glory Die

In her recent play, Judith Thompson turns our attention to the flaws within the Canadian prison system. Inspired by the true story of New Brunswick teenager Ashley Smith who died while under suicide watch in an Ontario prison in 2007, Watching Glory Die is a deliberately fictionalized portrait of three women intertwined by systemic abandonment.

“Politically charged and some of Thompson’s best story-telling”
-HALIFAX BLOGGERS

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Emmy Alcorn

After a successful run in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Mulgrave Road Theatre has been touring this powerful production across the country. We are excited to welcome them to Winnipeg to deliver this incredible piece of theatre at FemFest 2017. Director Emmy Alcorn (Artistic Director of Mulgrave Road Theatre, Nova Scotia Established Artist Award) brings this powerful play to the stage with perfect balance. “I believe there is a way to lift everyone up in society. We live in an abundant world and must ensure that everyone is treated fairly, that they have food and shelter; that they are loved”, says Alcorn.

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Stephanie MacDonald

Award-winning actor Stephanie MacDonald brings these three women to life in a performance that is described in a review by the Chronicle Herald as “masterful, intense, deeply focused and totally convincing.”  In Watching Glory Die MacDonald plays all three characters: Glory, a fictionalized version of Ashley Smith; Rosellen, Glory’s mother and Gail, a guard at the prison where Glory is incarcerated. “It’s not just the precision between roles that is captivating, but how honestly and instantly MacDonald apparates from one woman’s deep emotional state to the next” –HALIFAX BLOGGERS

“Thompsons powerful writing skills are on display” – TORONTO STAR

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Watching Glory Die

The play does not shy away from the harrowing moments of this story. Chief among questions raised throughout the play is, “What would I do?” “The impossible is happening in our country,” Thompson said in an interview about Watching Glory Die with the Toronto Star. “The system destroyed Smith. And it happened where least expected.”

Judith Thompson is a multiple award-winning playwright and is highly regarded as one

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Watching Glory Die

of Canada’s most prolific playwrights. She is the author of such notable plays as The Crackwalker, White Biting Dog and Lion in the Streets. Her work is a staple of theatre programs in Universities across Canada. There are three chances to see Watching Glory Die at the Asper Centre for Theatre & Film: September 21 at 2:30pm and again at 9pm, September 22 at 7pm.

“Watching Glory Die shocks, clarifies and engages.” —Evan Andrew Mackay, Post City Toronto

Stay tuned for more FemFest news!
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ENVISION – Sarasvàti Productions 2017/18 Season Launch

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Sarasvàti Productions invites you to envision a season of life-changing theatre that is inclusive, full of possibility and absolutely thrilling!

From FemFest 2017: Coming of Age to the 2018 International Women’s Week Cabaret of Monologues: I Am Unstoppable, to a formidable season of workshops geared to supporting youth and emerging artists: we are so excited to get started! Join us on August 4th at the Saddlery on Market (114 Market Ave)–a beautiful new spot in the Exchange District. This party is absolutely free. Show up by 7pm to enjoy the entire evening, or pop in throughout your First Friday adventures.

We’ll be celebrating FemFest’s 15th birthday by having some of our staff and artists share things they wrote as a child.

Let us entertain you with a Cabaret-style line-up featuring artists from our season to come. RobYn Slade presents a sampling of 50/50 theatre-improv fusion from the FemFest 2017 Cabaret. Reena Jolly performs a monologue devised from interviews with young newcomer women as part of New Beginnings development. Melanee Deschambeault and Erica Wilson perform a teaser  from FemFest featured show Two Indians and much, much more!

See what you envision at our awesome build-your-own kaleidoscope station courtesy of ArtsJunktion mb.

And as always we’ll have plenty of decadent cupcakes supplied generously by Cake-ology.

So join us on Friday August 4th as we envision an incredible season of Winnipeg theatre.
See more event details here.

 

Theatre that Transforms Us – 2016/17 Season Retrospective

Cotton candy cocktails, ghosts, riots, vans stuck in the snow, standing ovations, tears and a lot of laughter. It really is hard to believe that another season has gone by – our 17th one in Winnipeg to be exact! Just over a year ago, we launched a season themed on Transformation and it truly was life-changing.

Breaking Through
“They were commenting on how they thought they were the only ones feeling a certain way until seeing this play and being able to realize that they are not alone.” – Loveeza Arshad, Friends Housing

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The cast of Breaking Through takes a bow

Thanks to your support we enjoyed an incredibly successful run of the culmination of our Mental Health project. We hope the dialogue will continue outside the theatre for some time to come. We’ll keep you posted as we work towards publishing the play!

 

IWW 2017 Starting Over
“Engaging and inspiring, these powerful performances rooted in real experiences provided brilliant insight. In our case, the complex realities of both youthful and mature immigrant women were are the forefront. Exploring these themes is so vital, with increased cultural diversity and amid global striving for women’s rights. Women of all nations and cultures can relate to themes of place, space, marginalization, hope, potential…”– Pamela Hadder, Agape House-Eastman Crisis Centre

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A packed house at IWW2017: Starting Over

This year, we worked closely with newcomer women and girls and the results were some incredible pieces.  We were proud to provide a platform for women’s stories, to promote equity on Canadian stages and to provide access to the arts. A great big thank you goes out to Manitoba Status of Women and the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg. Without them, this Cabaret would not be possible. Special thanks to Neighborhoods Alive! and NERI for supporting our North End performances.

One Night Stand Series
“Amazing job, everyone! And for those involved in [my piece], thank you so much for helping me bring that world to life… Truly an inspirational night!” –  Marjorie Roden, featured playwright

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One Night Stand Fringe Frenzy! at Carol Shields Festival of new Works

With the help of producer Tatiana Carnevale and Prairie Theatre Exchange we re-launched the One Night Stand playreading Series. The Series gives playwrights the opportunity to test their work, while giving audiences a chance to take part in their development process.  Look out for the launch of One Night Stand next season at closing night of FemFest! We will be featuring readings from Judith Thompson and our most celebrated local playwrights.

 

Workshops for Emerging Artists
“So much good info!”
“Extremely beneficial”
“It was great! More workshops!” – Feedback from workshop participants

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Our Artistic Director Hope McIntyre facilitates at Auditioning 101

We served 85 emerging artists with our Emerging Artist workshop series this season.
We tackled some of our most-requested workshops this year with Grantwriting & Taxes for Artists, Auditioning 101 and Mock Auditions for Advanced Actors.  We thank our partners Winnipeg Arts Council, Manitoba Arts Council, ACI Manitoba, Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, Theatre Projects Manitoba and Winnipeg Jewish Theatre for helping us support education opportunities for emerging artists. Plans for the 2017/18 Emerging Artists Workshop Series are already underway! Drop us a line if there is a workshop you’d like to see.

North End Workshop Series
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to study theatre but now I’m sure!” – Sabil, youth participant

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Youth facilitator Erica Wilson offers direction as the youth participants work on their scene

We kicked-off 2017 with a focused series of theatre workshops for North End youth. Youth Coordinators Frances Koncan and Cherrel Holder alongside a series of guest artists, introduced theatre techniques and worked on scenes with youth. On February 22nd we celebrated with a showcase of the youth involved. We have already heard from multiple youth that they have decided to pursue theatre and we look forward to supporting them with mentorship in 2017/18.

 

 


Women’s Comedy Night Fundraiser

“Congratulations! What a great evening!!” – Brigit Krasovec
“Great turn out! Amazing show.” – Tim Gray

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Actions shots of some of the comedians at the Women’s Comedy Night Fundraiser

We took a leap and tried something brand new with our comedy fundraiser. We teamed up with Winnipeg’s hilarious women comedians to produce the Women’s Comedy Night. The event saw unprecedented success—selling out and packing the venue with an incredible mix of Sarasvàti supporters and comedy fans. We had a blast and you better believe we’ll be doing this again next year.

 

 


Shattered
High School Tour

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The cast of Shattered

“Things aren’t what they seem and we should never assume things about people. I learned a lot and I
could tell my fellow audience members also learned something new. I realized a lot more people in our
school had experience with mental illness than I thought.” -Student at Fort Richmond Collegiate

We broke pervious records by performing to 6,161 youth and educators in Manitoba. Shattered has received overwhelming praise from teachers and students alike. It was also transformative for the cast who were touched by the number of youth who approached them after performances to share their own struggles with mental health.


FemFest2016: Transformation

We were proud to present such provocative touring shows as Miss Understood, Mouthpiece, as well as clown favourites Morro & Jasp Do Puberty. The world premiere of the previous year’s Bake-Off winner Sherry MacDonald’s The Seduction Theory made a huge impact as audiences discussed the ways we continue to victim-blame.

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These are just a few of our highlights. What stood out for you? Save the date for August 4th at 7pm and stay tuned for exciting details about our 2017/18 season launch.

FemFest Celebrates 15 Years!

Our beloved festival in support of women playwrights turns 15 this year! We are celebrating with the theme Coming of Age and a line-up that will blow you away.

We are ecstatic to be bringing in one of the most highly regarded playwright’s in Canadian history, two-time Governor General award-winning playwright Judith Thompson!  Thompson will join us for Mulgrave Road Theatre’s production of her play Watching Glory Die,  a harrowing play based on the true story of Ashley Smith. She will also teach a playwriting master class (September 20, 21 and 22 from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.) give a Real Thing lecture and be part of the Human Library ™.

Tomboy Survival Guide is a live stage experience that defies genre and gender boxes with fearless truth-telling and compassionate defiance. Ivan Coyote and an all-tomboy band take the audience on a musical journey navigating the narrow halls of public washrooms, skirting the childhood threat of being picked to be a flower girl, triumphing over tying a double Windsor knot, and discovering the beauty in being handsome, not pretty, all along. This is also our first time taking FemFest to the West End Cultural Centre!

We focus our in-house attention on producing Two Indians by Falen Johnson directed by Sonya Ballantyne. After years apart two cousins meet in a Toronto alley to recreate a ceremony from their childhood, but can they remember how? When the words missing and murdered, truth and reconciliation, occupation and resistance are everywhere, how do two Mohawk women stand their ground?

We’ll share a workshop preview of New Beginnings, a work in development created with the Winnipeg newcomer and refugee community.  Come and see a preview of this exciting culmination of story and dance from around the world.
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As a company dedicated to transforming society through theatre, we’ve witnessed the impact  that story-sharing can have on breaking down stereotypes and prejudices. This year we are thrilled to present a Human Library ™ as part of FemFest.  In partnership with the Millennium Library, Sarasvàti Productions has curated an incredible line up of Human Books that you can ‘take out’ for a one-of-a-kind learning experience.

Bake off 2016The beloved Bake-Off is back! This FemFest favourite challenges 5 local female playwrights to write a scene in 8-hours using three key top-secret ingredients. Scenes will be performed as part of the Festival on Sept. 18.
Winner of the FemFest 2016 Bake-Off, Jessy Ardern presents a reading of her play in progress, Kit and Joe.

WebFor ages 6 and up, Castlemoon Theatre presents Grounded Heroes. 10 year old Jess loves Lego, but her friends think it’s childish and weird. While researching a class assignment, Jess encounters three girls from history who were also a little bit weird for their time, and together they discover what it means to be true to yourself.

And you definitely won’t want to miss our closing night! This season, we brought our classic One Night Stand play reading series back with a vengeance. In honour of Winnipeg’s own celebrated female playwrights we’re curating a special One Night Stand dedicated to showcasing works in progress by some of these prolific writers who will be joined by Judith Thompson.

Workshops, readings and a dynamite Opening Cabaret will be a staple again this year. Get your passes now and celebrate 15 years of FemFest!

Breaking the Silence Together

We have been honoured to hear about how Breaking Through affected audiences and all of those involved. Through the course of the run, over 600 people saw the play. From initial story-gathering workshops to the lively panel discussions that followed select performances, so many people have spoken up about their experience with mental health. Here are some snapshots of what people have had to say.

“Amazing show! Thank you Sarasvati for bringing mental health issues to light and sharing the struggles breaking down stereotypes and stigma! BRAVO!” – Debbie Radi (Facebook)

18738812_10158648658995328_1417637719958705646_o“What a show!! Giving us some hard truths about mental illness… and plenty of fine acting. Real, relevant reportage from one of the front lines of human suffering (and it’s also good theatre).” – Kevan Bowkett (Facebook)

“I had a great time at Sarasvati Productions’ Breaking Through. It’s so important to talk about mental health and illness. It meant so much to meet Hope McIntyre and her colleagues!” – Angela Taylor

Thanks to generous donors, we were able to provide access to those who would not otherwise have been able to attend.

“First off, thank you so much for providing the financial ease on Friends Housing as we are a non-profit organization and also for contacting us to come see this breathtaking play. I brought three residents. There were tears but also laughter, but most importantly they were very engaged. All three of them felt a real connection to the play and empathized for the characters. They were even commenting on how they thought they were the only ones feeling a certain way until seeing this play and being able to realize that they are not alone. Thank-you again for inviting Friends Housing, we had a wonderful time.” -Loveeza Arshad, staff at Friends Housing Inc.

“A few of our volunteers were able to watch “Breaking Through” by Sarasvati Productions last weekend. “It was a very moving portrayal of people with differing mental health needs. It was very real, graphic at times, and they didn’t shy away from confronting the hard issues. Excellent actors and very true to life!” – Corrie Neil, Volunteer Coordinator at Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba.

We were excited to share the stage with a diverse range of speakers in our panel discussions. We are overwhelmed with gratitude for all of those who shared experiences and perspectives after performances.

“It helped overcome the fear of interacting with someone with a mental health condition which would probably be a big factor in stigmatization.” – Dana Rungay, Red Threads Playback Theatre

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“I’ve experienced mental health challenges due to living with a chronic illness. For many years, it was something I felt I couldn’t talk about. Through online support groups, I discovered the power of shared experience, which has been integral to both my physical and mental health. I feel honoured to be in a play rooted in real mental health journeys, expressed with such honesty, respect, and humour. As my character Stef says, ‘silence is the illness.’ I hope the audience will keep talking long after the show is over, whether it be in reflection of their own experiences or others in their lives.” – Elena Anciro ‘Stef’ in Breaking Through

“The story of Breaking Through reminds me to respect the inherent value of every human being, sick or well. All people have needs, feelings, & wishes.” – Harry Nelken ‘Joe’ in Breaking Through

“There is massive pressure from our social media world to look a certain way, or act a certain way, and I think seeing Val struggle with This concept will really resonate with audiences.” – Spenser Payne ‘Val’ in Breaking Through

“I know [the playwrights] have talked with people, from every aspect possible, – in mental health centres, in hospitals, in drop in centres, in the community as a whole and what they have developed – both with Shattered and with Breaking Through – is a very real snapshot. We all share the parts of being through Spiritual, Emotional, Mental, and Physical. It’s important to address all aspects for balance. This is why Breaking Through resonates with me. It is bringing to balance one area of our whole.” – Marsha Knight, Female Ensemble in Breaking Through

Breaking Through resonates with me because it echoes a few of the personal experiences I had in my own life. Members of my own family have struggled with mental illness. As a child I endured first-hand trauma as a result of psychotic and manic episodes that a family member was going through. The underlying message of Breaking Through is that we all need to re-think how we treat those dealing with different lived experiences due to their unique minds or their circumstances.” – Josh Ranville, ‘KoKo’ in Breaking Through

We could not have envisioned a stronger creative team to have pulled this project together. Every artist involved has brought something unique to Breaking Through. Thank you to everyone who made Breaking Through such a huge success!
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Breaking Through has everyone talking!

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Molly (Dorothy Carroll) and Kennedy (Marsha Knight) are turned away from an emergency shelter.

Breaking Through opened on Tuesday and has had everyone talking since.

“Saw Breaking Through yesterday, and recommend it, it is honest but done with humour too. Still shows this week. I love all the characters, especially KoKo.” – Mary Scott

“I identify with some of the characters as I have gone through mental struggles of my own… I think what it certainly got across very well was that each character was a sort of individual element, not of their own choosing, but they’re trying to find some means of attaining normalcy. This is what I’ve gone through—the struggle to find normalcy when you have a condition that leaves you feeling anything but.”  – Patrick Lowe, Winnipeg Filmmaker

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KoKo (Josh Ranville) is visited by her spirit guide (Marsha Knight)

“Brilliantly done and very well-researched. The actors really took on the roles. Everybody’s characters just stay with you.” – Angela, audience member

Check out a feature in The Times on actor Harry Nelken who plays Joe, a 72 year old character who has been living with schizophrenia since he was 19. Read the Winnipeg Free Press preview by Randall King and the blog review by Winnipeg theatre artist Lorraine James. Breaking Through has also been featured in the Winnipeg Free Press Arts & Culture, CBC News, The Herald, The Lance, The Pilipino Express, Global News Morning and more!

Come and see for yourself. There are four performances left! To see a performance schedule and book you tickets click here.

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“Plays like this are good messages. They’re valuable, in a sense. What I also like about the play is it was meant to be entertaining throughout. It wasn’t really a ‘downer’. It was trying to be an ‘upper’” – Patrick Lowe, Winnipeg filmmaker

Photos by Janet Shum.