Rethinking Mental Illness: New play grounded in truth

MORGAN: Your worker says you have been behaving differently.

KOKO: I pride myself on behaving differently.

-excerpt from Breaking Through by Hope McIntyre and Cairn Moore

The stories of five individuals struggling with mental health issues interweave in Sarasvàti Productions new play, Breaking Through. Playwrights Hope McIntyre and Cairn Moore created Breaking Through as part of community-based two-year Mental Health is Everyone’s Health project. The project saw McIntyre and Moore team up with Artists in Health Care, Red Threads Playback Theatre and the Selkirk Mental Health Centre as well as working with multiple community organizations and the public. The resulting play is an exploration of mental illness grounded in real experience.

This week, we catch up with the playwrights to talk about the journey of this new, provocative play – from inspiration to early stages of production.

1)            What was the impetus that got you going on Breaking Through?

McIntyre: Meeting with so many people and hearing their stories was all the inspiration needed. We were lucky to have several individuals contact us to share, others show up to the open sessions and amazing workshops at numerous organizations. There was never an issue of lack of material or desire to write but more so too much material!

Moore: For me it was during our visits to female prisons across Canada during the writing of Hope and I’s play “Jail Baby.” Early on I realized at least 30 percent of the women we were meeting, had serious mental illness. In prison, those issues were not, and would never be, addressed.  I wanted to be a part of changing that.

Hope McIntyre and Cairn Moore at the book launch of their play ‘Jail Baby’

 

2)            Do you feel like your understanding of mental health has changed while working on this play? How?

McIntyre: Not changed per say as I have worked with and had many people in my life who struggled with mental health prior to this project. I think what I realized is that every individual has their own experience and own perspective. One of the challenges is to show the myriad responses and points of view. Some have been devastated by the medications they were prescribed and lost quality of life whereas others we spoke with believe the medications saved their lives. There are no easy answers or one size fits all solutions but a need to really honour each story.

Moore: Definitely. Particularly when it comes to medication in North America. While visiting Selkirk Mental Health Centre, I realized that what I originally thought was “mental illness” was really the side effects of medication. That was a scary moment.

3)            While doing research, workshops and interviews with the public, what surprised you most?

McIntyre: The willingness of people to share was the most surprising. There was clearly a desire to talk about it in order to educate, increase awareness and to stop feeling like it was something that needed to be hidden. Many people I knew beforehand in other capacities came forward to share. I feel I started to stop and listen more after going through this process. Asking someone how they are doing, really doing, can be such an important thing.

Moore: That most of us experience mental health issues, even those people who may seem like they have the world by the tail. I was surprised at just how sick people can get. How much care takers and loved ones sacrifice to help those suffering from mental illness. How very real psychosis is, to those who experience it. That we need to recognize people with mental illness, are not their illness, for example, a person is not schizophrenic; they are a person with schizophrenia. The illness should not define them, any more than cancer should define someone. That person is not cancer; they are a person who has cancer. We really need to rethink how we talk about mental illness.

4)            What do you hope the audience is talking about on the car ride home from Breaking Through?

McIntyre: I hope they are opening up about their own struggles, discussing the reality that it is universal and exploring how we should support anyone who is going through a rough time by providing them with what they need.

Moore: I hope there is passionate debate. Talking about mental illness is the first step. It is my greatest wish as a playwright, to raise questions, rather than answer them. Silence is the most difficult hurdle. We should be able to talk about mental illness with our friends, in our work place, without fear of being stigmatized.

Breaking Through premieres on May 23rd and runs until May 28th at the Asper Centre for Theatre & Film. Tickets are available now on our website or by calling the office at 204-586-2236.

How It All Comes Together

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

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

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

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

– Rachel Smith

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

Art Beyond the Stage

The artistic showcase is going beyond the stage at this year’s International Women’s Week Cabaret of Monologues with the help of our amazing Outreach Coordinator, Audrey Unger! A Masters student at the U of M, Audrey has been working with Sarasvàti Productions since September 2016 as part of her practicum in Peace and Conflict Studies.

“The theatre workshops done with several groups of women in November 2016 were a particular highlight”, said Audrey, who helped to organize these story-gathering workshops at a variety of organizations that serve immigrants and refugees. “Much joy and laughter was shared through interaction with theatre games and new friendships were formed by listening to each other’s stories.” Some of the pieces that will be performed on March 11th were developed directly from these workshops.

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Sarasvàti Outreach Coordinator Audrey Unger

Audrey has also been curating an incredible display of visual art in order to highlight this year’s Cabaret theme of “Starting Over”. The collection is made up of pieces in many mediums that have been created by Winnipeg-based artists including photography from the Eritrean Women’s Association and traditional outfits from Uganda and Iraq. Professional Artist Xavier Mutshipayi, originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, will be present with his collection of paintings titled “Awakened Consciousness.”  Artist Briand-Nelson Mutima will also be present with a collection of his paintings. The lobby installation represents different moments from these artists’ experience as newcomers at various stages of life in Canada. “This is an opportunity for artists to showcase and discuss their work with the public audience”, said Audrey. “It has been a joy to connect with these new faces in the community.”

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Professional Artist Xavier Mutshipayi with his collection of paintings titled “Awakened Consciousness.”

There will be interactive opportunities as well! Many of the artists will be there to meet the public and chat about their work. Members of the Canadian Muslim Women’s Institute, who were part of our story-gathering workshops, will be set up in the lobby to share info about their call for donations of winter clothing, blankets, toiletries, and furniture to meet the needs of newly arrived refugees. There will be opportunity to purchase items from Sew Fair, a local fair trade company that employs newcomer women.

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Last but not least, check out our photo booth, where you and your friends can take a selfie with your own call to action. We’ll have #beboldforchange arm bands and signs as part of CUPE’s International Women’s Day 2017 campaign.

You can take part in our lobby installation at the Asper Centre for Theatre & Film before and after the performances on March 11th at 4pm and 8pm. Tickets are just $15 and available on-line or at the door. See you there!

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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!

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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.

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“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.

 

Back with a Vengeance – the One Night Stand makes a triumphant return

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The ensemble cast and Director, Kim Kakegamic take a bow

Six short plays, a responsive audience and valuable feedback! We were excited to offer our re-boot of the One Night Stand Series on February 2nd thanks to the support of PTE Theatre and Film School. Under the guidance of event producer Tatiana Carnevale, seven actors brought to life the works on progress with director Kim Kakegamic. The series is designed to give an enticing taste of new theatre and leave audiences wanting more. In just over an hour everyone enjoyed a taste of comedy, suspense, and wit. By the end of the evening, there was definitely food for thought and some new favourite artists to look out for!

“It was a great chance to see work by novice and experienced playwrights.”
– Andrea Geary, audience member.

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Adrianna Koller and Rachel Smith read ‘Cherries’, an adaptation of Chekov’s “The Cherry Orchard”, written by Per Brask

After the event playwrights were provided with audience feedback so they can continue their work on the pieces. Hearing dialogue out loud and seeing how audiences is respond is integral to the writing process.

“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, a featured playwright in last Tuesday’s One Night Stand.

“It was a great evening of theatre with so much variety and imaginative stories!”
– Craig Russell, featured playwright.

Join us for the next One Night Stand, March 2nd 7:30pm at the Colin Jackson Studio.
The theme is Student Night: presenting stand-out work by students from PTE Theatre and Film School, the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg. Stay tuned for the announcement of this formidable line-up!

“Thanks for a fun, fabulous, very satisfying One Night Stand everyone!! What a great evening.” – Kimberly Kakegamic, Director

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Instant Gratification. Immediate Feedback.

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We are so excited to be re-mounting the One Night Stand Series with the help of Producer, Tatiana Carnevale. Join us at 7pm on February 2nd at the Colin Jackson Studio.
We promise you an evening unlike any other.

Curator note: I am short. So are these plays. 

“I was so pleasantly surprised by the number of submissions we received after circulating our call for the newly relaunched One Night Stand play reading series – the quality of material that individuals sent in, when we didn’t give folks a whole lot of notice to do so, was really and truly impressive! Trying to select just six to program for our first event was a pleasantly unpleasant task, as I got to read a lot of great work and had to make some tough decisions! 

Ultimately, what all the pieces in this first series have in common is that they manage to pack a whole lot of action and character development into 10 minutes or less. These works prove that you don’t need three acts to have a play. (SORRY ARISTOTLE). I hope you’ll join us and take a chance, for one night only, on a hot night with some cool new work!”

-Series Producer, Tatiana Carnevale

Without further ado, would you swipe right on… 

Irony by Sage

Sage is a young upstart in Winnipeg’s comedy scene who has a penchant for making people laugh. He is a newer face in the comedy world and has been frequenting venues across Winnipeg in order to perfect his voice and writing style.

Donation by Craig Russell

Craig Russell’s monologue, The Unintended Consequences of Love was performed at the Carol Shields Festival of New Works. His novel, Black Bottle Man won the American Moonbeam Gold Medal for YA Fantasy and was a finalist for the Canadian Aurora Award for Best English Novel. Another novel, Fragment was recently released by Thistledown Press.

The Aftermath by Trevor Graumann

Trevor Graumann is a Winnipeg writer and musician who has been a regular on the local arts scene for over a decade. A graduate of the University of Winnipeg English program, recent highlights in Trevor’s writing career include a Special Mention in CV2’s annual Young Buck Poetry Award, and a grant from the Manitoba Arts Council in support of a poetic work in progress. When not conversing deep into the night, Trevor prefers to nod off in an internet glow.

Life in a Fishbowl by Marjorie Roden

Marjorie Roden is a member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Northern Saskatchewan. She received her education degree at the University of Saskatchewan then a few years later, attended SIAST Woodland Campus where she studied Media Arts Production. Later, she moved to Winnipeg, where she was a member of the New Voices Program at the National Screen Institute. She is currently completing her bachelor of arts degree at the University of Manitoba, where she’s majoring in film studies and minoring in theatre. She also makes independent films, including the sci-fi webseries Preflight Launch, and operates her production company Farmgirl In The City Productions out of her dorm room.

Jump or You’ll Die Laughing: A Tragicomic Short for the Endlessly Heavy Hearted by Kirsty Cameron

Kirsty Cameron is an emerging prairie writer, currently living in Winnipeg. She is working on a PhD in English at the University of Manitoba. Excerpts from her theatrical works-in-progress have been read at past MAP reading series events and her latest fiction short-story, “Sewing Factory, Circa 1880 — 1980,” was published in the Winter 2016 edition of Prairie Fire literary magazine.

Cherries by Per Brask

Per Brask is a Professor in the Department of Theatre and Film at the University of Winnipeg.  He has published poetry, short stories, drama, translations, interviews and essays in a wide variety of journals and books. Recent publications include a co-translation with Patrick Friesen of Ulrikka S. Gernes’s poetry collection Frayed Opus for Strings & Wind Instruments (shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize, 2016) and a translation of Andreas Simonsen’s The Foundation of Ethics (Fictive Press, 2017).

All plays will be performed by an ensemble cast; Braiden Houle, Adrianna Kollar, Kevin Longfield, Jordan Phillips, Rachel Smith, Cheryl Soluk, and Erica Wilson.
All plays will be Directed by Kim Kakegamic.
The evening will be hosted by Angie St. Mars.

Stay tuned, as we will be offering two more One Night Stand events this season!

 

 

Starting from Scratch with a cast of expert story-tellers

This 2017 International Women’s Week Cabaret of Monologues is over-flowing with talent! Check out part two of our feature on the stellar cast.

Just off the Manitoba school tour of Sarasvàti’s Shattered, Reena Jolly has delved right back into work with us for the Cabaret. She will be performing “You Say Tomato, I say Goodbye”, a piece she resonates personally with about a difficult conversation with first-generation newcomer parents. Reena has been working hard on mastering an accent for this piece and we can’t wait to see it come to life!

Kim Kakegamic made an impact in last year’s Cabaret as an outrageous game show host. In fact this will be her third year doing a monologue for this event! Here’s something that you probably didn’t know: Kim loves geocaching and feels the exact opposite about slow-walkers. This Cabaret, Kim performs a gut-wrenching comedic piece, “The Pit” by Alissa Watson.

Brand new to the Sarasvàti team is Anjali Sandhu. Anjali studied stand-up and improv with Second City Toronto. You can see her regularly around town performing improv and stand-up comedy. Anjali will be performing a provocative and poetic monologue by Fauzia Rafique in this year’s Cabaret, called “Places that have no names.”

Nalini Reddy is also new to Sarasvàti, but is no stranger to the stage. She studied theatre in the Black Hole at the U of MB, performed in several fundraising productions for the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (the annual joint RMTC-MB Bar Association show), been a performing member of Manohar Performing Arts. She’s even had her own band! Nalini will be performing, “Disapora”, the story of a woman struggling to define home while splitting her life between Winnipeg and Delhi.

You’ll remember Sydney MacFarlene from last year’s Cabaret of monologues; she was the only one who did not speak throughout her entire piece! Sydney is a devoted dancer who’s always on the move. She has been developing choreography as part of an oral-telling of a Lost Girl from South Sudan for this year’s Cabaret. During the week you’ll find her studying Kinesiology and tap-dancing under her desk.

We caught up with these performers to ask them a few fun questions and  get to know them better as they begin buckling down to rehearse!

  • If you could have coffee with any person who has ever existed, who would it be?
    Nalini: Vandana Shiva
    Reena
    : God. I have a few questions I’d like to ask.
    Anjali: Vincent Van Gogh (This is a lie, my true answer is Taylor Swift)
  • Who is a local woman that inspires you?
    Anjali: Pam Oberman
    Kim: My co-worker Rosalyn Boucha (who is also an amazing artist) – she is smart, creative, and aspires to learn something new everyday.
    Sydney: There isn’t just one local woman who inspires me, I find inspiration in every woman I meet. They each have their own unique stories and advice that I definitely learn from.
    Nalini: Fiona Smith
    Reena: My mum hands down. She is incredibly smart and perceptive. She has a great sense of humor and makes me laugh all the time. She is extremely hard working and never gives up. My mum is a real life wonder woman.
  • If you could wake up tomorrow with any new skill, what would it be?
    Nalini: Super-memory
    Anjali: Mind control or singing.
    Kim: Drawing
    Sydney: I would want to be able to memorize information just by reading it, I always have to write things out and it can be quite time-consuming.
  • If you had to start over again in a new place, where would you want to go?
    Sydney: If I had to start over again, I would be in the Caribbean or somewhere in South America.
    Kim: If I could speak Swedish I’d pick Sweden. It’s where my mom’s family is from and those Nordic countries seem like pretty fabulous places to live. On this side of the ocean? Honestly, probably Regina. Haha! I’ve started over twice there before and maybe third time’s the charm!
    Reena: New Orleans. The music and art are so vibrant! Plus, they have rich history and the food would be amazing. I’ve never been there… but, I saw The Princess and the Frog one time and wanted to move there instantly.

We are enjoying getting into the rehearsal process with this amazing cast. We look forward to sharing women’s stories on a theme we can all relate to: Starting Over.  For more info on the pieces, or to get tickets visit our website!