The Long Journey to Breaking Through

Two years…that’s the average lifespan of a robin. Why work on a project for two years? It might be your first time reading about Breaking Through or perhaps you have you been following its progress for two years? Either way, as we launch in to rehearsals for the world premiere, we thought an overview was in order.

SMHC Playback

Playback group

In 2015 we launched “Mental Health is Everyone’s Health” with Artists in Healthcare Manitoba and Red Threads Playback Theatre. Much of the genesis was supported by the Selkirk Mental Health Centre where Red Threads did amazing playbacks sessions with residents who shared their stories and where co-writer Hope McIntyre had the honour of interviewing those in the geriatric and acquired brain injury ward. Sarasvàti also put out the word that we wanted to hear as many stories from as many perspectives. A need to break the silence and counter misrepresentation led to those with lived experience, health care workers and caregivers coming forward for interviews and to participate in open workshop sessions. We were hosted by the Manitoba Schizophrenia Society, Rainbow Resource Centre, St. John’s High School, Resource Assistance for Youth and Aurora Family Centre’s male newcomer peer support group. In total almost 400 people shared their experiences! We were blown away. Writers Hope McIntyre and Cairn Moore with the support of facilitator Nan Fewchuk faced the difficult task of compiling so many diverse perspectives in to a compelling play. In fact, they would have liked a third year to take on this daunting task!

Nan Fewchuk and Cairn Moore

Nan Fewchuk and Cairn Moore make notes at a workshop reading of Breaking Through, 2016.

It was decided in consulting with all our partners that the ultimate goals was to increase empathy and understanding, highlight the reality that everyone has mental health, and demonstrate that everyone’s experience of illness is unique. All that as well as making it artistically engaging! Breaking Through was read in various drafts for those who contributed their stories. Then a full staged reading in May 2016 allowed actors to contribute their insights while testing the play out in front of an audience.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Over one hundred feedback forms were received! Overall an extremely favourable response, but with amazing insights leading to round after round of rewrites. Then another workshop with actors thanks to the Manitoba Association of Playwrights and the guidance of Sharon Bajer in January 2017.

The process has already created a platform for people to talk about the importance of mental health for everyone. It is easy to think of mental health with an “us vs. them” mentality: people who have a mental illness and people who do not. However, it is important to know that this apparent line is a lot blurrier than many people may think. One in four Manitobans will receive medical treatment for a mental illness. Many people are affected in one way or another and some people to do not stop to consider their own mental health.

Finally we arrive at the beginning of the final stage. Our first read-through on Tuesday was exhilarating for everyone! We can hardly wait to share the results of this journey with the world or at least with Winnipeg audiences as a start.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The world premiere of Breaking Through is coming up May 23-28, 2017 under the direction of Kevin Klassen with an accomplished Winnipeg cast and crew featuring Elena Anciro, Dorothy Carroll, Richie Diggs, Marsha Knight, Harry Nelken, Spenser Payne and Josh Ranville. Plus design team Kim Griffin (set/costumes), Dean Cowieson (lighting) and jaymez (video/sound).

For more information on Breaking Through and how to get tickets visit our website! http://sarasvati.ca/breaking-through-world-premiere/

Hands Up for the Cast & Crew of Shattered!

6,161 is the number of people who saw Shattered this tour. Incredible!

After performing the show a total of 60 times 47 different locations, including 39 high schools in Winnipeg and surrounding areas, what are the moments that stood out to this formidable cast and crew the most?

“My biggest highlight is watching the students who are brave enough to come up and share their own personal stories”, said Erin Cunningham, who was at every performance as Stage Manager. “It’s nice to see not only them feeling brave enough to share their stories, but that the students in the audience are understanding enough to listen and they don’t get judgemental about it.” Erin also put an incredible amount of work into coordinating this year’s tour– a gargantuan task that calls for a standing ovation in itself.

“There have been a few girls that have come up to me after and talked to me about how they have already been to a treatment centre just like I had gone to for my eating disorder” said Kelsey Funk, who has shared her lived experience with the project. Kelsey plays Amanda, a high school student who struggles with an eating disorder unbeknownst to her family and friends. “They tell me that it has been a powerful experience to watch the show and you can kind of see hope in their eyes, so that’s been really great for me.”

photos-from-children-of-the-earth-school-001-17

Performance at Children of the Earth High School

The cast and crew of Shattered set out to make an impact on schools; to engage students in open discussion of mental health, to reach out to those who have experience with mental health issues, and to encourage human understanding among those who have not. The whole team is extremely proud to have made a positive impact on so many young people.

“I enjoyed it because it felt real and it hits you hard”, said a student at Garden City Collegiate.
“I realised that a lot more people in our school had experience with mental illness than I thought”, said a student at Fort Richmond Collegiate.
“I just wanted to say thank you all so much for coming to my school…the message was so powerful and I relate so much to these stories” said a student at John Taylor Collegiate.

Although our cast and crew deserve a much needed break, it’s clear that they will miss spending so much time with each other. “One of my favourite times is when we’re in the passenger van driving to our different locations”, said Reena Jolly who plays Stacy. “You get to bond and just talk to each other on the drive to wherever we’re going. I love that part.”

20161129_093559Touring a performance like this has a profound impact on the performers too. “After the show at Churchill high a student came up to me and she was very, very emotional”, said Erica Wilson, who plays KoKo, a young, two-spirited character in Shattered.  “Her friend is going through a transition where she’s not comfortable with her gender. I was able to explain to her that a lot of girls and a lot of boys feel that way…so it’s a very emotional tour.”

 

We have felt honoured to share these stories with the next generation of Manitobans. We hope that the empathy and understanding they are full of today stays with them as they become adults. Their bravery and acceptance of mental health gives us much hope for the future.

Shattered Hits the Road!

img_20161012_140356“I wish they had this when I was in high school,” was a repeated response from audiences when Shattered previewed to a large crowd last Thursday evening at Graffiti Gallery. In preparation for the launch of Shattered into Manitoba schools and education centres the play was premiered to interested organizations and the public as a fundraiser for the tour. The response was overwhelming. Those in attendance responded adamantly that we should be taking Shattered to parents and to an even younger age group. We also received offers to advocate at schools who have not booked yet!

Shattered was great. It was fun but still got across a very important message”, said Griffin Jenkins, Youth Programs Coordinator at Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba (MDAM). “I personally related to some of the scenes almost as if it were my own life so it is amazing to see those parts of someone’s life shown to a large audience to understand how painful it really is.”

Griffin spoke to the audience before the play began alongside Bonnie Bricker, mental health advocate and Director of the Family Navigation Program at MDAM. “I thought your script and the actors were sincere”, said Bonnie, “[they] did not overact, and provided effective characterizations. I wish you every success in utilizing this creative tool to reach our most vulnerable population.”

This performance was the first opportunity for all-youth cast of Shattered to incorporate audience participation. Shattered is a forum theatre play, which means scenes are intentionally rife with conflict. The idea is that audience members will watch characters make choices, see the effects of those choices, and think about alternative choices that may lead to a more positive outcome.
“The use of forum theatre was done brilliantly”, said Griffin, “it gave the audience who may have never been in that situation [the chance to] speak about what they think should have been done. More importantly it gives people who have been in that situation the opportunity to share how they wished that scenario occurred”

Shattered hits the road today with their first school performance at Balmoral Hall. The Sarasvàti team has been hard at work on Shattered for the past six months and we can’t wait to work with these youth.

.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


“Thank you Sarasvati for the great work you do in the community …this play is very powerful & I am sure will be well received in the schools & make a difference in the lives of youth. it was inspiring to see such great interaction between actors & audience…everyone was so engaged. Left with a feeling of hope.” – Kay Stewart, Social Worker

Check out these articles to read more about Shattered! There are only a few dates left for schools to book!!
http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/entertainment/arts/theatre-with-a-social-conscience-391420421.html

http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/our-communities/New-play-explores-youth-mental-health-396343861.html

 

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!*

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


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.

 

Feeling Shattered into a Million Pieces

We think back to our youth and most of us can remember the ups-and-downs and all the emotions.  But what happens when all those emotions go deeper than growing pains? When these problems become overwhelming, start to affect every aspect of a teen’s life or are rooted in darker, more painful pasts? What happens when these problems become too hard to bear and you feel nothing but lost, confused and alone? Where do teens turn to and how can they cope when dealing with mental health? These are the questions explored in Sarasvàti Productions’ high school tour of Shattered.

With the support of The Winnipeg Foundation and Enterprise Foundation, Shattered will be stopping at 40 high schools in Manitoba from October 11 to December 9. Using the format of forum theatre, youth won’t just sit and watch the play, they will take the stage as they work together to explore solutions to the challenges these characters will face:

Meet the cast and crew behind Shattered:

Hailey Charney, assistant director/consultant – Hailey has worked on the Mental Health is Everyone’s Health project from its early stages. She truly believes in the importance and impact Shattered will have on the way youth view mental health. This is not Hailey’s first time working with Sarasvàti as she has had wonderful experiences participating in FemFest for the past two years.

20141118_102247

GeNie in action on our last tour!

Eugene Baffoe aka. GeNie, as Narrator/Joker/Absame – A freestyle battle dancer, local MC, actor, and Hip Hop instructor at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, this will be GeNie’s third Sarasvàti high school tour where he once again plays the narrator. His other roles find him giving comedic relief as the Joker, and a Canadian newcomer’s perspective as Absame.

 

Kelsey Funk Headshot.jpeg

Kelsey Funk

Kelsey Funk, as Amanda/Dora – A graduate of the University of Winnipeg with a BA Honours degree in Theatre, Kelsey wrote and performed her one-woman play WTF are kale chips?! at this year’s Winnipeg Fringe. Kelsey is no stranger to the Mental Health is Everyone’s Health project also appearing in the staged readings of the project’s general production, Breaking Through.

Lindsay Johnson, as Ms. Andrews/Mom – Lindsay is a graduate of the University of Winnipeg’s Honours Acting Program with credits in The Power of Yes, Enchanted April, and The Cassilis Engagement, other credits include Antigone and Quickies with Chekhov (This Reality Theatre Co.) Most recently she performed and co-produced The Writing on the Stalls at the Winnipeg Fringe through Fill The (W)hole Theatre Company. This is her first time working with Sarasvàti as she takes on the roles of authority figures in the play .

Thomas Toles Headshot

Thomas Toles

Thomas Toles, as Dad/Eddie/Doug – An actor, director and teacher at the University of Winnipeg and MTYP’s theatre school, this will be Thomas’ first time performing with Sarasvàti. He has recently performed in The Collector, Middletown, and the Winnipeg Comedy Festival.

Jacob Elijah Unica, as Les – Our youngest cast member, Jacob just graduated from Fort Richmond Collegiate where he studied drama. He’ll be taking on the role of Les, a teen whose challenges lie in caring for a parent struggling with mental health.

Erica

Erica Wilson

Erica Wilson, as KoKo – Erica performed in Sarasvàti’s 2013 Giving Voice tour – a high school tour about the experiences of youth in care. She has more recently appeared alongside Kelsey Funk in the staged readings of Breaking Through, as the outspoken Two-Spirited character, KoKo. She will be reprising this role in Shattered.

Reena Jolly, as Stacy – Reena is a third year arts student at the University of Manitoba, with this role being her first professional theatre performance. She’ll play Stacy, a young girl coping with anxiety.

Reena Jolly Headshot.jpg

Reena Jolly

Oyindamola (Oyinda) O. Alaka, as Stacy (Stacy understudy) – With her educational background and active experience in social justice and equity advocacy, Oyinda fits right into the message behind Sarasvàti Productions. Theatre as served as a home for Oyinda since childhood and she sees it as a universal way of delivery messages and impacting lives.

Start the conversation about mental health at your school. For more information or to book Shattered please visit our website or call 204-586-2236. There are only 35 spots left so book early!

Stories of Metamorphosis and the Art of Starting Over

seasonlaunch

Cotton candy liquid nitrogen cocktails and a cupcake making station! Transformative theatre, sugar and science! Sounds amazing doesn’t it? We are excited to present Transformation: Sarasvàti Productions 2016/17 Season Launch. There is so much going on in the world of Sarasvàti Productions for us to talk about. From our annual theatre festival of life-changing plays by women for everyone, to an eye-opening project featuring Canadian newcomers and their inspiring stories. Join us at The List – Winnipeg’s newest supper club, on Friday, August 5, 2016. We’ll be taking over the restaurant to give you a sneak peek of our enthralling new season of transformative theatre. Plus it’s part of First Fridays in the Exchange so you can check out an array of offerings before and after!

If you need more convincing, our Associate Producer Angie St. Mars gives you Top 6 reasons to support Sarasvàti this season.

  • Celebrate personal growth – This season’s theme is ‘transformation’ and highlights the beauty in change and starting over. 2016/17 focuses on personal growth and both the joy and pain that comes with it. Kicking off the season is FemFest 2016 featuring the emotional story of one woman’s journey from a husband and father, to becoming a powerful transgender spoken-word poet.
  • See the world through a new perspective – We’ll be announcing a new initiative that will be launched as part of our 2017 Cabaret of Monologues.
  • Help end stigma – After two years of gathering stories from the community we will be announcing the culmination of our mental health project.
  • Support local emerging artists – One of the most rewarding parts of this job is designing workshops for emerging theatre artists. As someone who fits into this category, I appreciate Sarasvàti’s desire to provide opportunities for artists to develop both artistic and business skills for low to no cost. I am especially excited to announce what we’ll be offering this year for emerging artists in all areas of theatre!
  • Promote diversity in theatre – Sarasvàti is dedicated to creating opportunities for diverse theatre artists and promoting equity in Canadian theatre. This season will provide various performance, showcase and training opportunities for diverse emerging and established artists.
  • Make theatre accessible – As part of Sarasvàti’s mission to make theatre accessible for all, we will be presenting plays at a number of new and unique venues. I am looking forward to taking transformative theatre into the community and engaging with new faces. It is pure joy to be able to collaborate with amazing people and community groups to promote human understanding. It is humbling and inspiring to be part of the drive to make Winnipeg an increasingly inclusive, vibrant city.

To learn more about Sarasvàti Productions 2016/17 Season, join us on August 5, 2016 at 7 pm at The List – 216 McDermot Ave. The event will feature more information on our upcoming projects, a free Cupcake Decorating Station sponsored by Cake-ology, and a special Transformation themed cocktail (that’s where the cotton candy liquid nitrogen comes in) created by the fantastic mixologists of The List. The event is free so be sure to pop in and show your support for Sarasvàti Productions.

Shattering Stigma

Shattered video graphic

“Why are we taught all about physical health but never given any information on mental health” was the question posed by an astute grade ten student at one of our mental health workshops. With the high rate of suicide and depression among teens this is an important question. Although we worked with seniors, newcomers, patients and caregivers over the last year and a half of the mental health project, some of the most powerful sessions were with youth. We worked with over fifty youth at Rainbow Resource Centre, St. John’s High School and Resource Assistance for Youth. Some youth returned to join the public open sessions we also held. What we heard over and over was how important it was to get what we were doing in to schools. With last week’s staged readings of Breaking Through we gathered amazing feedback from a wide array of audiences. This will shape the final script for our May 2017 world premiere. In the meantime, we have gone back to the original stories and source material to explore mental health  through the eyes of youth.

As we believe mental health is everyone’s health, we know it is equally as important to spread the message of hope and understanding to Manitoba’s youth. We are excited to announce the next phase of the Mental Health Project – Shattered – for and about youth. Thanks to the support of the Winnipeg Foundation and Enterprise Foundation, it will tour to schools in Winnipeg and surrounding areas in the fall of 2016!

With Shattered, teens won’t just hear these adapted stories but will have a chance to become completely emerged in them as they explore solutions to the challenges characters face. Youth will get a chance to stop the action and work together to come up with their own endings for the characters; making Shattered a truly interactive and thought-provoking experience.

Hear more about the Mental Health Project including Breaking Through and Shattered and catch a glimpse of what Sarasvàti Productions high school tours are like:

The high school tour of Shattered starts October 10, 2016 and is already booking up. If you’d like to book a show and help engage students in an important discussion about mental health, please visit Sarasvati.ca or e-mail associate@sarasvati.ca.