Balancing Mental Wellness in the Arts

“Mental Health in Theatre” is a hot-button issue right now as more and more artists begin to speak out about the working conditions and pressure that comes with a life on the stage. This past Sunday, Sarasvàti Productions hosted a panel on Mental Health in Theatre with speakers Larry Isacoff, Krista Jackson, Elena Anciro, Heidi Malazdrewich, Sylvia Massinon of Klinic, and facilitated by Taylor Demetrioff.

The panel covered many important topics, like giving voice to the issues facing mental wellness in theatre, how folks can avoid burnout, the importance of creating safe spaces in rehearsals, not to forget the demands placed on those behind the scenes, and what resources are available for folks needing extra support. In service to the community, we’re publishing more on the incredible discussion that took place so everyone can learn more about what they can do to support each other.

 

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Key Words from the Panel

In discussing what can be done to enact change, the primary focus was on the role of leadership. Many asserted that it is the responsibility of arts leaders to ensure that the artists under their employ are working in safe conditions during reasonable hours. Folks working behind the scenes spoke to the demands being placed on Winnipeg’s theatre community with artists being asked to deliver impossible results outside of the scope of the theatre’s budget or schedule. To quote one panelist, “Theatre is the only profession that has to open on time – regardless of consequences.” This pressure creates an environment where those who speak up are not only going unheard because “the show must go on,” but also have to deal with the threat of unemployment. A common issue is that artists feel “replaceable”: if they voice their concerns with a project or the leadership, they may find themselves out of a job.

Artists also spoke about their issues handling personal struggles or performance anxiety in order to continue with their roles. In several cases, they’ve been asked to push through and were even discouraged from continuing in theatre if they weren’t able to “handle the pressure”. Unfortunately, for many, the experience has been that they are working for leadership that creates a culture of fear and pressure in the rehearsal hall rather than collaboration and positivity. A great example on creating a safe space for everyone was to ask at the start of the process, “What do you need?” Getting everyone on the same page and learning who they could turn to for support was a key player in creating more positive rehearsal spaces.

 

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We also heard from Sylvia Massinon about the resources available for mental health in our community. Klinic has drop-in, short-term, and long-term counselling available on a first-come, first-serve basis – available entirely for free. Women’s Health Clinic also offers free and low-cost counselling available in fifty-minute sessions. Of course, one of the most important reminders for practicing artists is to make time for themselves. Our profession can be isolating – long hours, the pressure to perform, weeks spent inside the rehearsal hall or onstage with limited time for anything else… but it is important for folks to know that they need to be able to say no to a project if it comes at the cost of their mental well-being.

Although there was much more to discuss than we could fit in this panel, we would like to thank everyone who participated for sharing their stories and opening up this important discussion. We will be continuing with our workshop series as the season goes on with our “Queering Theatre” Lecture slated for January 2019. For more on the great events we have in store, join our mailing list!

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Mental Health in Theatre

Let’s talk about mental health for artists.

Performers are twice as likely as the general population to experience depression, according to the 2015 Australian Actors’ Wellbeing Study. Many suffer from performance anxiety and report high levels of stress arising from work-related pressures such as low income and job insecurity.

Out of character: how acting puts a mental strain on performers

Low-income gigs, lack of job security, long hours, ever-changing work environments, frequent rejection, the pressure of performing… these are just some of the issues facing Winnipeg’s theatre community. On November 25th, Sarasvàti Productions will respond to these concerns by hosting a panel discussion on Mental Health in Theatre. We’ll be talking to folks from both artistic and mental health backgrounds on some of the issues of balancing self-care with a career in the arts. Some of the big questions include: how can artists stay motivated and avoid burnout? How can we create safe spaces in rehearsals? And what resources are available?

Taking part in the panel are local theatre professionals Larry Isacoff (Lighting Designer), Krista Jackson (Director), Elena Anciro (Performer), and Heidi Malazdrewich (Director). Facilitating the panel is Taylor Demetrioff of the Canadian Mental Health Association. We’ll also be having a counsellor from Klinic Community Health Centre present who can address some of the more general concerns about stressful work environments and what folks can do to seek outside help.

 

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So just what are some of the issues facing mental health in theatre? In May 2018, Toronto performer Nathan Carroll detailed his experiences for Intermission.

“Mental illness seems to affect actors and theatre artists at disproportionate rates. It’s our job to be vulnerable, to experience extreme highs and lows, and to act out ecstatic, harrowing, or humiliating situations in front of large groups of strangers. We face rejection with alarming frequency, sleep in strange beds in new cities, and acclimate to different work environments every few months. All of these things are part of why we love doing what we do, but it is not surprising when the volatility of our profession contributes to poor mental health.”

Join the discussion on November 25th! Our “Mental Health in Theatre Panel” will be taking place from 1-3PM at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (400 Colony St at the U of W, Second Floor, Studio 2T05). Admission is by donation. Seating is limited – to RSVP or request further information, please contact Daphne at associate@sarasvati.ca or call (204) 586-2236.

Upcoming Workshops for Emerging Artists!

Want to get started in theatre? Want to expand your skills as an artist? Or maybe you want to get some feedback on a new script? Luckily, Sarasvàti Productions is offering another great season of workshops! After our Coffee House for Emerging Artists back in August, we listened to Winnipeg’s theatre community to better understand what is needed from us – and how we can better execute our mandate to serve emerging artists. In talking with local artists, we decided to focus this year’s workshops on mentorship and development opportunities for the community.We’ve already kicked off the season with our sold-out “Devising from the Real World” workshop with Burnt artist Norah Paton as part of FemFest 2018: Staging Resistance. The workshop taught participants the basics of devised theatre and how to create a piece from real-life experiences.

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“Devising from the Real World” Workshop

 

We also showcased our first One Night Stand session coordinated by Tatiana Carnevale, featuring excerpts of new plays from Leigh-Anne Kehler, Frances Koncan, Jo MacDonald, Cairn Moore, and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard. The One Night Stand series pairs playwrights with a director and team of actors to workshop a new script through a public reading. This process helps the playwrights gain valuable audience feedback and learn how they can continue developing their play. We’ll be hosting more sessions in the spring: stay tuned for details!

We’ll be bringing back our annual Coffee with a Pro mentorship sessions, which pair emerging artists with a pro in the field to talk shop over coffee.  “It’s always useful to hear from professionals in the field,” said one participant. “It helps break the illusion that professionals are some beyond human, super being. Being able to ask questions about their journey and process helps create a more concrete path for someone hoping to take their work to the next level.” We’ll be reaching out to Winnipeg’s theatre community to help emerging artists learn from the pros in topics like playwriting, producing, and artistic direction.

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Emerging Directors having Coffee with Ann Hodges

On November 25th, we’ll be hosting a panel on Mental Health in Theatre: asking professionals in both the artistic and mental health community how to balance self-care with a career in the arts. Local representatives will also speak to creating a safe environment from the rehearsal hall to the stage, making sure everyone feels comfortable as a cast and creative team. Also answering the question on self-care in theatre is our upcoming panel, “Can You Make a Living as an Artist in Winnipeg?” Professionals in the theatre community will speak to how they’ve made a career as an artist – and share some wisdom on how you can, too!

We’ll also be hosting a lecture on “Queering Theatre” with local artists in the LGBT+ community. Through this lecture, participants will learn how they can bring queering practices to their own work and celebrate what queer culture has to offer.

“Let’s talk about Queer, because it doesn’t always mean gay or lesbian. It means sexual, radical, from another culture, non-linear, redefining form as well as content. […] you come into the theatre assured of who you are and what you believe, but you leave the theatre all shook up.”  – Sky Gilbert, Former Artistic Director of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre

Want to be a part of this year’s workshop series? Contact Associate Producer Daphne at associate@sarasvati.ca to learn more! You can also join our mailing list for updates on what we’re offering throughout the year.

Learn from the Pros at FemFest 2018!

Ever sit in the theatre and wonder how the show was created? How the artist chose the topic? What training did they do to get to where they are? We have such an incredible line-up in store for this year’s FemFest 2018: Staging Resistance – now you can learn the process behind these powerful productions! In addition to taking in phenomenal performances, there will also be plenty of opportunities to hear from and interact with the amazing artists in this year’s festival.

screen-shot-2017-01-01-at-16-46-23.pngThese sessions are so popular that one is already full! On Sunday, September 16th, we’ll be hosting our Devising from the Real World workshop with Burnt performer Norah Paton. Burnt was created using a “devised theatre” process, taking interviews from Burning Man participants and forming the collection of stories into a play. Paton’s style in particular focuses on the real world, hinging on documentary theatre. Using this approach, participants will learn ways to create work by drawing inspiration from their own personal, social, and political worlds. Space is currently sold out – contact Daphne at associate@sarasvati.ca to be put on the waitlist!

2016_TPM 2016-17 - SOTB - web.PNGYou can also hear from Sound of the Beast powerhouse Donna-Michelle St. Bernard at her Real Thing Lecture presented in partnership with the University of Winnipeg Department of Theatre and Film. This lecture series focuses on that big question every young artist is dying to answer: how can I find my start in the real world? Donna-Michelle St. Bernard, a.k.a. “Belladonna the Blest”, will talk about her career as an emcee, playwright, and agitator using her experience in the “real world” of theatre and film. You can hear from her September 19th at 12:30PM at the U of W. Or if you are the type who loves to discuss a performance afterwards, come see the show on September 20th at 1pm and stick around after for a talkback with the artist.

White Man's Indian.jpgThere is also a chance to discuss the powerful play White Man’s Indian with both the writer/performer Darla Contois as well as a panel of community members who have experience with the content. White Man’s Indian follows the story of Eva, a Cree teenage girl, and her journey through the maze of a White Man’s high school. It is a hilarious quest for identity and spirituality. While the story by Contois sheds light on the harsh reality of growing up as an Indigenous girl in a white space, many themes of identity, discrimination and bullying are explored. The play encourages dialogue about the effects the systems have on Indigenous communities, specifically youth. Join the panel discussion after the 7PM performance on September 18th to discuss the complex issues tackled by the play.

One Night Stand Poster April 11That’s not all – we’re also bringing back our One Night Stand series to FemFest! This series gives playwrights the opportunity to test their work, while providing audiences a chance to take part in the developmental process. You can hear from some of our most celebrated playwrights and get a sneak peek at their latest projects. After curating our events at FemFest 2017 and the 2018 Carol Shields Festival at Prairie Theatre Exchange, host Tatiana Carnevale will show off what’s new from playwrights Leigh-Anne Kehler, Frances Koncan, Jo MacDonald, Cairn Moore, and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard. Our talented readers for this year’s series include Melanee Deschambeault, Katie German, Kimberly Kakegamic, Glenn Odero, Matthew Paris-Irvine, and Erica Wilson.

With so much to take in, you won’t want to miss a thing! Check out our full FemFest schedule for a list of all the incredible events you can check out at this year’s festival, running September 15-22.

 

One Night Stand Series: Another World!

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We’ve brought the One Night Stand series back for another year! This time around, all the submissions take place in a world much like our own – but with a few twists thrown in (heaven-sent chili fries? An evil plot about Mike & Ike’s? The drowned remains of Portage Place? What’s going on here?)

This year’s readings will take place in a studio setting, keeping the focus on the scripts and letting the work speak for itself. All five pieces were directed by Daphne Finlayson and will be performed by an ensemble cast: Betty Asseiro, Kate Berg, Kai Chochinov, Kelsey Funk, Rowan Gannon, Cheryl Soluk, Logan Stefanson, and Ryland Thiessen!

We’ve got a great mix for this edition of experienced playwrights and emerging artists – get to know them below!

A Fine Line by Wren Brian

Wren started her diverse career in Whitehorse, Yukon where she was born and raised. A graduate from the University of Winnipeg’s Theatre & Film Honours Program, Wren is a playwright as well as an arts administrator, director, and producer. In her writing, Wren is dedicated to creating characters that can be played by actors of any gender, ancestry, and age. Recently her play Anomie won the 2017 Harry S. Rintoul Award for Best New Manitoban Play at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, and her play Bystander was one of three plays shortlisted for the Playwrights’ Guild of Canada Emerging Playwright Award in 2015. For more information, visit wrenbrian.com.

520lb Breakfast by J.P. Button

J.P. is a young emerging playwright and director from Winnipeg, Manitoba. They have worked out of the Black Hole Theatre Company as well as completed their Bachelor of Arts in Theatre at the University of Manitoba. They continue to find inspiration from the immense talent of their friends and peers. They hope to continue to write, and also one day find Big Foot. They believe that Big Foot would be a fan of the arts.

The True Deeds of the Illuminati by Thomas Donnelly

This play came to Thomas within one of his many mind rambles. He is a student of the University of Manitoba and enjoys writing, film, theatre, music, drawing, and comic books. He was a part of the 2016-2017 U of M Film Production class as part of the camera crew and recently took part in the university’s 2017-2018 Backstage theatre class. He served as light operator for Pith! and stage manager for Here We Go, the final Lunch B.H.A.G.G. in the Black Hole Theatre Company’s 2017-2018 season. His writing includes many complete and incomplete works that he will get to… eventually; he has other stuff to do.

The Winter Hideout of the Wasp Queen by Larissa Hikel

Larissa is a freelance writer from Winnipeg, MB, who brings a native instinct to her writing, photography and acting. She explores the world from a personally complex place. High school dropout, drifter, used to shifting between identities as they serve her, she has the power to observe life from a wide range of vantage points which she brings to her art.

Here Together by Jonathan Mourant

Jonathan is a Winnipeg improviser, performer, and playwright. He performs regularly with his improv troupe Unexpected Results and serves as an executive and treasurer for the University of Winnipeg Improv and Common Crow Improv. Jonathan has written multiple plays and screenplays including the self-produced Here Together, first performed at the University of Winnipeg’s 2017 DIO Festival and now as part of the One Night Stand series!

Come take part in the future of Winnipeg theatre and hear what’s next from local, up-and-coming playwrights! The One Night Stand series returns Wednesday, April 25th at 7PM in Studio 2T05, Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (400 Colony Street). For more info, check out the event page!

 

 

Monologue Intensive with Sharon Bajer

Our workshop series is designed to help emerging artists hone their craft – whether by strengthening a particular skill, learning more about the business of being an artist, or by creating networking opportunities to learn how the pros became pros! Through our workshops, artists of all experience levels can continue developing their skillset on their way to becoming professionals.

The Monologue Intensive is one of two performance workshops we’ve hosted this season, the first being The Actor’s Voice with Tom Soares. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out, every actor needs a good polished monologue to keep in their back pocket. Picking the right one can be tricky – but luckily, Sarasvàti Productions is here to help! The Monologue Intensive this spring will help you nail your next audition.

The monologue is often considered the bane of an actor’s existence, but is still necessary for auditions. This workshop will introduce the participants to some unique techniques for strengthening their monologue skills and deepening their understanding of them. Participants are asked to come to the workshop with 2 contrasting memorized monologues – they should be from plays, each less than 2 minutes long.

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Sharon Bajer

Facilitating the workshop is Sharon Bajer. Sharon is an actress, playwright, director, acting coach and Artistic Director of the newly formed Keep Theatre. She has taught acting workshops at Prairie Theatre Exchange, Manitoba Theatre for Young People, ACTRA Manitoba, The Winnipeg Film Group, The Academy of Acting, Tapestry New Opera (Toronto), Studio 58 (Vancouver), and the Acting Intensive at Rainbow Stage. Last season, she won the first Best Actress Award at The Winnipeg Theatre Awards.

 

The workshop is taking place Saturday, May 5th, from 1:00—3:30 PM at the Asper Centre for Theatre & Film at the U of W (400 Colony St). Registration is $30. Space is limited – sign up now to guarantee your spot!  You can contact Daphne at associate@sarasvati.ca or by phone at 204-586-2236. Deadline is April 14th!

Expanding Our Work in the Community

We need to be doing more to honour our responsibility to reconciliation. This was the commitment when Sarasvàti Productions signed on to the Winnipeg Indigenous Accord and put in to action specific goals. Thus far we have recruited better Indigenous representation on our Board, established an Indigenous Advisory Committee, and hired the amazing Elissa Kixen as Indigenous Community Outreach Coordinator. She will be exploring better ways to serve, work with and build partnerships.

A first step this past week was bringing back our workshop series with Children of the Earth High School! We began the series in 2017 to provide students with information about the world of theatre since the school does not currently offer a drama program. This ten-week series gives North End youth the opportunity to learn about acting, writing, and directing for the stage. Students are given the opportunity to meet and speak with professionals who work in the arts and build connections for the future. The series will also take students to sit in on rehearsals, tour Winnipeg theatres, and see live performances!

The workshops run Mondays from 3:45pm-5:45pm at Children of the Earth High School, Room 103. All North End youth (ages 14-18) are welcome to attend, free of charge!

Joshua Ranville

Joshua Ranville

Facilitating the workshops are familiar faces Joshua Ranville and Marsha Knight, plus a roster of amazing guest artists. Ranville is an actor/musician from Winnipeg with twenty years’ experience in theatre and film. He has also been an art mentor to children for over ten years. Ranville has quite the history with Sarasvàti, having appeared in our FemFest 2017 Bake-Off, Breaking Through, and Eden. He has also worked with MTYP on the one-man show, Routes, as well as instructing at Rainbow Stage’s Camp Rainbow this past summer.

 

 

Marsha Knight

Marsha Knight

Knight has been involved in theatre for over twenty years, starting with Ian Ross’ Governor General award-winning drama fareWel (PTE). She has worked on several past productions with Sarasvàti, including consulting on Two Indians at FemFest 2017 and performing in Breaking Through and Eden. She has also performed with a number of local companies, including Time’s Fancy: The War of King Henry V and Joan of Arc (Sixth Planet Productions); Rez Sisters (PTE, Theatre Northwest, Magnus Theatre); Kiss the Moon, Kiss the Sun (Theatre Northwest); Antony & Cleopatra (Shakespeare in the Ruins); and Crees in the Caribbean  (Magnus Theatre).

 

Elissa Kixen 2018

Elissa Kixen

Our coordinator Elissa Kixen is an Anishinaabe Ikwe (woman) comedian and producer of WOKE Comedy Hour. She has been performing for twenty years and has been teaching for seventeen. Her passion is to bring Indigenous issues to the forefront of her comedy.

We have several other initiatives in the works and will continue to gather input in the coming months.