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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“Home 2.0”: The Road So Far

It’s been a busy time for Home 2.0! The cast has already traveled to over twenty-five different locations, performing for schools, conferences, the Millennium Library, and Graffiti Gallery! And we’re not slowing down any time soon: the tour continues its Manitoban run until December 7!

The cast has gotten to perform for students across Manitoba, including newcomer youth, drama students, and teachers learning how they can make a difference in their students’ lives. Here are some of the great things people have to say about this transformative show:

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Home 2.0 at Graffiti Gallery

“It was amazing. I liked it because it included some history in it about people and where they came from. It was funny and sad. I learned how to welcome people who come from other countries.” – Audience Member, Graffiti Gallery

“I believe that the show created a space for students to either relate to the experiences of the actors or be more mindful and purposeful regarding their interactions with those who are new to Canada.  The notion that it is possible to be both grateful and desperate as a new immigrant or refugee is impactful and true for many.  Thank you to Sarasvàti for igniting important and empathetic conversations with our students.” – Megan Turnley Steinbach Regional Secondary School

My favourite part of the tour is when the kids come up that are like, ‘This is how I wish I had been treated when I came to a new school.’ Be kind. Think of things from a different perspective.” – Melissa Langdon, Performer

 

 

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The cast at Ecole Sacre Coeur

The audience interaction was new to them, and I was so pleased with how some of them responded. One girl had mild autism and her improved line to the mean girl was so perfect.  It was a great moment for her and for her classmates to see her in that light. The actors and stage manager were so wonderful.  They fully engaged the students before the show to get them comfortable.  It was a great afternoon educating and entertaining us on the relevant subject of newcomers.” – Carri McDonald, Teacher at Linden Christian School

I have never taken an hour to sit back and think about how hard it is for people/refugees to come and live in Canada. The true stories made me pretty upset because I just can’t understand why anybody would treat another human being so poorly and make them feel like nothing. I feel like it got us thinking about how we could help change the picture in the present and future.” – Ivy, Grade 12 Student at Gimli High School

 

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After the show at Seven Oaks Performing Arts Centre

Our students continued to talk about the performance after your team left. Considering we are a rural school over 2 hours away from Winnipeg, we have a very multi-cultural student body. There were things that came up during the performance that hit home for many, and opened eyes of even more. As a teacher, I had more than one “eye-opener” moments, thinking back to the different students I have taught who are new Canadians.” – Teresa Moore, Teacher at Fisher Branch Collegiate

After our show at Miles Mac – there’s a large Syrian population there – at first we were so discouraged because we kept hearing talking during the show, but the kids came up to us after and said, ‘Sorry we were talking, we were translating for our friends here that just came over a few months ago.’ They shared their stories and there were a bunch of Yazidi kids who just wanted to laugh and share and teach me things… it was a great reminder of why we do this sort of thing, why touring is important. That was amazing for me.” – Matt Irvine, Performer

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The cast finishing up rehearsals!

The tour wraps up on December 7 as we continue bringing newcomer and refugee stories to schools across Manitoba. For more info on the show, visit our website!

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.

Comedy for a Cause

Join us for a night of hilarious comedy in support of life-changing theatre! We’ll be hosting our third annual Women’s Comedy Night Fundraiser on November 14th featuring eight of Winnipeg’s funniest women. Get to know more of the comedians performing at this year’s event!

Ana

Ana Damaskin

Ana Damaskin is Russian-Canadian that relocated to Winnipeg from Maritimes 6 years ago after she mistook a cult for yoga retreat and gave up all possession. She’s self-realized aging hipster who has bike, drinks kombucha and enjoy soothing sounds of white-noise machine.

She has performed at Queer & Present Danger and multiple alt-comedy show at Wee Johnny’s. She brings dark, tongue in cheek twist to her comedy. Currently in year-long beef with Shoppers Drug Mart for gifting anti-aging creams on her 29th birthday. She asks that you please read comedian biography in Russian accent.  “My parents are Russian so we had to find laughter somehow growing up,” Ana jokes. She describes her comedy as “quirky, smart, and dark.”

 

 

Mayran

Mayran Kalah

Mayran Kalah is a Comedian from the bushes of Somalia and brings her experiences of displacement to the stage. She is one year into comedy and is a staple performer of WOKE Comedy Hour. She brings her A-Game every time she enters the stage.

 

 

Dawn Lavand (2)

Dawn Lavand

Next up is Dawn Lavand. Born and raised in Winnipeg, this city slicker is of Cree and Ojibwe descent. A former youth in care, child actress and a former great deal of other things; she strives to share her Teachings/lessons learned along her journey in a good way.  She possesses a bright and extroverted personality with a quick wit that contributes to her ability to engage and build community by sharing her story through humourous anecdotes you are sure to enjoy. We had the pleasure of having Dawn perform inside Portage Place as part of our FemFest 2018 Walking Art Tour and look forward to seeing more of her comedy! “Laughter is medicine,” says Dawn. “I can be hilarious – come get a dose, community-style.”

 

Dana Smith

Dana Smith

Returning for a third year as host is Dana Smith. Dana runs the successful monthly Women’s Open Mic and is a member of the sketch group HUNKS. She’s been featured in Just for Laughs Northwest, the Winnipeg Comedy festival, Chicago Sketchfest, San Francisco Sketchfest Edmonton’s Improvaganza and has recorded for Sirius XM radio.

Dana got into comedy at the encouragement of former Winnipeg comedian Aisha Alfa. “Aisha…used to host a monthly show at the Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club. She knew me from always coming out to comedy shows. She really encouraged me to get started [and] get into this male-dominated field. Because of her and the other women in comedy, a strong voice for funny women has emerged in Winnipeg.”

 

You can check out our full line-up of hilarious women on Wednesday, November 14th! Tickets nearly sold out last year – be sure to get yours before they’re gone!

 

Meet the Comics behind Women’s Comedy Night 2018!

Some of Winnipeg’s funniest women are back on November 14th! We’ll be hosting our third annual Women’s Comedy Night Fundraiser at Club 200 featuring hilarious comics from all across Winnipeg. Join us for a night of fantastic comedy in support of life-changing theatre!

Get to know a few of the incredible comedians who will be featured this year:

Angie St. Mars

Angie St. Mars

Angie St. Mars is a Winnipeg-based comedian who has been accused of “lighting it all on fire!” with her tongue-in-cheek feminist-fueled wit. She has been featured multiple times at the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, ODDBLOCK Comedy Festival, the Winnipeg Comedy Showcase and Queer and Present Danger.

“I was raised to have a good sense of humour,” Angie says. “My mom, dad, and brother all value humour. If I was getting into trouble and I cracked a joke that was funny enough, I could break the tension. If I wanted to keep everyone awake, I just tried to keep them laughing. That’s how I got into comedy: not wanting to go to bed.”

 

Danielle

Danielle Kayahara

Danielle Kayahara fell in love with comedy after attending a workshop with a friend. She describes herself as a “full-time worrier and part-time joke teller.”  Fueled by equal parts anxiety and caffeine, she remains convinced that the former has nothing to do with the latte. Danielle has appeared in the Winnipeg Fringe Festival, the Winnipeg Comedy Showcase and the Winnipeg Comedy Festival and is excited to bring her unique blend of storytelling and silliness to the stage in support of Sarasvàti Productions. She describes her comedy as “a mix of storytelling and silliness.”

 

Dione

Dione C. Haynes

Dione C. Haynes is a product of the Caribbean+South America, now living on Treaty One Land. Dione is a writer, poet, and co-producer of WOKE Comedy Hour. Dione got into comedy as a place to “put all the extra emotional junk that didn’t quite fit in her poetry writing.”

“Microaggressions are much more suited to comedy,” Dione says. She describes her style as “acerbic – an appropriate response to inappropriate behaviours.”

 

Elissa

Elissa Kixen

Producing this year’s event is Elissa Black Wolf Kixen, who is also the co-founder and producer of WOKE Comedy Hour. Elissa Black Wolf Kixen is an Anishinaabe Two Spirit Comedian who’s roots lay in Couchiching First Nation, Ontario. They have travelled across Canada and the USA as a Comedian and improviser.

Why should folks come see this event? “In an industry dominated by straight, cis, white male comedians, we needed change, we needed diversity,” Elissa explains. “Womxn and those who go beyond the binary have experiences that are so relatable and unique and that’s what Winnipeg needs to inject life back into the comedy scene. We ARE that answer.”

 

You can see all of these amazing comics – and many more! – at Club 200 on November 14th. We’ll be hosting two performances: a 7PM show and a racier 9:30PM show. Last year we nearly sold out both shows, so don’t wait – get your tickets today!

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.

“Home 2.0” Hits the Road!

Our latest school tour is up and running! After two years of community interviews and storytelling, Home 2.0 hit the road this week to start its Manitoban tour. We’ll be taking the show to high schools in Winnipeg and surrounding areas to share stories of immigration, resettlement, and what it means to start over in a new country.

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“Do you remember your first time on a plane?”

This past week, we opened the show with a public preview at the Graffiti Gallery. The cast got to test-run the show with an audience, getting folks on their feet to help work through the issues presented by the play. One audience member said that the stories felt so familiar. As someone who works with newcomers, she was moved by the common threads between her clients and the characters in the play.

Because Home 2.0 is presented “forum theatre style”, the play shows audiences the worst case scenario for the characters and invites them to explore actions that will lead to a better ending. After the play, audience members were encouraged to swap out with the characters to find a solution together. Audience members stepped into the scenes, offering one student the chance to succeed in sports while another was given help with sponsorship papers. One audience member even stepped into a bully’s shoes to make a newcomer student feel welcome! Home 2.0 is already showing audiences how we can help make a change for the better.

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“Home 2.0” Preview at the Graffiti Gallery

We kicked off the tour on Monday with back-to-back double-show days at Steinbach Regional Secondary School before performing for Seven Oaks Met School and Miles Mac Collegiate.  “The students at our first show were amazing,” shares Director Hope McIntyre, “they stopped the action and jumped in with amazing enthusiasm. In fact, they were competing to get up there.” Want to bring the show to your school? We only have a few dates left before the tour wraps up on December 7 – contact Angelina at touring@sarasvati.ca for more information!

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The cast and stage manager of “Home 2.0”!

Not a student or a teacher? No problem! You still have one more chance to check out Home 2.0 outside of a school – we’ll be at the Millennium Library on Saturday, October 20th at 2PM. While we recommend the show for youth thirteen and up, all ages are welcome! Admission is by donation. For more info, visit our event page!