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.

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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.

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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/

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.