Burnt: Norah Paton travels to Burning Man, Burning Man travels to FemFest

At FemFest this year, Norah Paton’s Burnt will take you on a theatrical trip to Burning Man, a temporary community in the desert in Nevada. You will meet all kinds of people played by Paton herself. The festival gets its name from the ritual of burning of a huge wooden effigy at the end of the festival. It is founded on ten principles: radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy.

Paton created the piece by visiting Burning Man in 2014, 2015, and 2016 and recording interviews with the people she met there. But instead of any old documentary, Paton wrote a script that is a collage of interviews and brought it to life with her captivating acting skills. She plays a surprisingly varied cast of characters, each with their own distinctly recognizable personality. Ian Huffam wrote in his review that “Paton’s physicality and vocal texture when embodying the subjects of her interviews deftly captures the essence of these people.”

The aesthetic of the show is wonderful, too. The sound design is by AL Connors and the play features electronic music, just as Burning Man does. Dominique Coughlin’s costume and set designs remind us of Le Petit Prince, as Ian Huffam points out, which shares its desert setting with Burnt. Lighting designer Sarah Mansikka creates fascinating visual effects. Dramaturges Emily Pearlman and Brad Long complete the artistic team.

Paton premièred Burnt at the Undercurrents Festival in Ottawa in 2017 and received glowing reviews. Jared Davidson described the première as “fascinating, clever, and immersive” and added “with a script and performance this strong, it will be interesting to see how it develops.” Our Artistic Director saw this production in Ottawa and was excited to share it with FemFest audiences.  And now that Paton has developed it further, Winnipeg theatregoers will see its best version yet.

Paton’s brilliance doesn’t stop at the sheer originality of this concept. The play also criticizes the hypocrisies of Burning Man: how a money-less city that operates on giving has become a capitalist venture, how a place where people are not supposed to leave any traces has developed a litter problem, and how racism and rape culture have crept into a community founded on inclusivity.

The Ottawa Citizen quoted Paton saying “Some of [the ten principles of Burning Man] are totally contradictory, and I definitely do look at those paradoxes…For me, it’s really interesting to see how this temporary city becomes a microcosm of all the issues or tensions or problems that we all see in our lives.”

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Come and enjoy Burnt at FemFest at the University of Winnipeg Asper Centre for Theatre and Film, 400 Colony Street, on Tuesday, September 18th or Wednesday, September 19th at 9:00 pm or on Thursday, September 20th at 7:00 pm and prepare to be amazed!

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New Beginnings and Endings

After two years of community interviews and workshops, the world premiere of New Beginnings took Winnipeg by storm! Over the course of the run, we had multiple sold-out shows and over 750 people came to see the play. Every performance offered a conversation circle to continue the dialogue sparked by this production, allowing audiences the chance to ask questions and learn more about the stories reflected in New Beginnings. Here are some of the great things people had to say!

It was wonderful, I cried and laughed. Those stories are so powerful. The first one with the burka is how we escaped.  I actually wore one for the first time in my life then. You guys did a great job bringing these stories to life.” – Ellie Towfigh via Facebook

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I’m excited to be a member of such an amazing company that inspires audiences to reach out and connect with others to promote social change in such powerful ways…  Perspective is hugely important to being a positive member of a community and I believe that it can often be overlooked.  But New Beginnings brings forward so many unique stories that can perhaps open horizons for our audiences and introduce the realities of immigration and resettlement.” – Alanna McPherson, Performer

“New Beginnings by Sarasvati Productions is beyond amazing. This production cannot end. The message of reality of resettlement should be heard by thousands more. The actors, content and music touched my soul.” – Judy Rose via Facebook

Thanks to a generous grant from the Inter-Action Program, we were able to offer a wide variety of accessibility services including ASL interpretation, child-minding, translation, transportation, and counselling for any audience members affected by the play’s subject matter. On May 24th, we played host to close to 100 Yazidi refugees from Operation Ezra, offering Kurmanji translation via headset and child-minding provided by Operation Ezra and West Central Women’s Resource Centre.

Congratulations on an excellent production! Thank you so much for having the Operation Ezra families at the show.  It was a great opportunity for them to experience live theatre. We really appreciate you going above and beyond to make it accessible to all. The translation and child care allowed many of the attendees to experience their first live show. We had no idea what to expect yet we found ourselves laughing at times and crying at times.  We recognized some of the stories which made it even more impactful.” – Karen Shpeller, Operation Ezra

Over the course of the run, we had representatives from Winnipeg’s newcomer community speak after the show, allowing audiences to hear their stories and share their own as well. We also hosted Kamta Roy Singh, whose story appeared in the play.

It was fantastic show last night. The individuals who act as Kamta and employee did amazing job. Congratulations.” – Kamta Roy Singh, Kamta’s Story

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Kamta Singh and Lu Fayokun

I would like to commend you, your cast and all the others involved in this performance a great “BRAVO” on an excellent performance. I was in attendance at the world premiere of Sarasvati Productions presentation of New Beginnings and was so impressed with it… A very great performance by the cast. Representatives of the Jamaican Association of Manitoba were invited to answer questions and share comments with the cast and audience at the end of the performance. A great evening.” – Patrick Moore, Jamaican Association of Manitoba

 

We couldn’t have made this production happen without the community members who participated in our workshops and allowed us to share their stories onstage. Big thank-yous as well to our incredible creative team, our hard-working volunteers, and everyone who came out to support New Beginnings!

Meet the Team Behind “New Beginnings”!

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New Beginnings is one of the biggest shows we’ve ever done: collaborating with artists across disciplines, including music, dance, and film-making! Get to know the amazing team bringing everything together!

What excites you about being on the New Beginnings artistic team? 

Gerry Atwell, Music Director: The subject matter is compelling and pertinent and the script is well researched, beautifully written and thought provoking. I love composing music and working with a talented creative team.

Brenda Gorlick, Dance Consultant: It is an absolute honour to work with such a diverse group of talented team members; I am extremely moved by the stories we are sharing and having a new appreciation for everyone’s journey.

Lindsay Johnson, Associate Producer: I have always admired Sarasvàti’s focus on producing theatre that sparks conversation about a wide range of important social issues. I am beyond thrilled to be a part of the artistic team who are helping stage the stories behind New Beginnings. It has been especially exciting for me to be involved in the community collaboration that shaped this production.

Cherissa Richards, Director: I love bringing these stories to life on-stage! I’m really excited to hear the personal stories of newcomers.

Saira Rahman, Snow Angel Films: It’s exciting to work with the other artists on the team – to learn from each by observing their creative process. I always like collaboration because of how enriched a piece can become with multiple perspectives.

 

What elements of the project do you personally connect with? 

Gerry: Even though I was born and raised in Winnipeg, people regularly assume I am from elsewhere and want to me to justify my presence and difference by categorizing it. “So where are you from?” is a question I have been asked all my life. My father chose Canada and all through his life he helped those who were adjusting to a new life here. I grew up sharing dinner with people from Russia, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Uganda, and South Africa that my Dad met in passing and befriended.

Brenda: My brother and sister-in-law work for UNHCR so I’ve heard many of their experiences over the years of refugees’ stories.

Lindsay: I have loved getting to know members of my community that are outside of my day-to-day circle. It has been a fabulous experience watching my experience of Winnipeg grow in this way.

Saira: I felt a connection with the stories that included a parent and child. They made me remember my own experience growing up as my family tried to adapt to our new home. I’m honoured to be a part of this project because it honours my personal experience as a newcomer, although that was some time ago! My family had many new beginnings: East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), United Kingdom, Atlantic Canada, rural Manitoba, and finally Winnipeg!

 

 

Come see the culmination of this amazing team’s hard work starting May 22nd! We’re also featuring an opening dance piece choreographed by Emily Solstice and original art work by Indra Skuja-Grislis. Tickets are on sale now, available here!

Exploring Immigration Across Generations

Newcomer stories from all over the world will be appearing in New Beginnings: from Syria to Ethiopia, Vietnam to Zimbabwe! We have such a diverse range of artists bringing these stories to life, including some familiar faces as well as newcomers to Canada! Get to know this week’s featured New Beginnings artists below.

 

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Melissa Langdon

Melissa Langdon is thrilled to be a part of the New Beginnings team. She is a graduating Honours Acting student from the University of Winnipeg. Through her time at the university, she appeared in Time and the Conways, Concord Floral, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. She’s also appeared in a number of films including Grief (Kaiju Productions) and Harmonize (Prairie Kid Productions). In addition to performing as a dancer, Melissa appears in Usna’s story, which focuses on a group of women fleeing their home country of Afghanistan.

 

As the daughter of an immigrant parent, Melissa has learned so much about the struggles and triumphs that many newcomers face while arriving in Canada. “The conversations that have emerged while discussing the struggles of new Canadian citizenship and the immigration process have been extremely powerful: from resettling after arrival to long-term personal growth and adaptation,” says Melissa.

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Dagmawit Habtemariam

 

Dagmawit Habtemariam (or Dagm for short) is new to the Sarasvàti stage, having been born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She moved to Winnipeg with her husband and two children in July 2011. Her educational backgrounds include an M.A in Social Anthropology and a B.Ed. degree in History, both from Ethiopia. Currently, she is taking an undergraduate degree in Human Rights program at the University of Winnipeg while working as a Graduate Studies Admission Officer.

Dagm is excited to share the stories of immigrants’ lives with Winnipeggers: particularly culture shocks, the ordeals of coming to Canada, as well as hopes for themselves and their children in a new home. “I am an immigrant myself and the different scenes of the project discuss the opportunities, challenges and commonalities that immigrants face when moving to Winnipeg and Canada.”

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Anjali Sandhu

Dagm also appears in Karwan and Irekanmi’s stories, both of which focus on how different generations experience settlement. Joining Dagm in Karwan’s story is familiar face Anjali Sandhu. Anjali is a Winnipeg-based comedian, actor, writer and law student. She has performed stand-up at the Winnipeg Comedy Fest, SheDot Comedy Festival, Sirius XM’s Next Top Comic, and more. Anjali was a writer/adapter of The Trump Card which she performed with District Theatre Collective at the 2017 Winnipeg Fringe Festival. She also wrote and performed an original piece for Sarasvàti’s 2018 Cabaret of Monologues, Flight 182. Anjali’s original show I’m Not Taylor Swift will premiere this summer at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.

 

Like Melissa, Anjali also comes from a family of newcomers. “I’m excited about working with new artists,” says Anjali. “As the daughter/granddaughter of immigrants, I am excited to explore what my family members’ may have experienced through this piece.”

You can catch all of our amazing artists when New Beginnings premieres on May 22nd! The production takes place until May 27th at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (400 Colony St). Don’t miss out – get your tickets today!

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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