That’s a Wrap on FemFest 2018!

Another FemFest has come and gone! This past weekend, we wrapped up our 16th festival featuring life-changing theatre for everyone. FemFest 2018: Staging Resistance saw touring shows from across Canada and the world, including a bilingual production coming all the way in from Morocco! Here are some of the highlights from this year’s festival.

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We kicked the festival off with a bang, starting with a reading of last year’s Bake-Off winner “OUR HOME and native land” by Jo MacDonald and a preview of our latest school tour, Home 2.0! Opening Night saw an eclectic cabaret featuring an incredible range of artists including comedy, spoken word, dance, music, and visual art. The night included Elissa Kixen and Dione C. Haynes of WOKE Comedy Hour tickling our funny bones, Maribeth Tabanera and Tracy Tomchuk unleashing a powerful hip-hop dance performance, and The Patriarchy opened the show with their hilarious brand of a capella comedy. Thank you to the night’s host and coordinator, Alexa Potashnik for all her hard work! We also had a great opening reception with sponsorship from Garbanzo’s Pizza Pub UofW Anx and The Winehouse.

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This year we partnered with local Indian dance company Manohar Performing Arts for our in-house production of The Game! This show featured a beautiful blend of traditional Indian dance with scripted theatre, playing to packed houses and a sold-out final show.

Alissa Watson Bake Off

Alissa Watson and Cairn Moore

Annual FemFest staple The Bake-Off gave five fearless playwrights just eight hours – and three secret ingredients – to create an all-new scene! Alissa Watson took home the Janet Taylor Bake-Off Playwriting Award for her scene, The Switch, which featured a drone, children’s laughter, and the Nellie McClung quote “democracy for women”. You can catch what happens next when The Switch gets its own reading at FemFest 2019!

 

“Thanks so much for all the love Sarasvàti Productions – I am so honoured to receive this award. A Big Shout Out to all the fantastic playwrights this year. So many great starts to future plays! Now we all have to figure out that happens next!” – Alissa Watson via Facebook, Bake-Off Winner

Our touring shows featured an incredible range of stories, including life at Burning Man in Norah Paton’s Burnt, growing up in a white man’s high school in Darla Contois’ White Man’s Indian, and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard speaking truth to power in Sound of the Beast. We also partnered with Théâtre Cercle Molière to bring in La civilisation, ma mère!…, from Morocco, featuring performances in both French and Arabic!

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SHORTS cast: Hera Nalam, Ivan Henwood, and Gisele Charr

Audiences who stuck around between shows also got to take in our SHORTS series directed by Megan Andres! The series featured short works from playwrights Colleen Wagner, Tyler White, Vicki Zhang, Jen McDonald, Alexandria Haber, and Sara Arenson, offering a great sample platter of Canadian theatre.

 

Winnipeg audiences braved the chilly weather to take in our all-new Walking Art Tour, featuring artists across disciplines performing in some of downtown Winnipeg’s hidden gems. The tour saw Emilie Lemay live-painting outside Wesley Hall, Tiana Northage’s powerful spoken word at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Alexandra Elliott and Hilary Anne Crist transforming Hudson’s Bay into a stark doctor’s office, Dawn Lavand performing her unique mix of stand-up and drumming inside Portage Place, and singer-songwriter waNda wilsoN serenading us from Saigon Park. Huge thank-you to Downtown Winnipeg Biz and the Host It program for their support, and to Heather Witherden for hosting!

“It was great! Some sights in Winnipeg that I’d never seen, plus some extremely talented artists. Win-win.” – Audience Member, Walking Art Tour

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We closed out the festival with our One Night Stand series, giving playwrights the opportunity to present their work and gain valuable audience feedback. We invited both local and touring playwrights to participate, including Leigh-Anne Kehler, Frances Koncan, Jo MacDonald, Cairn Moore, and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard!

Huge thank-you as always to our incredible staff, amazing performers, hard-working crew, and the team of volunteers that made this year’s festival possible. Want to be a part of FemFest 2019? We’re already looking for submissions! See you next year for FemFest 2019: All the World’s a Stage, running September 14-21!

 

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Five Must-See Events at FemFest!

Hard to believe we’re more than halfway through FemFest 2018: Staging Resistance! It’s been an incredible week of theatre already… Saturday saw an eclectic Opening Cabaret with musicians, comedians, and spoken word artists from across Winnipeg! On Monday, we crowned Alissa Watson as our Bake-Off winner with her scene The Switch, which will get its own reading at FemFest 2019. We also premiered some incredible touring shows from around the world, including Burnt and La civilisation, ma mère! As the festival comes to a close, here are some events you won’t want to miss.

 

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1.  Sound of the Beast

This solo piece by two-time Governor General’s Award Nominee Donna-Michelle St. Bernard (aka Belladonna the Blest) speaks truth to power using spoken word, storytelling and hip-hop. The show highlights St. Bernard’s quick wit and quicker rhymes in a performance that reflects on identity, oppression and what happens when authority is questioned. We’ll be hosting a talkback discussion after today’s matinee at 1PM, facilitated by Tamika Krush of QPOC Winnipeg. Don’t miss your chance to experience this powerful production for yourself!

 

White Man's Indian.jpg2.  White Man’s Indian

Darla Contois takes on the ensemble of characters that make up this transformative work, focusing on the story of Eva, a Cree teenage girl, and her journey through the maze of a White Man’s high school. Following the opening performance on September 18th, we hosted a panel with Darla, Matt B. Shorting of Onashowewin Justice Circle, and Gabrielle Fiddler of Ndinawe Youth Resource Centre to talk about the issues presented by the play, as well as the larger topic of Indigenous representation on stage. There are two more chances to take in this incredible one-woman show: tonight at 9PM and Friday at 7PM!

 

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3.  Walking Art Tour

Be one of the select few who will get to experience this brand-new event! We’ve brought in an incredible team of artists who will be performing at some of Downtown Winnipeg’s hidden gems. The tour is hosted by local comedienne Heather Witherden and features Emilie Lemay (visual art), Tiana Northage (spoken word), Alexandra Elliott and Hilary Anne Crist of Art Holm (movement), Dawn Lavand (stand-up comedy), and waNda wilsoN (music). Just twenty people will get to take part in this unique event: book your spot today so you don’t miss out! The tour wraps up September 22nd at 2PM.

 

SignLanguageInterpretationDayTranslationsInterpretation4.  ASL-Interpreted Performances

After responding to requests to make theatre more accessible to our community, we’re proud to announce that we’ll be offering ASL interpretation for three shows in this year’s festival! Come see Burnt tonight at 7PM, White Man’s Indian Friday at 7PM, or Sound of the Beast Saturday also at 7PM. Tickets start at $15 – get yours today!

 

one-night-stand-poster-april-11-e1524149136777.png5.  One Night Stand

Join us on the closing night of the festival as we toast to 16 successful years! We’ll be featuring sneak peeks of new work from celebrated female playwrights, including Leigh-Anne Kehler, Frances Koncan, Jo MacDonald, Cairn Moore, and Donna-Michelle St. Bernard. The series is coordinated by Tatiana Carnevale and features performances by Melanee Deschambeault, Katie German, Kim Kakegamic, Glenn Odero, Matthew Paris-Irvine, and Erica Wilson.

The festival is running until Saturday, September 22nd with all performances taking place at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (400 Colony St) unless otherwise noted. With so much to take in, you won’t want to miss a thing! Make sure to check out our full FemFest schedule for all our upcoming events.

Our Downtown is Made for Walking

We’re introducing something new to the FemFest line-up this year: a brand-new Walking Art Tour! The tour will explore parts of Winnipeg’s downtown area, shining a light on some of our city’s hidden gems. The tour will feature a mix of spoken word, comedy, visual art, movement, and music as audiences tour the downtown area, spanning Memorial Boulevard to Ellice Avenue.

Get to know the incredible artists taking part in this year’s tour!

 

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How would you describe yourself to a stranger?

  • Daphne Finlayson, Coordinator: I am but a simple pun enthusiast who loves dogs and terrible jokes.
  • Dawn Lavand, Stand-Up Comic: A daydreamer without enough sleep.
  • Emilie Lemay, Visual Artist: French-Canadian painter inspired by extraordinary prairie skies.
  • Tiana Northage, Spoken Word Poet: What you see, is what you get – but good luck keeping track of what you see. This Winnipeg poet is a living chameleon, and her wardrobe’s a mood-ring. This package is fragile – please handle with care.
  • Wanda Wilson, Musician: Depends, I could say, “I’m the one with the hat”. Or “I’m kind of like a turtle”.
  • Heather Witherden, Host: Heather is a fun Mom-aged lady living her best life as a burlesque emcee by night and receptionist by day!

What’s your go-to karaoke song?

  • Alexandra Elliott, Movement Performer/Art Holm Curator: “L-O-V-E” by Nat King Cole.
  • Daphne: Oh gosh… it oscillates between classic 80’s chart-toppers and ambitious solos from Broadway musicals. Right now I’d have to say either “Limelight” by Rush or “More than a Feeling” by Boston.
  • Emilie: “Mamma Mia” by ABBA. I have even sung it a cappella once. Now my daughter sings it with me as a duet!
  • Tiana: “Mr. Jones” by Counting Crows is an absolute BOP and I refuse to hear otherwise. You can catch me yelling “CUT UP MARIA” at The Good Will any Wednesday of the month.
  • Wanda: “Fight for Your Right” by The Beastie Boys.
  • Heather: “Baby Got Back”, no question.

Why should people be excited about your piece at FemFest?

  • Alexandra: Because the main prop is a doctor’s medical exam table and as of this current moment, I have no idea what will happen. But there will be two women clad in purple hospital gowns doing contemporary dance.
  • Daphne: Winnipeg’s Downtown Area is such a cool space, full of hidden gems and cool little spots waiting to be discovered. What I’m hoping to do with this tour is shine a light on just a few of these spots, combining art with architecture to showcase the beauty lurking under the surface of our city.
  • Dawn: Laughter is medicine. I can be hilarious – come get a dose, community-style.
  • Emilie: People will get to see a painting created live in the heart of the city and they will be a part of its creation story.
  • Tiana: Coming to see my performances is like getting a live diary reading. I’m letting you in on the sad scary thoughts you thought only you had. Together we can ride the emotions out, and leave with a sense of not being so alone.

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Also featured in the tour is fellow Art Holm curator Hilary Anne Crist. No stranger to performing in unconventional locations, Art Holm is a semi-annual performance series that showcases artists of different disciplines. She’ll be joining Alexandra as they preview a piece from their upcoming performance series titled Scooch Forward. Singer-songwriter waNda wilsoN will be serenading audiences from Saigon Park across the street from the University of Winnipeg. Wanda plays an eclectic mix of raw and sweet material, expressing strength, humour, hope and pain in her own alternative way.

You have two chances to check out this incredible line-up of artists: September 19th at 5:30PM and September 22nd at 2PM. The tour starts at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (400 Colony St at the U of W). Space is limited – be sure to book your spot today! A total of just 40 audience members will get to experience this unique initiative.

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!

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!