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.

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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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Going Above and Beyond in 2017!

Happy New Year! We are excited to announce our goals for 2017! We aim to break new ground and cover uncharted territory in order to realize our vision of transforming society through theatre. Check out what we are setting our sights on this year:

1.PROMOTE DIVERSITY ON THE STAGE

If you think the Equity in Theatre stats on women in the industry have a long way to go, wait until you see the stats on diversity. Promoting diversity in the local theatre scene generates growth, equity and human understanding within the arts community and audiences.  We are proud to produce a season of theatre and workshops that respond to the lack of equity on Canadian stages proactively. January 11th marks the launch of our second round of free theatre workshops for Indigenous and newcomer youth in Winnipeg’s North End.  This March, we highlight the stories of newcomer women throughout International Women’s Week with the 2017 Cabaret of Monologues: Starting Over.

 

2. SUPPORT EMERGING ARTISTS

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Coffee with a Pro

After successfully piloting Coffee with a Pro, an informal mentorship series that sets emerging artists up with an established artist in their field to talk shop over coffee, we look forward to expanding the series into even more disciplines in 2017.

We have received ample requests for an Audition workshop geared to those who have never auditioned before. This Spring, Hope McIntyre will facilitate just that with Auditioning 101. Stay tuned for details.

3. HAVE SOME FUN AND RAISE SOME FUNDS

audience-shotWe’re rolling into uncharted territory with a brand new fundraising event. On April 9th at Academy Lanes some of the most well-known CEO’s and business leaders in Winnipeg will square-off in a Strike-a-Thon with pledges and proceeds going to Sarasvàti Productions.

Plus last year’s Women’s Comedy Night was such a success that we can’t wait for round two in the fall of 2017!

4. BUST BARRIERS

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Staged reading of Breaking Through, May 2016

After over two years of community-based research, workshops, and interviews we are thrilled to present the full production of Breaking Through May 23-38, 2017.

The Mental Health is Everyone’s Health project saw Sarasvàti’s artists team up with Artists in Health Care, Red Threads Playback Theatre and the Selkirk Mental Health Centre as well as multiple community organizations and members of the public to create a play that takes a realistic look the way mental health issues affect us all. The result is a bold theatrical experience that is guaranteed to spark dialogue.

5. CELEBRATE SUCCESSES

FemFest turns 15 this year! We are working on the line-up that will appropriately celebrate our landmark festival of plays by women for everyone! You can look forward to some exciting surprises and special guest artists.

 

That’s our top 5, but when all is said and done we are basically going to produce kick-ass art and we want you to be a part of it!  Stay posted on our events by following us here!

 

Communing with Theatre – Magnetic North Reflections by Artistic Director Hope McIntyre

Theatre in the bush, in a school, in an old railway station where a trolley now runs and rising out of the magical Yukon River. I’ve experienced that and more in the last five days. Now I’m sitting in the Calgary airport. It seems Whitehorse didn’t want to let us go as our departing flight was delayed meaning missed connections in terms of flights, but greater connections with colleagues as we sat at the gate discussing the shows and what it all means in the larger theatrical picture.

 

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For those who don’t know Magnetic North Theatre Festival is a national showcase of touring works produced in partnership with the National Arts Centre. Every second year it takes place in Ottawa, but in other years it travels to different regions in the country. As part of the festival, an Industry Series is offered so that those who present touring work can see all the offerings, in addition to panels, keynotes, one to one meetings and pitches. Over the years it has allowed me to explore shows and partnerships for FemFest in Halifax, St. Johns, Calgary, Vancouver and now Whitehorse.

As welcoming keynote speaker, Louise Profeit-Leblanc, wisely pointed out the festival has truly earned its name in finally coming to the real north! She also set the tone by using her storytelling skills to highlight the notion that art is about spirit, about healing and about humanity. Artistic practice is living and that was exemplified one evening as over a hundred artists, presenters and theatre lovers boarded buses in to the bush for Ramshackle Theatre’s immersive experience. We were welcomed onto Brian Fiddler’s property to see ten minute works by an array of artists. Six days earlier each had been given their location in the bush and had to create a work to take place there. We played a guitar tree, as the forage station blended tasty treats and were offered the most romantic outhouse we’d ever seen. It was magic and despite the midnight start and a wrap up at 2am, I felt energized. The sun setting as we began and hovering in a permanent state of dusk without twilight ever coming was part of this unique Whitehorse experience.

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After producing work by Artistic Director Patti Flather in one of our first FemFests, it was a real treat to finally see the work of her company Gwaandak Theatre in the flesh. Map of The Land, Map of the Stars had the actors enter from the river as the drum beat. It truly felt like we were connecting to the history of the land. It was a crucial reminder that stories go back to a very ancient time and it left me with a feeling of gratitude to be hosted on the land of the Taa’an Kwächän and the Kwanlin Dün.

The second keynote by Laurel Parry harkened back to the beginning of local theatre in Whitehorse when they weren’t allowed to flush the toilets backstage. She echoed the powerful message at the end of Jordan Tannahill’s Concord Floral – 10% of people are cruel, 10% merciful and the other 80% can be moved either way. Parry, and likely most of us working in theatre, believes theatre has a lot to do with moving that 80% towards mercy.

This also picked up on an important dialogue that was underlining this year’s festival. For the first time Magnetic North was offering a Pay What You Decide option for 20 of the 50 performances. It is part of a new model to make theatre accessible. I had really interesting discussions with Fusebox Festival’s Brad Carlin about this concept. It was also tackled in a panel with three other international presenters. Brad argues that since ticket prices don’t come close to covering the cost of producing a performance piece, why should we pretend that it does? Fusebox has made their art and events free to view and attend but has clarified that it is not free to make. Artists have been subsidizing work for centuries. They have switched their focus from marketing and making art a transaction to engagement. People do still pay for the art just not at the door, allowing those who can pay more to do so through donations and sponsorship, while having the actual presentation fully open to one and all. They have seen their attendance increase, along with revenue from other sources. I was left wondering how we make this work in Winnipeg? How do we create a real conversation about the value of art?

A few other highlights:

  • Live dogs on stage always steal the show, but audiences love it!
  • Tomboy Survival Guide – wow!
  • When you bring a ten-year-old on stage as part of audience participation, you have to be prepared for anything.
  • Offering food as part of a performance creates a sense of communion.
  • Jani Lauzon is a fabulous storyteller.
  • Unfortunately it is hard to take risks unless an audience is willing to also take risks.
  • There are so many amazing works I wish I could bring to Winnipeg.
  • There are fabulous companies doing important work across the country.
  • Borealis Soul aka BoSo blew me away.
  • Having a Jacuzzi in your hotel room isn’t such a big deal when you are in panels and shows from 9am to midnight every day!

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There is so much more I could speak about after seeing multiple shows, meeting so many fabulous artists and presenters and getting to experience the beauty of the Yukon. I’ve been able to start some great conversations and I expect our audiences will see the results in the FemFests to come.

A huge thank you to the amazing team at Magnetic North and in Whitehorse. Most shows I attended sold out and it was clear that this is a community that truly believes in the arts.

If you are in the area, the Magnetic North Theatre Festival goes until June 18!

Volunteer Some Time, See Great Theatre!

As we dive head first into FemFest 2013 preparations, we thought this week’s blog would be a good opportunity to thank our amazing volunteers who helped us throughout our 2012-2013 season. We couldn’t do it without you and we are incredibly grateful for your hard work!

With our season launch and FemFest 2013 quickly approaching, we will have several upcoming volunteer opportunities. Here are 3 reasons why you should consider volunteering with us:

1.Sarasvàti Productions is known by theatre artists and community groups alike as the only Winnipeg theatre company with a mission to serve social change, we have managed to use our art to positively impact the lives of thousands of individuals over the years.

2.Through ongoing partnerships we provide a voice to the disenfranchised. Our extensive community outreach has allowed us to bring theatre to communities lacking positive outlets for expression, including corrections centres, women’s shelters and inner-city high schools.

3.Our volunteers get a chance to see great theatre!

One of our amazing current volunteers is Wren Hookey. Wren is a recent U of W theatre graduate and a regular volunteer with us for the past four years. Why does she choose to volunteer with Sarasvàti Productions ?

Wren Hookey

Wren Hookey

“I volunteer with Sarasvàti because I think that the company is filling an important position in our theatre community by creating and supporting pieces which bring forward the stories of diverse voices. In addition, volunteering is a great way to see even more theatre while on a budget!”

We are gearing up for another ambitious season so will be in need of additional volunteers. Whether you are interested in ushering for shows, working behind the scenes or joining our Board of Directors, we’d love to hear from you. For more information on the organization check out website at the link below or send us a message and we’ll be happy to reply with upcoming opportunities for involvement.

http://sarasvati.ca/get-involved/volunteer/