8 hours, 5 playwrights, 3 ingredients

Five female playwrights accept the challenge to write a stellar scene in just 8 hours based on three key, mystery ingredients – this is the annual FemFest Bake-Off.

On August 18th, our five playwrights met with Bake-Off Coordinator, Cairn Moore, for the announcement of their three ingredients –  Q-tip, tearing of a paper, and the quote “When one door closes another door opens.” They spent the day writing feverishly. Just imagine what a playwright could do with a Q-tip! The resulting scenes will be staged on Monday, September 18th at 7pm.

Which scene will steal your heart?

Lucy in the Sky by Sara Arenson
Bake Off Playwright Sara Arenson

Postcards from Paris by Brigette DePape
Bake Off Playwright Brigette DePape

The Lettuce Flower by Larissa Hikel
Larissa Hikel - Headshot

OUR HOME & native land by Jo MacDonald
Bake Off Playwright Jo MacDonald

Superpowers by Pamela Wolk
Bake Off Playwright Pamela Wolk

Bringing these scenes to the stage are a team of talented and versatile actors – Ian Bastin, Lorraine James, Christina Heather, Josh Ranville and Danielle Savage.

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Bake-Off audiences must love surprises and come ready for anything.  Be prepared to play an integral role in crowning this year’s Bake-Off winner by voting for your favourite. On the line for these playwrights is the Janet Taylor award (a $500 cash prize) and a chance to have a reading of their full script at FemFest 2018. Come and share in the excitement!

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More than Meets the Eye at FemFest 2017

FemFest is for theatre lovers, theatre newbies and theatre-makers alike.

Along with feature plays, FemFest celebrates female playwrights with readings, workshops and a roster full of fun events. Check out what we have going on from SEPT 16-23!

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Ivan Coyote (photo by Jourdan Tymkow)

IVAN COYOTE READING

Join Ivan Coyote, natural born storyteller and LGBT advocate for an intimate reading of their award-winning writing. This event is absolutely free and open to youth!

ARTIST WORKSHOP

Are You ‘Technically’ Prepared?

Esteemed Theatre Technician Allison Loat shares her expertise with emerging theatre artists in this new workshop. If you’re an independent theatre maker who is new to working with technicians this workshop is for you. Register by emailing associate@sarasvati.ca.

BAKE-OFF

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Cairn Moore

8 hours, 5 playwrights, 3 ingredients. The Bake-Off is back with a new line-up of playwrights. What will they cook up? There’s only one way to find out. Scenes will be directed by Bake-Off coordinator Cairn Moore and performed by an awesome ensemble cast of Ian Bastin, Lorraine James, Christina Heather, Josh Ranville and Danielle Savage.

KIT AND JOE

Jessy Ardern left us with a cliffhanger at last year’s Bake-Off. The scene she wrote in just 8 hours had us all captivated. Now, Jessy returns with a reading of the play that resulted from that scene. Kit and Joe is a one-night-only reading directed by the fabulous Krista Jackson.

WebGROUNDED HEROES

FemFest is thrilled to present a play reading for kids!
Local theatre artists Carrie Costello, Frances Koncan and Cherissa Richards join forces as Castlemoon Theatre to bring you a reading of a new play for audiences age 6 and up.

 

 

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Judith Thompson

ARTIST TALK

Award-winning playwright Judith Thompson speaks as part of the University of Winnipeg Theatre & Film Department’s Real Thing Lecture Series. This lecture is free and open to all.

PLAYWRITING WORKSHOP

Judith Thompson leads a three-day Masterclass for local playwrights from Sept 20-22. If you are a playwright interested in learning from one of Canada’s most respected modern playwrights this workshop is for you. Register by emailing associate@sarasvati.ca. This is a small workshop that will fill up fast.

NEW BEGINNINGS

FemFest offers a teaser of Sarasvàti Productions’ new community-based work-in-progress. New Beginnings is a cross-cultural, multi-media performance created by a team of local artists and new arrivals to Canada.  Stay tuned for exciting news about One Trunk Theatre’s production running alongside New Beginnings.

ONE NIGHT STAND AND A TOAST TO 15 YEARS!

Join us as we celebrate FemFest’s 15th birthday with readings from some of our most celebrated local playwrights! Sarasvàti Productions’ One Night Stand series gives playwrights the opportunity to test their work, while providing audiences a chance to take part in the developmental process. Enjoy a sampling of some of Winnipeg’s finest playwrights and be a part of their process. With a special reading by guest playwright Judith Thompson thanks to the Playwrights Guild of Canada and Canada Council. What better way to celebrate 15 years of FemFest?Play Connect transparent

All these amazing events take place at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (400 Colony Street)!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FemFest Celebrates 15 Years!

Our beloved festival in support of women playwrights turns 15 this year! We are celebrating with the theme Coming of Age and a line-up that will blow you away.

We are ecstatic to be bringing in one of the most highly regarded playwright’s in Canadian history, two-time Governor General award-winning playwright Judith Thompson!  Thompson will join us for Mulgrave Road Theatre’s production of her play Watching Glory Die,  a harrowing play based on the true story of Ashley Smith. She will also teach a playwriting master class (September 20, 21 and 22 from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.) give a Real Thing lecture and be part of the Human Library ™.

Tomboy Survival Guide is a live stage experience that defies genre and gender boxes with fearless truth-telling and compassionate defiance. Ivan Coyote and an all-tomboy band take the audience on a musical journey navigating the narrow halls of public washrooms, skirting the childhood threat of being picked to be a flower girl, triumphing over tying a double Windsor knot, and discovering the beauty in being handsome, not pretty, all along. This is also our first time taking FemFest to the West End Cultural Centre!

We focus our in-house attention on producing Two Indians by Falen Johnson directed by Sonya Ballantyne. After years apart two cousins meet in a Toronto alley to recreate a ceremony from their childhood, but can they remember how? When the words missing and murdered, truth and reconciliation, occupation and resistance are everywhere, how do two Mohawk women stand their ground?

We’ll share a workshop preview of New Beginnings, a work in development created with the Winnipeg newcomer and refugee community.  Come and see a preview of this exciting culmination of story and dance from around the world.
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As a company dedicated to transforming society through theatre, we’ve witnessed the impact  that story-sharing can have on breaking down stereotypes and prejudices. This year we are thrilled to present a Human Library ™ as part of FemFest.  In partnership with the Millennium Library, Sarasvàti Productions has curated an incredible line up of Human Books that you can ‘take out’ for a one-of-a-kind learning experience.

Bake off 2016The beloved Bake-Off is back! This FemFest favourite challenges 5 local female playwrights to write a scene in 8-hours using three key top-secret ingredients. Scenes will be performed as part of the Festival on Sept. 18.
Winner of the FemFest 2016 Bake-Off, Jessy Ardern presents a reading of her play in progress, Kit and Joe.

WebFor ages 6 and up, Castlemoon Theatre presents Grounded Heroes. 10 year old Jess loves Lego, but her friends think it’s childish and weird. While researching a class assignment, Jess encounters three girls from history who were also a little bit weird for their time, and together they discover what it means to be true to yourself.

And you definitely won’t want to miss our closing night! This season, we brought our classic One Night Stand play reading series back with a vengeance. In honour of Winnipeg’s own celebrated female playwrights we’re curating a special One Night Stand dedicated to showcasing works in progress by some of these prolific writers who will be joined by Judith Thompson.

Workshops, readings and a dynamite Opening Cabaret will be a staple again this year. Get your passes now and celebrate 15 years of FemFest!

Breaking the Silence Together

We have been honoured to hear about how Breaking Through affected audiences and all of those involved. Through the course of the run, over 600 people saw the play. From initial story-gathering workshops to the lively panel discussions that followed select performances, so many people have spoken up about their experience with mental health. Here are some snapshots of what people have had to say.

“Amazing show! Thank you Sarasvati for bringing mental health issues to light and sharing the struggles breaking down stereotypes and stigma! BRAVO!” – Debbie Radi (Facebook)

18738812_10158648658995328_1417637719958705646_o“What a show!! Giving us some hard truths about mental illness… and plenty of fine acting. Real, relevant reportage from one of the front lines of human suffering (and it’s also good theatre).” – Kevan Bowkett (Facebook)

“I had a great time at Sarasvati Productions’ Breaking Through. It’s so important to talk about mental health and illness. It meant so much to meet Hope McIntyre and her colleagues!” – Angela Taylor

Thanks to generous donors, we were able to provide access to those who would not otherwise have been able to attend.

“First off, thank you so much for providing the financial ease on Friends Housing as we are a non-profit organization and also for contacting us to come see this breathtaking play. I brought three residents. There were tears but also laughter, but most importantly they were very engaged. All three of them felt a real connection to the play and empathized for the characters. They were even commenting on how they thought they were the only ones feeling a certain way until seeing this play and being able to realize that they are not alone. Thank-you again for inviting Friends Housing, we had a wonderful time.” -Loveeza Arshad, staff at Friends Housing Inc.

“A few of our volunteers were able to watch “Breaking Through” by Sarasvati Productions last weekend. “It was a very moving portrayal of people with differing mental health needs. It was very real, graphic at times, and they didn’t shy away from confronting the hard issues. Excellent actors and very true to life!” – Corrie Neil, Volunteer Coordinator at Anxiety Disorders Association of Manitoba.

We were excited to share the stage with a diverse range of speakers in our panel discussions. We are overwhelmed with gratitude for all of those who shared experiences and perspectives after performances.

“It helped overcome the fear of interacting with someone with a mental health condition which would probably be a big factor in stigmatization.” – Dana Rungay, Red Threads Playback Theatre

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“I’ve experienced mental health challenges due to living with a chronic illness. For many years, it was something I felt I couldn’t talk about. Through online support groups, I discovered the power of shared experience, which has been integral to both my physical and mental health. I feel honoured to be in a play rooted in real mental health journeys, expressed with such honesty, respect, and humour. As my character Stef says, ‘silence is the illness.’ I hope the audience will keep talking long after the show is over, whether it be in reflection of their own experiences or others in their lives.” – Elena Anciro ‘Stef’ in Breaking Through

“The story of Breaking Through reminds me to respect the inherent value of every human being, sick or well. All people have needs, feelings, & wishes.” – Harry Nelken ‘Joe’ in Breaking Through

“There is massive pressure from our social media world to look a certain way, or act a certain way, and I think seeing Val struggle with This concept will really resonate with audiences.” – Spenser Payne ‘Val’ in Breaking Through

“I know [the playwrights] have talked with people, from every aspect possible, – in mental health centres, in hospitals, in drop in centres, in the community as a whole and what they have developed – both with Shattered and with Breaking Through – is a very real snapshot. We all share the parts of being through Spiritual, Emotional, Mental, and Physical. It’s important to address all aspects for balance. This is why Breaking Through resonates with me. It is bringing to balance one area of our whole.” – Marsha Knight, Female Ensemble in Breaking Through

Breaking Through resonates with me because it echoes a few of the personal experiences I had in my own life. Members of my own family have struggled with mental illness. As a child I endured first-hand trauma as a result of psychotic and manic episodes that a family member was going through. The underlying message of Breaking Through is that we all need to re-think how we treat those dealing with different lived experiences due to their unique minds or their circumstances.” – Josh Ranville, ‘KoKo’ in Breaking Through

We could not have envisioned a stronger creative team to have pulled this project together. Every artist involved has brought something unique to Breaking Through. Thank you to everyone who made Breaking Through such a huge success!
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Keeping the Conversation Going – Panel Discussions at Breaking Through

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Joe (Harry Nelken) takes it upon himself to welcome Stef (Elena Anciro) at the Mental Health Centre in Breaking Through

Speaking up is the seed of Breaking Through. Feeling able to speak, qualified to speak, and comfortable to speak are some of the challenges we’ve heard from the 400 Manitobans we worked with in the story-gathering phase of this project. Without the generosity and bravery of the individuals who contributed, this play would not have been possible. Now that Breaking Through has come this far, debuting to public audiences in a week, we want to keep the conversation open.

We have put together a series of panel discussions to take place after select performances of Breaking Through. We hope these panels will keep the conversation going while responses are fresh. Check out our panel discussion schedule to plan your experience.

May 24, 8pm –  The Creation Process Panel – Shirley Grierson and Dana Rungay of Red Threads Playback Theatre with Cairn Moore, co-writer of Breaking Through.

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Cairn Moore, Dana Rungay, Bequie Lake and Karissa Martins at Selkirk Mental Health Centre

Playback Theatre is a form of improvisational theatre that starts with listening deeply to people’s stories and then transforming them spontaneously into theatre. It is especially powerful in honouring the voices of people from marginalized communities and in helping to build understanding across differences.  Dana Rungay is a founder of Red Threads of Peace Playback Theatre. The traditional use of the arts of storytelling, music and dance are natural ways of restoring connection and community – the social support determinant of health.  This was the intention of their Playback Theatre involvement at Selkirk Mental Health Centre in collaboration with Sarasvàti Productions in the development process of Breaking Through.

 

 

May 25 , 8pm – Breaking Barriers Panel– Bryan Young, Dara Hallock, Danielle Sicotte, Co-Executive Directors and Event Director of the Breaking Barriers Summit on Mental Health.

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The Breaking Barriers Summit on Mental Health was the first student–led, multi university conference on mental health in the province. This year, they launched a collaborative initiative that brought together students from the three major academic institutions in our province. Students from the University of Manitoba, the University of Winnipeg & L’Université de Saint-Boniface joined together in an effort to not only reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, but to also effectively break down the barriers between our academic institutions.

May 26, 8pm – Varied Perspectives Panel – Jan DeFehr, Patricia Johnstone and the Winnipeg Police Service Vulnerable Persons Unit.

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Kennedy (Marsha Knight) seeks help for her sister Molly (Dorothy Carroll) in Breaking Through

Jan DeFehr, MSW, PhD, has twenty years experience as a clinical social worker in programs focused on youth ‘corrections’, violence in intimate partner relationships, crisis & trauma, and suicide prevention. She is an Associate of The Taos Institute, an honourary faculty member of the Houston-Galveston Institute, and a regular lecturer with The Kanankil Institute in Mérida Mexico. An Assistant Professor in the University of Winnipeg Faculty of Education, Jan presents her work locally and internationally and teaches mental health courses that expose and confront the misinformation and potential for harm in mainstream mental health services.

Pat Johnstone is the Mother of three children, all of whom have experienced some form of severe and persistent mental illness.  She is an advocate for improving the community supports, such as appropriate housing and benefits, to help the mentally ill to succeed in their recovery journey.  She chairs the Family Advisory Committee (friends and family members of patients) for the Selkirk Mental Health Centre (SMHC).

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KoKo (Josh Ranville) is visited by spirit guide (Marsha Knight)

Perspectives on this topic are just as varied as the people they come from. We don’t expect everyone to agree with what all the characters expresses in Breaking Through. Whatever your response is, we want to hear it. We encourage you to share any and all responses to the show. The panels provide a chance for dialogue and much needed discussion.

Breaking Through runs from May 23-28 at the Asper Centre for Theatre & Film.  Tickets are available in advance or at the door.

Watch a behind the scenes video by Ora Walker.

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!

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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.