Locals Shine in FemFest 2017 Two Indians by Falen Johnson

Winnipeg is a city bursting at the seams with talented artists. This FemFest we are ecstatic to pair the powerful writing of Toronto-based playwright Falen Johnson with this incredible team of Winnipeg artists to bring Two Indians to life. Get to know them in this week’s blog.

Sonya
Sonya Ballantyne, Director
Self-described as “nerdy with a smart remark for anything”, Sonya is a filmmaker/writer originally from Misipawistik Cree Nation. Her work focuses on Aboriginal girls and women in non-traditional film genres such as fantasy, horror and superhero films.
*Some things you didn’t know about Sonya…
– once played Ocarina of Time for 15 hours when she was a kid
– she also has a podcast about re-watching television show Hannibal while discussing true crime cases
– she was planning to go to law school before “the seductive world of art got its claws in me”

Two Indians Melanee Deschambeault NowMelanee Deschambeault, Performer
Melanee Deschambeault is French and Anishinaabe from Dauphin, Manitoba. She is a student at the University of Manitoba. Melanee can currently be seen in the Winnipeg Fringe Festival in Riot Revolt Resist Repeat, a Vault Projects production.
*What you might not know about Melanee is…
– if she wasn’t doing theatre she would be found somewhere in Winnipeg trying to fill the void
– Her go-to karaoke songs are anything from Madonna, Jewel (the older stuff!) and Alanis Morissett!
– “When I close my eyes, and see myself as a child, I can see myself outside my grandparent’s house, wondering the back trails by their property. I can see myself occasionally climbing a tree and taunting my dogs who would walk with me through the trails. I can see myself watching my grandfather garden and wondering what my grandmother would be cooking for supper but never venturing inside to see because I would rather be outside in nature.”
– In terms of her part in Two Indians Melanee promises that Roe will unveil a new part of herself that has never been seen by the public!

Two Indians Erica Wilson Now.jpgErica Wilson, Performer
Erica is from Winnipeg’s North End “born and raised.” Erica has worked with Urban Indigenous Theatre Company, Sarasvàti Productions, Merlyn Productions and most recently with Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre as Assistant Director on Sarah Ballenden.
*Did you know…
– For the first time all year Erica has only one occupation
-as a child her best friend was a full-sized cardboard cut-out of herself that she would drag around by a string
– She’s not a fan of karaoke. “I don’t like singing at bars, I was never a fan of myself going up there, picking a song and pretending like I have the energy to do both. I have to be in a mood and most bars never carry songs I want to sing.”

TwoIndians featuring EricaWilson and Melanee Deschambeault (1)

Joseph Abetria, Designer
Recently returned from Stratford Festival where he worked as costume design assistant under Christina Poddubiuk for the 2017 production of Romeo & Juliet, Joseph identifies as “a sassy individual with a fondness for graphic floral.” This is Joseph’s second time with FemFest, after his work on last year’s FemFest premiere of The Seduction Theory.
*Some things you might not know about Joseph…
– His go-to karaoke song is crowd-favourite Dance with Somebody by Whitney Houston
– If he wasn’t working in theatre he might like to be “that person that designs and names nail polish colours”
– As a kid he really enjoyed watching cartoons and then drawing them after

Colin Wiens, Sound Designer
Colin is in his final year of Production and Stage Management studies at the University of Winnipeg. He hopes to have his own sound design company one day.
*Some things you should know about Colin…
– he also works for the Winnipeg Folk Festival as a Production Assistant
– he goes to competitive Super Smash Brothers tournaments
– if it wasn’t for theatre, he would have liked to try his hand at professional wrestling

There are four chances to see Two Indians at FemFest 2017. See here for tickets and a full schedule of performances. Stay tuned for details on our amazing production team!

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ENVISION – Sarasvàti Productions 2017/18 Season Launch

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Sarasvàti Productions invites you to envision a season of life-changing theatre that is inclusive, full of possibility and absolutely thrilling!

From FemFest 2017: Coming of Age to the 2018 International Women’s Week Cabaret of Monologues: I Am Unstoppable, to a formidable season of workshops geared to supporting youth and emerging artists: we are so excited to get started! Join us on August 4th at the Saddlery on Market (114 Market Ave)–a beautiful new spot in the Exchange District. This party is absolutely free. Show up by 7pm to enjoy the entire evening, or pop in throughout your First Friday adventures.

We’ll be celebrating FemFest’s 15th birthday by having some of our staff and artists share things they wrote as a child.

Let us entertain you with a Cabaret-style line-up featuring artists from our season to come. RobYn Slade presents a sampling of 50/50 theatre-improv fusion from the FemFest 2017 Cabaret. Reena Jolly performs a monologue devised from interviews with young newcomer women as part of New Beginnings development. Melanee Deschambeault and Erica Wilson perform a teaser  from FemFest featured show Two Indians and much, much more!

See what you envision at our awesome build-your-own kaleidoscope station courtesy of ArtsJunktion mb.

And as always we’ll have plenty of decadent cupcakes supplied generously by Cake-ology.

So join us on Friday August 4th as we envision an incredible season of Winnipeg theatre.
See more event details here.

 

Feeling Shattered into a Million Pieces

We think back to our youth and most of us can remember the ups-and-downs and all the emotions.  But what happens when all those emotions go deeper than growing pains? When these problems become overwhelming, start to affect every aspect of a teen’s life or are rooted in darker, more painful pasts? What happens when these problems become too hard to bear and you feel nothing but lost, confused and alone? Where do teens turn to and how can they cope when dealing with mental health? These are the questions explored in Sarasvàti Productions’ high school tour of Shattered.

With the support of The Winnipeg Foundation and Enterprise Foundation, Shattered will be stopping at 40 high schools in Manitoba from October 11 to December 9. Using the format of forum theatre, youth won’t just sit and watch the play, they will take the stage as they work together to explore solutions to the challenges these characters will face:

Meet the cast and crew behind Shattered:

Hailey Charney, assistant director/consultant – Hailey has worked on the Mental Health is Everyone’s Health project from its early stages. She truly believes in the importance and impact Shattered will have on the way youth view mental health. This is not Hailey’s first time working with Sarasvàti as she has had wonderful experiences participating in FemFest for the past two years.

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GeNie in action on our last tour!

Eugene Baffoe aka. GeNie, as Narrator/Joker/Absame – A freestyle battle dancer, local MC, actor, and Hip Hop instructor at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, this will be GeNie’s third Sarasvàti high school tour where he once again plays the narrator. His other roles find him giving comedic relief as the Joker, and a Canadian newcomer’s perspective as Absame.

 

Kelsey Funk Headshot.jpeg

Kelsey Funk

Kelsey Funk, as Amanda/Dora – A graduate of the University of Winnipeg with a BA Honours degree in Theatre, Kelsey wrote and performed her one-woman play WTF are kale chips?! at this year’s Winnipeg Fringe. Kelsey is no stranger to the Mental Health is Everyone’s Health project also appearing in the staged readings of the project’s general production, Breaking Through.

Lindsay Johnson, as Ms. Andrews/Mom – Lindsay is a graduate of the University of Winnipeg’s Honours Acting Program with credits in The Power of Yes, Enchanted April, and The Cassilis Engagement, other credits include Antigone and Quickies with Chekhov (This Reality Theatre Co.) Most recently she performed and co-produced The Writing on the Stalls at the Winnipeg Fringe through Fill The (W)hole Theatre Company. This is her first time working with Sarasvàti as she takes on the roles of authority figures in the play .

Thomas Toles Headshot

Thomas Toles

Thomas Toles, as Dad/Eddie/Doug – An actor, director and teacher at the University of Winnipeg and MTYP’s theatre school, this will be Thomas’ first time performing with Sarasvàti. He has recently performed in The Collector, Middletown, and the Winnipeg Comedy Festival.

Jacob Elijah Unica, as Les – Our youngest cast member, Jacob just graduated from Fort Richmond Collegiate where he studied drama. He’ll be taking on the role of Les, a teen whose challenges lie in caring for a parent struggling with mental health.

Erica

Erica Wilson

Erica Wilson, as KoKo – Erica performed in Sarasvàti’s 2013 Giving Voice tour – a high school tour about the experiences of youth in care. She has more recently appeared alongside Kelsey Funk in the staged readings of Breaking Through, as the outspoken Two-Spirited character, KoKo. She will be reprising this role in Shattered.

Reena Jolly, as Stacy – Reena is a third year arts student at the University of Manitoba, with this role being her first professional theatre performance. She’ll play Stacy, a young girl coping with anxiety.

Reena Jolly Headshot.jpg

Reena Jolly

Oyindamola (Oyinda) O. Alaka, as Stacy (Stacy understudy) – With her educational background and active experience in social justice and equity advocacy, Oyinda fits right into the message behind Sarasvàti Productions. Theatre as served as a home for Oyinda since childhood and she sees it as a universal way of delivery messages and impacting lives.

Start the conversation about mental health at your school. For more information or to book Shattered please visit our website or call 204-586-2236. There are only 35 spots left so book early!

Meet the Cast of Characters

Breaking Through word collage

We began by listening.

We listened to the community, to caregivers, and to many people who are living with mental health issues. We gathered hundreds of stories and now, we have woven them into one great, big, beautiful inter-connected play.  This story is full of magic, songs (yes songs!!), hope, humour and truth. And we are thankful for the wonderful team of people who are going to help us tell it.

THE CAST

Ian Bastin will be reading for the prickly but charming, Joe. Suffering from schizophrenia  Joe has a long history with various treatments for mental illness. Joe is never short on stories to tell, but will anybody listen?

Kelsey Funk will be reading Molly. Molly has bipolar episodes which often manifest as religious fixations. As a single parent living in poverty, she is forced to rely heavily on her already over-stretched sister.

Spenser Payne will be reading Val, an aspiring actor who has bulimia. Val wears a mask to hide her reality. She struggles to defeat the voices inside her head that tell her she is not enough.

Rachel Smith will be reading Stef, who lives with OCD and anxiety. Stef’s mental health issues threaten to shut her in as she struggles to leave the house and maintain relationships—even with those who care for her the most.

Erica Wilson will be reading KoKo. KoKo is a young, Indigenous two-spirited person with attitude. Will her creativity and strength outshine the depression and suicidal tendencies brought on by a lifetime of trauma?

Akalu Meekis, Ashley Chartrand and Nan Fewchuck read for a wide range of characters—including caregivers, a psychiatrist, police officer, and spirit guide.

After the first read of the script of Breaking Through, the cast summed the story up with one word each. The above collage is the result. Let us know what you think after you hear the story!

Breaking Through
A staged reading by Hope McIntyre and Cairn Moore
In collaboration with the Mental Health Community

Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (at U of W, 400 Colony Street)
Tickets $15 Regular / $10 Students & Seniors
May 22 at 3pm
May 24-27 at 7pm
May 28 at 3pm

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Powerful Performances Provoke Dialogue

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Record-breaking attendance, 10 stories, 11 community performances and over 800 people affected. This year, we set out to do something different with our Cabaret of Monologues. We had chosen a challenging theme, Stolen Sisters, with the goal of inspiring change by creating a platform for women to share perspectives on gender-based violence. In order to include more perspectives we worked with many women who do not traditionally tell their stories in a theatre setting. We welcomed these women’s stories to the Cabaret in diverse forms; dance, spoken word, slam poetry, oral storytelling, and visual art. The result of these collaborative efforts was an incredibly powerful production.

“What a beautiful show. I don’t know how you do it again and again…was so moved by all of the pieces” said Cairn Moore, who was in the audience for Saturday’s matinee. Cairn is a playwright and director who’s play Shiksa is currently premiering at Winnipeg Jewish Theatre.

“The relevance of the topics, the passion of the performers and the emotional impact on the audience are transformational”, said  Ms. Terry Price, Department Head of Professional and French Language Services with the Manitoba Teachers’ Society. Ms. Price hosted performances of three pieces at the Canadian Teacher’s Federation Women’s Symposium.

Sharing the stage with non-traditional theatre performers was an exciting experience! So was performing the pieces throughout the community in non-theatre settings. Intimate, informal, and often ad hoc DIY performance spaces can pose challenges, but our performers rose to these challenges with exuberance! This gave us the chance to make this art accessible and to connect with so many non-theatre goers in our community.

“It was such an honour performing as part of the Sarasvati Transformative ‪Stolen Sisters‬ Cabaret of Monologues this evening at the Thunderbird House on ‪International Women’s Day‬”, said Shaneen Robinson, reporter at Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and performer in Stolen Sisters. “Thanks to all who came to show support in our fight to raise awareness and put a stop to ‪‎MMIW‬ in our country.”

We are especially thankful to have had the chance to perform this productions for staff and clientele of crisis and resource centres in and around Winnipeg.

“As a Manitoba women’s shelter director, I know that our staff hear many stories from women escaping abuse and violence – our work is very challenging. Today’s monologues were outstanding and I found the theme very relevant to the clients we support” said Pam Hadder, Executive Director at Agape House-Eastman Crisis Centre in Steinbach, Manitoba.

“The performers and the content of this year’s monologues were incredible! Each performer did an outstanding job of entertaining us and informing us of current social issues. Very dramatic, very thought provoking, and very important! Thank you so much for giving us this opportunity to build awareness in our community”, said Anna Pazdzierski, the Executive Director of Nova House Inc.

Thank you to all of our supporters, volunteers, audience, community hosts, performers, writers, Board of Directors and funders for helping to make our International Women’s Week Cabaret of Monologues – Stolen Sisters a huge success. It was a pleasure to work with so many amazing women.

Meet Our Wonderful IWW Actors!

Ready to see ten amazing women perform in our annual International Women’s Week Cabaret of Monologues? So are we! We caught up with them this week to ask them some questions about being a part of the Cabaret, being a female artist, and where they’d like to see Canada in a year. Keep reading to see some of their answers!

 

By next International Women’s Week what would you most like to see changed in Canada?

Montana Lehmann: More women in direction/artistic direction in Winnipeg. There are so many amazingly creative women in our city.

Shamin Brown: I would like to see gender equality become the cornerstone of Canadian society as it is in Sweden. Canada must adopt Swedish gender equality beliefs, principles, & practices…and it needs to do so in a societally pervasive manner rather than as a Band-Aid applied to individual issues (because that Band-Aid almost always gets ripped off in the end). 

Sydney Macfarlane: I would like to see more attention be kept on people who have disappeared. They still are missing and they’re still people with families who deserve closure by finding their loved ones.

Teri-Lynn Friesen: I think I would like to see more women’s voices represented and heard whether it is in government, in businesses, on boards, etc.  I was really excited to see that Prime Minister Trudeau appointed a gender balanced cabinet and it gives me hope that our voice will be represented and that other cultures (corporate, non profit, society in general) will follow suit and seek out additional perspectives in their decision making.

What is the most exciting or challenging part of participating in this year’s Cabaret of Monologues?  Why?

Erica Wilson: The most challenging part of the cabaret is probably the monologue I am doing called Lingua Franca. It has so many layers that’s so hard for any actor to accomplish and I’m over whelmed that I was chosen to perform this piece, it reminds me of theatre of the disturbed meets butoh dance with a touch of Ventriloquism. Being able to translate this piece for an audience and it working will be a great accomplishment of mine.

Kelsey Wavey: This year’s theme of stolen sisters is one that is really important to me, so that’s really exciting for me. On the other side of this, the issues that are very present in this theme, and definitely in my monologue, which is called Chance by Melaina Sheldon, are very difficult to comprehend and be able to portray to an audience emotionally and physically. Negative stereotypes, systemic racism, sexism, and domestic abuse to name a few. 

Kim Kakegamic: The most exciting part is getting to be involved in such an important event, with such incredible performers. The most challenging part for me is that my monologue requires intense, high energy from start to finish. I play a gameshow host and she has to be “on” the entire time – engaging, exciting and involving the audience. Whenever I finish I feel like I just did a workout!

Mary Black: The most exciting thing about being a part of this Cabaret of Monologues is being a part of a dynamic, women-run performance and hearing other women’s stories and voices. It is a beautiful time to be alive as our Nation is experiencing a shift; a collective growth, and an end to the stigma and silence surrounding sexual violence and violence against women and girls is in sight.

Shamin: The most challenging part of participating in this year’s event has been remaining open on stage. I instinctively want to shelter myself as I connect with the material; learning to remain open and vulnerable has been a huge challenge.

Sydney: The most challenging thing was turning a very strong spoken word piece into a dance that reflected the intensity of the words.

Have you been to our Cabaret of Monologues before?  If so, what do you like about it?

Heather Bjorklund:  I have been and performed in the Cabaret of Monologues before. I love it. I love the fact that it gives women a chance to shine. 

Kim: My first time in IWW Cabaret was last year. I played Zelda Fitzgerald. The whole experience was amazing from start to finish. Working with Hope, getting to bring this character to life, the community performances and the FUN I had. Plus, meeting and watching the other “Superheroines” perform was so inspiring.

Montana: No, this is a first time for me, I’m very excited to see how all the other pieces come together and what everyone else has been working on.

Teri-Lynn: I actually went for the first time last year and the performances I saw were at Portage Place Mall.  I really appreciated that these fierce women were on stage, just bearing their souls (and the souls of the women who both penned the pieces, and were being portrayed) on stage, in the middle of a shopping mall.  It was just really cool.  I like the non-traditional, sharing element.

What is it like being a female artist (or female in your industry)?  What are the highlights and the challenges?

Erica: Being a female in the industry for me is uncomfortable, I see so many roles for acting that I would like to go out there and get but it’s only for the male gender to take. Which is unfortunate because I want to be those characters! I don’t want to be the princess or the wife, I want to be the killer or head honcho! 

Highlights? Every time I get to start a new process. Every single time I learn something new about myself, perspectives and techniques. 

Heather: I would have to say that it is rather challenging to be a female artist. I have directed and acted in many shows over the years. I have found it very challenging to direct shows if there is a male co-director for example. It doesn’t work well. The man is always the one deferred to. It seems that my power is always usurped if there is a male around. 

Kelsey: I think there are still a lot of people who underestimate me. Being a young, indigenous, female aspiring actor you definitely need to filter those people out and focus on those who believe in you and help your strength. Also, whenever I hear about a role with a 3 dimensional young woman, its always great news!

Mary: I experience many challenges being a woman in my industry; I am a vocal poet – a singer/songwriter. Specifically, my husband and I make hip hop music to speak to youth in a language they can understand – by sending positive messages in our music and vocalizing the struggles our isolated, Indigenous communities face. Women in hip hop and music in general have been hyper-sexualized, and the party scene involving drugs and alcohol has been glamorized. I actively combat these things in the music I make but, living as a Traditional, sober woman I face struggles everywhere in this industry. Still, I believe my voice and story is powerful enough to inspire others to speak about their lives and help me in the battle I am fighting by telling their own truth, facing their own demons and owning their stories.

 

Come see these amazing women performing powerful monologues at community performances throughout the week of March 6, or come see the full line up on Saturday March 12 at 4pm and 8pm. Tickets are only $10 and you can get them here or by phoning 204-586-2236.

 

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