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.

Acing Your Next Audition

This spring, Sarasvàti Productions delivers audition workshops to best serve you!

“This is what we’ve seen the greatest demand for”, says Angie St. Mars, Associate Producer and workshop coordinator for Sarasvàti. “We are pleased to respond to the needs of local actors with two levels of audition workshops, and we’re excited to be working with these Winnipeg theatres to do so!”

Artistic Director of Sarasvàti Productions, Hope McIntyre will facilitate Auditioning 101: The Basics for Beginners on Sunday April 23rd. This workshop is designed for those who are new to auditioning, who have only done a few auditions, or who have yet to audition for a professional theatre. After twenty years of auditions, our Artistic Director has seen a lot of the same mistakes made over and over again. As part of our goal to support emerging artists we want emerging actors to be able to put their best foot forward. The workshop will cover do’s and don’ts from choosing a monologue to etiquette, as well as provide tips to getting the part! If you have a headshot and resume you can bring them along for critique. Those who have prepared monologues will also have a chance to present an excerpt for direct coaching!

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Hope McIntyre, Artistic Director of Sarasvati Productions

Auditioning 101 will take place at the Asper Centre for Theatre & Film on April 23rd from 1pm-4pm. The registration fee is $30 and the deadline is April 10th. To register, please call 204-586-2236 or email associate@sarasvati.ca.

In order to serve theatre actors who have advanced experience auditioning we’ve partnered with the Artistic Directors from three theatres in Winnipeg to present a Mock Audition Workshop for Advanced Actors. Sarasvàti Productions is thrilled to be working with Ardith Boxall, Artistic Director of Theatre Projects Manitoba, Krista Jackson, Associate Artistic Director of Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre and Ari Weinberg, Artistic Director of Winnipeg Jewish Theatre in order to deliver a comprehensive mock audition-style workshop on Wednesday, June 14th.

In the first half, participants will have a 5 minute slot where they each perform one 1-2 minute monologue for the panel of Artistic Directors and receive individual feedback. The second half of the workshop will be devoted to group feedback and a moderated Q&A .

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The Mock Audition Workshop for Advanced Actors will take place on June 14th at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre rehearsal hall from 4pm-8pm.  Applicants must have experience auditioning for a professional theatre. The registration fee is $30 and the deadline to register is May 10th. Please include  a list of any auditions done for a professional theatre with your registration. To register, please call 204-586-2235 or email associate@sarasvati.ca.

We’re looking forward to helping you put your best foot forward at your next audition!

Take A Bow!

Spectacular! Fun! Powerful! Remarkable!

These are just a few of the words audiences have used to describe FemFest 2016: Transformation!

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The Seduction Theory Cast, Playwright Sherry MacDonald and Director, Hope McIntyre

This year’s collection of amazing works included the world premiere of The Seduction Theory by Sherry MacDonald. The all-star cast – comprised of Hailley Rhoda, Hannah Wigglesworth, Grant Burr and Merri-Lou Paterson – brought to life the moving story of 15-year-old Cass as she tries to break out of a system that shames and silences young girls. Sherry received a slew of great feedback from a special talkback after the opening show, which she’ll take into her planned expansion of the play.

The Opening Night Cabaret presented an array of diverse local talent including improv master Robyn Slade, indigenous filmmaker Sonya Ballantyne, Alissa Watson and Spenser Payne of Red Nose Diaries and many more! A huge thank you to our Cabaret sponsors, Garbonzo’s University of Winnipeg AnX, Baked Expectations & Banville & Jones for providing our packed-house with delicious food, dessert and beverages!

Morro & Jasp Do Puberty gave FemFest goers side-splitting laughter with the hilarious take on puberty and periods! The clown duo also mentored a handful of local artists with their Impulse & Play: Discovering your Inner Clown workshop and The Real Thing Lecture presented in partnership with the University of Winnipeg Department of Theatre and Film.

The annual fan-favourite Bake-Off was a hit, with its mixture of dramatic, heartbreaking and comical pieces. This year’s five emerging playwrights stretched their writing chops with Jessy Ardern ultimately winning Audience Choice and the Janet Taylor Award! She’ll have a chance to have her winning scene, Kit & Joe, developed for FemFest 2017!

Featuring fantastic movement and vocal performances along with amazing on-stage chemistry, Mouthpiece received standing ovations for its beautiful piece of trauma, triumph and will power.

Shocking, raw and scarily honest, audiences were also moved to tears by the frank theatre company theatrical poem Miss Understood by Antonette Rea. FemFest’s first trans* artist charmed her audiences and brought forth an important message about gender equality to Winnipeg.

SHORTs from the Shortlist provided extra entertainment every night. New this year was the SHORTs Showcase, featuring all nine chosen pieces. The staged readings took place at Garbonzo’s University of Winnipeg AnX who donated their space for the private SHORTs party!

All and all, FemFest 2016 was a blast! With a line-up brimming with so much talent, and lovely engaging audiences every night, FemFest and Canadian Theatre keeps getting better and better every year! We’re exciting to see what FemFest 2017 will have in store – it is our 15th anniversary afterall! If you are an artist wanting to get involved check out the call for submissions.

Come One, Come All – FemFest is Great Transformative Theatre!

img_20160917_160757Wow! What a whirlwind week it’s been so far and just three more days to catch shows that likely won’t be seen again in Winnipeg!

The first day of FemFest 2016 kicked off with a moving premiere performance of The Seduction Theory and full house for the Opening Night Cabaret!

The Seduction Theory actors Hailley Rhoda, Hannah Wigglesworth, Merri-Lou Paterson and Grant Burr brought Sherry’s and director Hope McIntyre’s vision to life and wowed audiences in the first few days of the fest. The opening production also featured a special talkback, where audiences discussed on-going issues facing young women in the 1950s and today.

The Cabaret was a blast – with back-to-back spectacular performances from some of Winnipeg’s best in theatre, comedy, music, film and dance!

On day two, Winnipeg’s theatre and comedy community got silly with Morro & Jasp! The clown duo, Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee, took eighteen emerging clowns under their wing with their Impulse and Play: Discovering your Inner Clown workshop. They continue their comedy streak in Winnipeg, with performances of Morro & Jasp do Puberty until Thursday.

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Janet Taylor Bake-Off Award winner Jessy Ardern with Janet Taylor’s family

Monday night’s Bake-Off gave audiences something to laugh and cry about! Taking ingredients duct tape, unbridled passion and class and turning it into this year’s Bake-Off Audience Choice, was playwright Jessy Ardern with her scene Kit and Joe. Jessy received the Janet Taylor Bake-Off award of $500. Congrats to all the playwrights who were chosen for the Bake-Off!

 

Don’t miss out on the last chance to catch some great transformative theatre (or see it all again!)

Morro & Jasp Do Puberty
Thursday, Sept. 22, 1 pm
This is your last chance to see Morro & Jasp Do Puberty at FemFest. Check out what audiences are talking about with the clown sister’s hilarious look at growing up! A definite must-see for anyone who loves to laugh (which is basically everyone)!

Mouthpiece
Thursday, Sept. 22, 7 pm | Friday, Sept. 23, 9 pm
This artistic piece encapsulates the ups-and-downs and swirls of thoughts that go through a young woman’s head as she deals with a life-altering tragedy. It’s first performance at FemFest was met with a standing ovation for the incredible performances. It is riveting, powerful and truly a masterclass in acting.

Miss Understood
Thursday, Sept. 22, 9 pm | Friday, Sept. 23, 7 pm | Saturday, Sept. 24, 9 pm
Spoken-word poet, Antonette Rea takes you on an emotional journey through her life lived in isolation and discrimination as a trans* woman in Downtown Eastside Vancouver. This one is sure to bring you to tears. Help us welcome this show from Vancouver and our first trans* artist to FemFest!!

Poetry Reading with Antonette Rea
Saturday, Sept. 24, 1 pm, Bison Books, 424 Graham Ave.
Meet Antonette Rea and hear excerpts from her work. This free poetry reading takes place at Bison Books and will include a special Q&A session.

SHORTs Showcase
Saturday, Sept. 24, 3 pm, Garbonzo’s University of Winnipeg AnX, 471 Balmoral St.
New this year is the SHORTs Showcase. Catch all nine SHORTs from the Short-List all in one sitting! This will be a riot of laughs, tears and heart-stopping stories.

The Seduction Theory
Saturday, Sept. 24, 7pm
This will be your last chance to see The Seduction Theory on the FemFest stage. You definitely don’t want to miss out on this world premiere.

For tickets and more information, please visit femfest.ca or call 204-586-2236. Tickets are also available at the door.

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.

 

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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.

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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!

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!

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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