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.

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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.

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 .

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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.

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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!