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!

Nan Fewchuk and Cairn Moore

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/

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Shattering Stigma

Shattered video graphic

“Why are we taught all about physical health but never given any information on mental health” was the question posed by an astute grade ten student at one of our mental health workshops. With the high rate of suicide and depression among teens this is an important question. Although we worked with seniors, newcomers, patients and caregivers over the last year and a half of the mental health project, some of the most powerful sessions were with youth. We worked with over fifty youth at Rainbow Resource Centre, St. John’s High School and Resource Assistance for Youth. Some youth returned to join the public open sessions we also held. What we heard over and over was how important it was to get what we were doing in to schools. With last week’s staged readings of Breaking Through we gathered amazing feedback from a wide array of audiences. This will shape the final script for our May 2017 world premiere. In the meantime, we have gone back to the original stories and source material to explore mental health  through the eyes of youth.

As we believe mental health is everyone’s health, we know it is equally as important to spread the message of hope and understanding to Manitoba’s youth. We are excited to announce the next phase of the Mental Health Project – Shattered – for and about youth. Thanks to the support of the Winnipeg Foundation and Enterprise Foundation, it will tour to schools in Winnipeg and surrounding areas in the fall of 2016!

With Shattered, teens won’t just hear these adapted stories but will have a chance to become completely emerged in them as they explore solutions to the challenges characters face. Youth will get a chance to stop the action and work together to come up with their own endings for the characters; making Shattered a truly interactive and thought-provoking experience.

Hear more about the Mental Health Project including Breaking Through and Shattered and catch a glimpse of what Sarasvàti Productions high school tours are like:

The high school tour of Shattered starts October 10, 2016 and is already booking up. If you’d like to book a show and help engage students in an important discussion about mental health, please visit Sarasvati.ca or e-mail associate@sarasvati.ca.

Breaking The Silence

What if we got it wrong? What if we left an important story out? What if it’s a big mess. What if they hate it? Unveiling a brand new draft and opening it up to audience feedback is both exhilarating and nerve-wracking!—especially when that audience is as invested in the stories as our youth audience at Rainbow Resource Centre on Monday night.

Fefu (2)

Nan Fewchuk in our production of Fefu and Her Friends

“This is very important to them”, said Nan Fewchuck, who has been working with us since the beginning stages of “Breaking Through”.

 

In a project that began a year ago, Sarasvàti artists met with community groups and heard from almost 400 individuals wanting to share their experiences with mental health. We found these workshops to be an incredibly inspiring experience. People wanted to talk about mental health. So many people approached us, eager to share their story. We were blown away by the youth at the Rainbow Resource Centre drop-in. They were so generous in sharing their experiences, that we wanted to bring the draft back to them so we could incorporate their feedback before the play script makes a public debut this May.

McNally book launch photo4

Cairn Moore and Hope McIntyre launching their last co-written project “Jail Baby”

“I wish I had three more hours to talk to them”, said Cairn Moore, who has been weaving hundreds of stories into this script with co-writer Hope McIntyre. “It is so helpful to have this opportunity. They are so young and they have a lot of life experience—they give us some of the most helpful comments”

 

The youth at Rainbow Resource Centre were eager to share amazing insights when we finished the reading.  “They are clearly celebrating the fact that this is being done”, said Nan, “we can see what we’ve touched on, and what we need to go further with.”

“Breaking Through” explores challenges for those with a mental health diagnosis, while also exploring the reality that everyone has mental health. How can we support each other and increase compassion? The play follows five characters as their stories weave in and out to depict experiences with the system, community response, internal struggles and ultimately the desire for understanding.

We are so excited to share this script with the public! Join us at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film from May 24-27 at 7 pm, and May 22 & 28 at 3 pm. On May 27th Breaking Through will be followed by a performance with Red Threads Playback Theatre where the audience can tell of their own experiences with mental health and see them improvisationally “played back.” We invite you to add your voices to this valuable process.
Mental Health is everyone’s health.

MHP poster draft3Visit www.sarasvati.ca for more information, or to book tickets!

And if you didn’t hear the news we were honoured that our Artistic Director, Hope McIntyre, won the Winnipeg Foundation’s Fast Pitch event on April 7th. The grand prize will provided funding for the high school adaptation of Breaking Through to tour to schools in the fall of 2016!

From Stories to Stage

Shannon Guile leading a "circus" scene

Jail Baby

Have you ever wondered how exactly we develop our community-based plays? We’ve produced many over the years, including Giving Voice, Jail Baby, Immigration Stories, Diss, Empty, and No Offense… All of these plays were compiled by our Artistic Director Hope McIntyre (and sometimes a writing partner) in collaboration with various organizations in the community. For the past year Hope & Cairn Moore have been working with multiple mental health organizations as part of our “Mental Health is Everyone’s Health” project.

 

VOICES - 2

Giving Voice

During the process of creation there has been: inspiring forums at the Manitoba Schizophrenia Society, Rainbow Resource Centre for Youth, St. John’s High School, Resource Assistance for Youth, and the Aurora Family Therapy Centre’s Newcomer support group; the opportunity to observe sessions facilitated by Red Threads Playback Theatre at Selkirk Mental Health Centre; and multiple individual interviews. With enough material to create several plays the team works to honour each story. Then the draft is brought back to the community to make sure it is an accurate reflection.

 

Most recently to help refine the play we did a reading at the Manitoba Schizophrenia Society on February 22 and another on February 29 at the Selkirk Mental Health Centre. We got a lot of great feedback – here’s what some of the participants and audience had to say:

“I found the reading the other day really fantastic. I loved the input from everyone and think the script is really raising great discussion points.”

“One of the main messages which I think is coming over, is the value of listening. Helping people feel that they are important because someone is taking the time to listen.”

“Love this: ‘I am not bipolar. I have bipolar’ more people need to realize this.”

“This is a thought-provoking play.”

“Looking forward to finished version.”

“I like the production!!!” – resident at Selkirk Mental Health Centre

 “I loved all of the characters and loved that the play incorporated stylistic elements, like the singing about pills, and the lights and sound effects of voices. I feel like a play on this subject wouldn’t reach those who aren’t affected by mental health without those special effects.”

“Working on this project was an absolutely enriching experience. It was so powerful to share my experiences and to see so many others share their stories as well. For me, hearing all these people speak really solidified how different all our experiences with mental health can be; and how important it is that these stories get told.” – Hailey Charney

 

Hope and Cairn are now busy rewriting for the last reading planned at the youth peer support group at Rainbow Resource Centre on April 11. Afterwards, it’s full steam ahead to prepare for the public staged readings May 22 to 28 at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film, plus special previews and opportunities for community organizations! For more information, and to get tickets, click here or phone 204-586-2236.