Theatre that Transforms Us – 2016/17 Season Retrospective

Cotton candy cocktails, ghosts, riots, vans stuck in the snow, standing ovations, tears and a lot of laughter. It really is hard to believe that another season has gone by – our 17th one in Winnipeg to be exact! Just over a year ago, we launched a season themed on Transformation and it truly was life-changing.

Breaking Through
“They were 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.” – Loveeza Arshad, Friends Housing

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The cast of Breaking Through takes a bow

Thanks to your support we enjoyed an incredibly successful run of the culmination of our Mental Health project. We hope the dialogue will continue outside the theatre for some time to come. We’ll keep you posted as we work towards publishing the play!

 

IWW 2017 Starting Over
“Engaging and inspiring, these powerful performances rooted in real experiences provided brilliant insight. In our case, the complex realities of both youthful and mature immigrant women were are the forefront. Exploring these themes is so vital, with increased cultural diversity and amid global striving for women’s rights. Women of all nations and cultures can relate to themes of place, space, marginalization, hope, potential…”– Pamela Hadder, Agape House-Eastman Crisis Centre

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A packed house at IWW2017: Starting Over

This year, we worked closely with newcomer women and girls and the results were some incredible pieces.  We were proud to provide a platform for women’s stories, to promote equity on Canadian stages and to provide access to the arts. A great big thank you goes out to Manitoba Status of Women and the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg. Without them, this Cabaret would not be possible. Special thanks to Neighborhoods Alive! and NERI for supporting our North End performances.

One Night Stand Series
“Amazing job, everyone! And for those involved in [my piece], thank you so much for helping me bring that world to life… Truly an inspirational night!” –  Marjorie Roden, featured playwright

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One Night Stand Fringe Frenzy! at Carol Shields Festival of new Works

With the help of producer Tatiana Carnevale and Prairie Theatre Exchange we re-launched the One Night Stand playreading Series. The Series gives playwrights the opportunity to test their work, while giving audiences a chance to take part in their development process.  Look out for the launch of One Night Stand next season at closing night of FemFest! We will be featuring readings from Judith Thompson and our most celebrated local playwrights.

 

Workshops for Emerging Artists
“So much good info!”
“Extremely beneficial”
“It was great! More workshops!” – Feedback from workshop participants

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Our Artistic Director Hope McIntyre facilitates at Auditioning 101

We served 85 emerging artists with our Emerging Artist workshop series this season.
We tackled some of our most-requested workshops this year with Grantwriting & Taxes for Artists, Auditioning 101 and Mock Auditions for Advanced Actors.  We thank our partners Winnipeg Arts Council, Manitoba Arts Council, ACI Manitoba, Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, Theatre Projects Manitoba and Winnipeg Jewish Theatre for helping us support education opportunities for emerging artists. Plans for the 2017/18 Emerging Artists Workshop Series are already underway! Drop us a line if there is a workshop you’d like to see.

North End Workshop Series
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to study theatre but now I’m sure!” – Sabil, youth participant

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Youth facilitator Erica Wilson offers direction as the youth participants work on their scene

We kicked-off 2017 with a focused series of theatre workshops for North End youth. Youth Coordinators Frances Koncan and Cherrel Holder alongside a series of guest artists, introduced theatre techniques and worked on scenes with youth. On February 22nd we celebrated with a showcase of the youth involved. We have already heard from multiple youth that they have decided to pursue theatre and we look forward to supporting them with mentorship in 2017/18.

 

 


Women’s Comedy Night Fundraiser

“Congratulations! What a great evening!!” – Brigit Krasovec
“Great turn out! Amazing show.” – Tim Gray

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Actions shots of some of the comedians at the Women’s Comedy Night Fundraiser

We took a leap and tried something brand new with our comedy fundraiser. We teamed up with Winnipeg’s hilarious women comedians to produce the Women’s Comedy Night. The event saw unprecedented success—selling out and packing the venue with an incredible mix of Sarasvàti supporters and comedy fans. We had a blast and you better believe we’ll be doing this again next year.

 

 


Shattered
High School Tour

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The cast of Shattered

“Things aren’t what they seem and we should never assume things about people. I learned a lot and I
could tell my fellow audience members also learned something new. I realized a lot more people in our
school had experience with mental illness than I thought.” -Student at Fort Richmond Collegiate

We broke pervious records by performing to 6,161 youth and educators in Manitoba. Shattered has received overwhelming praise from teachers and students alike. It was also transformative for the cast who were touched by the number of youth who approached them after performances to share their own struggles with mental health.


FemFest2016: Transformation

We were proud to present such provocative touring shows as Miss Understood, Mouthpiece, as well as clown favourites Morro & Jasp Do Puberty. The world premiere of the previous year’s Bake-Off winner Sherry MacDonald’s The Seduction Theory made a huge impact as audiences discussed the ways we continue to victim-blame.

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These are just a few of our highlights. What stood out for you? Save the date for August 4th at 7pm and stay tuned for exciting details about our 2017/18 season launch.

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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!

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/

Meet the Cast of Breaking Through!

This ace team of actors who will be working on Breaking Through includes many familiar faces and some who are brand new to Sarasvàti. We can’t wait to dive into rehearsals with this incredible team of artists!

Elena Anciro

Elena AnciroElena Anciro is a graduate of the University of Winnipeg’s Department of Theatre & Film. She was recently seen on stage in Alice in Wonderland (Theatre NorthWest), JONNO (Echo Theatre), and Chimerica (RMTC/CanStage). Her favourite Sarasvàti credits include: Fefu & Her Friends, Flood Control, and Empty. Elena is a member of Red Threads of Peace, a playback theatre troupe that merges artistry, social justice, and community building through improvised storytelling. She is honoured to be part of the premiere of this poignant and relevant new work.

Dorothy Carroll

Dorothy is excited to embark on this incredibly important project with Sarasvàti. Dorathy CarrollPreviously she appeared in Kayak (2010). A graduate of the University of Winnipeg Honours Acting program, favorite past shows include: Alice Through the Looking Glass (RMTC), Stripped Down Midsummer Nights Dream (SIR), Dutchman (play on Theatre), Hamlet (Bravura), The Producers (Rainbow Stage), Avenue Q (Winnipeg Studio Theatre), Little Women, Company (Dry Cold). Dorothy is the Associate Artistic Director of Bravura Theatre, and produces their Shakespeare in the Pub series here in Winnipeg. Watch for her production On Love (play on Theatre) in this year’s Winnipeg Fringe Festival!

Richie Diggs

Richie DiggsRichie Diggs (University of Winnipeg), is glad to be returning to Winnipeg for Breaking Through. Now living in Vancouver, B.C. he has previously been in Winnipeg features such as Trish Cooper’s Social Studies (Prairie Theatre Exchange) and Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s Pirates of Penzance. Richie starred in Firehall Arts Centre’s production of Social Studies for which he was nominated for the Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards in the Best Lead Actor category.  Richie will star in Lynn Nottage’s Ruined at Dark Glass Theatre, Vancouver January of 2018.

Marsha Knight

Marsha KnightMarsha last appeared with Sarasvàti for Hope McIntyre’s production of Eden and assisted with facilitating workshops for Jail Baby. She has been in this business for over 20 years starting with Ian Ross’ Governor General’s award winning drama fareWel (PTE). She performed in fareWel two additional times, one being at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. She was also in three separate productions of Rez Sisters (PTE, Theatre Northwest, Magnus Theatre). Her recent work includes Norm Foster’s Kiss the Moon, Kiss the Sun (Theatre Northwest), Shakespeare in the Ruins Antony & Cleopatra, and Drew Hayden Taylor’s Crees in the Caribbean  (Magnus Theatre). She thanks Hope McIntyre and Sarasvàti Productions for all their work in bringing these stories to light and for staging storytelling for us all to hear.

Harry Nelken

Mr. Nelken told us how happy he was to be part of this wonderful project.
Harry NelkenAn Equity member since 1978, he has worked extensively in theatres in Winnipeg and several Canadian cities. Selected credits: Glengarry Glen Ross, MTC  (Levine), Butcher, PTE (Josef), Zadie’s Shoes, PTE and Factory Theatre (Eli), Hamlet (Polonius), The Merchant of Venice (Shylock), S.I.R., Einstein’s Gift (Einstein), WJT/MTC, The Sunshine Boys (Al Lewis), Chemainus Theatre, B.C., All or Nothing (Unamuno) Shiksa (Abe), WJT,  The Hunting Party (Graves) for Agatha Christie Fest. At the 2017 Fringe, Mr. Nelken will be seen in Eastport.

Spenser Payne

Spenser PayneSpenser Payne is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s Bachelor of Fine Arts acting program. She is founding member of The Talentless Lumps, Red Nose Diaries and Sweet and Salty Collective. When she’s not onstage, you can find her teaching at Prairie Theatre Exchange School or studying with clown duo Mump and Smoot. Recently she traveled with Prairie Theatre Exchange’s Munchbusters! and went to Ireland to work with clown master Phillipe Gaulier. She is excited to be back working with Sarasvàti after joining them in the 2016 FemFest Bakeoff and clowing around in FemFest’s Opening Cabaret!

 

Joshua Ranville

Joshua RanvilleJosh is an actor/musician from Winnipeg. Josh has been part of a few Sarasvàti productions in the past such as: Eden workshop, Breaking Through workshop. His most recent public theatre work was a one-man touring play with the Manitoba Theatre for Young People called Routes directed by Kimberly Rampersad. Josh trained for 3 years at Studio 58 in Vancouver B.C. Josh looks forward to playing Bass with Burnt Project 1 on the Scotia-Bank Stage for Aboriginal Day Live this summer.

Catch this amazing ensemble as they bring the world premiere of Breaking Through to life at the Asper Centre for Theatre & Film May 23-28.

 

Spotlight on Director Kevin Klassen

Breaking Through launches into rehearsal at the end of this month. Leading the team of this world premiere is director, Kevin Klassen. We’re pleased to turn the spotlight on Kevin in this week’s blog.

Kevin Klassen is thrilled and grateful to be working with Sarasvàti on this challenging play, and with this exciting collection of artists. His directing credits include: JONNO, Dr. Kellogg’s System, Lulu: A Monster Tragedy, Le Grand-Guignol Sur La Prairie, MissAdventurous Perils of Pauline, Poet And The Rent (Echo Theatre); Dog Act (Nancan Boogie Productions) and Merry Wives of Windsor (SIR). He is currently developing an immersive theatrical adventure called Dracula Unearthed for Echo Theatre, to be experienced at the Dalnavert Museum this coming Halloween!

 How would you describe yourself as a director?

I consider it my job as director to help create on stage what the playwright is trying to put on the page. That leap of imagination is the primary task, and then helping to lead and facilitate that leap for everyone else involved: especially the audience. Ensuring that what the audience experiences is as much as possible what the collaborating artists intend.

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What was the impetus for directing Breaking Through?

I was honoured and flattered to be asked in the first place, and after reading the script I felt that I understood what Cairn and Hope were after, and that I had something to offer in terms of bringing it across to an audience in an entertaining, meaningful way. It tickled my imagination.

What about the script excites you? 

I think that the challenges faced by people who are affected by mental illness is a very important subject. I think the play does a very good job of balancing the serious realities of this issue with playful and creative methods of storytelling- it’s got a robust strain of humour and a rather bold theatricality.

If you could say one thing to the Artist who inspired you most, who would it be? And what would you say?

Choosing one is hard. I’ll choose the person who had the most direct impact on my sense of myself as an artist: Reg Skene. And I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to say thank you.

What do you hope the audience will be talking about on the car ride home from Breaking Through?

I hope they talk about how glad they are that they came, how much there is to consider when dealing with mental health issues, and how crucial it is to our society that we tackle these issues with compassion and intelligence and imagination- even if it means that some people have to pay a little more in taxes.

Breaking Through runs May 23-38, 2017 at the Asper Centre for Theatre & Film.

 

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.

The Politics of Art by Fauzia Rafique

Throughout the 16 Days of Action Against Gender-Based Violence we honour the women and girls whose lives have been taken from them. We reflect on the many women and girls for whom violence is a daily reality, and we challenge ourselves to improve the conditions of equality.

Fauzia Rafique is well-versed in using art and activism in support of equality. Fauzia is a novelist, poet, activist, and author of a piece for this year’s International Women’s Week Cabaret of Monologues. She has written for Pakistan Television, and published several titles, including The Adventures of SahebaN: Biography of a Relentless Warrior’  (2016), ‘Holier Than Life’ (2013) and ‘Skeena’ (2011) Fauzia blogs about Punjabi literature,  blasphemy and honor killings. We are pleased to share her entry on exploring, coping with, and reconciling violence against women through her art in our blog this week.

 

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Fauzia Rafique – Places that have no names

The Politics of Art
by Fauzia Rafique

In 2008, in a province of Pakistan, five women were buried alive by the male members of their families with support of the local government. What came out among other things was a set of about seven poems in Punjabi, and uncontrollable crying. To this day, i cannot deliver a single one of those poems; when i try, i cry. The same happens when reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved and The Color Purple by Alice Walker. There also are characters, images and sounds i cannot express nor can i get rid of them. In other instances, the pain of knowing or experiencing wrestles with me over years to find expression.

Violence against women is only a part of the violence we experience in our daily lives. State violence against pipeline protesters or land/water protectors; word-violence or bullying in schools, on the street, and on social media; hate speeches against Muslims, Blacks, Aboriginals; constant bombings and dronings of innocent people around the world; the ongoing attacks on the dignity of less privileged people;  and, the daily incidences of police violence against the homeless. Of course, women in all groups experience it in its worst forms and to the highest degrees.

My home is in my art where i try to make sense of the perpetual systemic violence, use it as weapon to resist and to fight, inspiration to create beauty and joy, and, as meditation to stand my ground. It embodies me, and i perpetuate it.

My process is not intellectual, cerebral or emotional but instinctive, and it doesn’t require effort from me to be ‘with it’. Art is not my hobby neither it is a commercial enterprise, and so, i don’t experience the famed ‘writer’s block’; art is life, and there’s no stopping it. When not writing with hands, i write with thoughts, feel the ‘feels’, imagine the real, stretch ideas, challenge forms- all to be able to wriggle out of the numerous constructs built around me with the purpose of enslaving my mind in order to obstruct the independent flight of my imagination.

The question for me is not if my art is political or not, because all and everyone’s art is political. The question is what kind of ‘political’ it is. My art must defend me and my virtual home against systemic violence; it must resist and fight; it must be beautiful, lyrical, joyful; it must provide me solid artistic and emotional ground to take a stand and to be able to defend the politics of my art.


You can find more of Fauzia Rafique’s writing at  gandholi.wordpress.com. See her piece, “Places that have no names”,  performed live on March 11th at the International Women’s Week Cabaret of Monologues: Starting Over.