Breaking Through has everyone talking!

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Molly (Dorothy Carroll) and Kennedy (Marsha Knight) are turned away from an emergency shelter.

Breaking Through opened on Tuesday and has had everyone talking since.

“Saw Breaking Through yesterday, and recommend it, it is honest but done with humour too. Still shows this week. I love all the characters, especially KoKo.” – Mary Scott

“I identify with some of the characters as I have gone through mental struggles of my own… I think what it certainly got across very well was that each character was a sort of individual element, not of their own choosing, but they’re trying to find some means of attaining normalcy. This is what I’ve gone through—the struggle to find normalcy when you have a condition that leaves you feeling anything but.”  – Patrick Lowe, Winnipeg Filmmaker

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KoKo (Josh Ranville) is visited by her spirit guide (Marsha Knight)

“Brilliantly done and very well-researched. The actors really took on the roles. Everybody’s characters just stay with you.” – Angela, audience member

Check out a feature in The Times on actor Harry Nelken who plays Joe, a 72 year old character who has been living with schizophrenia since he was 19. Read the Winnipeg Free Press preview by Randall King and the blog review by Winnipeg theatre artist Lorraine James. Breaking Through has also been featured in the Winnipeg Free Press Arts & Culture, CBC News, The Herald, The Lance, The Pilipino Express, Global News Morning and more!

Come and see for yourself. There are four performances left! To see a performance schedule and book you tickets click here.

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“Plays like this are good messages. They’re valuable, in a sense. What I also like about the play is it was meant to be entertaining throughout. It wasn’t really a ‘downer’. It was trying to be an ‘upper’” – Patrick Lowe, Winnipeg filmmaker

Photos by Janet Shum.

 

 

Behind the Scenes with Breaking Through

With less than two weeks until Opening Night, the cast of Breaking Through are delving deep in to their characters who are born out of so many Winnipegger’s stories. For this week’s blog we visited the actors in action for a behind the scenes look into Breaking Through.

Harry Nelken as "Joe" in Breaking Through

Joe (Harry Nelken)

Harry Nelken plays Joe, a sometimes prickly, sometimes charming mental health centre resident with the story of a lifetime.

“What excites me about Joe: he’s a fighter, he’s compassionate, he thinks of others, he nurtures, he’s loving, and a kidder”, says Harry, “most of all, he accepts who he is and his lot in life.”

 

Richie Diggs plays an array of different characters as the Male Ensemble in Breaking Through.

Richie Diggs as "Absame" in Breaking Through

A fateful encounter at a bus stop between Absame (Richie Diggs) and Stef (Elena Anciro)

“Everyone needs a healthy mind, but anyone can get a sick mind.” My character says this in the play, thereby distilling the entire play to that simple comprehension, says Richie. “It is a key point to note, not just because one’s own self may sometimes be confronted with the challenges of living with a mental illness, but that when we encounter others battling these health challenges, that understanding, and support will be our participation, rather than stigma, or exclusion, or fear.”

Elena Ancrio as "Stef" in Breaking Through

Joe (Harry Nelken) and Stef (Elena Anciro); Joe fulfills duty as the unofficial ‘welcome committee’ of the mental health centre.

“What I love about Stef is that she is strong and resilient, that even when she is struggling, she has a quick wit and the instinct to help others”, says Elena Anciro. “The journey she goes on during the play has a really important message for all of us. I think whenever you are tasked with playing a character that is based on a real person or is experiencing something very specific (in this case, anxiety and OCD), it’s hard not to feel nervous about “getting it right.” It’s been amazing to work with Hope and Cairn’s script and to explore the text / subject matter with the cast. There’s been a very supportive and ‘safe space’ vibe to our rehearsals, which has really helped me feel relaxed about finding Stef and telling her story.”

 

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Val (Spenser Payne) saves face!

Spenser Payne plays Val. “I think Val’s story is a really great story to witness, says Spenser.  “It’s hard to live up to certain beauty standards in our world, and doing my research on this character, really realized how common it is for women, and men to deal with an eating disorder. It happens to anyone, doesn’t matter your size, or gender. There is massive pressure from our social media world to look a certain way, or act a certain way, and I think seeing Val struggle with This concept will really resonate with audiences.”

 

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KoKo (Josh Ranville) is visited by spirit guide (Marsha Knight)

“I play different family members to more than one character so I am in relationship with more than one other person who has mental health concerns”, says Marsha Knight, who plays the Female Ensemble.

 

“Not only am I looking at the nuances for each character”, says Marsha, “I am also looking at the relationship. Those are areas that every actor addresses – characteristics, a uniqueness, the dynamic. This time around, there is a heightened awareness when it comes to the relationship part.”

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Molly (Dorothy Carroll) stirs things up at the mental health centre.

 

“Molly is so intensely dynamic”, says Dorothy Carroll. “We see her in her highest and lowest moments, which has made it a real challenging journey. Finding a way “in” to someone struggling as Molly does, and discovering the “whys” has been most enlightening.”

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Dr. Morgan (Richie Diggs) and KoKo (Josh Ranville

“KoKo is a voice of wisdom in the play”, says Josh Ranville. “There are beautiful painful moments of hopelessness at the start of the play but I also get to climb out of the muck. KoKo is a light beacon for the other characters to accept themselves for who they are. What a journey I get to go on every night we perform.”

Breaking Through runs May 23-28 at the Asper Centre for Theatre an Film. To see a full list of showtimes and to book tickets visit sarasvati.ca.

Photos by Janet Shum.

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L to R: Joe (Harry Nelken) Stef (Elena Anciro) KoKo (Josh Ranville) Val (Spenser Payne) and Molly (Dorothy Carroll)

 

 

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/

Spotlight Behind the Scenes!

The world premiere of Breaking Through would not be possible without a small army of unsung heroes known as the design and production team.  This week we’ve tracked some down in order to shine the spotlight on the awesome folks who will be working hard behind the scenes.

Dean Cowieson – Lighting Designer Dean Cowieson

Dean is happy to work on the lighting for this powerful production of Breaking Through.  Dean has been the resident lighting designer for Le Cercle Moliere since 2005, as well as the resident lighting designer for Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers since 2006. Dean last worked with Sarasvàti Productions as the Lighting Designer for the production of Miss N Me. He has designed the lighting for various companies in Winnipeg as well as recently completing a three-city tour. In addition to his lighting design work he has also designed sets and costumes for various companies in Winnipeg.
Dean’s motto: “Are you hip to my jive?”

Kim Griffin – Costume & Set DesignerKim Griffin

Kim Griffin, B.I.D., B.A.(hons), M.A., is an Interior Designer, Set, Costume and Lighting Designer, and Cultural Studies scholar. Her company Donald-Haverty Design Group, started in the 1980s, has served hundreds of clients on residential, commercial, hospitality, medical and recreation projects. Her work analyzing scripts and interpreting atmospheres and characters has kept her busy for over 15 years working with various community theatres in Winnipeg. Knowledge and ability to use the elements of design, fine art concepts, practical applications, and human ergonomics and interactions make all her designs, whether for interiors or for the stage, specific and unique.
Kim’s motto: “It never hurts to help”

jaymezjaymez – Sound & Video Designer

With a multi-faceted and distinct visual style, jaymez has worked in the visual art, dance, theatre and music communities.   His video work has appeared in a number of international festivals, theatrical and dance productions and he has performed live video alongside dozens of musicians and artists.  He has created lighting, video and sound designs for a wide range of companies and choreographers. His work has been seen in a number of cities including Stratford, Edmonton, Regina, Calgary, Montreal, Toronto, Osnabrück, Germany and Utrecht, Netherlands.  jaymez is one half of the experimental voice and video duo The Gritty.  He currently sits on the board of Video Pool Media Arts Centre and is the Technical Director of Cluster New Music and Integrated Arts Festival.
jaymez’s motto: “I’m not very good at making things nice, that’s when my work is least interesting. ” -Es Devlin

Holly LaJambe – Stage Managerpicture017 - GREYSCALE HEADSHOT

Holly LaJambe is a Theatre Honors graduate from the University of Winnipeg. Her stage management credits include Fire & Water Music Festival, Gilbert & Sullivan Society, Girls Only Productions, Geri\the/atrics, Prairie Theatre Exchange, Prairie Theatre Exchange School, Winnipeg Pride. This will be her eighth time stage managing for Sarasvàti Productions. She has been involved with 2016 – Breaking Through Staged Reading, 2015 – Cabaret of Monologues, 2015 – Miss N’ Me, 2014 – Fefu and Her Friends, 2013 – Harold and Vivian Entertain Guests, 2012 – Diss Tour, and 2012 – Immigration Stories. She is excited to be involved with another of their projects addressing important social issues.
Holly’s motto: “I’m already calm. I’m the Stage Manager.”

Laura LindeblomLaura Lindeblom – Production Coordinator

Twelve years ago at York University, Laura decided that she wanted to be a production manager, and as luck would have it she’s been working in that role, as well as various other production departments, ever since. Her two full time jobs are as mother to one child (soon to be two) and production manager at Manitoba Theatre for Young People, and she is very grateful for the opportunity to work with Sarasvàti Productions again. Thanks to Kris, Kaia, and Blyth the puggle for all of their love and support.
Laura’s motto: “It’s totally fine for plans to change, but it’s always best to have a plan in the first place.”

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.

Kevin Klassen

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.

How It All Comes Together

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This week we welcome our Associate Director’s perspective on our unique approach to International Women’s Week. Rachel Smith is an actor, director, writer and acting coach. She has a MA in Theatre & Performance from the University of Manchester, UK and a BA Honours in Theatre & Film from the University of Winnipeg. Rachel has worked with Sarasvati many times and enjoys her continuing work with the company. 

The Cabaret of Monologues is an event that I look forward to every year. It is such an interesting and diverse array of artistic works that beautifully captures the year’s theme. This year the theme of “Starting Over” was particularly relatable for me, and for many audience members who I encountered. Starting Over can mean different things for different people. The variety of monologues featured in the cabaret was a wonderful representation of the different perspectives on that theme. I found that I could relate to most of the monologues in one way or another.

This was the fourth year that I have been the Associate Director on the cabaret. I was delighted and honoured that I was able to work on them again this year. It is an interesting project to work on because it is not rehearsed like a normal play is. Ten separate pieces are rehearsed once a week until the weekend before the full cabaret when it all comes together. Many of the actors do not even meet until the dress rehearsal. Each monologue is given the same rehearsal guidelines but the individual pieces are so different. It is great to work with the different actors and work with the unique challenges within the individual pieces. When working on them during the months of January and February, they feel almost like separate entities that do not relate to each other. When they all come together at the beginning of March it is amazing to see the full picture: the collage that is revealed.

Each monologue is powerful in its own way. I felt that the monologues developed with the newcomers to Canada were especially powerful. Some of them had heartbreaking stories yet were filled with joy and hope. When the monologues were presented as whole it became all the more powerful. Rachel Awur Moijok Chol was one of the women whose story was told during the performance. Her story was presented as a voice over recording of Rachel speaking while Sydney Macfarlane did a movement piece. At the matinee performance on March 11, Rachel sang an absolutely beautiful song after her story was presented. While she sang, Martha Akuch Maketh joined her on stage dancing with Sydney, while the rest of the cast joined the trio to prepare for the curtain call. The image of all those women dancing together on stage is one I do not think I will ever forget. It was so incredibly powerful to see them all up there, these amazing women portraying such important stories.

– Rachel Smith

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Eager to experience more transformative theatre? Join us for the world premiere of Breaking Through (May 23-28) an awe-inspiring new play about mental health.