Summer Students make Strides at Sarasvàti

A world premiere, general auditions, FemFest brochure launch, outreach, a fundraising dinner, Timeraiser display, garage sale – how have we managed all of this in the last month? We’ve been very fortunate to welcome two hard-working summer students to team Sarasvàti thanks to Canada Summer Jobs. They’ve pitched in on so many important tasks and now they’re working on our 2017-18 Season Launch. Tamera and Larysa bring dedication and fresh ideas to the table and we are so pleased to hear from them in this week’s blog entry.

“I am proud to be at Sarasvàti Productions and to work in a community with a strong social conscience”, says Tamera, who began working as our Production Assistant in May.

TameraGrace-grown-FemFest17“So far my highlight of the summer was when I was backstage during Breaking Through. The cast and crew were all magnificent, as well as the story. It was very life-giving to support them through a smooth run of the show, as well as making sure everyone was comfortable and ready.

Aside from being able to work on their spring production, I have been spending most of my time in the office. This is my first time working in an office; it has been a good opportunity to improve my professional skills.”

Tamera is working on completing her double degree in Theatre and Business at the U of W.

“My original plan was to focus on acting, but I will be graduating with a focus in acting as well as production and business. For me, working with Sarasvàti has really clarified my desire to work in the not-for-profit sector. I want to continue finding opportunities to support those in the community.”

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Tamera Grace at TimeRaiser150 with Hope McIntyre looking for great new Sarasvàti volunteers.

“One of the great things about Sarasvati Productions is the opportunity it creates for discussion and understanding”, says Larysa, our Marketing & Community Outreach Assistant.

“Getting over fifty people to sit in one room, eat Ethiopian food, smell Ethiopian coffee beans, and listen to a difficult true story about becoming a refugee is no easy thing to organize. But, I think, this type of event is necessary for building healthy and strong communities. Like me, the people who listened to Saeed’s story may walk away feeling more empathy than they felt before. And that is no small achievement.”

IMG_4303Larysa is a Creative Communications student at Red River College and the director of Winnipeg Poetry Slam. She talks about her favourite experience while working with Sarasvàti—working at the Honouring Courage – Celebrating Diversity fundraiser dinner with human rights activist and speaker, Ali Saeed.

“We’re used to thinking of revenge as a bad thing. We think of threat, torture, and war. Ali Saeed calls this ‘red revenge’. But Saeed says there is one other type of revenge just as compelling: kindness, compassion and generosity. His word for this is ‘green revenge.’

Seven years Saeed spent imprisoned and sentenced to death in Somalia. Now he’s speaking to a roomful of people here at Gohe Restaurant for Sarasvàti Productions’ fundraiser. The entire room is quiet. The people I’m sitting with grimace and look downward.

Saeed talks about the cruelty he witnessed: forced abortion, lashings, hanging, cutting. Listening to Saeed, I am reminded of the safety I have here in Canada, a true luxury.

On his feet, Saeed wears loose Velcro sandals. He points to the burn marks on his heels, marks from the hardship he endured. Sandals are one of the few shoes he’ll wear because of the pain. Barefoot is preferable.

‘No one chooses to be a refugee,’ Saeed says.”

Larysa says working for Sarasvàti Productions has opened her mind to experiences outside of her own, which has been an invaluable experience.

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Larysa Musick at Honouring Courage – Celebrating Diversity Fundraiser Dinner for Sarasvàti Productions at Gohe Restaurant.

You can see some of their awesome ideas in action at the 2017-18 Season Launch, Friday August 4th 7pm at the Saddlery on Market (114 Market Ave).

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!

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.