Burnt: Norah Paton travels to Burning Man, Burning Man travels to FemFest

At FemFest this year, Norah Paton’s Burnt will take you on a theatrical trip to Burning Man, a temporary community in the desert in Nevada. You will meet all kinds of people played by Paton herself. The festival gets its name from the ritual of burning of a huge wooden effigy at the end of the festival. It is founded on ten principles: radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy.

Paton created the piece by visiting Burning Man in 2014, 2015, and 2016 and recording interviews with the people she met there. But instead of any old documentary, Paton wrote a script that is a collage of interviews and brought it to life with her captivating acting skills. She plays a surprisingly varied cast of characters, each with their own distinctly recognizable personality. Ian Huffam wrote in his review that “Paton’s physicality and vocal texture when embodying the subjects of her interviews deftly captures the essence of these people.”

The aesthetic of the show is wonderful, too. The sound design is by AL Connors and the play features electronic music, just as Burning Man does. Dominique Coughlin’s costume and set designs remind us of Le Petit Prince, as Ian Huffam points out, which shares its desert setting with Burnt. Lighting designer Sarah Mansikka creates fascinating visual effects. Dramaturges Emily Pearlman and Brad Long complete the artistic team.

Paton premièred Burnt at the Undercurrents Festival in Ottawa in 2017 and received glowing reviews. Jared Davidson described the première as “fascinating, clever, and immersive” and added “with a script and performance this strong, it will be interesting to see how it develops.” Our Artistic Director saw this production in Ottawa and was excited to share it with FemFest audiences.  And now that Paton has developed it further, Winnipeg theatregoers will see its best version yet.

Paton’s brilliance doesn’t stop at the sheer originality of this concept. The play also criticizes the hypocrisies of Burning Man: how a money-less city that operates on giving has become a capitalist venture, how a place where people are not supposed to leave any traces has developed a litter problem, and how racism and rape culture have crept into a community founded on inclusivity.

The Ottawa Citizen quoted Paton saying “Some of [the ten principles of Burning Man] are totally contradictory, and I definitely do look at those paradoxes…For me, it’s really interesting to see how this temporary city becomes a microcosm of all the issues or tensions or problems that we all see in our lives.”

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Come and enjoy Burnt at FemFest at the University of Winnipeg Asper Centre for Theatre and Film, 400 Colony Street, on Tuesday, September 18th or Wednesday, September 19th at 9:00 pm or on Thursday, September 20th at 7:00 pm and prepare to be amazed!

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Seeing Our Vision Through: 2017-2018 Season Retrospective

Another great year of theatre has come and gone! We celebrated our 18th season here in Winnipeg, showcasing newcomer stories, tales of unstoppable women, some hilarious local comedians, and powerful theatre from all across Canada! Take a look back at what we’ve accomplished with our 2017-2018 season: Envision.

New Beginnings

 

New Beginnings by Sarasvati Productions is beyond amazing. This production cannot end. The message of reality of resettlement should be heard by thousands more. The actors, content and music (Gerry Atwell, Music Director) touched my soul.” – Jay Rose, Audience Member

Thanks to amazing support from Winnipeg’s newcomer and theatre community, the show enjoyed an amazing run with multiple sold-out performances! A generous grant from Canadian Heritage, allowed us to offer translation services for the performance in Arabic, Kurmanji, and French! Stay tuned in the fall for our school tour, Home 2.0, which focuses on youth stories of immigration and resettlement.

IWW Cabaret of Monologues: I am Unstoppable

I am so full of all the wonderful ideas, writing and acting I’ve heard this afternoon! I just feel unstoppable. Sarasvati is so wonderful for providing the encouragement and the space for people to say all these things that would be left silent for so much longer. Thank you for giving us your voices – you’re wonderful!” – Beverly Grace, Audience Member

This year’s Cabaret showcased artists from across disciplines, including stories of heartbreak, resettlement, grief, and staying unstoppable in the face of adversity. We also used ASL interpretation for the first time to make our performances accessible to the Deaf community! Thanks to support from the Manitoba Status of Women, we were able to tour pieces to communities that might not normally get to experience live theatre. Big thank-yous to all of the artists and playwrights who shared the stories of such inspiring, unstoppable women.

One Night Stand Series

We had three different One Night Stands this year, starting with FemFest and ending with the Carol Shields Festival of New Works! Thanks to producers Tatiana Carnevale and Daphne Finlayson, as well as a partnership with the U of W and Prairie Theatre Exchange, we showcased twenty new pieces from both experienced and emerging playwrights. You can catch the plays from ONS: Fringe and Fancy-Free next month at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival!

Workshops for Emerging Artists

“This workshop gave me new tools to be a better performer.”

“Extremely beneficial, will make producing and stage managing shows much easier, so much useful information.” – feedback from workshop participants

This year, we hosted ten workshops for nearly 100 emerging artists, covering Grant-Writing with a cereal buffet, Are You Technically Prepared with Allison Loat, The Actor’s Voice with Tom Soares, a Monologue Intensive with Sharon Bajer, and our informal mentorship sessions, Coffee with a Pro! We thank our partners Fools and Horses, Elements Restaurant, and the Graham C. Lount Foundation for helping us support up-and-coming artists in the community. We’re currently planning out next year’s series – if you have any suggestions for us, contact Daphne at associate@sarasvati.ca!

Support from NERI and crucial donors also allowed us to continue to work in partnership with Children of the Earth High School. We offered weekly theatre sessions for students. Thanks to the City of Winnipeg we are just wrapping up ten weeks with Gonzaga Middle School. We are well on our way to fostering some new, culturally diverse future theatre artists!

Women’s Comedy Night

After selling out in 2016, we had to bring back the event for another year! Eight of Winnipeg’s hilarious comediennes took part in our second annual Women’s Comedy Night back in November, packing the King’s Head for both a tamer 7PM show and a racier 9PM show. Don’t worry, we’ll be back again later in 2018 – stay tuned for more details!

FemFest 2017: Coming of Age

Our 15th FemFest saw some amazing work on the stage: from incredible touring artists like Tomboy Survival Guide, Judith Thompson’s Watching Glory Die, Falen Johnson’s Two Indians, as well as a reading of the 2016 Bake-Off winner, Kit and Joe by Jessy Ardern! Mark your calendars – FemFest 2018: Staging Resistance is happening September 15-22!

Thanks to all the audience members, artists, volunteers and community members who made our 18th season possible! For more on what we have coming up next year, stay tuned for details on our season launch in August.

New Beginnings and Endings

After two years of community interviews and workshops, the world premiere of New Beginnings took Winnipeg by storm! Over the course of the run, we had multiple sold-out shows and over 750 people came to see the play. Every performance offered a conversation circle to continue the dialogue sparked by this production, allowing audiences the chance to ask questions and learn more about the stories reflected in New Beginnings. Here are some of the great things people had to say!

It was wonderful, I cried and laughed. Those stories are so powerful. The first one with the burka is how we escaped.  I actually wore one for the first time in my life then. You guys did a great job bringing these stories to life.” – Ellie Towfigh via Facebook

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I’m excited to be a member of such an amazing company that inspires audiences to reach out and connect with others to promote social change in such powerful ways…  Perspective is hugely important to being a positive member of a community and I believe that it can often be overlooked.  But New Beginnings brings forward so many unique stories that can perhaps open horizons for our audiences and introduce the realities of immigration and resettlement.” – Alanna McPherson, Performer

“New Beginnings by Sarasvati Productions is beyond amazing. This production cannot end. The message of reality of resettlement should be heard by thousands more. The actors, content and music touched my soul.” – Judy Rose via Facebook

Thanks to a generous grant from the Inter-Action Program, we were able to offer a wide variety of accessibility services including ASL interpretation, child-minding, translation, transportation, and counselling for any audience members affected by the play’s subject matter. On May 24th, we played host to close to 100 Yazidi refugees from Operation Ezra, offering Kurmanji translation via headset and child-minding provided by Operation Ezra and West Central Women’s Resource Centre.

Congratulations on an excellent production! Thank you so much for having the Operation Ezra families at the show.  It was a great opportunity for them to experience live theatre. We really appreciate you going above and beyond to make it accessible to all. The translation and child care allowed many of the attendees to experience their first live show. We had no idea what to expect yet we found ourselves laughing at times and crying at times.  We recognized some of the stories which made it even more impactful.” – Karen Shpeller, Operation Ezra

Over the course of the run, we had representatives from Winnipeg’s newcomer community speak after the show, allowing audiences to hear their stories and share their own as well. We also hosted Kamta Roy Singh, whose story appeared in the play.

It was fantastic show last night. The individuals who act as Kamta and employee did amazing job. Congratulations.” – Kamta Roy Singh, Kamta’s Story

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Kamta Singh and Lu Fayokun

I would like to commend you, your cast and all the others involved in this performance a great “BRAVO” on an excellent performance. I was in attendance at the world premiere of Sarasvati Productions presentation of New Beginnings and was so impressed with it… A very great performance by the cast. Representatives of the Jamaican Association of Manitoba were invited to answer questions and share comments with the cast and audience at the end of the performance. A great evening.” – Patrick Moore, Jamaican Association of Manitoba

 

We couldn’t have made this production happen without the community members who participated in our workshops and allowed us to share their stories onstage. Big thank-yous as well to our incredible creative team, our hard-working volunteers, and everyone who came out to support New Beginnings!

Meet the Team Behind “New Beginnings”!

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New Beginnings is one of the biggest shows we’ve ever done: collaborating with artists across disciplines, including music, dance, and film-making! Get to know the amazing team bringing everything together!

What excites you about being on the New Beginnings artistic team? 

Gerry Atwell, Music Director: The subject matter is compelling and pertinent and the script is well researched, beautifully written and thought provoking. I love composing music and working with a talented creative team.

Brenda Gorlick, Dance Consultant: It is an absolute honour to work with such a diverse group of talented team members; I am extremely moved by the stories we are sharing and having a new appreciation for everyone’s journey.

Lindsay Johnson, Associate Producer: I have always admired Sarasvàti’s focus on producing theatre that sparks conversation about a wide range of important social issues. I am beyond thrilled to be a part of the artistic team who are helping stage the stories behind New Beginnings. It has been especially exciting for me to be involved in the community collaboration that shaped this production.

Cherissa Richards, Director: I love bringing these stories to life on-stage! I’m really excited to hear the personal stories of newcomers.

Saira Rahman, Snow Angel Films: It’s exciting to work with the other artists on the team – to learn from each by observing their creative process. I always like collaboration because of how enriched a piece can become with multiple perspectives.

 

What elements of the project do you personally connect with? 

Gerry: Even though I was born and raised in Winnipeg, people regularly assume I am from elsewhere and want to me to justify my presence and difference by categorizing it. “So where are you from?” is a question I have been asked all my life. My father chose Canada and all through his life he helped those who were adjusting to a new life here. I grew up sharing dinner with people from Russia, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, Uganda, and South Africa that my Dad met in passing and befriended.

Brenda: My brother and sister-in-law work for UNHCR so I’ve heard many of their experiences over the years of refugees’ stories.

Lindsay: I have loved getting to know members of my community that are outside of my day-to-day circle. It has been a fabulous experience watching my experience of Winnipeg grow in this way.

Saira: I felt a connection with the stories that included a parent and child. They made me remember my own experience growing up as my family tried to adapt to our new home. I’m honoured to be a part of this project because it honours my personal experience as a newcomer, although that was some time ago! My family had many new beginnings: East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), United Kingdom, Atlantic Canada, rural Manitoba, and finally Winnipeg!

 

 

Come see the culmination of this amazing team’s hard work starting May 22nd! We’re also featuring an opening dance piece choreographed by Emily Solstice and original art work by Indra Skuja-Grislis. Tickets are on sale now, available here!

Exploring Immigration Across Generations

Newcomer stories from all over the world will be appearing in New Beginnings: from Syria to Ethiopia, Vietnam to Zimbabwe! We have such a diverse range of artists bringing these stories to life, including some familiar faces as well as newcomers to Canada! Get to know this week’s featured New Beginnings artists below.

 

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Melissa Langdon

Melissa Langdon is thrilled to be a part of the New Beginnings team. She is a graduating Honours Acting student from the University of Winnipeg. Through her time at the university, she appeared in Time and the Conways, Concord Floral, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. She’s also appeared in a number of films including Grief (Kaiju Productions) and Harmonize (Prairie Kid Productions). In addition to performing as a dancer, Melissa appears in Usna’s story, which focuses on a group of women fleeing their home country of Afghanistan.

 

As the daughter of an immigrant parent, Melissa has learned so much about the struggles and triumphs that many newcomers face while arriving in Canada. “The conversations that have emerged while discussing the struggles of new Canadian citizenship and the immigration process have been extremely powerful: from resettling after arrival to long-term personal growth and adaptation,” says Melissa.

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Dagmawit Habtemariam

 

Dagmawit Habtemariam (or Dagm for short) is new to the Sarasvàti stage, having been born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She moved to Winnipeg with her husband and two children in July 2011. Her educational backgrounds include an M.A in Social Anthropology and a B.Ed. degree in History, both from Ethiopia. Currently, she is taking an undergraduate degree in Human Rights program at the University of Winnipeg while working as a Graduate Studies Admission Officer.

Dagm is excited to share the stories of immigrants’ lives with Winnipeggers: particularly culture shocks, the ordeals of coming to Canada, as well as hopes for themselves and their children in a new home. “I am an immigrant myself and the different scenes of the project discuss the opportunities, challenges and commonalities that immigrants face when moving to Winnipeg and Canada.”

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Anjali Sandhu

Dagm also appears in Karwan and Irekanmi’s stories, both of which focus on how different generations experience settlement. Joining Dagm in Karwan’s story is familiar face Anjali Sandhu. Anjali is a Winnipeg-based comedian, actor, writer and law student. She has performed stand-up at the Winnipeg Comedy Fest, SheDot Comedy Festival, Sirius XM’s Next Top Comic, and more. Anjali was a writer/adapter of The Trump Card which she performed with District Theatre Collective at the 2017 Winnipeg Fringe Festival. She also wrote and performed an original piece for Sarasvàti’s 2018 Cabaret of Monologues, Flight 182. Anjali’s original show I’m Not Taylor Swift will premiere this summer at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival.

 

Like Melissa, Anjali also comes from a family of newcomers. “I’m excited about working with new artists,” says Anjali. “As the daughter/granddaughter of immigrants, I am excited to explore what my family members’ may have experienced through this piece.”

You can catch all of our amazing artists when New Beginnings premieres on May 22nd! The production takes place until May 27th at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (400 Colony St). Don’t miss out – get your tickets today!

Looking Back on a Remarkable Year

Wow! It’s hard to believe how much can happen in a year. This week we look back on our greatest endeavours of 2017 made possible due to the amazing support of our donors, funders, volunteers, artists and community partners!

  • Theatre Workshops with North End Youth

We launched into 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 have had the pleasure of continuing to work with these youth in skill-focused workshops and mentorship sessions. We are thrilled to be continuing with a series of theatre workshops at Children of the Earth School in the New Year!

“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to study theatre but now I’m sure!” – Sabil, Youth Participant

  • International Women’s Week

Last March, ten amazing women took to the stage in our International Women’s Week Cabaret of Monologues. The theme was Starting Over, sharing stories of displacement, resettlement and life-changing moments. We toured to new community venues like North End Family Centre. We were so honoured to facilitate the sharing of these crucial perspectives which are all too often silenced.

“The performances took place in our typically very busy and noisy drop in space. However, the performances were so captivating that you could have heard a pin drop!”
-Kristi Beaune, Mount Carmel Clinic
“Our students connected with what the presenters were saying on a deep level. I would highly recommend the monologues.”
-Rob Visch, Principal St. Aidan’s Christian School

  • Launch of New Beginnings15781754_10211121667098878_6849065531477230353_n

We used the story-gathering conducted for International Women’s Week as a spring board to soar into our next community-based project: New Beginnings. We began reaching out to artists and meeting with partner organizations. In September, we gave audiences a sneak peek at what we have in the works at a FemFest preview. From May 22-27, 2018 you can witness the coming together of a diverse range of artists, community members, recent newcomers and established immigrants. Through the use of dance, music, visual art and storytelling we will share stories of resettlement.

“Great evening at FemFest and Sarasvati production of New Beginnings! Congratulations to Rosemary Kezaabu and Gertrude Hambira, two of the women who told their stories.” – Mary Scott, Audience Member
“It was such a wonderful night yesterday! So glad I was able to participate in this project.” – Patricia Gordon, Performer

  • FemFest 2017: Coming of Age

This FemFest audiences and artists came together to celebrate 15 years of life-changing theatre.  We were proud to present such provocative touring shows as Watching Glory Die by Judith Thompson. We had some incredible first-times, partnering with the West End Cultural Centre to present Tomboy Survival Guide and partnering with the Millennium Library to present The Human Library! It was so rewarding to offer filmmaker Sonya Ballantyne her first opportunity to direct for the stage with Two Indians. We were proud to honour some of Winnipeg’s most prolific female playwrights at the One Night Stand and toast to 15 years. Believe it or not planning has already begun for FemFest 2018!

“…one of the most incredible and moving pieces of art I have ever seen” – Tatiana Carnevale, Audience Member at Tomboy Survival Guide at FemFest 2017
“Wow. I have not been so moved by a piece of theatre for a long time” – Cheryl Costen, Audience Member at Watching Glory Die at FemFest 2017

  • Second Annual Women’s Comedy Night Fundraiser

Thanks to two fantastic audiences and eight hilarious comedians we almost sold out two back-to-back shows for our Women’s Comedy Night Fundraiser. We heard nothing but glowing remarks from audience members. We can’t wait for next year!

“Awesome” – Audience Member
“Everyone is so talented!” – Audience Member

  • Workshops for Emerging Artists

    This season we’ve provided workshops and mentorship in theatre design, tech, directing, auditioning and more! One of the highlights was our playwriting masterclass with master playwright, Judith Thompson. We aren’t slowing down anytime soon! You can look forward to workshops in vocal technique, auditioning , dramaturgy and more in 2018!

    “Extremely beneficial. Going through the audition process (before, during, after) has made me feel that I have a much better idea of how the process works, especially with professional companies.” – Participant in Auditioning 101
    “All of it was pure gold.”
    – Participant in Coffee with Ann Hodges

We also rebooted our One Night Stand series with three opportunities throughout the year for playwrights to test material under the amazing leadership of Tatiana Carnevale!

  • COMMUNITY

This year also allowed us to work with several amazing community organizations. From doing workshops with youth leaders at SEED to presenting an overview of our work for the Council of Women of Winnipeg and PCWM. The largest initiative was the amazing experience preparing Can You See Me Now in partnership with West Central Women’s Resource Centre.  The women shared their experience of homelessness with such power that it truly opened eyes and hearts.

Here’s to another year of making and experiencing tranformative theatre together!

Unstoppable Women in Theatre

International Women’s Week Cabaret of Monologues: I Am Unstoppable is bursting at the seams with talented writers and creators. Though we’ve long-admired them, we are excited to be working with these artists for the very first time! Get to know them as we do the same in this week’s blog.

I Am Unstoppable created and performed by Joanna Hawkins

Joanna Hawkins is a proud Deaf woman who is strongly involved within the Deaf community. She’s an ambassador to hearing ( non – deaf ) individuals about deaf culture in order to break barriers between their worlds.

Joanna Hawkins headshot 2017Originally from Lodz, Poland, Joanna now resides right her in Winnipeg and we feel lucky to have her. She has a history of working with the Manitoba Cultural Society of the Deaf, as well as performing with 100 Decibels : A Deaf Mime Troupe.

“Being involved with the 100 Decibels troupe, our goal is to create a barrier free world between the Deaf and the hearing (non-deaf), “I Am Unstoppable” is a piece I have been thinking about for a while”, says Joanna.

“I have been rejected to enroll in performing arts at University of Manitoba just because of my deafness. They couldn’t imagine myself acting with a sign language interpreter on the stage. Years later, I landed on the stage as a 100 Decibels actress, including other performances, therefore no one has stopped me from becoming an actress. Having a hearing loss doesn’t mean you need to give up something.”

Saviour Self by Andrea Scott

Andrea Scott is a professional playwright and producer.
“I trained as an actor and still audition but have been transitioning to positions that will allow me to eventually rule the world”, says Andrea.

“‘Saviour Self’ is from a play I wrote called ‘All Most Be Longing’ about the role riots, rebellion, and rage played in forming Toronto starting with the Anti-Greek riots of 1918. the play was developed while I was in the Stratford Playwright Retreat & the Tarragon Workspace program in 2016.

Andrea Scott headshot 2017A friend told me story about how her brothers tried to protect her during the Yonge Street riots of 1992 by ordering her stay home. She chose, instead, to get a front row seat by walking down to the Eaton Centre to watch the chaos. It made me think of how young women are often perceived as invisible when uprisings happen when in reality they are in the thick of the action and, sometimes direct instigators.”

Andrea describes her connection to the piece:
“I grew up in a world where positive images of black females were scarce but my parents always expected me to work towards excellence. Nobody expected anything of me, encouraged my talent, or intelligence in school. In fact, I had a guidance teacher try to get me to drop down to basic levels in English from the advanced levels I was in during my 4 years of high-school. I was told not to bother auditioning for the school play because ‘there were no black roles’, and my favourite high school teacher was surprised to see me go to Graduate school because she always assumed I’d be a housewife (for some bizarre reason).”

“Every person of colour who was a teenager knows how it feels to be watched in a store. Well, what if the perceived greater danger existed outside the doors of the shop rather than inside and embodied by a black girl? And what if she used that small window of time to help herself in a way that escapes the awareness of so many people? ”

See these pieces and so many more created and performed by women on March 10th. Tickets are on sale now!

Stay tuned for features on the rest of our fabulous artists in upcoming blogs!