This blog post was provided by Janet Adamana, Marketing & Community Outreach Assistant at Sarasvàti Productions.
Imagine yourself sitting in a circle of young people from a range of backgrounds. Someone asks the question: “What do people need to know about mental health?” and the flood gates open. One youth after another shares their personal experiences and challenges. Stories depicting how their struggles were dismissed, suicide attempts, anxiety, fear, and rejection. An hour goes by and everyone in the room has shared something very personal and very important. They have done this in order to end the shame. This was what played out when Sarasvàti Productions facilitated a workshop on mental health with Rainbow Resource Centre in Winnipeg last November, and since then, we have been committed to continuing the conversation.
Everyone has a story to tell. No matter who you are or where you came from. Some stories are of struggle, others about hope, triumph or courage. Most importantly, each story holds the key to human understanding and the key to real change.
In its 16-year history in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Sarasvàti Productions has harnessed the power of storytelling to reach the community and offer the opportunity for unique voices to be heard through theatre.
Every two years, Sarasvàti Productions launches a community-based theatre project that addresses a significant social issue. Past projects include Jail Baby, stories from women in the justice system, Giving Voice, created with youth in care, and the Cabaret of Monologues – Stolen Sisters, which focused on bringing attention to the issue of gender-based violence.
In 2015, Sarasvàti Productions embarked on a two-year community-based project called Mental Health is Everyone’s Health. The project began in partnership with Artists in Healthcare Manitoba and Red Threads Playback Theatre. The initiative was the first of its kind in Manitoba, featuring workshops and gatherings with everyone from healthcare workers, mental health organizations, friends and families affected by mental health diagnosis, to teachers and youth. The goal was to hear stories from all perspectives. Connecting with the community and accurately portraying their collective experience is a large part of what we do at Sarasvàti Productions and it is the basis of transformative theatre.
Sarasvàti Productions was established in 1998 with the mandate to transform society through theatre. Community engagement and collaboration is crucial to Sarasvàti Productions. By gathering stories from those who have lived the experience, our experimental and transformative productions accurately present the perspective of those directly affected. Our annual events include FemFest, a festival of plays by women for everyone, and the International Women’s Week Cabaret of Monologues. Every second year we tour a new play to schools using an interactive method to engage youth.
Breaking Down Barriers
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, at some point in their lives, every Canadian will be affected by mental illness through someone they know. 20 percent of Canadians will personally experience some level of mental illness in their lifetime. We have heard from those who have hidden their illness due to shame, and others who ended up lost in a system that did not support their healing.
There is fear, lack of knowledge and a use of labels that create barriers for those seeking help. It is this behaviour that Sarasvàti hopes to eliminate through its research and eye-opening productions, and everyday, that is exactly what we do.
By presenting the experiences of those affected by mental health struggles to a broader audience, including leaders and policy-makers, we hope to foster understanding, shine a light on issues so many Canadians face, and create positive change in our systems and societies.
The Mental Health Project
Sarasvàti Productions started the Mental Health Project by gathering stories. We partnered with various organizations like the Selkirk Mental Health Centre, Manitoba Schizophrenia Society and youth-based Resource Assistance for Youth, and we have heard stories from over 400 individuals of all ages, genders, ethnicities and economic status. We heard stories about depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and eating disorders. With every story we found the same common thread—they just wanted others to understand what they were going through.
Because of and inspired by these stories, we created our upcoming productions, Breaking Through and Shattered. Both productions include a cast of characters representing the various stories we heard from the community. Stories of struggle, isolation, and challenges.
After two years of workshops, writing, and a collaborative public reading of the script, Breaking Through will premiere in May 2017. Through our work, we found some of the most powerful stories came from youth. This prompted the creation of a youth-oriented version, Shattered as an interactive play where youth can stop the action and develop solutions to the characters’ issues. Shattered will tour Manitoba high schools in the fall of 2016 to continue to spark public discussion on mental health in Canada and inspire change.
To learn more about Sarasvàti Productions, or to make a donation, please visit their Charity Profile Page >>>