Charity Spotlight: This post was provided by Erica Hoiss, Community Outreach Assistant at Sarasvàti Productions, as part of our ongoing charity spotlight series.
When confronted with troubling issues we don’t understand, we mustn’t look to them as burdens, but rather as opportunities to face head on and explore no matter how difficult to comprehend or how uncomfortable we may feel facing such treacherous topics. It’s difficult and intimidating, we know, and that’s exactly why we need to use creative methods to open dialogue and spark discussion to tackle messy issues in imaginative settings such as theatre. At Sarasvàti Productions, the art of acting purposely sets the stage to explore ideas we would otherwise have difficulty talking about, and it is on stage where we put the conversation in the spotlight.
The conversation started back in 1998 when Sarasvàti Productions came to life with no more than one mandate to conquer: create transformative on-stage theatre addressing pertinent social issues and open the curtain on dialogue never seen on center stage. It’s been quite the production, and over our 15 year history, we are proud to have created life-changing theatre by telling countless stories of vulnerable persons not often told in main stage productions. From performances such as Jail Baby on-stage back in 2013 which told stories of women in the justice system, to our most recent production of Giving Voice produced in partnership with youth in foster care, each story is carefully selected for the purpose of breaking down stereotypes and telling stories not often candidly told.
At Sarasvàti Productions, our goal is not only to educate the audience, but to empower emerging actors and creators with theatrical skills by providing them with a chance to tell their stories; but it’s not only those on-stage taking part in the action. In our forum of theatre performances, audience members are invited to directly participate in rewriting the conclusion of the play, and are then invited onstage to improvise solutions in an imaginary space. The technique is very powerful to observe and experience, and our company knows all too well how powerful it is when working with those struggling with mental illness or their families and caregivers – a topic we will soon be observing live on-stage.
“Watching my grade 9 to 12 students get up and engage in multiple interventions, digging and exploring the topic of foster care from a number of perspectives reminded me why it is so vital to include the arts as part of the learning process.” –Teacher, Green Valley School
Upstaging Mental Illness
The vicious stigma of mental illness is our next issue we are preparing to face live on-stage as part of our 2015/2016 season. Affecting millions of Canadians across the country, more than 1 in 4 Manitobans experienced at least one mental illness diagnosis from 1997 to 2002, and although mental illness is so prevalent, there is an overwhelming sense which fails to consider mental well-being as important as physical health. It is equally as sad to observe the marginalization of those suffering from mental illness, and for these reasons, it is a natural step for Sarasvàti to explore the connections between mental health and other vulnerability factors. The exploration on the topic is also a natural fit particularly due to our past projects delving into the criminalization of women and youth in care, and the connections our Artistic Director, Hope McIntyre identified between the topic and issues related to mental illness.
“Many incarcerated women we worked with were imprisoned because of a mental illness not diagnosed or managed,” shared McIntyre. “Many youth in care were struggling with depression.”
Since June, Sarasvàti Productions have embarked on the project in partnership with Artists in Healthcare Manitoba and Red Threads Playback Theatre in order to educate a wide audience when it comes to mental health, while also offering workshops to improve theatrical skills. Leading up to our May 2016 launch, the workshop will include participatory theatrical techniques based on Theatre of the Oppressed to provide our participants with the opportunity to become an actor and exhibit the truth of their experience.
As a theatre company devoted to applying art to produce social change, Sarasvàti has told countless stories of individuals who may often feel unheard, and we will continue to tell those same stories in future to give a voice to their experience, empower individuals, and demystify illnesses or societal issues we often fear or misunderstand. It is only through arts and culture that we will catalyze society to thrive, and we must recognize and use such important methods such as live theatre to do just that.
To learn more about Sarasvàti Productions, please visit their charity profile page >>