All the City’s a Stage” is a continuing look at local independent theatre companies in Winnipeg.
This week: Sarasvati Productions
Theatre dates back to the Greeks and the Dionysia festival, where both the tragedy and satyr (tragicomedy) emerged. Using the body as both instrument and product, theatre — once a community event based on participation and political commentary — now steers toward a stagnant event for upper-middle class audiences. This art form, fraught with history and custom, begs to be bought back to its roots, yet at the same time, modern audiences necessitate current perspective.
Bridging this chasm is Sarasvati Productions — the namesake of the Indic Goddess of inspiration and change. The company, founded in Toronto in 1998, moved to Winnipeg in 2000. In my interview with Hope McIntyre, artistic director of Sarasvati Productions and past president of the Canadian Guild of Playwrights, pointed out, “Essentially, the mandate has been the same the whole time, and it is three-fold: to use theatre to increase social and human understanding, to support emerging artists and to do work that kind of pushes the boundaries of what theatre is.”
Conceivably, Sarasvati’s recent tour of monologues for female inmates at the Remand Centre and Portage Correctional Institute exemplified at least one aspect of the mandate. McIntyre suggests here that they “pushed the boundaries of what theatre is for, and what it is about, because [she] think[s] theatre right now is so used to having a subscription audiences of people who can pay for tickets, who know about theatre and see it as part of their lives.”
The idea of bringing theatre to audiences that would otherwise not experience it is one that is vital to keeping theatre alive in our culture. Originally an art form for the masses and continuing to do its job of confronting norms, McIntyre suggests that the invaluable experience “was just really liberating and, for our actors, it was the sense of, ‘OK, this is why theatre is important.’”
Sarasvati’s well-known Fem Fest is dedicated to showcasing women theatre artists and completed its seventh year this fall. McIntyre points out that “They may be the stories of women but, they relate to everybody.” The festival aims to support female playwrights because “Women are the most underrepresented in terms of theatrical representation. If we want to support emerging artists, supporting emerging female artists seemed to be natural because they were the ones who needed the mentorship, encouragement and development to increase their representation.”
Perhaps due to their transient beginnings and ongoing commitment to independent theatre, Sarasvati is not afraid to look outside Winnipeg for inspiration. Modeled after similar initiatives in Saskatoon and Vancouver, Sarasvati board members recently proposed an umbrella organization to unite Winnipeg Independent Theatre (WIT). McIntyre says that they want to “look at what we are calling marketing synergy. That is, how can we work together to develop an audience for independent theatre to co-market our work to share resources.”
Until funding is secured for the project, WIT exists as a Facebook.com group where people can access briefs of the eight member companies and a link to their respective websites. McIntyre says that they hope to eventually have a centralized website where audiences and theatre professionals can easily find out about local happenings.