Since 2003, the Winnipeg-based theatre company Sarasvàti Productions has been running an annual festival showcasing female theatre artists. FemFest—which has grown from a fledgling grassroots event into a weeklong festival—celebrates local, national, and international talent, and also works to bring together women who are both experienced and emerging writers, directors, performers, and designers. This year’s fest runs from Sept.14-21 and is themed “Revelation and Revolution.”
Sarasvàti Productions focuses on “transformative theatre,” producing plays with socially conscious and inclusive themes. FemFest was created as an opportunity to address and correct the disproportionate lack of female participants in Canadian theatre. The festival provides a place for local and inexperienced artists to get their plays produced, undergo mentorship and training opportunities, gather inspiration from prominent female theatre artists, and attend workshops.
This year’s FemFest includes several fully produced plays, a collection of short pieces, workshops, readings, and the “Bake-Off,” a competition in which selected playwrights have eight hours to write a script. The scripts will be performed as staged readings, and the audience will select one play to be produced for FemFest 2014.
One of the plays chosen for FemFest 2013 is Harold and Vivian Entertain Guests, the winner of last year’s Bake-Off. The play follows a married couple who “married purely for spite” as they try to entertain their newlywed neighbours. The comedy is written by Jessy Ardern and will have three shows throughout the festival.
Other plays in the festival include The Aftermath, a one-woman show from Toronto’s Back Row Theatre Collective about how to survive the apocalypse, and Dreaming in Autism, the story of a mother learning that her infant son has the titular disorder. Flood Control, from Canadian writer Marilyn Anne Campbell, tells the story of two suicidal characters who meet when they are about to jump off the same bridge, and together find what their lives are missing.
FemFest is also showing pomme is french for apple, a tongue-in-cheek comedy about being a woman. Written from a West Indian perspective, the title plays on the similarity between the French word for apple and West Indian slang for female genitalia. Another play, Sisters Inc., centres on a road trip taken by three female friends in their 60s – one Jewish, one Christian, one Muslim. Sisters Inc. is written by Rita Shelton Deverell, who is the former director of news and current affairs for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network and co-founder of the Vision TV network. There will also be a reading of Perfect Love, a play in development that explores gender roles by reversing those of male and female actors.
The festival also offers workshops and lectures from guest artist Djanet Sears. Sears is an accomplished playwright, director, actor, and adjunct professor of drama at the University of Toronto. Sears will be giving a playwriting master class, a lecture, and a reading of her work throughout the course of FemFest. There will also be workshop presentations of Giving Voice, a theatre piece that will be developed through forum sessions with youth, exploring the issues of being a young person in foster care.
FemFest also showcases other artistic disciplines in the festival’s “cabaret” nights, which include performances from musicians, visual artists, comedians, and even a contortionist. These cabarets will open and close the festival, taking place on the first and last night.
FemFest runs from September 14-21 at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (University of Winnipeg, 400 Colony St). Ticket prices and schedule information can be found online at sarasvati.ca.