A play about Manitoban kids in the care of Child and Family Services (CFS) has been created by Sarasvàti Productions and VOICES: Manitoba’s Youth in Care Network. The idea began two years ago after Sarasvàti produced previous plays about serious topics such as food banks and gangs.
“VOICES brought a group of young people to see those plays and they approached us after to say that we should do a play about their stories and that’s basically how it all began,” says Hope McIntyre, Sarasvàti’s artistic director. “It’s really exciting for us because our mandate is to use theatre for social change and it’s great that we’re now at the point that community groups are approaching us first.”
The main goal of Giving Voice is to put the spotlight on kids who are in the care of CFS.
“The young people who helped us create this play really wanted to help their peers understand what it’s like to be in care and how that affects them and their behaviour,” McIntyre says.
The play is performed in a forum theatre style, which allows for some audience participation throughout.
“This style allows the audience to watch and then we replay scenes so they can literally stop the action and step into the play to take on one of the characters and make a different choice,” McIntyre adds. “It’s always exciting to see what people come up with and it becomes a great dialogue about how everyone can help affect change.”
The script tells the story of 11-year-old Josh who is taken away because of his mother’s alcoholism, and 11-year-old Sally who actually requests to be removed from her family.
“We kind of compiled all the stories from the 30 youth we worked with and we ended up creating those two characters to get their points across,” McIntyre says.
Sally is played by Emily Barker, a 21-year-old actor who has studied theatre at the University of Winnipeg; Barker has a special connection to the cause since her parents welcomed foster kids into their home for short stays. She’s also been a respite worker.
“I think what’s interesting about Sally is that a lot of kids are taken out of their homes because someone has noticed something is wrong, but Sally asks to be taken away because she knows she shouldn’t be treated that way and she needs something better,” Barker says.
The play is also timely since Manitoba currently has Canada’s highest rate of youth in care.
“Unfortunately the latest numbers were just released this month and there’s more youth in care now than there was when we started working on this play two years ago,” McIntyre says.
“My biggest hope is that people realize that these kids are just kids,” Barker adds. “They’re not necessarily kids who are bad or have done anything wrong. We just need to pay more attention to their situations and understand what’s happening.”