Opening up the stage

16th annual FemFest strives for inclusivity

FemFest returns! This September, Sarasvàti Productions' annual festival of feminist theatre is back with an exciting lineup of local and international artists – and a new tagline.

Independent theatre company Sarasvàti Productions produces FemFest at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film. Artistic director Hope McIntyre says FemFest has always aimed to provide equity in their productions.

“When we started in 2003, it was very focused on providing a way to remedy the gap ... of women being under 30 per cent representation as playwrights in Canadian theatre.”

While the festival’s core mandate – to “use theatre for social change” – is the same, the sorts of social change the festival hopes to inspire have evolved.

“We changed our tagline this year to ‘life changing theatre for everyone’ instead of ‘plays by women for everyone,’” McIntyre says. “The goal is to move with the times.”

University of Winnipeg honours acting student Sophie Smith-Dostmohamed, 19, sees the festival trying to become
more inclusive.

“They’re casting people who identify differently in terms of gender, people who are not just cis(gender), which is really amazing,” she says.

Thinking critically about gender is hardly the only area in which the performing arts have room to improve. As a young theatre artist and Person of Colour, Smith-Dostmohamed says “there’s definitely a lot of racism still in
our community.”

McIntyre agrees. During a series of community roundtable discussions and surveys this spring, she says the festival “identified ... our need to work harder to be ethno-culturally diverse in our representation and in our audience.”

As a result of these conversations, Sarasvàti brought on Alexa Joy Potashnik, a founder of Black Space Winnipeg, to produce FemFest’s Sept. 15  Opening Cabaret.

McIntyre says working with Potashnik has brought an unprecedented diversity to the festival’s kickoff event.

“The array of artists we have in our Opening Cabaret is much broader than we’ve ever had in the past.”

The variety night will include performances by Red Rising Magazine co-founder Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie, comedian and WOKE Comedy Hour producer Elissa Kixen, and DJ Louie Lovebird.

While events like the Cabaret and plays like The Game (a performance incorporating Indian dance and poetry) will star local performers, FemFest will also feature work from around the world.

International performances include Donna-Michelle St. Bernard’s spoken word/rap solo show The Sound of the Beast, Darla Contois’ White Man’s Indian, and La Civilisation, ma mère! ..., a French/Moroccan collaboration between theatre companies La Compagnie du Jour and La Compagnie L’Aparté, which will be presented in both French and Arabic.

Sarasvàti Productions wants FemFest to be a space for everyone, especially those whose experiences are rarely seen on stage. For students like Smith-Dostmohamed, this approach is connecting.

“(FemFest) was where I realized … that I could do theatre that was going to be important, that was going to make a difference.”

FemFest runs Sept. 15 to 22 at the University of Winnipeg Asper Centre for Theatre and Film, with tickets for individual shows priced at $15. For more information, visit sarasvati.ca.

Published in Volume 73, Number 1 of The Uniter (September 6, 2018)

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