A decade of FemFest

The 2012 festival promises to be the best yet

Sylvia Kuzyk and Elena Anciro in Empty. Janet Shum

Winnipeg’s theatre scene changed in 2000 when Hope McIntyre moved to this city.

McIntyre brought her Sarasvati Productions from Toronto where she had been stationed and where, in 1998, the Sarasvati concept had originated.

The company’s website describes Sarasvati as “a place where artists can develop and showcase their skills while celebrating their creativity and pushing the boundaries of the theatrical medium,” and it has proven to be that and more.

Under the auspices of Sarasvati, FemFest began in 2003 as a small, grassroots festival showcasing women playwrights. Now, in its 10th year, FemFest is a 10-day festival that features local playwrights as well as female talent from around the world. It started yesterday (Sept. 12) and runs until Saturday, Sept. 22.

McIntyre, the artistic director, has two plays in this year’s offerings— Immigration Stories and Empty.

“I was approached by the Immigrant Women’s Association of Manitoba to work with senior immigrant women to create a play and also provide them with some drama workshops,” McIntyre says of the first play.

The end result?

“A lot of humour, as well as struggle, and ultimately the journey (of immigrant women) over several decades demonstrating how far they have come since arriving in this country.

“What is really unique about the project is that six of the women chose to also try their hand as actors and will be performing their own stories as well as playing characters in the stories of the other women. We have added two actors to the mix to cover all the other roles.”

Empty is also a community-driven production.

“I applied to work through the Winnipeg Art Council’s WithArt program and through this program was matched with a local food bank which is located at the First Unitarian Universalist Church,” she says.

Empty is, according to McIntyre, “theatre to help educate about food bank usage, dispel the myths around who needs a food bank and explore poverty issues.”

McIntyre’s plays tend to focus on the underdog and the underclass.

“I went in to the arts to satisfy both my creative passion and my desire to effect change,” she says. “I’ve chosen to work in independent theatre so that I can do work that tackles issues that need to be addressed.”

McIntyre teaches in the University of Winnipeg’s department of theatre and film, as does Cairn Moore who has been tasked with the creation of the first Bake Off— a new initiative that provides selected playwrights a list of ingredients that they must use to create a script.

Moore has been involved with FemFest almost since its inception as an actor, a director and a playwright.

“Hope picked five playwrights,” she says of this first ever Bake Off. “These five women will have to write a play in two weeks. Each of the five writers must somehow weave into their scripts the following ingredients: an ice rink, a cake, a surprise visitor and a slap.”

As this is a contest, there has to be a prize for the eagerly awaited winner.

“The winner will continue to develop their script over the course of the next year and, depending on where they are in the writing process, will have a public reading or a full production in FemFest 2013,” Moore says.

Samantha Walters, one of the actors in this year’s FemFest, is a recent graduate of the U of W’s theatre department who has, even at her young age, established an impressive artistic resume.

Walters got her start working as the production assistant for Sarasvati during the summer of 2009 and she helped launch their season of FemFest that year.

“I remember it was my first full-time summer job, and my first glimpse into the world of what it takes to run a theatre company and launch a continuously growing week-long festival every year,” Walters says. “That summer, I fell in love with their work and have been a continuous supporter of FemFest and of Sarasvati Productions ever since.”

However, FemFest is not limited to local talent. There is a host of out-of-town guests coming to make this annual event a success, including Rosemary Georgeson and Renée Iaci from Vancouver, and Johanna Nutter from Montreal.

The special guest this year is Governor General Award-winning playwright Judith Thompson who is one of Canada’s most celebrated and well-known writers and will be giving the playwright’s master class.

This promises to be a very good year.

For more information about FemFest, visit www.sarasvati.ca.

Published in Volume 67, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 12, 2012)

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