Essay submitted by Hope McIntyre
Assistant Professor, University of Winnipeg Department of Theatre and Film; Playwright; Director
Theatre has a way of breaking down barriers and opening up connections.
Sarasvàti Productions was founded to create theatre that would inspire social change. This is achieved by tackling topics on stage that provoke dialogue, taking art out into the community, and making sure stories from a wide range of backgrounds are showcased. In my 22 years as the company’s Artistic Director, I have learned a lot about what it means to be human.
I can see the legacy of the work in so many places. I see an array of artists we had the honour of supporting who are now acting as role models and changing what stories are prioritized on stage. I see youth who discovered a way to express themselves and are now in leadership roles. I see a gifted young artist who dropped to his knees in joy when he saw his artwork mounted at our production and now has this work exhibited at a gallery. I see in our audience those who thanked us for sharing their stories in the past, who now come to hear the stories of others.
Over the last two years Sarasvàti Productions facilitated a reconciliation project. We worked with seven Indigenous organizations and more than 70 youth who used art to explore their perspective of reconciliation. The youth then consulted on how to put their stories on stage. After performances, audience members shared they had gained a visceral understanding of reconciliation and the youth participants shared they felt heard. Looking back over the two-year project, I am inspired by the youth. They had great optimism for the possibility of reconciliation. They opened up important dialogue because they had hope and a desire to work together, across traditional divisions, for change.
Theatre has historically heralded new ideas and continues to do so during the pandemic. The arts community has banded together in the past year, demonstrating that together we thrive – if we embrace change. This is possible for the entire community of Winnipeg; together we can all flourish, but only if we are willing to let go of how things have been done in the past and find new ways forward.
The theatre world has come through a much-needed time of reckoning since March 2020, due to both the COVID pandemic but also the recognition of a pandemic of inequality. It is exciting, long overdue, and needs to be supported. Like every other institution, questioning how things have always been done is necessary.
I have recently made the decision to leave Sarasvàti to focus on teaching at the University of Winnipeg. As I packed up more than 20 years of files and looked back through the hundred projects we’ve undertaken, it’s the people who stand out. Time and time again I have seen what it means to both those who are gifting the story and those receiving it. The change is profound as new communities are built, connections are made through art, people find a way to express themselves, and we all grow.
There is no doubt in my mind that were it not for philanthropy, Sarasvàti would not have survived and would not be in a position for succession. When we work together as a community – donors, artists, and all those who have a story to tell – incredible things happen. We connect with those we might not otherwise have the privilege of knowing, we raise up those who were systemically excluded, and as a result raise up our community as a whole.
My vision for the arts is also my vision for our community: ongoing transformation to get ever closer to what we dream is possible.
Hope McIntyre is an Assistant Professor at the University of Winnipeg Department of Theatre and Film. She is an award-winning playwright and director. She is the founding Artistic Director of Sarasvàti Productions, a company dedicated to social change. After 22 years of building the company, she recently transferred leadership and continues to support the new team. McIntyre’s training includes a BFA in performance from the University of Saskatchewan and an MFA in directing from the University of Victoria. She completed a performance apprenticeship at ARTTS International in England, then worked for a commercial producer and managed a school for the arts in Toronto. She has received the YWCA Women of Distinction Award, the Bra D’Or, and the Women Helping Women Award. She has previously taught at Mount Allison, Brandon University, University of Manitoba and Prairie Theatre Exchange. She is also a former President of the Playwrights Guild of Canada.