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Shining a light on life in foster care

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Hope McIntyre (left) and co-facilitator Kerri Potter share a laugh during a drama session for an upcoming production called Giving Voice.

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Hope McIntyre (left) and co-facilitator Kerri Potter share a laugh during a drama session for an upcoming production called Giving Voice. Photo Store

In a bid to erase the stigma surrounding foster care, Sarasvàti Productions is teaming up with Voices: Manitoba’s Youth in Care Network for its next theatrical production.

Giving Voice will come to life on high school stages in 2014, and draws on the real-life experiences of local in-care youth.

"We were actually approached by Voices because they’d seen some of our plays in our last season, and their youth — who have all been in care — said, ‘Why isn’t there a play about our story?’" said Hope McIntyre, artistic director at Sarasvàti. "They thought it would be a powerful way to help people understand what it’s like. So they approached us and asked if we would create a piece with their youth."

The theatre company began engaging in drama sessions with youth from Voices, and eventually branched out to do general community sessions, in order to consult with as many kids who had been through the foster care system as possible.

"The stories have been really interesting," McIntyre said. "And the complications of what happens when you get put into care, the stigmas they have to deal with from other youth who hear you’re a foster kid and they immediately think you’re a bad-ass or that you’ve got behavioural issues, you know, so all that kind of stuff has come out through the workshopping."

Although still in the writing and planning stages, McIntyre said the production will have a theme high school students will be able to relate to.

"What we have decided is the kind of structure or framework of the piece — because it’s targeted at high school audiences — it’s going to be ‘doing an Internet search,’" she said. "So for example, there will be clips that we’ll do live onstage, but they’ll be like using Vine or Facebook or different social media platforms.

"The concept is, if a young person who was in a bad home situation was to Google ‘foster homes’ or ‘the perfect family,’ what kinds of things would pop up?"

The play will also deal with the difficult situation youth face when they have to approach an adult in their efforts to escape a troubled home life.

"For a lot of youth, they have to make the call and say to their teacher, or whoever they have for support, ‘I need to leave my home,’" McIntyre said.

"That’s one of the stories we follow in the play, is someone going to school and saying to a teacher, ‘I can’t spend the summer at home with my parents because they’re abusing me.’ So that’s the kind of framework of the piece."

McIntyre says while the production’s goal is to educate audiences about the realities of foster care, the process of putting the play together has also been somewhat therapeutic for some of the youth involved.

"I think the arts are a way for people to express themselves," she said. "Often, things they’re repressing or not talking about will build up, whereas by coming here and sharing, it not only gets it off their chests but it’s empowering for them to be able say, ‘Here’s my story, someone is listening to me, someone cares to hear my story and ultimately someone cares enough to want to share that story.’"

Sarasvàti will be holding two workshop presentations of the production during FemFest on Sept. 14 and 19 in order to get feedback, before the play begins visiting local high schools in 2014.

The workshop presentations will be held at the University of Winnipeg Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (400 Colony St.). A donation is requested for admission to the performances.

For more information on Sarasvàti and updates on their productions, visit sarasvati.ca

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