For an actor, making yourself vulnerable is part of the job description.
For his latest part, Joshua Ranville had to open himself up and get into the mind of a two-spirited woman struggling with depression.
"KoKo was born a man but identifies as a woman," Ranville, a Métis actor from Transcona, explained after a rehearsal. A veteran of the Manitoba Theatre for Young People and a number of previous Sarasvàti productions, Ranville graduated from Collège Pierre-Elliott-Trudeau in 2006 and studied for three years at Studio 58 in Vancouver, B.C. "My Indigenous culture calls that ‘two-spirited.’ KoKo faces mental challenges, but where is that line? Is being two-spirited really a mental illness?"
Those are the questions Sarasvàti Productions’ latest play, Breaking Through, tackles as it follows five characters who are each struggling with mental health in their own way. Co-written by Sarasvàti artistic director Hope McIntyre and Cairn Moore, the play has undergone many rewrites over the past few years to incorporate feedback from a number of organizations who work with mental health.
"It was important for us to create an authentic work but also a strong artistic product," McIntyre wrote in a statement. "The input from so many people has made that possible."
Playing a woman in Breaking Through is a first for Ranville, who along with being an actor is an accomplished musician. To prepare for the role of KoKo, Ranville said he threw himself down a Netflix and YouTube rabbit hole, seeking out raw films and documentaries that might help him get into KoKo’s head.
"If there’s anything I don’t know anything about, I go straight to movies," he explained, citing Tangerine, a 2015 film about a transgender sex worker in LA that was shot entirely on iPhone 5s, as particularly insightful.
Breaking Through is directed by Kevin Klassen, and the "all local" cast includes Ranville, Elena Anciro, Dora Carroll, Richie Diggs, Marsha Knight, Harry Nelken, and Spenser Payne. The cast and crew began working on the show at the end of April, and have been putting in long hours in anticipation of the May 23 opening. Ranville said audiences will be in for an insightful, challenging performance.
"The audience will be able to peer right into the mind of people living different experiences, unique experiences," said Ranville. "With lighting and sound effects, we’re going to create some really interesting experiences."
Breaking Through runs May 23 to 27 at the Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (400 Colony St., at the University of Winnipeg). Show time is 8 p.m., with 1 p.m. matinees on May 24 and 28. Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students/seniors, and can be purchased from www.sarasvati.ca