Actor goes for a daring theatrical adventure

Sarasvàti Productions’ Breaking Through showcases the individual behind the illness


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This article was published 24/05/2017 (2075 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


A North End actor is excited to be taking on a challenging role at Sarasvàti Productions’ Breaking Through.


A North End actor is excited to be taking on a challenging role at Sarasvàti Productions’ Breaking Through.

Supplied photo Harry Nelken plays Joe, a 72-year-old man who suffers from schizophrenia and tardive dyskinesia, in Sarasvàti Production’s Breaking Through.

Harry Nelken plays Joe, a 72-year-old schizophrenic man who’s been in and out of institutions since he was 19. 

Joe also suffers from tardive dyskinesia, which is a disorder that causes involuntary movements and spasms, caused by the strong medicines administered to him while in treatment.

“It’s a really neat character to play. It’s like a good disguise. Someone can be a great detective, because who’s going to suspect me if I am (twitching and moving). I can be a spy,” Nelken joked.

It’s the first time the actor is playing a character that suffers from a mental illness, and he said it’s been challenging. Because he’s never lived with such conditions himself, he did in-depth research to imitate the involuntary movements caused by tardive dyskinesia and took the time to study the script. He’s constantly twitching, sticking out his tongue, moving his feet and bouncing back and forth, almost all simultaneously.

“You can only go by what’s written in the play and your own research,” Nelken explained. “My biggest challenge is to make the same active listening and feeding off my fellow actor as I would if I was totally engaged. And that’s a good thing because it appears I’m not paying attention, but I know exactly what’s going on with the person.”

Sarasvàti artistic director Hope McIntyre and co-writer Cairn Moor compiled and adapted real stories the group listened during workshops, forums and interviews. Breaking Through presents five characters with different experiences with mental health and the system. The production was launched in partnership with Artists in Healthcare Manitoba, Red Threads Playback Theatre and Selkirk Mental Health Centre. 

McIntyre said Nelken fit right into the role of Joe, playing a character who is a joker and has a very positive outlook on life despite the challenges he faces.

“Harry brings a similar zest for life to rehearsals. He is one of the nicest actors to work with, and his kindness and compassion make the process a positive experience for everyone involved,” she continued. 

“He has approached the character with so much sensitivity and compassion. He also has the dedication to be as accurate and respectful as possible.”

Breaking Through opens May 23 at the University of Winnipeg’s Asper Centre for Theatre and Film (400 Colony St.). Tickets cost $20 for adults and $15 for students and seniors. To learn more about Breaking Through, purchase tickets and see show times, go to

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