Artistic Director Hope McIntyre was honoured to accept the Soroptimist International of Winnipeg ‘Women Helping Women Award’ on April 14th. The inspiring awards luncheon marked the Club’s 75 years and also honoured three single mothers accepting the ‘Live Your Dream Award’ to further their education.
Here is an excerpt from Hope’s speech:
“Thank you so much. First of all a big thank you to the Soroptimists for all the amazing work that the Club has done for 75 years here in Winnipeg. It has been a privilege to get to know this amazing group of women over the last couple of years.
“I literally just came from rehearsal for our latest production – New Beginnings. It is a huge responsibility and honour to take stories from dozens of amazing individuals and capture the essence of it all on stage. So what do you do when you’re sitting at a table opposite someone like Laila a Yazidi refugee and her 19 year old son. When I ask what they want the world to know, they respond: ‘They came for our girls. They took thousands of our women. They separated the men from women and children. The men they killed. Why? We did nothing to them. 40,000 in the mountains without food or water. All Yazidis. Many die with no water. No help came. Why? Did the world forget us? We didn’t do anything to anyone, so why?’ I can’t answer that question, but I can make sure it is asked for a larger audience. I’ve decided that my role now is to make sure these stories are told.
“I am often accused of putting my head down and just doing the work. Sometimes that is necessary with so much to do but it is important at times like these to step back and recognize what has been accomplished. I started officially producing work twenty years ago, although to be honest I am the horrible stereotype of the theatre kid who used to do shows in my basement with sheets hung for curtains. I think my official debut though was playing Mary in my Kindergarten Christmas pageant.
“When I became disillusioned with the roles of maid, prostitute and mother assigned to me while studying acting doing my undergrad, I found every play I could written by a woman in the library and devoured them. I started writing and directing work so that I could give opportunities to the amazing young women studying alongside me. Doing my Masters in directing, I met with resistance having expressed a desire to study feminist theatre and ending up working with a full male faculty who had no experience in feminist theatre. Like so many women, including most in this room, it meant having to find my own path. Founding Sarasvàti Productions was huge as it allowed me to create theatre that I believed in. Theatre that promoted empathy. And that was transformative.
Much of the work has focused on women because of the reality that their stories continue to be under-represented on stages. There are exceptions of course, but statistically Canada can’t seem to average more than 33%.
“I’ve been privileged to work with amazing community organizations to address important issues. Hearing hundreds of people, mostly women, share their stories – often heartbreaking, difficult, brave, powerful and so full of humanity. I’ve seen the impact when we just listen to someone and when people feel that their lives are important. It is a part of healing to be able to express when there has been an injustice. Like Laila has. Right now it is the story of refugees that I have been honoured to hear for our latest project. They have fled for safety, leaving everything behind. Lots of tears but also laughter, pride and hope.
“Then there is the powerful moment of seeing those stories shared with an audience. Those who attend our shows see the world through someone else’s eyes. It’s a life-changing experience for the original storytellers to witness their experiences on stage, but also in seeing people’s hearts open. Once you see someone as human it changes everything. I can’t wait for Laila to sit in the audience and see people react to her question.
“I also have worked with so many wonderful artists. Some seasoned pros who have taught me so much and young women that we have mentored and seen grow. My teaching gives me the special opportunity to see others discover their creativity, their potential and their passion. A young student at Children of the Earth High School workshops who wants to pursue backstage work for theatre. After each activity she leans in and asks “what’s next” so hungry to learn.
“It’s certainly not an easy vocation but one full of rewards.
“Nina Lee Aquino said that theatre ‘is a different kind of heart surgery.’ I believe theatre cracks open the heart, lets in the light, opens us up to new perspectives, allows for empathy. Once you see someone as human there is no going back.”