She's really allowing characters to discover things but also us as an audience to see what happens when you revolt against the social norms and really explore what it means to be in a relationship.
—Hope McIntyre, artistic director
The 11th edition of FemFest, devoted to works by women playwrights, gets under way September 14 with a theme of Revelation and Revolution.
Among the 12 plays and readings is the world premiere of Harold and Vivian Entertain Guests by local playwright Jessy Ardern. It's a nutty, comedic romp exploring the
nature of relationships. Harold and Vivian are a mismatched
couple who married each other out of spite, but when a newlywed couple from
the neighbourhood comes over for a visit, hilarity ensues.
Ardern's work was chosen by audience members last year in the annual Bake-Off, where playwrights are given some ingredients and two weeks to come up with a play which is then voted on.
"What's really great about Jessy's writing is that it's always somewhat absurd and crazy and she's such a talented writer," says Hope McIntyre, artistic director of Sarasvàti Productions.
"I think what [the audience] loved about it is how extreme her characters are and Jessy's humour is so interesting," she says. "So she takes something like a domestic relationship and looks at it with a brand new perspective. She's really allowing characters to discover things but also us as an audience to see what happens when you revolt against the social norms and really explore what it means to be in a relationship."
"Harold and Vivian" will be part of FemFest. (Janet Shum)
Alissa Watson, who plays the very demanding and physical role of Vivian, says the play is very clown-esque.
"There are really no inhibitions and Harold and Vivian are very, very innocent in what they do," she says.
"It's exhausting, to be honest, but it's one of the most fun types of characters to play because Vivian has the opportunity to do anything that's socially unacceptable in real life," she continues. "So I can throw cake and jump on the couch and be silly and goofy, so it's a lot of fun exploring that."
Watson got her start on the stage thanks to FemFest. She feels the festival is hugely important because it's a foundation for new theatre in the city.
"With this festival we have the chance to see things that we don't normally see on the stage and I think that's what's so important about FemFest and so important with the work that Sarasvàti is doing, because it gives us the opportunity to keep giving voice to people who don't always have a voice and seeing works that really deserve to be put on stage but otherwise wouldn't necessarily get the opportunity to," she says.
McIntyre says FemFest audiences love to be entertained, but also want to be inspired. "It's become how we show a community on stage and use that to inspire change," she says.
FemFest is presenting a dozen works through the week, including a reading of Perfect Love
by local playwright Talia Pura, as well as some touring productions, like pomme is french for apple
Over 60 artists are involved, most of them from Winnipeg.
"We love to be able to see those people launch from FemFest and then grow to be able to do more work and develop as artists," says McIntyre.FemFest runs Sept. 14 - 21 at the University of Winnipeg Asper Centre for Theatre and Film.
Related: Sarasvàti's season includes work created with youth in foster care