**Each month we interview member playwrights to share their work, stories and inspiration with the community. We recently spoke with Yvette Nolan, an Algonquin playwright, director, and dramaturg. Plays include “BLADE”, “Annie Mae’s Movement”, “The Birds (a modern adaptation of Aristophanes’ comedy)”, “The Unplugging”, “Gabriel Dumont’s Wild West Show” (co-writer), the libretto “Shanawdithit”. She co-created, with Joel Bernbaum and Lancelot Knight, the verbatim play “Reasonable Doubt”, about relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan. From 2003–2011, she served as Artistic Director of Native Earth Performing Arts. Her book, “Medicine Shows”, about Indigenous performance in Canada was published by Playwrights Canada Press in 2015. She is an Artistic Associate with Signal Theatre. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Public Policy at Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.
How did you get started as a playwright?
I was a theatre rat, doing anything to stay in the theatre: coordinating costumes, making props, hanging lights, laying dance floor, stage managing… I was hired at the first Winnipeg Fringe Festival as Larry’s assistant (Larry Desrochers, the Producer) and I was watching all this theatre from all over. And some of it was good, some of it was great, but lots of it was crap, and I thought “surely I can do better than this”. And I have been trying ever since.
What are you currently working on?
A short piece for PTE called Katharsis, a libretto about AI (Artificial Intelligence) and humans finding a way to live together after an environmental apocalypse, for/with the composer Tim Brady, a piece about MMIWG with Maria Campbell, Marilyn Poitras and Cheryl Troupe called Tapwewin — Her Inquiry.
As someone who has been involved in Canadian Theatre for 30 years, what kind of changes have you seen occur over time? Has there been enough improvement in the representation of BIPOC artists?
Change is so slow, so glacial, or at least it feels that way to me. People have been working for equity, for inclusion, for so long and just not seeing the change, but it is systemic, right? You have to change things at every level, from the root to the crown. It is not enough to just check boxes, we have to look at who has the power, who is checking boxes instead of weaving the community together. At other times, I can stand back and see that change has happened. Nina Lee Aquino is at Factory Theatre, Marjorie Chan is at Cahoots, Weyni Mengesha is at Soulpepper. There are more women leading major theatres — Jennifer Brewin at the Globe, Kelly Thornton at MTC, Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu at Obsidian — which should not be such a victory, it’s 2020, right? but it has taken a long time to get here.
And it is still not enough, because those people are wrestling with structures and systems that are built to preserve the status quo. So much work still to be done, and huge props to those who are willing to do it.
How can/does theatre contribute to societal change and rectifying social (in)justice issues?
Well, theatre grapples with the big issues, doesn’t it? Angels in America, An Enemy of the People, Macbeth. Theatre can try to make sense of chaos. Cliff Cardinal’s Huff, Pam Sinha’s Happy Place, Colleen Murphy’s The December Man, Jason Sherman’s Reading Hebron, Rick Chafe’s The Secret Mask, VideoCab’s History of the Village of the Small Huts. Theatre asks us to walk in another’s shoes, theatre creates empathy. Donna-Michelle St Bernard’s Gas Girls, Leah Simone Bowen’s The Flood, Leon Aureus’ Banana Boys, Tomson Highway’s The Rez Sisters. Plus theatre can create ritual, ceremony, a place to hold us while we work out these things. Djanet Sears’ The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God, Marie Clements’ The Unnatural and Accidental Women, Crystal Pite and Jonathan Young’s Betroffenheit.
What is your favourite Canadian play?
Just one? I can’t. There are so many — The Crackwalker by Judith Thompson, The Unnatural and Accidental Women by Marie Clements, A History of Breathing by Dan Macdonald, The Hours That Remain by Keith Barker, Conjugal by Donna-Michelle St Bernard (or Click Click, or The First Stone, or or or…), The Flood by Leah Simone Bowen, The Monument by Colleen Wagner… I just read Erin Shields’ Paradise Lost and I am pretty enamoured of that. So many.
Have you picked up any new hobbies during quarantine?
New hobbies? Nooooo. I have returned to my bicycle, after many years of not riding. I would not ride when I lived in Toronto, and even here is Saskatoon, bike riding has been a bit of a blood sport, but with the pandemic, the streets are much quieter and safer. Plus, not new but expanded: quarantine has made it much easier to do yoga with Adriene every single day.
Disclaimer: Playwrights Guild of Canada (“PGC”) is a national arts service mandated to engage and grow an active Canadian writing community. We promote Canadian plays around the world to advance the creative rights and interests of professional Canadian playwrights for the stage. The views of our members are their own. The opinions of PGC as an association remain neutral.