Spotlight on director Yvette Nolan for FANCY DANCER

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Yvette Nolan (Algonquin) is a playwright, dramaturg, and director. She's the editor of Beyond the Pale: Dramatic Writing from First Nations Writers and Writers of Colour. She was the president of the Playwrights Union of Canada (1998- 2001) and of Playwrights Canada Press (2003-2005), and was the National Arts Centre's Playwright-In-Residence (2007-2008). Yvette is currently the Artistic Director of Native Earth Performing Arts and Past President of the Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance. She was recently awarded the City of Toronto's Aboriginal Affairs Award.

Native Voices: You also attended the Origins Festival in London. How was your experience over there?
Yvette Nolan: London was great, and odd, and jarring. It was very strange to be welcomed to a land by the Maori people, whose land it is not. It was odd to not acknowledge the people whose traditional land it is, which is our practice up here in Canada, because we did not know who to thank. Celts? Saxons? Druids? It was strange to be in a country with so much green that is so - gardened. Wonderful green spaces, all beautifully manicured. So unlike my experience of land, of my land, which still bears the implication of wild. But doing theatre for those audiences was - well, it is a bit of a universal language, innit? Like theatregoers generally want to experience something through the art form, and so are open to the form. So that was great. One of my favourite moments was seeing one of the Origins festival volunteers in tears at the end of the performance - her fourth time in attendance.

NV: Native Earth Performing Arts is the oldest Aboriginal theatre company in Canada. What was the Native theatre "scene" like when Native Earth was founded?
YN: There was no Native theatre scene when Native Earth was founded, which is why the company was created. Jim Buller, the founder of the Association for Native Development of Performing Arts, produced what may be the first Native penned play in Canada, October Stranger, in 1977, adapted from his book Indians Don't Cry. He then founded the World Indigenous Theatre Festival in 1980, bringing together a bunch of Native artists, including Spiderwoman Theatre. Jim became the go-to guy for Native theatre, and when someone approached him to put together a production for the opening of a gallery, Jim directed them to Denis Lacroix, a Native actor, who roped in Bunny Sicard, and ta-dah! Native Earth was born. His work here done, Jim died, just as Native Earth was being born, in 1982. Bunny and Denis called together a bunch of Native artists who decided on the company's purpose and vision.

NV: Can you tell us a little about Native Earth?
YN: Native Earth was created as a place for Native artists to work together to create theatre. The vision is still to create, develop, and produce the professional artistic expression of the Aboriginal experience in Canada through theatre, dance and multi-disciplinary work, new script development, apprenticeships and internships. As the community has evolved, so has the company. We have more artists who have more formal training, or are trained in multiple disciplines. They have seen a body of work as they grew up, work by Native artists, and by artists from other cultural communities, and all that has inspired them. We are currently developing an opera in English, French and Algonquin, complete with a chorus of wolves, scientests, trees, and a 150-year heroine. The music is a combination of baroque and traditional. In a recent workshop, we had three Native singers. At the same time, we are still nurturing emerging writers who are writing about blood quantum, familial dysfunction, the apocalypse...

NV: What drew you to the profession of theatre?
YN: My parents, an Algonquin woman and an Irish immigrant, valued the arts inordinately, so they gave me books of art, piano and ballet lessons, drama classes, literature, from a very young age. I was a performer from a very young age, thought I wanted to be a ballet dancer, then an actor. I wanted to tell stories, and it is easier to tell stories as a playwright, as a director, as a producer. Voice was important to me very early, because both my parents came from silenced people, colonized people. Both came to English from another tongue - my father was the best Irish speaker in high school! - I have his award. My mother spoke Algonquin first, then French, then English.

NV: What is your earliest theatrical memory?
YN: Oh my, I don't remember the first one. I remember rounding up the neighbourhood kids and creating plays with them when I was seven. I remember doing the doll dance and the bee ballet when I was seven and eight years old at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet school. Man, I milked those for a good decade, because my mother never got tired of laughing at me sending myself up. "Do the bee ballet! Do the bee ballet!"

NV: If you could go back in time, which era would you visit?
YN: None. I don't want to go back. I only want to move forward. I don't really need to go back in time, because in my cosmology, all times exist now anyway. The ancestors are here with us, right?

NV: What's the longest standing item on your "To Do" list?
YN: Ooooooooooohh stop, it hurts.

NV: What is your greatest indulgence?
YN: I don't think of them as indulgences, I think of them as necessities. Chocolate, red wine, the New Yorker, boyfriends. Nachos. Maybe nachos.

NV: Fill in the blank: It's not theatre if it's not ___________.
YN: I don't know if I could ever say what theatre is not. I have seen theatre with no performers in it. I have seen theatre with no audience. I have seen theatre that did not change anyone in any way, and I guess for me theatre needs to be transformative. We need to be changed through the process of it, of doing it, of watching it, of participating in it. So for me, personally, its not theatre if it is not transformative. But that is a very personal thing.

NV: The 2009-2010 Season marks Native Voices' Tenth Anniversary at the Autry. Where do you think Native theatre will be in the next ten years?
YN: Oh my god. Visible. I hope we can be visible. On more stages, not just Native stages, but on other stages, being produced by other producers with resources.

For more information about Native Earth Performing Arts, please visit their website or their YouTube channel.

Here's a taste to whet your appetite:


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