Yvette Nolan: Recipient of the 2021 Gascon-Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award
By Yvette Nolan
Yvette Nolan is an Algonquin playwright, director, and dramaturg from Saskatchewan. Since her first play “BLADE” she has written dozens of plays, long and short, including “Annie Mae’s Movement”, “The Unplugging” and, as a co-writer, "Gabriel Dumont’s Wild West Show”. From 2003 to 2011, she served as Artistic Director of Native Earth Performing Arts, Canada’s oldest professional Indigenous theatre.
It is for her contribution to Canadian theatre that Yvette Nolan receives the Gascon-Thomas 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award. Her compelling and profound works contribute to highlight the claims and issues of Indigenous communities in Canada and to denounce the social injustices they are still experiencing.
Here is Yvette Nolan’s speech at the Gascon-Thomas Awards Ceremony on March 19th, 2021
It is humbling to receive an award for Lifetime Achievement. Has it been a lifetime already?
I suppose it is only natural on the occasion of being honoured with such an award to look back and see what it is you have done, what are the choices and actions that have brought you to this moment in time.
There are these moments that stick in your memory, moments that become touchstones, reminders of who you are, reminders of how you are seen in the world. When I was fourteen or fifteen, my new high school friend Margie Langer looked over her coffee cup at me and said “you just say things, eh?” In my first year of university, my English prof Keith Fulton gave me back a paper on Riddley Walker with a note that said “you have what Yeats called ‘the fascination of what’s difficult.’” In my twenties, a man I adored looked over his coffee cup at me and said “why are you so mad all the time?” I have thought of those observations about me so often, they might as well be tattoos. They have all served me in this life in the theatre.
It took me a long time to figure out how to use this form that I love – the theatre – to tell the stories that really matter to me. I knew that telling stories on the stage was powerful, transformative, empowering, but I was in my mid-twenties before I ever saw a play written by an Indigenous writer, performed by Indigenous actors. Living in Winnipeg, which has a huge Indigenous population, created a kind of cognitive dissonance in me – Indigenous people being both visible and invisible. I myself – daughter of a residential school survivor and an Irish immigrant father – lived in both worlds, visible and invisible. I learned to love Shakespeare and Arthur Miller and Tom Stoppard and Sam Shepard.
And then my alma mater – the Manitoba Theatre Centre – brought the Native Earth production of The Rez Sisters to town. And that changed everything. Here were seven Indigenous women onstage, here was the rez, here was a trickster character that transformed and transformed and was the agent of transformation for others. It was like spiritual chiropracty; all the things I knew suddenly aligned.
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