Interview with Salt Baby Director, Yvette Nolan
What attracted you to Salt Baby?
I'm a Salt Baby myself - my mother was Algonquin and my father, an Irish immigrant. I have often been told I can "pass" and there is no need for me to "do that Indian thing." I’ve spent my life grappling with the things Salt Baby does - what makes you "Indian"? A status card? Ceremony? Your language? The colour of your skin?
I love that Salt Baby is so funny. When it premiered in Toronto, a patron came to me to introduce her sister and she said, "I had prepared my sister, told her this is Native theatre, so it’s gonna [sic] be tough, but worth it, and then we laughed our heads off!" I took it as a compliment.
How were you involved with the development of Salt Baby?
Falen Johnson, playwright, developed Salt Baby in the Young Voices program at Native Earth where I was the artistic director. She brought it to the table as a one-woman drama, and eventually it grew into this four-actor, multi-character comedy. In 2009, Native Earth did a workshop production at the Backspace at Theatre Passe Muraille, and Falen was actually rewriting until we opened.
What were some of the highlights during your years at Native Earth Performing Arts?
There are so many highlights of my years at Native Earth:
- producing and directing two Marie Clements plays, The Unnatural and Accidental Women in 2004 and then Tombs of the Vanishing Indian in 2011, my last project there
- the establishment of the Young Voices program (now called Animikiig) which lead to plays like Salt Baby
- our adaption of Julius Caesar called Death of a Chief that we ended up co-producing with the National Arts Centre, which played to 99% houses in Ottawa
- Michael Greyeyes's absolutely stellar production of Almighty Voice and His Wife, which we ended up touring to London, England, Saskatoon, Halifax
- Being a part of a community of artists that spanned the country
How did you become involved in acting, playwriting and directing?
When we moved to Winnipeg, when I was six, my parents gave me all the things they would have liked to have had: piano lessons, ballet lessons, theatre classes. I thought I was going to be a ballet dancer or an actor but my parents said oh no, you can't make a living in theatre. So after high school, I kicked around for five or six years. I ran an ice cream parlour, went to Europe a couple of times, worked at the Winnipeg Free Press, in the morgue, raised money for a political party.
Eventually I went back to school, to the U of Manitoba, and got sucked into The Black Hole, which is the theatre there. I got an undergrad in English and French, but by the time I got it, I was working professionally in theatre - stage managing, hanging lights, building sound tapes (on reel-to-reel, no less), coordinating costumes and props, laying dance floor. I got to the Winnipeg Fringe in 1988, as Larry Desrochers's assistant. Watching all that theatre, I thought, "Surely I can do better than that," and I started writing plays. I wrote my first play in 1990, it was at the 1990 Fringe, I directed it, and that was that. But it’s a practice; you have to keep practising, all the time. I wrote my last play, The Unplugging, in three months, but really it took 20 years, and then three months.
You can see Salt Baby beginning on January 21st as a part of our Shumiatcher Sandbox Series. Ticket information is available here.