by Yvette Nolan



A Soldier’s Tale opened last night at the Fleck.

This morning after I sent notes to Michael.


The creation of work is a process, and a late part of the process is the insertion of the audience into the equation. Because of the vicissitudes of space (which I know I go on and on about), we do not have the luxury of audience until we open.


The audience gives us new eyes, new ears.  We see afresh.


Colleagues last night were very generous in their response to the show, in both their praise and their critique. 


I also think that the days of tech in the theatre are about process. We are making adjustments the whole time (often to the chagrin of the house crew who seem to feel we should be inserting a completed product into the space) because we have all kinds of new information.  Everything is connected, everything is always connected, and when we change this staging to accommodate, say, the awkward lack of wing space, it reverberates in odd ways through the entire piece. Some things that worked in the studio need to be much bigger, or smaller, in this space. So we adjust.


I love working to the last moment, to the moment when the house manager opens the house and lets the audience in to our process. And then, after the painful half hour where no work can be done, I am immersed in a new and refreshing process, the one that includes these hundreds of eyes and ears and hearts.


The process continues tonight. 



_MG_0448 copy

by Yvette Nolan

As it ticks down (how can we possibly open in six days? where did the time go?), we all feel the pressure of having less and less time to do all the things that need to be done. Final sound cues not yet recorded, costumes still being fitted, and how does this moment lead to this moment in this act? When will we get to run the whole thing together?

Time is also the ungainly partner of space. We can only book appropriate rehearsal spaces in small little blocks of time – four hours here, four hours there – which brings us back around to questions like when will we get to the run the whole thing together?

Little details become time-consuming: what do US military personnel call their Forward Operating Bases? Do they use nicknames? Location names? Code names? How do you hold your rifle and push someone with your hands at the same time? How many bottles of beer can one carry in addition to a crate full of bottles?

As the time slips away, the demands on the time seem to increase exponentially. Requests for interviews, program information, decisions about music and sound and video. Less time to contemplate, pressure for a quick and final decision.

And yet, in this river of flowing time, we take a couple of hours to gather and feast, to remember why we do this work. Last Sunday, the company came together to feast the ancestors, the veterans who we wish to honour with this work, the soldiers and the civilians who live and die in war, the late Lori Piestewa, Hopi soldier and the first Native American woman to die in combat while serving in the American military, whose life and death loosely inspired the second act of A Soldier’s Tale. We feast to remember why we do this work, not for ourselves, but for those who came before and those who will come after. We take the time to acknowledge the way we are connected, backwards and forward in time, and to acknowledge how we are responsible for our actions, our work, our art.

_MG_0205 copy

Both photographs by John Lauener.  Pictured in background, Yvette Nolan.  Above: Eva Greyeyes, with cast.




Yvette Nolan


Rehearsing a piece the size of A Soldier’s Tale presents all kinds of challenges, not the least of which is space. Most theatre companies in Toronto do not have dedicated space, but are dependent on cobbling together rehearsal schedules in a variety of spaces across the city. As a theatre artist, I have rehearsed in buildings with no heat, studios with no access to a bathroom, people’s living rooms, beautiful, equipped spaces which we had to vacate every day at certain time to make way for the next renter, which may be a yoga practice, a bhangra class or an audition.

A Soldier’s Tale is big – thirteen performers onstage – Shawn Kerwin’s set is big, and everything and everyone moves. Signal has managed to secure rehearsal space big enough to contain us all, but we – like our show – move, a lot and often. And the dancers dance, which means sprung floors, or at least forgiving ones.

This adventure in moving takes us all over the city, from the National Ballet School studio to a dance studio up in Thornhill. Two days ago, we battled the snow to our space in Thornhill, most of us arriving late despite leaving home early. Most civilians would have called a snow day, but we were preparing for a showing at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, the home of the Canadian Opera Company.

Yesterday, we showed excerpts from both Acts of A Soldier’s Tale in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, to a very full, warm and engaged audience. No costumes, save one, no props, save a pair of army boots and ten chairs rounded up for us by the house Technical Director, scripts in hand, John Gzowski’s music in the air, lighting by the creator, flowing in through the huge glass windows facing Queen Street which frame the astonishing backdrop of the city. It was terrifying because of where we are in the process, and exhilarating because of where we are in the process. During the Question and Answer following the excerpts, audience members asked incisive questions about how we as artists talk about war, and how we address gender politics in our subject matter. Their questions gave us insight into what we are saying with the work.

The staff at the Centre were so welcoming and good-humoured, the showing such a huge success, that would have been enough for one day, and yet, there was more. We ended the day with two hours in the Karen Kain Studio, continuing to work on the second act, solving some staging issues, surrounded by the makeup tables of the opera chorus.



The beauty of the “bau probe”

_MG_7013 copy

by Yvette Nolan

This is such an alien concept that most of us didn’t even know the word – bauprobe. The very idea that we could be in the theatre weeks before we open, with our set pieces, trying out staging, is so outrageous that we don’t even have a word for it. Now that we’ve done it though, I don’t know that Signal will ever again create work without it.

_MG_7112 copy

In preparation for A Soldier’s Tale which runs February 20 – 22, we spent two days with the set pieces – rolling flats, wooden crates, bottles – and the team of designers on the stage of the Fleck theatre at Harbourfront Centre. We discovered so many things that we are able to address now, weeks before we actually move into the theatre. The stunningly beautiful panels are more transparent than we had anticipated, and will require some adaptation. (In the world where the bauprobe is de rigueur, the panels would have only been mockups, and we would just build new ones based on our experience onstage, but very few theatres have those kinds of resources, never mind the fledgling Signal Theatre. So, we adapt.) Sound and video designer Andy Moro took advantage of the time to try various projections on various parts of the stage, and he and Michael were able to make choices about placement and effect, with the input of lighting designer Liz Asseltine. Fight director Simon Fon staged a fight with two performers that will be rehearsed from now until we open, a physical action that informs the text that Tara Beagan is creating for the second act.

_MG_7466 copy

_MG_8150 copy

The greatest gift of the bauprobe is the reduction of anxiety.  Michael kept remarking that the discoveries we were making now gave us time to respond, that if we were finding these things when we moved into the theatre, three days before we opened, we would be forced to compromise, to abandon some elements that were integral to the vision.  Instead, we go into rehearsal able to focus on the work, the story of how when we go to war, the war comes home with us, with the confidence that the space, when we move into it, will be ready for us to fill it.

Yvette Nolan


All photographs by John Lauener.

(Pictured: top-Danny McArthur, fight–Simon Fon, w. cast/ words–Tara Beagan)