Of art and war: New Saskatchewan play gets long-awaited debut

Amanda Trapp (left) and Colin Wolf (right) feature in 'The Art of War' at The BackStage Stage from Nov. 9 to 12, 2023.

In April of 2021, Yvette Nolan’s new play The Art of War was scheduled to debut as the theatre community — and the world — was cautiously emerging from the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But unfortunately, the pandemic reared its head once more and forced the production to cancel.

“It was a global pandemic, but we still wanted to get together and do this work, because we think it’s important that artists make sense of the world,” Nolan said. “We were fully ready to go, and then all the COVID cases spiked … so nobody saw it. It was the show we never gave.”

Now, more than two years later, The Art of War produced by Hardly Art Theatre is getting its time to shine at the Persephone Theatre BackStage Stage from Nov. 9 to 12.

The play follows a Canadian war artist — an artist commissioned by the government to record or reflect on war through artistic work — through the Second World War as he struggles to reconcile his relationships and the world around him through his artwork. The show begins in 2005, when the new Canadian War Museum opened in Ottawa, and jumps backwards in time to explore the experiences of the artist.

Nolan said they hadn’t initially planned for the rescheduled premiere to align so closely with Remembrance Day, but she hoped the play would be part of the reflection on war that comes it.

“It’s so resonant right now because of Gaza, because of Ukraine — there’s so much war going on,” she said. “The things people say inside the play, it’s like I wrote it for this period of time, even though I didn’t.”

Nolan was inspired to write The Art of War after seeing the work Canadian war artists in the years leading up to the 2005 opening of the new Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. She said learning about the artists Canada had sent into warzones was a stunning experience.

“I was shocked we had sent artists to war. That’s why I wrote the play, never really knowing we were going to be ending up really grappling with war all around us and still making art in the middle of it,” Nolan said.

Even though the debut of The Art of War was delayed more than two years, Nolan said she was grateful to bring back almost the entire original creative team, including the main cast members.

The show was fully built and rehearsed in 2021 before being called off just before opening night due to COVID-19. With an additional two-plus years to ruminate on the show, Nolan said it was exciting to see the new things the artists were pulling from the script and bringing to the updated production.

And getting to reflect on the role of art and artists in war, both around Remembrance Day and during tragic conflicts around the world, is an opportunity not lost on Nolan or the creative team.

“Everyone has had the opportunity to return to it,” Nolan said. “It’s the same show, just deeper. (The cast) knows everything more, knows their characters more. And the world has changed.”

The Art of War produced by Hardly Art Theatre runs from Nov. 9 to 12 at the BackStage Stage. Tickets can be purchased at tickets.persephonetheatre.org.

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