The Nonexistent: a story of courage and complex global migration

The Nonexistent, directed by Yves Simard, is focused on telling a story many people may know all too well: displacement. The story of a young girl forced to forge a new path as she leaves her country reveals the complexity of migration and exile through acrobatics, dance, movement and stunning scenery. The English version of the play will be performed at Kay Meek Theatre on Feb. 12, 2022.

As a way to reach as many audiences as possible, the hybrid tour includes a series of virtual workshops, live workshops, live-streamed performances and a live in-person performance.

Photo courtesy of Dynamo Theatre

Directing The Nonexistent

The journey of this play began in 2013 when Simard read an article in Le Monde Diplomatique (a French monthly newspaper) on borders and migration. Around this time, the first stories of migrants being lost at sea were becoming publicized and he was deeply troubled. He decided to use the power of performance to showcase the political and emotional upheaval these migrants have experienced. He began writing the stage script with playwright Pascal Brullemans, but soon discovered they were very privileged as they never experienced such turmoil. To better educate himself, Simard attended theatre mediation workshops with new immigrants recounting their struggles, and integrating them into the soundtrack of the show.

“Their voices become a chorus that guides the main character throughout his journey,” he says.

Brullemans and Simard blurred all references to geography to make it resonate with as many audiences as possible.

“The story can take place in Syria as well as in Argentina or on the Canadian border. We decided to make the odyssey bigger than ourselves,” says Simard.

Simard recalls both highlights and struggles with this piece:

“The first highlight is having cellist Claude Lamothe on stage. I had approached Claude to compose the music for the show with the idea of integrating him into the team on stage – without telling him!” he says.

Simard says some of the challenges were integrating young people into the performance, telling the story without appropriating and asking performers for constant intensity in their movements while avoiding injury.

As a touring company, DynamO Théâtrealso struggled greatly with the pandemic. The artists performed through webcast workshops and collaborated with others whenever possible. Given the free time the pandemic provided, 11 actors, two technicians, an author and a musician researched for a new project.

“I am a rigorous person and I like to transmit this rigorousness when I work. The artists and technicians lost a lot during the pandemic. Now when I am in rehearsal with a team, I realize the importance of human relations, for taking the time to be together, that everything we do can suddenly stop,” says Simard.

From performer to director

The director got his feet wet in the arts at the young age of three; his mother reminds him that he would often tell her that he wanted to be a clown. Though he cannot corroborate this story, he says that he has always loved the arts.

Dynamo Théâtre artistic directors Yves Simard and Andréanne Joubert | Photo courtesy of Dynamo Theatre

“I liked to draw, invent, play. I had this curiosity,” says Simard.

Enchanted with opera and plays in primary school, he eventually joined a drama school.

As an actor, Simard says he was always fulfilling the directors’ visions and found an appreciation for their methodology and vision. He soon started to inject his own ideas into his work and grew confident as these ideas complimented the directors’ visions.

“I developed the desire to structure the stage space, create images and tell stories in my own way through the poetics of bodies in space,” he says.

Simard understands that a director cannot be successful without their creative team and their bonding.

“There has to be a community of spirit, a strong endorsement between the director, the actors, the designers and the technical teams. Over the years, working with different companies in different art forms has made me curious about all the aspects that make up a work of art,” he says.

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