Staging Canada’s Parks

It’s a challenge trying to engage an audience in a meaningful celebration of all of Canada’s national parks, national historic sites, and national marine conservation areas in 40 minutes or less.

But the award-winning Mountain WIT Theatre Troupe has proven that it is possible.

Mountain WIT is a professional theatre troupe based in Banff National Park that is making its way north this week to entertain Yukon audiences with its own brand of storytelling.

For the curious, the acronym WIT is shorthand for the group’s somewhat cumbersome formal name, World Heritage Interpretive Theatre.

Haines Junction, Old Crow, Dawson City, and a number of schools in Whitehorse and Carcross will host the performers as they showcase their play, IMAGINEaNATION.

“IMAGINEaNATION was originally created to celebrate the 125th birthday of Canada’s first national park, Banff,” explains Mountain WIT member, Laurie Schwartz.

“But we didn’t want the play to simply focus on Banff. We wanted to celebrate amazing places across Canada while engaging the public in the story of our natural and cultural treasures.”

Conveniently for the company, 2011 marked the centenary of the Canadian Parks Service, “which allowed us to expand IMAGINEaNATION to a two year project and really make it a piece that spanned the entire country.”

The group’s free performances are aimed at all ages and use a variety of theatre styles and techniques, including puppets, songs and storytelling.

“For example, during the show’s finale we perform a piece called the ‘Parks Can-Can-Canada’ which fits all 42 parks names into an energetic can-can performance,” Schwartz says.

“During one of our most memorable performances at a school in Edmonton, all of the students spontaneously stood up and began to can-can dance along with us.”

Schwartz explains that working on IMAGINEaNATION has enabled her to connect with sites across the country.

“I’m a geek when I travel, so I naturally like to visit historic sites across Canada,” she laughs.

“On a recent trip to Newfoundland I got the opportunity to go and visit the Cape Spear Lighthouse. It was very special to actually spend time there myself after spending so much time highlighting it in our performances over the last year and a half.”

Schwartz says some of her most special performance moments come from the reactions of different audiences.

“After almost every performance we have audience members come up to speak with us to share their memories and stories of the locations we feature in the play,” she says.

“In many ways it allows me to experience these important and special places in a new way, through the eyes of others, without being physically present on the landscape at the time.”

Mountain WIT has previously toured its creation throughout the Rocky Mountain Parks (Banff, Jasper, Yoho, Kootenay, Revelstoke-Glacier, and Waterton), to Winterlude in Ottawa, and to Yellowknife.

Schwartz is enthusiastic about the company’s first Yukon visit.

“I simply can’t wait to explore the landscape that I’ve heard so much about and to meet the people of the territory,” she says. “After hearing so much about it, I can’t wait to experience it for myself.”

The Yukon tour began September 11 in Haines Junction, followed by a number of school performances before heading north.

Mountain WIT will perform Thursday, September 15 at 6:30 pm in the Old Crow school gym. The tour will conclude in Dawson City this Friday, with a 7 pm show in the Palace Grand Theatre.

Amber Church is a painter, writer and sports enthusiast. You can reach her at [email protected].

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