It’s Saturday night at the Gregg Lake Campsite in William A. Switzer Provincial Park. The park, located on Highway 40 just 20 minutes north of Hinton, is a hidden gem of the Northern Rockies offering breath-taking views of the mountains and foothills, excellent camping and plenty of opportunities to enjoy water sports of all kinds in crystal clear lakes.
When the sun settles in the sky and the loons warble on the lake, campers grab their cozy sweaters and blankets (it is evening in the Northern Rockies after all) and head to the amphitheater, ready to be educated and entertained.
The theatrical amphitheatre show is a much-anticipated summer tradition here at William A. Switzer Provincial Park. It truly embodies the core ethos of interpretation: to not just educate but to create memorable learning moments for new and old campers alike by transforming science into story - enabling our audience to make personal connections to the natural world. This is the power of the amphitheatre show: it fosters connections to the natural world that grow into a sense of belonging, partnership and stewardship. This creates thoughtful, knowledgeable and enthusiastic park visitors.
The first step to create an amphitheatre show is choosing a theme. When we sat down as an interpretive team to brainstorm themes this year, the first suggestion stuck with us: species at risk. In Alberta, a Species at Risk is any fish, wildlife or plant species whose population is threatened or endangered. This topic seemed right for us, as our large district is rich in characters to explore!
We wanted to introduce our audience to a wide variety of at risk species. While information about the more “charismatic” species at risk, like the grizzly bear or the caribou is readily available, there are some “charismatically challenged” species at risk, such as warblers and salamanders, who could use their time in the spotlight.
Once we chose our characters, we researched each species behavioural traits, physical adaptations and ideal habitats. We used those traits as the blueprint for the personalities that appear on stage.
For example: the Woodland Caribou is a notoriously picky eater, eating almost only old-growth-forest lichen during the winter months. The Caribou is also one of the only ungulate species (a hoofed, typically herbivorous, four-legged mammal) where the females grow antlers alongside the males. These two traits reminded us of the “Instagram influencer” type: strong on female empowerment, but with many particular and specific dietary needs. Thus, our fancy foodie caribou character came to life.
Upon completion of our script we had seven distinct characters; during the show our audience meets a Canada warbler, a long toed salamander, a harlequin duck, a bull trout, a wolverine, a caribou and finally the infamous grizzly bear.
Characters set, we launched into a whirlwind few weeks of rehearsal, blocking, and set and costume making. Yep, we interpreters do it all: from writing the show to making the costumes, June and July finds the interpretation office here at Switzer transformed into a one stop theatre shop. The final step is to add our audience.
While the amphitheatre already has well-distanced seating, we are taking extra measures to make the space COVID-19 safe with blocked off benches, hand sanitizer, one family group or “cohort” per bench and reminders to mindfully share the space. We adapted audience participation so that folks can still participate by reading out pre-placed cue cards while seated comfortably at their benches (an adaptation that some of the more stage-shy campers certainly appreciate).
We opened our Species at Risk! show on July 18th at the Gregg Lake Campground Amphitheatre, excited to share our gang of Species at Risk with the public.
A few weeks after opening night, a lovely anecdote was passed down to our interpretation team. A park visitor shared that the day after watching the show, his daughters embodied their own version of the caribou character as they explored the surrounding woods. One girl (turned Caribou), pointed to long threads of old man’s beard draped in the trees and declared “lichen! That’s what I eat”. It was imagination and education, walking hand in hand through the woods. The teachings of the show live on far beyond the Saturday night at the amphitheatre.
The Species at Risk! Amphitheatre show runs until September 5th at the Gregg Lake Campsite in William A. Switzer Provincial Park.
For information call the William A. Switzer Visitor Centre (780) 865- 5601
Try it at home: Taking facts about wildlife and transforming them into silly, larger than life, characters is a fun process.
Research the traits of an animal that lives in your area. Create a character based off of your findings! Give them a name, a catchphrase and fun vocal affectation. You can even draw a picture of what your characters costume might look like. Create a whole ecosystem of characters and you will begin to see how each animal possesses a unique personality that is influenced by where they live, what they eat, and who lives with them - just like us humans!
Meghan and Amy (Park Interpreters)