If you step out your door on a warm summer evening and stare across the prairie, you just might be able to hear the echo of historic hoof beats reverberate through time. At least, that’s the hope that Burning Sun Productions has for audiences across the province: To bring history back to life. And no show has done this more effectively in Saskatchewan than in the Theatre on the Hoof live-action play called Spirits of the Trail, chronicling the friendship between North West Mounted Police Officer James Walsh and Sioux Chief Sitting Bull.
Director Ken Mitchell dreamed of doing an outdoor historical theatre production in Saskatchewan with particular attention to authenticity and accuracy for quite some time. In 2009, that dream became reality. With the sponsorship of the Canadian History and Folklore Society, the company took to the trail, crisscrossing Saskatchewan, touring small towns and larger centres throughout the province that summer. It has grown since then and this summer they hope to make it the biggest production yet staged for the company.
“We want to keep this caravan theatre and [the] trail element prominent in our presentation,” Mitchell says. The company recruits Aboriginal and Métis community members to take part in the production each season. Even the landscape is a character—becoming the backdrop for the drama to unfold. The natural beauty of the province and its elements enhance the production—no set painting required. And the audience too, participates, representing the band of 5,000 Sioux warriors travelling with Chief Sitting Bull into Canada after the Battle of Little Big Horn. Historical detail is prevalent in the production. In fact, prop setup for the play becomes a chance to peek into history. Sitting Bull’s teepee is assembled, as is a Red River cart. Finally, the actors come into view and the historic saga begins. Mitchell says, “We go rain or shine with the show. People are so pleased to be doing something outdoors in the summertime in Saskatchewan.”
Six characters come to life—Chief Sitting Bull, North West Mounted Police Officer James Walsh, pipe carrier Old Raven, Métis scout Louis Leveille, Molly Whitetooth, and French trader Jean Louis Legare.