BANFF – During the First World War, more than 8,500 men, women, and children of both Ukrainian citizenship and naturalized Canadians of Ukrainian descent were interned by the Canadian government.
There was one such internment camp in Banff National Park, located at Castle Mountain, which is where two of playwright Norman Nawrocki’s distant relatives may have been prisoners.
“I am still doing the research trying to find out exactly what the family connection is,” said Nawrocki. “It was close enough that it piqued my interest and I started digging into the history of those camps and was inspired to write this play.”
Part of Nawrocki’s goal in writing the Banff-centric play, Run Nawrocki Run! Escape from Banff Prison, was to highlight the little-known history of the camps and to make it relatable in today’s context.
“In school we didn’t learn about internment camps from WWI and WWII, we didn’t learn about residential schools, we didn’t learn about the genocide in this country. This was just another one of the dark chapters we didn’t learn growing up and still to this day don’t talk about,” said Nawrocki.
“My challenge was to take this little-known story and make it understandable – make it imaginable – and bring it to life for people.”
Though the play delves into the shameful and brutal history, Nawrocki said it is a story about hope, courage and resistance. He added that the play has universal truths about the psychology of people trying to get out of an untenable situation and what inspires them to change things.
“It’s about finding what the spark is that ignites that smouldering spirit of resistance inside everyone of us that gets us to make a change – to raise their voice, stand up and say no, ‘I’m not taking this anymore.’”
The play is a family affair. Nawrocki wrote, directed, produced and stars in the play, and also includes an appearance by his sister Vivan, who portrays the main character’s grandmother. The production also features a soundtrack composed, played and recorded by the siblings, which utilizes traditional Ukrainian folk instruments.
“That’s what happens in productions like this – you get inspired and want to be on stage, you want to have the script just so, the music has to be just right – it’s a great way to be creative,” said Nawrocki.
Originally Nawrocki wanted to tour the play across Canada, but due to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, Run Nawrocki Run! Escape from Banff Prison will premier on YouTube from Saturday (Dec. 11) until Friday, Dec. 17.
He said he is hopeful to perform the play in more places in Canada once public health restrictions allow for it.