The 100th birthday celebration for W.O. Mitchell, Canada’s literary legend, will be marked in Weyburn with a number of activities and events.
William Ormond Mitchell was a Canadian writer and broadcaster. He was born in Weyburn on March 13, 1914, and it was in Weyburn where he wrote his most famous book, “Who Has Seen the Wind”.
He is also known for the radio series and later a collection of short stories called “Jake and the Kid”. Both pieces were inspired by life on the Canadian Prairies, with references to Weyburn included in his writing.
In addition to producing a large body of work, Mitchell served as professor of creative writing and writer-in-residence at several Canadian universities and was the director of the Banff Centre’s writing division. He spent his later years in Calgary, Alta., dying there in 1998.
Orm and Barb Mitchell, son and daughter-in-law of W.O. Mitchell, are making travel plans to be in Weyburn for the weekend festivities.
They are looking forward to immersing themselves in “the prairie places and people, as these are the things that bring back memories of Billie and his writing,” explained Barb.
“We are really pleased that Weyburn is planning a celebration, it is very nice,” said Orm. He noted that earlier in the year, both Calgary and High River also held 100th birthday celebrations in honour of W.O. Mitchell. “It is an honour to know that the three locales that really mattered to my father are remembering him on this anniversary.”
In honour of W.O. Mitchell’s birthday, a few events will be held during the 2014 Wheat Festival, planned for Thursday, Aug. 7 to Sunday, Aug. 10.
Orm and Barb will be at the Weyburn Public Library on Saturday, Aug. 9 at 3 p.m., when they will read several selections of W.O. Mitchell’s work.
“W.O. Mitchell is a historic member of Weyburn’s culture, and it is important for us to celebrate his legacy,” said Christine Black, adult program coordinator at the Weyburn Public Library. She added that the afternoon reading session is a highlight for the library, and that they had collaborated with Crocus 80 Theatre for the event.
As a featured event, Crocus 80 Theatre will present the play “Jake and the Kid — Prairie Seasons”. During the Saturday performance of the production, Orm and Barb were asked to open the play at 7:15 p.m.
“To me, ‘Jake and the Kid’ is a true-to-life, innocent, coming of age, Saskatchewan story of a young boy and his family, including Jake, the farm the hand,” said director Connie Nightingale. “This is such a beautiful story, and anyone that grew up in Saskatchewan will catch themselves reminiscing back to their childhood on the prairies almost immediately. The script is that well adapted for the stage.”
There will be three evening performances at the Tommy Douglas Centre, on Thursday to Saturday, Aug. 7 to 9 at 7:30 p.m., and a 1 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Aug. 10.
“What I am enjoying the most about this production is working with our up and coming youth actors,” said Nightingale. The cast includes Taylor Vogel as Ma, Logan White as Gatenby, Dave Frayn as Jake and 11-year-old Ross Van De Weyer as Kid.
“Dave Frayn is a very talented member of our troupe. He has set an awesome example for our youth on stage and is a great role model for us all. Ross is the actor that really carries the story, and he is such a talented young man,” said Nightingale.
“The ornery Mr. Gatenby is played by one of our talented youths Logan White and he has really taken Ross under his wing and is a great help when it comes to mentoring him. Taylor Vogel has joined us for the first time and is truly a dedicated young lady at age 15. It is a real joy working with her as she is very helpful,” said Nightingale.
“We are all mentoring each other, and growing theatrically together on stage.”
Sharing the stage, the Crocus 80 Theatre’s Youth Theatre Development Program will perform a special piece and share and everything that they have learned over the summer. There are 15 children involved in the Youth Summer Theatre, and they participating in weekly practices under the guidance of Crocus 80 volunteers.
The participants are using games, developing their acting toolbox, and are involved in brainstorming activities.
The production of “Jake and the Kid — the Prairie Seasons” does include singing and music, which Nightingale refers to as a nice surprise for audiences. “We were lucky enough to cast three very musically-inclined actors.”
Nightingale had the opportunity to contact Orm Mitchell and work with him to help bring the production to life.
“The script was well adapted for community theatre, and it was a privilege to be in contact with Orm during the planning stage.”
“Orm has been very open to our ideas and has extended to us the opportunity to use some of our artistic insights to ensure we can offer the public the best production imaginable.”
Nightingale said that the biggest challenge is to bring the stage and centre to life, especially since she wants to incorporate life in the prairies. “We want it to rain and snow in the Tommy Douglas Centre! We want our stage to really mirror life in the 1940’s and we want to take our audience back in time with us. “
Both Orm and Barb have visited Weyburn twice before, once in the fall of 1999 and the second time during 2005. During their previous visits, they truly enjoyed touring places where W.O. grew up and spent his childhood.
One particular spot they spoke about was Uncle Jim’s farm, who was a big part of W.O. Mitchell’s life as a child.
Jim, or J.T. Mitchell as he was known, was a successful farmer and Billy and his brothers regularly went out to his farm, located six miles south of town.