Mila Mezei and Thayne Harden in the Battle of the Beetle
Masha Scheele Photo
The ravenous Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB) showed off it’s sneaky ways of taking over the forest during the Battle of the Beetle at Gregg Lake campground.
Throughout the comical, interactive and educational play, park interpreters Mila Mezei and Thayne Harden taught camp-goers and visitors in William A. Switzer Park about the pest that has become hard to miss in the area.
“Everyone who drives through Jasper and comes through here see all the red trees and are aware that the pine beetle is around, but most people don’t know a lot about it,” said Mezei.
Mezei and Harden, who both come from an environmental-study background, sat down with local MPB experts who work in Hinton to hear what key messages they thought were important to convey to the public. They researched the beetle and sifted through scientific literature in preparation of putting the play together and finding ways to translate its story in an onstage production.
With only two months to write and produce the play, all while organizing and planning other events throughout the summer, the two interpreters felt the pressure.
“This one was a little bit more challenging. I think it was just harder to anthropomorphize an insect like that, in other shows we’ve done we have big charismatic animals like bears and caribou, people I think connected really easily with that and recognized the animal and had some background information on it. It was interesting to do a show on an animal where you just assume people know next to nothing about them,” said Harden.
Through the play, the beetle explains how it survives, lays eggs, and takes down its host trees in a theatrical performance, which premiered on July 15. The play generally evolves as they tweak the things that don’t work and figure out ways to improve, stated Harden.
This is the third season Mezei and Harden have returned to work in Switzer Park as interpreters and they’ve been busy honing their programs and enjoying working with people who love to be outdoors.
“We’re in a unique spot where we get to facilitate these unique opportunities to create really meaningful experiences and memories in the park. The ultimate goal of interpretation is that people will take these experiences and then want to visit the parks more,” said Mezei.
Mezei and Harden returned at the end of April and hit the ground running in May with environmental information programs for schools in the area.
Once school is out, the two organize summer programs for the campground and other visitors to the park; they teach about anything from animals to ancient weapons.
“With so much variety to the programming, there are a ton of programs to learn, a lot of scripts and I’m always trying to tweak things and improve on things,” said Harden.
Battle of the Beetle, produced, directed, and delivered by Mezei and Harden, shows most Saturday evenings throughout the summer, including July 27 at 7 pm.
Also this weekend is the Cardinal Divide Butterfly Count where Mezei and Harden take visitors to explore alpine meadows, catch and identify butterflies, and contribute to the University of Alberta species database. A biologist joins them for the event to help identify the critters and teach people how information is taken and put in an online database to track the movement of the butterflies.
To join the butterfly count, the group will leave Green Square in Hinton at 10 am on Sunday, July 28 for the Cardinal Divide.