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Inspiration From The Air

Inspiration From The Air

The making of Bushpilot, an iconic ode to flight in the North
By Katie Weaver
Aug 03
From the August/September 2016 Issue

“Any pilot flyin’ anywhere who says he or she don’t like flyin' is either a bare-faced liar or someone with not much left on the clock. Second, you gotta trust yourself, implicitly. Third, you gotta have that corner of your mind that never shuts down. But first, you gotta love to fly.” So opens one of the scenes produced by writers Ben Nind (left) and Erik Watt for Bushpilot, a play performed in Yellowknife for years.

Actors were flown right to the stage by bushplanes, at the dock in Old Town in front of what was then Mary’s Tea Room. They recounted true stories from bush pilots with enthusiasm, an ever-changing backdrop behind them of planes taking off and landing, and figurine airplanes in their hands that each actor would make before the play’s run. The show drew crowds of up to 200 people, who would sit outside and hear the true stories of Northern pilots, even in pouring rain. Eventually, Bushpilot was so successful it travelled—as far north as Inuvik and as far south as the Toronto Fringe Festival. 

The cast of Bushpilot, all done up in their Northern best. Photo courtesy Ben Nind

The idea sprouted from director/actor Ben Nind’s childhood working as a dockhand for Gateway Aviation. “The whole idea was incorporation of Northern artists to write a Northern show, produce a Northern show, and then present it for Northern audiences,” he says. That it was. Their stories were being performed right in front of their eyes—stories about their peers, the people they knew. Eventually some Northerners would make special requests, like NWT Air founder Bob Engle’s partner Roxy arranging a special viewing for the famed pilot himself. 

The play ran from 1997 to 2002. The Northern performers always knew how to go out with a bang—at the last show of every run, all the actors would jump into the lake. “Oh god, we were wet,” Nind laughs.