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New open air theatre brings Tromsø's Arctic hunt to life

A new walking theatre performance in Tromsø is teaching locals and tourists about the history of the seal hunt and the people who braved the Arctic seas. 

Nina Rosenlund is standing in the Stortorget market square, wearing heavy furs and a seal pelt coat despite the warm, sunny weather. About a dozen people surround her, munching on reindeer hot dogs and waiting for her to speak.

“Hello there, good people. My name is Wanny Woldstad,” she finally says. “And I am dead.”

Rosenlund is the main actress in Tromsø’s new street play, “A Walk With Wanny,” produced by Sadio Nor Theatre. Her character is based on the true story of Wanny Woldstad, a local, ambitious Arctic huntress who was the first female trapper on Svalbard. 

“While we tell about this period that has been so important for Tromsø with the Arctic hunt, it’s also a message about seizing the day and living when you do it,” Rosenlund said.

The walking theatre performance opened to the public for the first time earlier this month.

During the play, Rosenlund escorts her audience around the city’s downtown, pointing out buildings that have changed and statues that never used to be there. “It’s funny… people often say they feel taken back in time after going through the streets together with us and hearing the stories about the town from the 1920s,” Rosenlund said.

Maria Danielsen, an audience member, said the play was engaging because the actors stayed so close to the audience. “I don’t know all so much about local history and I think it was very nicely presented in a very poetic and touching way,” she said.

The performance aims to convey local knowledge and history through theatre, Rosenlund said.

The Arctic hunt plays a big role in Tromsø’s past. The city has been the centre for seal hunting expeditions in northern Norway since the late 1800s.

“We have a bit of patriotism in Tromsø, when it comes to the Arctic hunt…we are very proud of this time,” Rosenlund said.

Rosenlund and her acting partner, Klaus Bergli, co-wrote “A Walk with Wanny” in English several years ago. But beginning this week, Rosenlund will pair up with actress Ekaterina Bespalova to perform the play in Russian as well.

“Ekaterina is my friend from Moscow, and speaks Russian better than I do,” Rosenlund laughed.  Bespalova will take on the lead role as Woldstad during Russian performances.

“Lots of Russian people live in Tromsø, or they visit families, friends, to study…. the Russian audience is really quite big,” Bespalova said. “And we want Russians to be able to feel it too.”

Rosenlund said she hopes the play will reach a wider audience when it’s offered in both languages. For her, this is a chance to perform, inform, and help preserve a cultural legacy in Tromsø.