The next performance in the Quesnel and District Community Arts Council’s Children and Family Concert Series shares a powerful message about balance and giving and taking.
In Th’owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish, with drums, songs and masks, indigenous storytellers spin a tale from the Kwantlen First Nations Village of Squa’lets, about Th’owxiya, an old and powerful spirit that inhabits a feast dish. Her dish holds beautiful foods from around the world, but be careful, stealing from her is dangerous business because Th’owxiya has developed a taste for children. When Th’owxiya catches a hungry mouse, Kw’atel, stealing a piece of cheese from her mouth, she demands two child spirits be brought for her to eat — or else, she will eat Kw’atel’s whole family.
Ignorant to her power yet desperate to save her family, Kw’atel sets forth on an intense journey to fulfill Th’owxiya’s demand. With the help of the Sqeweqs (Raven), two Spa:th (bears), and Sasq’ets (sasquatch), Kw’at’el finds alternate gifts to appease the goddess, and the journey becomes one of knowledge, understanding and forgiveness.
Playwright Joseph Tony Dandurand of the Kwantlen First Nation first wrote this story 25 years ago.
He had just graduated from Theatre School at the University of Ottawa, and he was given an internship at the Museum of Civilization as a writer for the museum’s in-house theatre company.
“In the Grand Hall, there were many longhouses, and sitting on the stage was a feast dish laying on its back and it was as big as a totem pole, and I wrote the play,” he said, emailing in between rehearsals for another project he is working on. “When I send out my new plays, I usually try and hit as many theatre companies as possible, and I had sent one of mine to Axis Theatre Company.”
He recalls Axis Theatre artistic director Chris McGregor wrote back and said the theatre company was in need of a children’s theatre piece, and he asked if Dandurand had any plays for children.
Dandurand says he was surprised that he had a copy of The Hungry Feast Dish — which he had saved on a floppy disk. He sent the play to McGregor, and they workshopped it, then produced it at the University of British Columbia.
“I like the simple teaching that it has for kids, it is a teaching from our people, and that is when you take something from the earth or from the river, that you should always give something back, or there will be nothing left,” Dandurand says of his play.
When he thinks about what he would like his audience members to take away from his play, Dandurand says he hopes they like the characters.
“I hope that kids like the characters, as they are not ones that they perhaps have the opportunity to see, such as the sasquatch and the raven and the mouse,” he said.
Dandurand writes every day, and he says he is currently 60 pages into a new book of short stories. This year, he has two books of poetry coming out, as well as another manuscript of short stories.
McGregor says he wanted to produce this play because it scared him.
“Tony sent me the play, and I loved the storytelling aspect of it, the animal characters, the message, the potential for mask work, puppetry, original music, drumming and a story that has never been told,” he said in an email interview. “The idea of bringing a Kwantlen play to people who may have never heard of the Kwantlen people before … I learned there are only 500 left from thousands that lived all along the Fraser River.”
McGregor hopes that when people watch this play, they get the notion that everything works together, spirits, humans and nature.
McGregor says Th’owxiya has received a lot of positive feedback.
“Poetic, at once modern and traditional, and with a message for our times that was loud and clear without being moralistic,” one parent at the UBC Botanical Gardens said in a testimonial. “I was thrilled to discover distant echoes of stories I grew up with in a very different part of the world. Way, way back, we all connect through our stories … But it was mostly great to see this Kwantlen story brought to life with such skill, grace and warmth.”
Th’owxiya was nominated for Outstanding Design Set, Costumes and Props, for Outstanding Composer/Musical Direction and for Significant Artistic Achievement for centrally focusing on an Indigenous story at the 2016-17 Jessie Richardson Awards.
“As a group, the sextet of young actors is obviously having fun with the story, enticing the younger members of the audience into the story,” says Mark Robbins of Vancouver Presents. “On a couple of occasions, the enticement is quite literal, as the younger audience members are invited to be participants … what makes Th’owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish truly unforgettable is in its engaging story steeped in tradition.”
The Quesnel and District Community Arts Council’s Children’s and Family Concerts Committee presents Th’owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish Friday, Jan. 31 at 6 p.m. at the Chuck Mobley Theatre at Correlieu Secondary School. There will be pizza for $2 at 5:30 p.m.
Tickets are $10 each or $40 for a family of five (and $5 for each extra person) and are available at Bo-Peep, Circle “S” Western Wear, the Quesnel Visitor’s Centre, the Quesnel Arts and Recreation Centre and at the door.