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Axis Theatre’s “Th’owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish” by Joseph A. Dandurand is set for the Talking Stick Festival

Merewyn Comeau. Photo credit: Jayda Paige Photography.

The stage is the place where stories come alive, and nowhere is this truer than in Joseph A. Dandurand’s Th’owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish. A story where rhythm and tradition come together, Th’owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish derives themes from Hansel and Gretel, as well as the First Nations tale, The Wild Woman of the Woods, in order to tell the story of right and wrong, giving and receiving. Through integrating song, dance, and storytelling, Dandurand’s story of a mouse who must venture on a journey to give back what he has taken is one that can teach us all something about empathy and understanding.

While the narrative remains a story rooted in the Kwantlen culture, Dandurand found his inspiration 25 years ago from a wooden carved feast dish that inhabited the Grand Hall of the Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec. While interning for an Aboriginal Pilot Program at the Museum, Dandurand constructed the performance around the dish, named Tsonoqua, and its story, which mirrors the Kwantlen tale of Th’owxiya.

Taran Kootenhayoo. Photo by Jayda Paige Photography.

A story with a lesson for us all (which is, namely, “listen to your parents!”), Th’owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish was an exciting challenge for the writer. Vastly different from the heavier, more serious themes that breathe life into his previous work, this piece of children’s theatre offered a new means of storytelling. “For me, writing this piece was a wonderful experience and to work on children’s theatre was a challenge, as most of my plays and poetry are that of a very serious and dramatic taste,” Dandurand states.

While undeniably different from his previous work, the combined efforts of an all indigenous cast and a dedicated designer have inevitably allowed this play to become something inspirational for Dandurand: “My favourite part of working on this piece is the simple realization: I looked at a piece of carved wood and now it has become a play with characters, a story to be told over and over as our myths and stories.” By fusing the arts—storytelling, music, and myth—this tale of bravery, courage, and guidance continues on the tradition from generation to generation. “To hear from the children of my people, the Kwantlen, that they truly enjoyed the play is truly humbling.”

Tai Amy Grauman and Mitchell Saddleback. Photo by Jayda Paige Photography.

What ultimately brings the story to life is an intricate mix of set design, costumes, masks, music, and audience participation. The former three elements have been skillfully designed by Canadian artist Jay Havens, including the key point of the play—the carved feast dish. The actors, through their song and drumming, bridge the gap between the mediums and allow for the narrative to fuse with all elements of the show. “The cast has changed but all involved have been outstanding and professional and have made my work as the writer very calming.”

The audience, too, plays a role in this story. The audience’s participation brings energy to the story—namely in moments where children are invited to fly alongside the Raven—as they use their voices to shout along with the actors as they run around and act as well. “To see children flying with the Raven, and to see them shouting out as if they too are a part of the show, is very cool,” Dandurand shares.

This idea of a communal narrative, one that allows the audience to become a player in the sharing of stories and the creation of one, perfectly aligns with Dandurand’s description of his work: always give back. Whether it be a mouse deciphering between right and wrong, like the story tells, or passing down a tale with a lesson from one generation to the next, Th’owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish is all about sharing and community. Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 10.17.41 AM

Axis Theatre‘s Th’owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish will be presented on February 10, 2018 as part of Massey Madness Family Arts Fest at Massey TheatreGet your tickets hereNext, Th’owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish will be performed at the 2018 Talking Stick Festival on February 13–15 & 17 at the Roundhouse. Get your tickets here.

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Jasmine Proctor is a writer, theatre-fanatic, and recent BA graduate from Simon Fraser University, majoring in Communications and English Literature. Jasmine is a self-proclaimed Shakespeare fangirl, part-time poet, and a not-so-secret lover of K-pop. She is thrilled to work with Artslandia and cannot wait to see what performance she can write about next.

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Joseph A. Dandurand is a member of Kwantlen First Nation located on the Fraser River about 20 minutes east of Vancouver. He resides there with his 3 children: Danessa, Marlysse, and Jace. Joseph is the Director of the Kwantlen Cultural Center. He received a Diploma in Performing Arts from Algonquin College and studied Theatre and Direction at the University of Ottawa. He recently published two books of poetry.

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Thank you to our friends at CHARALS on Robson for supporting the arts by gifting each artist in our CREATOR series a gift package, from their store, filled with luxury goods & accessories. Visit them online at charals.com or in person at 171 Robson Street in Vancouver.