Th’owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish is a play a quarter century in the making.
The Dandurand-penned play was resurrected after laying dormant for 25 years.
In the early 1990s, Kwantlen First Nation member Joseph A. Dandurand was interning at the New Museum of Civilization, which started a pilot program for aboriginal people to study museology (the science or practice of organizing, arranging, and managing museums).
“I knew nothing about museums,” Dandurand said. “But they had an interpretive theatre company that would put on plays about whale blubber and stuff like that. So I was interned to write scripts for them, to do native stories.”
One day, Dandurand was sitting in the grand hall decorated with carvings and totem poles. On the stage, Dandurand said, was “this feast dish.”
Inspired, he wrote a play about Th’owxiya, a mythological woman who would steal children if they were misbehaving.
“Kind of like Hansel and Gretel,” Dandurand said. “So you behave, or else Th’owxiya would get you.”
The narrative is deep-rooted in First Nations culture.
Th’owxiya’s mouth holds the most delicious foods, but if you steal from her, she’ll eat you and your family. A young mouse has made that mistake, but with the help of two young bears, Raven, and Sasquatch, the creature takes a journey to earn her forgiveness.
Sounds grim, but Dandurand insists it’s a family-friendly play that’s interactive and encourages audience involvement.
“It’s very simple, almost ritualistic in how it’s performed. It’s done in masks,” Dandurand said.
He said, “there’s nothing frightening about it. The kids get involved. A raven teaches them how to fly, so they get up and fly.”
Th’owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish came to life through a shift in the way poetry and scripts were being delivered, and accepted by companies.
Dandurand explains: “Before, when I submitted my plays or my poems, they always had to have a self-addressed envelope for them to reject me. Then, a few years ago, I started noticing that a lot of theatre companies and poetry magazines were accepting unsolicited work. So I just threw (my work) out there to all the different theatre companies and now I get rejected by email, which is much better.”
Much of Dandurand’s writing through the years consists of dramas and dark poetry. While Vancouver’s Axis Theatre Company was drawn to his plays, the company was seeking something that would appeal to children.
“I had this play packed away somewhere, so I sent it to (director) Chris McGregor at Axis Theatre,” Dandurand said. “He work-shopped it last year and it had a premiere at UBC’s Botanical Gardens and now it’s being picked up by the Talking Stick Festival.”
Th’owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish will be performed at the festival this Saturday at noon and 3 p.m. at the Roundhouse Performance Centre (181 Roundhouse Mews, Vancouver).
For tickets, visit https://fullcircle.ca/festival/about/family-fun/ and click on Th’owxiya: The Hungry Feast Dish.