Th’owxiya: the Hungry Feast Dish

A mouse is caught stealing cheese from the mouth of Th’owxiya: a goddess known to hold the best foods from around the world. The challenge: find and sacrifice two young spirits to Th’owxiya (pronounced: Tho-wox-eeya) or she will eat the mouse’s whole family! With the help of new friends – two bears, a raven and a sasquatch – the young mouse embarks on this exciting journey.

It’s a quest, an adventure, like The Hobbit; a hero who has to overcome obstacles…people will recognize these elements,” says Chris McGregor, artistic director of the production Th’owxiya: the Hungry Feast Dish.

The family-friendly play runs at the Axis theatre June 24–25 and July 1–2.

Animal characters

Th’owxiya is a tale about animal characters in a spiritual world – very much like a Hansel and Gretel tale, says McGregor. There are six storytellers and it involves plenty of masks and music. The dialect is Kwantlen First Nations of Squa’lets First Nations.

“The entire play takes place within the Kwantlen Village called Squa’lets, which means ‘where waters divide’,” explains McGregor.

Many of the stories warn children about staying out of the woods and keeping safe.

Writing Th’owxiya

The original idea for Th’owxiya came from the spindle world – spindling wool – and was written by Tony Dandurand 30 years ago. Dandurand, who studied theatre at the University of Ottawa, was doing an internship for museology (museum studies) at what was then the New Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec.

“I was hoping to be part of the interpretative program for kids…even though most of my work was for adults,” explains Dandurand.

Originally wanting to be an actor in his 3rd year of university, Dandurand said he was told to pursue something else so he stuck with writing.

“It’s brought me home (my dad is white) and my mom is Kwantlen,” says Dandurand.

Actor Merewyn Comeau in Th’owxiya. | Photos by Jayada Novak Photography

Dandurand who considers himself more of a poet, finds inspiration from his personal struggles and writing a lot about childhood and memories.

“I stored stuff in my head, all of a sudden it pops out…I’m currently working on a play that starts in the 1800s to present day,” says Dandurand.

Because of cost and funding, the casting of characters in Th’owxiya has changed over the years. The dialogue has also changed a bit.

McGregor says the audience will see everything from ravens wearing traditional masks to a Downtown East Side youth wearing a leather hoodie.

“It’s a mix of past and modern. We want First Nations not to be seen as a museum piece but as a community living in the present,” he says.

The play is also about creativity, friendship and honour, and how to solve problems (ie: mouse meeting the raven and spirit bears and they solve problems together).

The music consists of a lot of cedar-made drums with elk and a hang drum.

McGregor explains the hang drum (not recognized by any culture) was developed in Switzerland in 2000.

“It’s a steel drum and looks like a flying saucer. We wanted to bring something that’s modern and helps with the storytelling,” he says.

There’s also movement, dancing and vocals.

“There’s a specific way these spirits move – the Coast Salish way,” says McGregor.

In terms of facilitating, the artistic director says he treats Th’owxiya as any play and uses his skills as a storyteller.

“My job is to tell the story as best as possible and allow others to assist and guide the production in the proper protocols,” says McGregor.

Truth and Reconciliation is often associated with the current First Nations story but McGregor says there was a “whole other story before all that happened – there were simple stories and legends.”

According to McGregor the hour-long play is both fun and a little scary (culturally appropriate for First Nations).

“Embrace what you are seeing. This isn’t a linear story, but rather like a puzzle. All good plays ask questions. They do not answer questions. They ask, ‘what would I do in that situation?’” says McGregor.

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