The cast and crew behind an upcoming musical theatre performance hope it will stoke interest in traditional stories and the preservation of the language they are told in.
The play, called Swati7 ra7 Skwast or “what is your name,” blends songs in the Secwepemc language which deal with themes of family, history and the natural world, with a story that depicts a time when Splatsin was rich in tradition and culture, and the impact of settlers on that world. The plot follows a young Splatsin woman who starts a family with an early settler from England.
Often when musicals are written, the story comes first and then songs are written. In this case, the songs were composed over a period of 20 years and the story has been woven around them.
The play is based on ‘language songs’ composed by Splatsin elder and teacher Rosalind Williams in consultation with a small group of remaining fluent Secwepemctsin speakers. The language songs have been used as a teaching tool and now it is hoped the performance built around them will educate the public on the importance of preserving the language.
Bringing Splatsin culture and history to life has been a rewarding but emotional experience for the cast.
Gloria Morgan, who is helping coach singers for the play and who is also a featured performer herself, has been taking Secwepemc language classes with Williams for two years. Morgan said the ways language and Splatsin life interact always carries emotional weight for her; she expects it to have an even greater effect when sharing it with an audience.
“I don’t think in the play that I’ll be able to keep back my tears at the very end. That’s how she’s making many of us feel, because language is our strength,” Morgan said of bringing Williams’ songs to the stage.
Lisa Kenoras, who plays the lead role in Swati7 ra7 Skwast, is also feeling empowered by the way the community has come together to put it on. Twenty-five-year-old Kenoras said working with local elders and children to bring the play to life has been an identity-affirming experience for her that comes at a crucial time, just before she leaves the area for university.
The cast have been diligently rehearsing three nights per week for the past six weeks under the direction of James Fagan Tait. He said direction is easy because they are such a cohesive group.
“In rehearsal, it’s jumping off the page every second. Everyone is bringing it to life with such warmth and humanity; it’s beautiful,” he said.
Williams said the play is reminiscent of the oral-history storytelling which has traditionally been Splatsin’s link to the past.
“All of our knowledge and all of our information was passed from one generation to the next only orally. We never had a written language so history was passed on through orators,” she said.
Williams said when she sees the community coming together to pass the oral tradition along, she feels it is the one thing that was not damaged by colonialism.
Behind the scenes, locals are being taught to operate the lighting and sound equipment, and traditional craftsmanship will be helping create the stage show. Classes in rattle making, tule mat weaving and sewing have been working to create props and costumes for the play.
There will be four productions of Swati7 ra7 Skwast in late June. Two will be held at Splatsin Tsm7aksaltn outdoor theatre in Enderby on June 20 and 21. The others will be held at the Red Barn in Sicamous on June 22, and at Armstrong Centennial Theatre on June 23. Admission will be free but donations will be collected for the Splatsin Language Program.