Legends come to life on Salmon Arm stage

Nesklonlith Band member Ken Thomas and longtime theatre actor and producer James Bowlby have created a family friendly story.

Neskonlith Band member Ken Thomas takes brings Coyote to the Shuswap Theatre stage.

Neskonlith Band member Ken Thomas takes brings Coyote to the Shuswap Theatre stage.

First Nations stories will come to life on the Shuswap Theatre stage next week in Legend.

The production is a collaboration between the theatre society and the Switzmalph Cultural Society.

Laughingly describing himself as being typecast, Ken Thomas, Neskonlith Band member and grandson of beloved late elder Mary, will reprise his coyote role.

It is a character adopted about a decade ago and one that caught the eye of longtime theatre director and actor James Bowlby at last year’s River’s Day celebration at the Mary Thomas Sanctuary site just west of town.

“He said let’s do a project next year,” says Thomas, noting he often gets requests that don’t go much farther than the asking. “But James persevered, sending emails all winter and come spring, he said I have the theatre booked, we’re doing a summer show.”

Legend the story is about two characters – a young boy and a young girl who go on a journey.

“They’ve been chosen by the Old One – Kelkupki, or the Great Chief – who symbolize the Creator or God, because He sees potential in them,” says Thomas, noting the pair symbolize the youth of the world.

The journey includes treasured stories from Secwepemc, Plains Indians, Hopi and Aesop Fables.

From the Hopi comes the tale of the rainbow warriors, those who signify multi-cultural peoples – races mixing together and standing in protection of Mother Earth, Thomas says.

“It’s like the song Somewhere Over the Rainbow – it’s all of us together,” he adds. “We tried to use a lot of humour to not make the message too heavy-handed. The last thing we want is for people to walk away going ‘Holy, that was preachy.’”

Bowlby, has known 39-year-old Ken since he was in a Grade 10 production of Romeo and Juliet at JL Jackson and saw he enjoyed acting.

“I always wanted to do something to appreciate the local culture,” he says, noting that while natives may be our close neighbours, their culture is often a world away. “It should be appreciated and known by us.”

Bowlby says his collaboration with Thomas has included a lot of laughter and ready sharing of ideas.

“We just accepted each other and knew what we were wanting to do,” he says, noting from backstage to cast – many of whom are Thomas family members – to sets, costumes and publicity, work on the production has been almost seamless.

Thomas, as coyote, will welcome the audience at the official opening of this year’s Roots and Blues Festival, which runs Aug. 17 to 19, and will introduce Coyote to children twice daily in the Kid’s Zone.

Legend opens July 19 and will run Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., with matinees on Sundays at 1:30 p.m. There will be no shows on the weekend of Roots and Blues.

Tickets for Legend are $30 for a family of four, $12 for adults, $10 for seniors and $7 for students.