A battle is brewing at Caravan Farm Theatre – an epic clash between the south wind and the north wind.
“It is a great battle before humans were on Earth, just the animal people and the forces of nature – the elements personified,” says interim artistic director Anita Rochon, describing The Contest of the Winds, Caravan’s winter sleigh ride show that opens next week.
Rochon is filling in for Courtenay Dobbie, who is on maternity leave, but has been very involved with the production of The Contest of the Winds.
The women are very excited about the play, which Dobbie believes is the first time in Caravan’s 36-year history that the storyline is based on a local story.
“The most important thing is that it’s a local Interior Salish story,” says Dobbie. “It is a legend come to life with a big lesson to be learned and about the land right beneath our feet, our history.”
Rochon and Dobbie describe The Contest of the Winds as an epic adventure that will transport audience members to another time and to several big, beautiful sets across the large 80-acre farm.
Rochon explains the audience will first meet Auntie Joes in the present time. She will welcome everyone to her home, where she will begin to tell stories of the long-ago time.
While there are serious lessons to be learned in this family friendly show, there is comedy too, in the form of Stinkbug and Crane, who try to train the young south wind to battle the north wind.
Dobbie and Rochon both felt strongly that this story needed to have the blessing and involvement of First Nations bands and a local playwright.
Long affiliated with the farm and First Nations, Linz Kenyon agreed to write the play and compose the music for The Contest of the Winds.
“He has the right tone and knowledge of the farm,” says Dobbie, noting Caravan Farm Theatre is neighbour to both Okanagan and Splatsin territories.
Community and cultural liaisons for the bands, Lynn Phelan and Rosalind Williams played an integral role in making sure the production is true to the original story, the customs and the language.
Many local summer stories were readily available, but finding a winter story was no easy task, says Dobbie.
Phelan found the story in Tales of the Okanagan and permission to create the play was secured from both bands.
“I was honoured and blessed to be given the Interior Native Salish blessing to do the story,” says Kenyon, who wrote two other plays for Caravan. “I feel privileged to be in this position and work with Phelan and Williams.”
Kenyon says there’s significant language translation.
“The translation is coming from the horse’s mouth rather than a made-up language – This is the real thing,” Kenyon says, noting he is also pleased youths from both bands are in the production.
“This works so well for the bands; their youth who are interested in theatre are getting the chance to work with the pros,” he says, noting the experience could awaken new aspirations. “Some of them have launched from no acting experience into a professional company with audiences of about 400 people a night.”
Kenyon said what seemed like a simple story at first, revealed many layers and complexities.
“I’ve never written for elements before and elements as characters are very much a part of the First Nations – all things are alive: plants, rocks, animals, water,” he says. “It frees you up to have a lot of fun developing characters. We have forgotten a lot of this; we tend to think of things more as food or resources. We don’t tend to see them as living things.”
When he wrote The Cowboy King, Kenyon worked with a professor and theatrical editor at Simon Fraser University.
“He would always say, ‘that was fun, aren’t you excited about the next one?’” laughs Kenyon. “He said the more you know, the more it should be harder, and that if writing plays gets easier, you’re getting lazy.”
The Contest of the Winds runs at 4, 6 and 8 p.m. from Dec. 11 to Jan. 4. There are now shows on Dec. 17, 24, 25 and Jan. 1. For ticket information, visit www.caravanfarmtheatre.com, phone 1-866-311-1011 or book online at www.ticketseller.ca.