“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”
It’s an old saying taken from Roman writer Seneca, but holds even more poignancy at Caravan Farm Theatre, currently in preparation for its winter sleigh-ride production.
Just as actors and crew arrived at the farm last week to start rehearsals for the show, one of Caravan’s stalwart Clydesdales lay down underneath the branches of a fir tree on the property and died.
At 21 years old, Jason went suddenly, but peacefully, due to what was a short-lived illness.
A true workhorse, Jason and his teammate, Tom, pulled many sleigh-loads of visitors for the farm’s winter productions. He also appeared in a number of shows, including 2013’s summer production of Head over Heels, where he starred as a pack horse.
With that sad end comes a new beginning as the farm goes on with its next winter production, The Contest of the Winds.
Based on an Interior Salish legend, the play has been written by Shuswap writer Linz Kenyon, whose previous credits include The IOU Land, produced as a summer show at Caravan.
“We have a different tone this year,” said Anita Rochon, Caravan’s interim artistic director who directed last winter’s comedy Little Brother, Little Sister at Caravan.
“This is a big, beautiful epic show. It’s a larger than life winter story. It’s a traditional story from this area. The moral is about finding balance, which is a classic theme for any era.”
Directed by Rachel Peake, who has just come off directing the Vancouver Opera premiere of Shane Koyzcan’s Stickboy, Contest of the Winds involves members of the Secwepemc Aboriginal communities, including Splatsin band members in Enderby and the Syilx in the Okanagan.
Rosalind Williams from the Splatsin Tsm7aksaltn Teaching Centre and Lynn Phelan, aboriginal support worker with the Vernon school district, have served as both community and cultural liaisons for the play.
“On our first day of rehearsal, Rosalind spoke about how the arts is a great way to bridge different cultures,” said Rochon. “They have provided consultation from A to Z. If a costume has looked too coastal, they have told us what is right for this region. We are following the correct protocol as best as we can.”
The Contest of the Winds is narrated by Aunty Joe, played by Renae Morriseau, an actor and musician who starred in the Canadian TV show North of 60 and recently appeared in Runaway Moon Theatre’s summer production of Tuwitames at the Splatsin Tsm7aksaltn Teaching Centre.
“The story begins in modern times and then goes back to the ancient world before humans, when the forces of nature and the animal people lived,” said Rochon.
It follows Sonny Boy (Alex Twin) and Ava Girl (Reneltta Arluk), who are divided between the traditional and the modern ways of life. Aunty Joe attempts to show them how to respect one another’s ways by telling them the story of the battle between the cold North Wind and the warm South Wind (also played by Twin and Arluk, respectively), who are at odds with one another and are vying for power.
“They are trying to blow one another off each other’s pedestals,” said Rochon.
Enter Skokomina Bird (Cheri Maracle), an American dipper who tries to find a balance between the winds. Then there’s Crane (Greg Gale, from Caravan’s 2012 summer production The Notorious Robber Right and His Robber Bride) and Stinkbug (Jason Clift), who join the other woodland creatures, played by local youth from the Splatsin and Okanagan Nations, to frolic on Caravan’s snowy winter fields.
“We are excited to work with local youth who get to work with some of the best in Canadian theatre,” said Rochon.
Although not a musical, the show does feature original numbers played with drums and other traditional instruments, said Rochon.
“Linz wrote a lot of the music and Renae took the music and has added a traditional flavour and the local language to it,” she said.
As in most sleigh-ride productions, the set (designed by Caravan veteran Catherine Hahn, who has also designed the costumes) uses the natural setting of the farm to its benefit.
“It is set along the forest line with the hill as a backdrop and also on the farmer’s field and the middle of the property,” said Rochon. “We use various locations and build the sleigh ride around that.”
Patrons are reminded to dress warmly for when the North Wind blows.
The Contest of the Winds runs at Caravan Farm Theatre from Dec. 11 to Jan. 4. Sleighs depart most nights at 4, 6 and 8 p.m. Tickets and information are available at the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.