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Wednesday, 08 April 2015 14:09

Musical drama about Cypress Hills history returns to Lyric

Written by  Matthew Libenberg
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Award winning actor and storyteller Joseph Naytowhow presents the Nakoda point of view in a scene from the historical musical drama The Cypress Hills would never be the same. Award winning actor and storyteller Joseph Naytowhow presents the Nakoda point of view in a scene from the historical musical drama The Cypress Hills would never be the same. Photo by Hillarie Tasche

After last year’s successful performance of a musical drama about the Cypress Hills at the Lyric Theatre, the production will return to the stage later this month with the addition of a new character and a new song.


Swift Current resident Stew Tasche shares his passion for the history of the Cypress Hills region with audiences in the play The Cypress Hills would never be the same.
“That story has to be told at some point,” he said. “That’s really what my whole impetus was from the beginning, growing up in the Cypress Hills and having had the privilege of knowing that history. I just want to share that with people so that they can take their kids out there and they can talk to them about what happened right here.”
It took him three years to write the play, which tells the story of the Cypress Hills through a combination of monologues and songs.
“If you’ve missed it in the prose, you can still get it in the music because one reinforces the other,” he said. “So you should be able to come to that show, not have much of an idea about the Cypress Hills or Sitting Bull or wolfers or the Cypress Hills Massacre, and you should be able to go away and be able to tell some semblance of that story and that’s all I wanted to do.”
His own expectations for the play was wildly exceeded and it evolved into a much larger production than he anticipated. He originally thought it would be suitable for performance on a simple set by a two-person cast consisting of a storyteller and a musician.
“I never had any dreams that it would play once, let alone play twice,” he said. “It’s probably one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.”
The play was originally performed at the Lyric Theatre in November 2014 and tickets sold so fast an additional performance was scheduled.
“I guess you’d have to say it was an incredible success,” he mentioned. “It was sold out three weeks before. We added another night, that sold out in 24 hours. We had a matinee then for high-school students from the southwest with 190 high-school students, that sold out.”
He credited the success of the play to the calibre and professionalism of the artistic and production team, as well as to the interest from people in their own region’s history.
“People are so inundated with technology and computers and cellphones and all that sort of stuff,” he said. “There’s a real urgency out there for people to hear stories. ... If it’s in prose and music, it appeals to that many more people. When it involves the history of your area it is more meaningful to a whole other group of people.”
After the success of last year’s production, there were many requests for the play to be performed again.
“There were so many people who didn’t get a chance to see it,” he said. “We had calls right up to the end of people trying to get tickets. It was sold out three weeks before and people couldn’t believe it.”
Although they were unsure if they would be able to fill the theatre again with a repeat performance, they decided in any case to go ahead. There will be four evening performances from April 22-25. According to Tasche the ticket sales have been going very well and people should not wait to buy their tickets to avoid disappointment.
This production will be slightly longer than the previous one due to the addition of a new character and a new song.
He decided to add a third wolfer to the cast as a way to provide audiences with a better understanding of the role of the American wolf hunters in the history of the Cypress Hills.
They brought whiskey into the area to trade for furs, but their main method to kill wolves was to use a buffalo carcass laced with strychnine as bait.
“They were ruthless, they were drunkards, they were for the most part derelicts and people say where did these guys come from,” he noted. “So that was my hook. I knew where they came from, but I’m going to write it in a character, another guy who’s a wolfer, and give the background of this character, and the character is Silas Hawkins. He’s not a real guy, he’s a combination of a whole bunch of people.”
Many of the wolfers participated in the American Civil War and Tasche traced the origins of his new character back to that period, specifically to the bloody Battle of Cold Harbor, where thousands of Union soldiers were killed or wounded.
The role of Silas Hawkins will be played by Skip Neufeld. The other two wolfers in the play will again be performed by Gord Nodge and Doug Sawatzky.
The remaining cast members will also be the same as with the original production. Award-winning actor and storyteller Joseph Naytowhow presents the Nakoda point of view, and the two members of the North West Mounted Police will be played by Swift Current Comprehensive High School drama teacher Stefan Rumpel, who is also co-director of the play, and Grade 12 student Keegan Browne.
Musical performances are provided by Nekaneet First Nation singer and drummer Jessie Eashappie and a band consisting of local musicians Dave Cyca, Mark Penner, and Ed and Eliza Doyle.
The other members of the production team are Cyndi Tasche, who is responsible for production, set and costume design, Mike Tetrault is the sound technician and Marshall Perry is responsible for lighting.
Since the previous production, the songs from the play have been recorded by Mark Penner in his studio with the assistance of the other musicians who are participating in the production. CDs of the soundtrack will be available for sale at the upcoming performances.
The soundtrack includes the new song that was written by Tasche for the third wolfer in the cast and it also includes a performance by the Thundering Hills Cree Singers that was recorded at the Nekaneet First Nation.
The production will again be a fundraiser for the Lyric Theatre. It will be performed on April 22, 23, 24 and 25.
Tickets for the play are available at Pharmasave at $18 each. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m., the prelude will begin at 7:15 and the show will start at 8 p.m.
More information about the play is available online at: www.cypresshills-historical-musical.ca.

Read 3324 times Last modified on Thursday, 09 April 2015 12:17