When rehearsals began for “The Food Show,” one of the first things writer-director Dan Kerr-Hobert asked his five-member cast to do was demonstrate their favorite way to prepare eggs. These ranged from a perfect omelette and an elegant poached egg to the less ambitious half-scramble in a bowl in a microwave.
He says the way people cook eggs “is a kind of handwriting,” and felt the exercise would be a perfect starting point to introduce the actors to the ideas he was aiming to illustrate in this new Neo-Futurist show.
‘The Food Show’
When: To Sept. 2
Where: The Neo-Futurists at Metropolitan Brewing, 3057 N. Rockwell
“It was a good way to start the conversation about how our identities affect our relationship to food and visa versa,” he says. “After each egg was made we all talked about small ways in which the process revealed things about the person cooking. Some text came out of that which is now in the show, but it also gave us a baseline sense of each person’s relationship to food.”
With his new play, Kerr-Hobert wants to get people thinking and talking about food via a wide range of ideas, from food’s cultural connections and the significance of family recipes passed down, to social issues and food’s impact on the environment. And, yes, food will be cooked on stage as the actors ruminate about these ideas and more.
“The Food Show” was born out of an ongoing conversation Kerr-Hobert, a member of The Neo-Futurists, had with his cousin and Neo-Futurist alum Caitlin Stainken. Both were interested in ideas about the connections people have with food and identity and had talked about opening a restaurant but creating a show about food was the idea that won out. (However, Stainken has since moved to Montana, had a baby and wasn’t available to continue with the show’s creation.)
Kerr-Hobert says the show is not solely aimed at foodies: “The goal is to look at the emotional relationship we all have with food.”
He adds, one of the core themes in the show is the idea of food and inheritance: “Where did we get our ideas about food? What ideas have we inherited? And why do we choose to keep them or give them up?”
In 2009, the Neo-Futurists partnered with Metropolitan Brewery to stage Sean Benjamin and Steve Mosqueda’s “Beer,” which was directed by Kerr-Hobert at the brewery’s Ravenswood location. The partnership continues with “The Food Show,” which debuts at Metropolitan’s new Avondale location. The cast features Oliver Camacho, Bilal Dardai, Tif Harrison, Spencer Meeks and Kyra Simms, with music composed by Mucca Pazza artistic director Ronnie Kuller.
As the 70-minute show unfolds, the cast is busy with tasks from making butter and pasta to searing salmon and baking cookies while also pondering the current issues related to food.
This is the first time Kerr-Hobert has created a Neo-Futurist show that he isn’t performing in. “It was a new and interesting challenge,” he says. Instead of simply using the stories from his own life, he says he had to discover new ways to bring his ideas into the script.
He began by interviewing the cast, each of whom had a drastically different history with food. These personal narratives are woven into the piece.
Ensemble member Bilal Dardai (the creator of that aforementioned half scramble in a bowl) grew up eating a mix of ethnic Indian dishes and American cuisine (“my mom was open to trying different things”). His role in the show evolved around his ethnic background but also around the fact he’s the only parent in the cast.
“We discussed ideas about not only my background but also about what you feed a small child with a food allergy and how you handle that,” Dardai says referring to his own experience with his son.
Kerr-Hobert hopes the show provides a space where people can have “a fulfilling and entertaining meditation” on food and the issues surrounding it.
“Do we keep our inherited ways or do we make changes,” he asks. “For me, the show is about mindfulness and a chance to think about questioning inheritance and whether or not we need to change.
“I try and eat ethically but I definitely don’t think enough about where all the food is coming from. I know those things have an impact on the world. There are a lot of questions about why we do what we do when it comes to food. We want to get people thinking about these issues.”
Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer