Earlier this year Black Country Touring and Birmingham Repertory Theatre presented a captivating production of food stories spanning the globe but told in the humble space of a caravan.
Eat! was the professional production which inspired by an anthology of food-based tales to be collected from, and shared with, people across the West Midlands and beyond.
Through the assistance of volunteer researchers, stewards and even a community choir Eat! breathed life into personal accounts of war and poverty, feast and famine, leaving a tasty legacy that has audiences hungry for more.
Dawinder Bansal, Producer at Black Country Touring, shares with mailout the secret recipe behind the successful production Eat!
At Black Country Touring we decided we wanted to run a production fuelled by food. Everyone has a connection to food and this presented us with the perfect opportunity to engage with different cultures and communities.
Everyone, everywhere, has a relationship with food. At our organisation we wanted this universality and to place our focus on this important thread that connects so many people.
At our organisation we wanted this universality and to place our focus on this important thread that connects so many people
For this project we really wanted to train the participants – from Black Country and Birmingham – and give them the confidence to go out, as interviewers, into their own communities and capture stories of food. In the training the volunteers were taught a variety of beneficial interviewing skills like how to use professional equipment, what kinds of questions they should ask and listening techniques. With these skills the interviewers ventured out and captured stories from people they knew – perhaps a relative or a friend – who had an interesting story about food and their connection to it.
The stories we received were very diverse and differed dramatically in topic. We had sad stories about people and the lack of food; one was in a refugee situation where their family was trapped and hungry. Another amazing story was one about war and, consequently, the food deprivation caused by it. It’s fascinating to see what exactly food means to you in that situation – especially when there’s not much of it around.
Some narrations were quite topical, especially one concerning food banks and the rise of them in the UK. We interviewed a food bank manager who provided us with insight on this issue. There were also stories about food and celebration which included one woman, who was married a few times, giving us a detailed description about the food she had at each wedding.
Another person’s story we recorded was about a very difficult relationship with food as she was bulimic. One story was more adventurous and featured travel, focusing on the foods of different cultures and what kind of food you eat when you are on a journey. We also interviewed a lady who runs an inspiring catering organisation called ChangeKitchen, where she talked about overcoming food dysfunctions through growing food.
The very nature – and set – of the show offered a more personal experience, creating the lines between audience and actor to blur
Interestingly, in the show each caravan has a different theme which transported audience members into an alternative world. The performance was a very intimate piece – inviting only 15 people at a time to go into each caravan. The very nature – and set – of the show offered a more personal experience, creating the lines between audience and actor to blur. We felt this was very important as we wanted to ensure the audiences became part of the story.
Building upon the show’s success we are looking for Eat! to continue but it may be a different model that we use. For example, in the 4 Squares Weekender festival it wasn’t the same show, we featured a community cast and a community choir and the caravans were dotted around central Birmingham. This generated more audiences and it got really busy – there were queues to get in!
The community choir Women of Wolverhampton and the newly formed The Howling Wolves Community Choir has been a real legacy of Eat! They first collaborated to be part of Eat! and have continued performing since. Eat! was a fantastic start to this choir’s journey, providing them with a central role in a professional production with the additional support of a Musical Director and Artistic Director. It is great to see since then the choir has gone from strength to strength – they are apparently now booked up till Christmas!
I believe one of the wonderful aspects of Eat! is the wide range of community members that have been engaged across Wolverhampton and Birmingham. Black Country Touring and Birmingham Rep have discovered an amazing community choir, great volunteer stewards and researchers. The great result is evident in the performance itself, Eat! not only interacted and engaged but it spoke to its audience members with many identifying with Eat! as being an integral part of their own lives.
Find out more about Eat! and other productions by Black Country Touring by visiting their website: http://www.bctouring.co.uk