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artist’s spotlight: Roberts’ ‘Eat This!’ provides food awareness to audiences

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Stephanie Roberts Photo Courtesy: KC Stage
Stephanie Roberts
Photo Courtesy: KC Stage

Stephanie Roberts, assistant professor of theatre, is serving up a new kind of theatre experience about something that affects people everyday—food.

In her newest play “Eat This! KC Chews on the Politics of Food,” Roberts and her MFA acting graduate students created a social commentary on where and how food reaches dinner tables.

Receiving her degree from Del Arte, a performing arts institution in the California Redwoods, Roberts’ MFA is in ensemble based physical theatre.

In the creation of “Eat This!,” Roberts says the actors are not just regenerating the work of the playwright, but contributed to making the script.

“I had the idea a couple years ago,” Roberts said, explaining that the same process used for her previous play “Slammed,” was used for “Eat This!”

She continued, “The students and I went out into the community and interviewed people and transcribed all of those recordings.”

Roberts refers to this method of writing as documentary style theatre, or verbatim theatre. Some other examples she provided of this genre were “The Laramie Project,” about the aftermath of Matthew Shepard’s death and “Twilight Los Angeles,” about the Rodney King trial.

Roberts has lived in Kansas City for approximately seven years and has found this to be a learning process not only for her students, but for herself.  She believes the graduate students who spend three years studying in Kansas City, many of who are from out of town, should be able to fully experience and the community they’re living in.

“Most people don’t know we’re in a food movement,” Roberts said, “but we are definitely in a food movement as far as local food, the urban farming movement and we’re also in the bread basket. Kansas City is surrounded by farms and almost everyone comes from a farming background.”

Roberts explained controversies around the industrialization of farming, which she believes started with family farms, but then grew so that new technological methods had to be implemented.  However, not everyone agrees with these methods.

This idea is also represented in the set of “Eat This!”, starting off with the audience facing a rural farm landscape and transitioning into a cityscape that eventually brings them to the dinner table.

“Topics like pink slime, genetically modified organisms and confined animals, are really hot topics,” she said. “There’s a lot of polarization among people around these subject matters.”

Roberts believes that highlighting these ideas will help reconnect people with where food comes from, who it came from, how it was grown, how it was processed and what might be added to it.

“Food production will never go away,” she said. “Food affects everyone—every single human. It affects us several times a day and we make choices several times a day.”

Pink slime, for instance, is lean, finely textured ground beef. Roberts explained that this process consists of taking the extra parts from the bones and carcass, treating it with an ammonia and water-based solution and grinding it up to create a pink goo.

The controversy is not that this isn’t real meat, but that the treatment with chemicals could be harmful to consumers.

“I think one of the reasons food is so politicized is because we have all this information at our fingertips,” she said. “We can record and see and publish and post things like that whereas before, it took a book like ‘The Jungle’ for people to know what was going on in meat packing plants.”

The most novel component of “Eat This!” is the presentation of real food during the play.  Roberts connected with community food artists from Bread KC to prepare soup and fresh bread for the audience in the second act.

Roze Brooks News Editor

tephanie Roberts, assistant professor of theatre, is serving up a new kind of theatre experience about something that affects people everyday—food.

In her newest play “Eat This! KC Chews on the Politics of Food,” Roberts and her MFA acting graduate students created a social commentary on where and how food reaches dinner tables.

Receiving her degree from Del Arte, a performing arts institution in the California Redwoods, Roberts’ MFA is in ensemble based physical theatre.

In the creation of “Eat This!,” Roberts says the actors are not just regenerating the work of the playwright, but contributed to making the script.

“I had the idea a couple years ago,” Roberts said, explaining that the same process used for her previous play “Slammed,” was used for “Eat This!”

She continued, “The students and I went out into the community and interviewed people and transcribed all of those recordings.”

Roberts refers to this method of writing as documentary style theatre, or verbatim theatre. Some other examples she provided of this genre were “The Laramie Project,” about the aftermath of Matthew Shepard’s death and “Twilight Los Angeles,” about the Rodney King trial.

Roberts has lived in Kansas City for approximately seven years and has found this to be a learning process not only for her students, but for herself.  She believes the graduate students who spend three years studying in Kansas City, many of who are from out of town, should be able to fully experience and the community they’re living in.

“Most people don’t know we’re in a food movement,” Roberts said, “but we are definitely in a food movement as far as local food, the urban farming movement and we’re also in the bread basket. Kansas City is surrounded by farms and almost everyone comes from a farming background.”

Roberts explained controversies around the industrialization of farming, which she believes started with family farms, but then grew so that new technological methods had to be implemented.  However, not everyone agrees with these methods.

This idea is also represented in the set of “Eat This!”, starting off with the audience facing a rural farm landscape and transitioning into a cityscape that eventually brings them to the dinner table.

“Topics like pink slime, genetically modified organisms and confined animals, are really hot topics,” she said. “There’s a lot of polarization among people around these subject matters.”

Roberts believes that highlighting these ideas will help reconnect people with where food comes from, who it came from, how it was grown, how it was processed and what might be added to it.

“Food production will never go away,” she said. “Food affects everyone—every single human. It affects us several times a day and we make choices several times a day.”

Pink slime, for instance, is lean, finely textured ground beef. Roberts explained that this process consists of taking the extra parts from the bones and carcass, treating it with an ammonia and water-based solution and grinding it up to create a pink goo.

The controversy is not that this isn’t real meat, but that the treatment with chemicals could be harmful to consumers.

“I think one of the reasons food is so politicized is because we have all this information at our fingertips,” she said. “We can record and see and publish and post things like that whereas before, it took a book like ‘The Jungle’ for people to know what was going on in meat packing plants.”

The most novel component of “Eat This!” is the presentation of real food during the play.  Roberts connected with community food artists from Bread KC to prepare soup and fresh bread for the audience in the second act.

“There will be a talk back about the issues at the end of the show so the audience is basically breaking bread together,” Roberts said.

Both first-year and second-year graduate students are utilized for this production.  Roberts began with what are now second-year students during their first-year by watching documentaries and starting the interviews.

All the students and Roberts now have a private Facebook page in which they share current events related to the food controversies and discussions presented in the play.

There are 50 characters in “Eat This!” who are played by the graduate students.

“First we have to find conflict,” Roberts said. “So we put people together, sometimes of opposing views, in the same scene. Although they do directly address the audience, they’re also reacting to what the other person said. So we edited it so they look like they’re part of the same conversation when they were actually interviewed at separate times, separate places.”

“Eat This!” is showing now through March 10 at the Black Box Theatre in Room 116 of the Performing Arts Center.  Student tickets are $6.

rbrooks@unews.com

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