Animal Farm to Table: a new kind of dinner theater
“Food is an engine for conversation as well as understanding a culture that is unlike our own.”
What is a food utopia? Writer and Artistic Director of the Renegade Company, Mike Durkin, admits that he doesn’t know what this ideal would look like. However, through Renegade’s new production, Animal Farm to Table, he hopes performers and audience members can put their heads together to understand what a food utopia might be and how it may be reached. Durkin believes that “food is an engine for conversation as well as understanding a culture that is unlike our own.”
Animal Farm to Table is not a traditional theater experience. There isn’t a fourth wall to be broken because there are no walls. Described as one part performance, one part town-hall style discussion, and one part meal, Animal Farm to Table follows in the footsteps of previous Renegade shows. The Renegade Company partners with local artisans and community organizations to present familiar stories in new ways, reimagining and applying them to life in Philadelphia. They have presented shows in the Fringe Festival for the past four years, including productions such as Bathtub Moby-Dick and The Hunchback of Notre Dame . . . A Mute Play, with titles telling of their experimental nature.
In Animal Farm to Table George Orwell’s allegorical, dystopian novella, Animal Farm, emerges at the Urban Creators’ Farm in North Philly where the audience will forage for food in preparation for the meal communally prepared at the end of the show. In Orwell’s novella the shortage of food, and the animals’ inability to access food without the farmer motivate their revolt. Although food is Orwell’s use, his tale demonstrates the power of sustenance to affect human interactions. For Renegade’s audience the food will be literal. “A key to this production is to come in with an open mind and open stomach,” Durkin advises.
Mike Durkin worked at a branch of the Free Library adjacent to the Urban Creators’ Farm in Nicetown when he became interested in food culture in Philadelphia. He observed the food culture of the farm, noted what his students ate, as a result the idea for Animal Farm to Table arose. Together with community partner, Farm to City, Renegade began working on Animal Farm to Table by distributing surveys related to food purchases at the Rittenhouse Square Farmer’s Market. Renegade wanted to find out how Philadelphians feel about access to sustainable foods, food hierarchy, and ethical consumption. Many of the answers Renegade received dealt with the question of quality rather than access, but Durkin doesn’t despair. In the coming weeks he’s conducting further surveys at the Port Richmond Farmer’s Market.
Last month Renegade did a work-in-progress showing at the Painted Bride Art Center. “That piece was set in a theater, which is not at all like what the Fringe piece will look like. So that experience was more about understanding the role the audience has in our story, and we learned that we need to be transparent with our actions and the way we talk with audience members,” Durkin explains. The Fringe production of Animal Farm to Table promises to be a communal learning experience, a vegetarian delight, and a platform for an often overlooked topic to become the focus of conversation. Although Durkin doesn’t believe he has a vision of a food utopia, he shares an idealistic sentiment, saying “we are here to learn from one another and hopefully inspire change without our specific communities.”
Animal Farm to Table
The Urban Creators Farm
11th and Dauphin Streets
Sept 8–10 at 6pm
Sept 11 at 3pm
Sept 12 + 15–17 at 6pm
Sept 18 at 3pm