Nourishment explores the complexity of female relationships, the values and traditions passed down from one generation to the next, and societal definitions of womanhood. Inspired by the ways in which women have gathered to discuss politics, share stories, and nourish one another throughout history, Nourishment is an exploration of women as activists, caregivers, and revolutionaries.
We caught up with playwright Gloria Mok, choreographer Jess Watkin and director Erin Maxfield this week.
SDTC: Can you give us the gist of Nourishment in your own words? What perspective did you personally bring to the show?
GLORIA: Nourishment is an open-face sandwich made with nuggets of wisdom, a dash of humour, and a sprinkle of honesty, served up on a slice of womanhood. As the only playwright of colour on the team, the representation of many different types of women from a variety of cultural backgrounds was always on the forefront of my mind. I wanted us to explore a global history of women to make our play as inclusive and relatable as possible.
Seeds of this began during the writing process and continued when we began casting, because what we look like and the stories we carry in our bodies matter. Once we settled on our group of four actors, it was ultimately the devising process where we shared personal stories that helped bring those culturally specific references to tradition and cooking forward.
I ended up writing a lot of the movement-based scenes, because in my mind, our physicality and the space we take up as women transcend language. Another reason I wrote those movement sequences is for people like my parents, who will come see the show with a limited knowledge of English, and will hopefully still be able to understand what’s going on. What makes these scenes most exciting is Jess’s integration of live audio description as part of her research practice studying disability and performance.
JESS: Nourishment explores the ways we as women connect to each other, history, and the world around us. It examines the ways we feel fed, and most importantly, how we are actively trying to balance our daily lives.
What is it about food that makes it so central to our relationships as women?
ERIN: I have strong memories of major holidays when my entire family would gather at my grandmother’s house, and all of the women would spend the weekend preparing amazing meals and desserts for everyone. There were always dishes that guests were expected to bring – my mom’s was an ambrosia salad that all the kids really loved because it was sweet and chock-full of fruit and marshmallows.
I remember when she taught me how to make it; it felt like a secret was being given to me and that I would be responsible for keeping this tradition going. I also learned from my mother that if someone brought you food, it was polite to return their Tupperware filled with something you made for them, and that if you were invited to someone’s house, you never arrived empty handed.
I remember when there were deaths in my family, there was an unspoken rule that people would bring all kinds of food; either to share with guests, or to freeze so that anyone grieving wouldn’t have to cook for themselves. We don’t always know how to handle people’s pain or the loss of a loved one, but we can at least make sure that their bellies are full and that they have one less thing to worry about.
Sharing food and coming together is something that is relatable for both men and women, but because traditionally the kitchen has been seen as a woman’s place (ignoring the shitty jokes that accompany this stereotype), we wanted to explore what happens between women in the kitchen and the kinds of conversations that are shared.
What do you want audiences to take away from this play?
ERIN: We want audiences to acknowledge the work that women do for their families that can often be taken for granted. We want audiences to see their aunts and mothers and sisters reflected in our characters and celebrate them as caregivers, homemakers, and activists.
Women don’t often get portrayed on stage as the multi-dimensional people they are. Your aunt who is preparing a meal for her family is also writing a novel on the side, or working full-time, or going to protests to make things better for future generations. Mothers are not just mothers: they are students, teachers, homemakers, and revolutionaries. And all the while, they’re living in this world where they constantly have to think about protecting themselves and have to follow unwritten rules in order to stay safe from people who see them as inferior.
Despite all this, they carry on. They continue working and supporting each other. The invisible work they often do as caregivers is not always seen as valuable or worth noting, so we wanted to put these kinds of women front and centre.
What did you learn about yourself from the process of writing this?
JESS: The most profound change I’ve had while working on this piece was the strange and intricate ways we can interact onstage. We started this in the writing process when we were researching women from everywhere and imagined how they could interact, but ultimately how the women I know and love can be explored through other people on a stage and by people who don’t know them at all. Theatre gives us this beautiful space to create worlds and moments that reflect and play out the ways that we want.
What is your favourite food-related tradition/memory?
GLORIA: Food is a very big part of my life, so it’s hard to pick just one. But if you’ve never experienced hot pot, you’re missing out. The whole family gathers around a large vat of boiling hot soup that bubbles over a hot plate. Scattered around the table are plates and bowls filled with various raw food items that will soon be cooked in the soup – meat, seafood, fish paste (I know it sounds gross, but it’s actually delicious), tofu, wontons, dumplings, mushrooms, bok choy, noodles, and anything else your heart desires.
Each person is equipped with a bowl, a pair of chopsticks, a small dish for you to mix your own dipping sauce, and a ladle for you to cook your raw food in. It’s essentially an all-you-can-eat buffet but you get the added enjoyment of cooking your own food. As more and more food gets cooked in the broth, the tastier the broth becomes. It’s a fun activity for the whole family during the cold winter months, and I can guarantee no one will walk away from the table feeling hungry.
Check out Nourishment at The Theatre Centre: Franco Boni Theatre running until July 15 as part of the Fringe Festival.