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And Then…

A community story circle for the Creative Seeds One Minute Play Festival.

In September, I moved to Los Angeles to work as a fellow with Cornerstone Theater Company. I have spent the past seven weeks producing Creative Seeds: An Exploration of Hunger, two weeks of programming dedicated to the investigation of hunger and food justice issues in Los Angeles. I have learned more about food than I probably want to know. . . but that’s the point! These two weeks of events are intended to educate, provoke, and create conversation as Cornerstone prepares to enter a cycle of nine new plays around this topic.

Early in the planning, Cornerstone mentioned that we would be partnering with Dominic D’Andrea’s One-Minute Play Festival (OMPF). I’ve heard of one-act play competitions, compilations of 10 minute plays, evenings with 30 plays in 60 minutes, and even 1 tweet plays by @nyneofuturists (one of my favorite online activities), but I had never heard of a one-minute play festival. I was intrigued, but frankly, didn’t have much time to really seriously consider the context of a minute as compared to the other durations I had experienced. There was just too much other planing and scheduling to take place. My brain space was filled with new names (Cornerstone artists, LA writers, partners, food truck owners, board and community members), venues all across the city (Bootleg Theater, Atwater Crossing, Inner-City Arts), and the logistics for volunteer activities all over the city (food banks, soup kitchens, harvesting, and bagging groceries).  My job was to make sure every detail for each event was in place for the coming two weeks.

When it came time to focus our attentions on the logistics for the OMPF, the check list looked like this:

-Invite community members for story circles and wagon wheels
-Locate actors of all different types for staged readings
-Find two venues large enough to contain 100+ people
-Problem solve the logistics of rehearsing a full night of plays in less than 4 hours.

Not being from Los Angeles (and barely knowing what a “wagon wheel” was) I jumped in. Playwrights emailed– check! Community invited– check! Visit to venues– check! Emails were coming back from excited playwrights, community members from past Cornerstone shows were honored to be invited back, and staff members were adding their names to the list to write and act— “Only a minute. . . Sure! Why not!?”  We even came up with a snazzy name for the evening that felt in line with our theme.

“We talked of the time we were the hungriest, food choices, and assumptions we had made about others about the food that they eat.”

346 emails later, a couple of chats with Dominic, and with 100 chairs in a circle at Inner-City Arts, Single Servings kicked off on Tuesday, November 8th. The night was dedicated to sharing stories about food and hunger. Seated in a circle, we introduced ourselves and divulged the last meals we had eaten— pizza, fish tacos, veggies from the snack table in the hall, delicious soups, microwave dinners, etc. Cornerstone’s cultural mapping activity followed, and the group culturally identified themselves as lovers of either bread, meat, veggies or fruit. Next, we aligned ourselves on a spectrum between “Veggie Burger” and “Hamburger”. As a meat lover, I was (surprise, surprise) closer to the hamburger end. Then it was time for wagon wheels. We created two concentric circles, an inside and an out, and rotated, sharing stories with five different partners— a device to organize us and randomly set up conversations. We talked of the time we were the hungriest, food choices, and assumptions we had made about others about the food that they eat. By the end of the night, instead of just being a room of writers and actors, we were a room of poets, cooks, food activists, compost lovers, shoppers, caretakers, travelers, experimenters, picky eaters, and adventurous connoisseurs.

It was after the story circle activities that I was first able to think more about what a minute actually means. Dominic talked with us and started a clock for a minute and allowed us space to free associate and imagine. A minute was longer than I had thought. . . . How would I relate this to food and hunger? Would I be able to craft a theatrical moment from what I had heard that night? When would I have time to write?

For me, I am visual creator. I storyboard and sketch and often visualize the final moments of my plays before anything else. This happens. . . .and this. . . and then. . . and then. . . until there is nothing else possible. For me that’s where a play should end. I thought about this piece in the same way.

My minute didn’t become clear that night, but suddenly in the middle of one of our panel discussions the following day. There it was: a tiny phrase spoken by a farmer that conjured up an incredibly strong mental picture. My visual brain took over and set the scene. I could place this moment, how it felt, but more importantly I could see how it looked and hear how it sounded. When I sat down to type, it came easily. . . the image first, the sounds of this world second, and then. . . and then. . . and my minute was over.

Park Cofield served as Altvater Fellow at Cornerstone Theater Company in Fall 2011. He is currently a project coordinator for Cornerstone’s partnership with The California Endowment. www.parkcofield.com



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