Play debuting at CSPS focuses on food insecurity
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A hunger pang can refer to more than just an empty belly.
It can be the pangs of longing for many things, for safety, for education, for opportunity, for a taste of home.
A new play debuting at CSPS Friday examines all of those pangs and how they intersect, through the eyes of three real families, including one from Cedar Rapids. Los Angeles-based producer and playwright Dan Froot is bringing his original work “Pang!” to Cedar Rapids, Los Angeles and Miami in partnership with Legion Arts.
The Cedar Rapids section of the play focuses on Theo Bampamirubusa and his family, who moved to the United States from Burundi about 12 years ago. Froot worked with Courtney Ball, chief story officer at Flow Media in Cedar Rapids, to collect 12 hours of interviews with Bampamirubusa, learning the story of how he and his family left East Africa and settled in Cedar Rapids, and what those changes have meant for their lives.
They ended up with more than 200 pages of transcriptions, which Froot and his creative team boiled down to find the short narrative they will perform on stage. “Pang!” is presented as a staged radio drama, with actors reading into microphones, accompanied by live sound effects and music. There will be three 30 minute sections, each focused on one family — Bampamirubusa’s family, a family from California and a family from Florida.
The transcribed interviews will be bound and presented to each family, and a copy also will go to the University of California, Los Angeles Center for Oral History Research, which is building a collection of oral histories of people and families living with food insecurity.
Froot has built a body of artistic work around the topic. He said one thing he’s learned is how much food insecurity intersects will all other aspects of people’s lives, and how complicated the issue can be.
“The way we’ve chosen to do this is that none of the stories center food insecurity,” he said. “We don’t want any of the families to act as poster children for any particular issue. These families experience food insecurity as a sort of irritation; it’s often even subliminal. A lot of families experience food insecurity intermittently, or they have enough food but the quality of their food is insufficient, or they live in a food desert.”
For Bampamirubusa, it intersects with wishing he had more educational opportunities in Iowa so he could better support his family.
“He’s an entrepreneurial person, but because he has very little training in English, that has held him back,” Froot said. “He wants to study engineering, but just to sustain his family he has to work two full time jobs and so does his wife. He has to work so hard it’s hard for him to move up in terms of his education. He values that very highly and values that for his children.”
Most of the show is in English, with the actor playing Bampamirubusa saying some lines in Kirundi, which are then translated by the actress playing his daughter. A post show discussion will include a Swahili translator to make the conversation more accessible. That discussion will be a chance for the audience to react to the stories and issues presented.
“At some point hunger becomes a metaphor for the things we hunger for, each way families are hungering for change,” Froot said. “Theo and his families may hunger for educational opportunities. The family in Florida hungers for safe streets. The family in Los Angeles hungers for stable homes after they were foreclosed upon.”
Mel Andringa is co-founder of Legion Arts, which commissioned the piece. He said the themes are important ones.
“The idea that people in Iowa could suffer from food insecurity is incredible. In one way, we’re the bread basket of America. But we largely just grow corn and soybeans,” he said. “When Theo came to the United States, everybody patted him on the back. But he has to live a whole different kind of life here.”
From needing a car to get around to working two jobs to missing the vegetables he ate at home, the adjustments aren’t easy.
“What we’re hoping for people to see is, yes, food insecurity is a problem, but there are underlying things out there that we may not be aware of,” Andringa said.
IF YOU GO
Where: CSPS Hall,
When: 8 p.m. Friday, 4 and 8 p.m. Oct. 21
Cost: $18 in advance, $22 at the door
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