Radio story: Hunger plays

The first Valley Storytellers Project focused on stories of hunger in the state's breadbasket.

My third freelance radio story for The California Report aired on Friday, March 16, 2012. I reported on the unique collaboration between Central Valley community storytellers and the L.A.-based Cornerstone Theater Company. Their project yielded two original plays about the important topic of hunger, created out of the shared stories of my Central Valley neighbors.

I first spent a whole day with the participants inside the Sanger High School multipurpose room in early January. The first-day workshop, facilitated by performance artist and self-described “farm apprentice” Nikiko Masumoto, provided the raw material for the plays. Fifteen community members, many of whom had never been involved in a theater type project before, connected with three local screenwriters and a handful of theater pros from L.A. Three weeks later, in early February, I spent a second full day with the storytellers, as they raced through rehearsals in the morning and then presented their work publicly to about 150 audience members in the afternoon. The process was fast and furious, but the results were both fun and profound.

My favorite part of covering the story was watching Nikiko facilitate the workshop. Her energy was infectious, and her thoughtful questions and creative activities prompted the group in unexpected ways to express what hunger meant to them. There was a full-group discussion about each person’s “best last meal.” There was a speed-dating style activity in two concentric circles, where people rotated to talk one-on-one with each other, surrounded by the voices of their peers. And there was a small-group activity where people grouped themselves by their food and eating preferences for a series about inclusion and exclusion. Each of the activities really showed the participants how similar they all were, while emphasizing and embracing the big range of individual differences.

Nikiko’s master stroke as a facilitator, though, was the “kitchen sounds choir.” In a large circle, she asked each person one-by-one to re-create a familiar sound from their kitchen with their bodies. People scratched their heads a bit at first. But then they stomped their feet, made hissing and buzzing and clanking sounds with their mouths, started flailing their arms, and generally began making all sorts of kitchen-inspired racket. Nikiko then gradually combined all the people’s kitchen sounds into one grand cacophony, standing at the center of the circle (with me at her feet, with my shotgun mic) and assuming the role of orchestra conductor to direct a swirling crescendo of homemade “music.” It was a glorious creation of sound– and it was perfect for the radio. As you’ll hear, I decided to lead my story with it.

Here’s a link to my final radio story. Here’s also another story on the event from my colleague Joe Moore at Valley Public Radio.

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