I recently had the pleasure of having five guest speakers in my ENGL202: The Literature of Food class. The course focuses on reading and writing about food. Most of our readings are nonfiction, memoir-type pieces. We also examine some poetry and fiction. Since our course texts do not include any drama, I was exploring possible supplementary dramatic literature to bring in to class. So, I called my twin sister Julie, who is a professional playwright, to ask for suggestions. She listed off a few possibilities for me to add to my reading list, but then she began discussing a food scene she had just written for her own play, BUNK.
This play is about the tension-filled relationship between an African man and an African-American man who are competing for a position to build a bunk bed. The two men try to connect, but because of cultural differences related to food and other traditions and ideologies, they continuously clash. Then, the idea hit me: why not invite her into my classroom with her actors and director, and have them perform and discuss the food scene from the play and talk with my students about the role that food plays in dramatic literature? So, that is exactly what happened. The scene, called “Heft,” centers on stereotypes and misunderstandings the play’s two main characters have in relation to food and health in each other’s cultures.
The performance was extremely powerful. The students loved it. Many of them wrote about it in their final reflections for the class. The actors, writer, director, and stage manager also loved getting early feedback on their script from the students. We had a great panel discussion about the role that food plays in dramatic literature and our lives, and it was very fun to hear the actors, director, stage manager and playwright share stories about different ways food has been used in dramatic writing they have seen and participated in. I would say it was the best day of class the entire semester!