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Bringing it all home onstage

“All Recipes” explores the nuances of food and agriculture in rural Iowa. Photo by Aaron Juarez
“All Recipes” explores the nuances of food and agriculture in rural Iowa. Photo by Aaron Juarez
“All Recipes” explores the nuances of food and agriculture in rural Iowa. Photo by Aaron Juarez

The Working Group Theatre explored the relationship between food, family and Iowa this Monday with a performance of “All Recipes are Home.” Performed outside on the Central Campus amphitheater, the play combined the frontier mentality embedded within Iowa with the phenomenon of food culture. Melding the experiences of women finding independence, men questioning the set path of their lives and the place of queer culture in rural Iowa life, “All Recipes are Home” addressed relevant issues.

The play, which is a part of the College’s Public Events Series, looks at how food connects us and why it has become such an important part of everyday life.

“For the past 18 months, I’ve been traveling around doing interviews,” said Sean Christopher Lewis, the play’s writer and director.

While developing his work, Lewis traveled around Iowa gathering testimony from a variety of people on how food affects them. Working Group then took these testimonies and formed them into a coherent narrative that makes up the body of the play.

“Almost every work that they do has a process where they go out and interview real people and do the work” said Rachel Bly, the director of conference operations and events at the College.

Bly puts together the Public Events Series and has brought the Working Group Theatre to campus multiple times. For each play they’ve performed, Lewis has gone out and worked in the environment of the play’s set. For “All Recipes are Home,” Lewis worked a line at a school cafeteria among other experiences.

As a work that is based off of a collection of intensely personal experiences, “All Recipes Are Home” is able to connect the audience with different lives through the commonality of food.

“[It’s] about food and farming, but then also became about feminism and immigration, basically anything that even remotely connected to food in Iowa,” Lewis said.

Through the exploration of different social topics and their relationship to food, Lewis allows anyone to feel like they understand what the characters are going through.

Commissioned by a group of colleges in Iowa including Grinnell and the University of Iowa, “All Recipes are Home” is part of an effort to increase awareness of work done by Iowans in Iowa.

“It’s a great opportunity to partner with some of the other colleges in the state to support a local artist and to do something that is very relevant [to] the conversations about local foods, about agriculture,” Bly said.

“All Recipes are Home” takes on issues facing the campus, such as changing opinions on food sourcing and how we approach what we eat. But besides looking at the negative aspects of Iowa, the play also serves as a celebration of the state. By representing those who viewed Iowa as a new start, the audience is reminded of why people choose to come to Iowa and why they continue to stay.

“This is a musical, and very loving and very funny,” Lewis said. “The state’s been amazing to us. We’ve gotten so much support that it’s kind of a love letter to the state as a whole.”

Lewis moved back to Iowa for graduate school and did not plan on staying long. Because of his work here, he said he has found a new appreciation for the people and the land. This play hopes to bridge the love he has for Iowa with the appreciation for the support his theater company has received.

“They are real people’s stories and that is really incredible,” Bly said.

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