Two absurd chefs, clownishly attired in checks, plaids, stripes and large chefs hats, "made" soup, introducing the ingredients one by one. "The broth!" "The potato!" "The chicken!" These items were rushed and bumbled through two doors into the kitchen of the Mad River Grange in Blue Lake last Friday evening.
All except for the chicken, a floppy-fluffy-fake thing. It was trouble, and soon had Chef Jacob Trillo by the throat with its beak. He shrieked and reeled around. Chef Anthony Arnista hefted a large, real ax and swung it wildly and determinedly at the death-grip pair. Missed, of course -- this was comedy, not drama. And the antics went on. Gardeners chased each other with shovel and rake. Carrots danced then sang a sad ballad. The crowd of roughly 75 hooted and laughed (although a few crept out, including one woman who said to her male companion, "It's getting worse!")
Trillo and Arnista, third-year MFA students in the Dell' Arte International School of Physical Theatre, interspersed skits and groaner food jokes with recorded interviews and live speakers. Their production, Voice of Hunger, was aimed at highlighting food issues in Blue Lake -- that is, the folks apparently not getting enough healthful food out there for one reason or another, and the services and food sources available to them whether they know it or not.
Wait a minute -- just how many food-challenged people are there in Blue Lake, population 1,200?
There's no hard figure. But, in a telephone interview days before the performance, Kim Rios, who coordinates services at the Blue Lake Community Resource Center, said the center's emergency pantry gave out 54 bags of emergency food last month and about 60 "backpacks" for kids. Rios said the people who get emergency food bags also get commodities once a month through Food For People; about 62 families are signed up for commodities in Blue Lake, she said. When that food runs out, they can get a little more from the community resources center, a nonprofit run by St. Joseph Hospital that connects people to everything from health care to counseling to groceries.
"The emergency food is to get people through 'til pay day," Rios said. (In Trillo and Arnista's performance, they make a sauce out of the things left over in some people's commodity bags at the end of the month: a muffin, catsup, three bananas. ...)
Fifteen Blue Lake children are in the backpack program. Each Friday, they take home a paper bag with "enough food for breakfast, lunch and dinner for Saturday and Sunday, and snacks like granola bars and fresh fruit," said Rios.
In a pre-performance interview, Trillo, from Orange County, and Arnista, from Virginia, explained that as third-year students in the physical theatre program they are required to do at least one production that involves a community organization. They talked to farmers, people who distribute food, and the people needing help getting it. They even went out with Meals on Wheels to talk to seniors.
They call Blue Lake a "food desert" because the nearest grocery store is a couple miles away in Glendale, and the few eating establishments don't take food stamps. And yet, there's a food pantry in the middle of town that not everyone seems to know about, he and Trillo said.
"We realized more and more how food insecurity affects everybody -- and how Humboldt County is a really generous county," Arnista said. "So now we're trying to raise awareness that there is a food pantry in Blue Lake."