Find “Fellowship” @ Westside Food Bank
Can a sandwich make a difference? Attend a performance of Cornerstone Theater’s “Fellowship” and you’re asked not just to ponder the question, but to play it out.
During a recent staging of the immersive theater piece, audience members at the Westside Food Bank must wash their hands, string on an apron and put on a pair of plastic gloves before taking a seat at one of the tables at the center of the nonprofit food distribution facility in Santa Monica.
The cast, playing food bank volunteers, begin to sing and shimmy to Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” as they prime the audience for the task at hand: making 120 sandwiches and sack lunches.
Throughout the evening, as the actors philosophize about food access, insecurity and volunteerism — “What does it take to make volunteering cool in L.A.?,” asks one volunteer — pass out the ingredients for the sandwiches — “bread, turkey, lettuce and cheese” — and swap their own stories about struggles with food and hunger, you and your fellow audience members assemble a sack lunch for someone in need.
You lay out the bread, dole out the turkey and put on the lettuce as the dialogue and music of the play surrounds you, inviting you to turn your head at dramatic highpoints or get lost in thought while you draw a doodle on a brown paper bag or write a friendly note to the lunch’s recipient.
Your actions are simple, but not inconsequential. At the end of the play these sandwiches won’t be tossed away like used props, but actually distributed to the hungry in Santa Monica through The People Concern (formerly known as the Ocean Park Community Center, OPCC).
Tonight, you’re not just a theatergoer. You’re actually putting in some time and labor.
That idea really jumped out to “Fellowship” director Peter Howard. He’s a founding member of Cornerstone Theater, which makes plays like this in concert with communities and brings them to neighborhoods throughout California.
“Fellowship” is part of the company’s “Hunger Cycle,” a six-year commitment to producing plays addressing food equity issues, and is being performed not only at the Westside Food Bank but also at the Pico Union Project near downtown L.A. and MEND in Pacoima.
For Howard, the idea that making a sandwich could drive a play’s dramatic action was unique as well as engaging.
“We’re not just asking people to observe or to listen,” says Howard. “We’re actually asking people to do.”
Weaving audience participation into the action was on playwright Julie Marie Myatt’s mind early in the creative process.
“I felt like if you’re going to talk about hunger, you should also include the solution in the play, or some small bit of the solution, and maybe take some passivity out of the experience,” says Myatt, who volunteered at food banks while developing the work.
Making one sandwich, or even 120 of them, may not make a big dent in solving the widespread problem of food insecurity in Los Angeles. According to a 2016 report by the Food Research and Action Center, the 2015 food hardship rate in Los Angeles was 16.7% — slightly higher than the national rate, which the report called “an unacceptable long-term food hardship problem.”
But the cast and crew of “Fellowship” hope that audiences’ participation in the play will make people rethink how they can help people in need, even if it’s just a small gesture of goodwill.
“I always had a struggle with how to help people that I crossed paths with in the street,” says actress Paige Leong, who plays Rita in “Fellowship.” “But Rita says to Roy [another volunteer in the play], ‘One sandwich makes a difference. It’s more than food. … It’s love and hope and belief in that person.’”
— Christina Campodonico
This weekend’s final performance of “Fellowship” is sold out. Cornerstone’s next play in the Hunger Cycle, “Magic Fruit,” premieres this fall. For more info, visit cornerstonetheater.org.
The Santa Monica History Museum, now featuring a Girl Scouts exhibit, offers free admission from noon to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 9. santamonicahistory.org
Have a whale of a weekend at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, with cetacean-related activities and possible whale sightings on Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 11 and 12. healthebay.org
Local psychologist Jackson Varady drops into the Santa Monica Public Library at 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, to discuss practical, science-backed techniques to foster happiness. smpl.org
Janice Anderson and the Hot Medusa Quartet D’amour perform live jazz at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church at 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12. mtolivelutheranchurch.org
Pacific Park will light up its Ferris wheel in red, pink and white and serenade riders with a live violinist from 6 to 10 p.m. on Valentine’s Day. pacpark.com
The Santa Monica Chamber hosts a Biz @ Sunset mixer from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 15, at One West Bank on Wilshire Boulevard. smchamber.com