In the Moment: ‘Power and Lunch’ at Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival

In the DMV area, there are plenty in the political and social elite who can be found clicking away on their social media working hard to make us aware of what we should think. These same folks are likely sitting down to have wonderful foodie experiences making deals while many a public school student is lining up for a subsidized meal.

And now school students, whether in DC (and yes, even in the well-off nearby suburbs there are plenty of subsidized meals served) need to worry about proposed cuts in the nation’s food and nutrition programs. Or what about good food as medicine. So what can be done by the performing arts community to make a difference?

The cast of Power and Lunch in rehearsal. Photo courtesy of Power and Lunch.

True to its motto, “Where the Art World and the Real World Intersect” the 2018 Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival is having a unique performance keyed to food justice for the low-income entitled Power and Lunch.

With the creative energy and participatory vision of Margot Greenlee, together with an ensemble of talented, committed professional DC actors such as Tuyet Thi Pham, Erica Chamblee, JJ Johnson, Tamieka Chavis, Shanna Lim, and Ryan Sellers along with the active participation of the audience, Power and Lunch aims to develop some creative solutions to vexing issues.a

For those less familiar with Greenlee and her choreographic vision, she has been featured in Dance Magazine’s “Beyond Performance.” Her approach is based on 20 years of experience in community arts engagement, including as a company member with the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange (1999-2007). Greenlee is the recipient of the 2017 D.C. Commission for the Arts and Humanities’ Artist Fellowship, 2017 National Endowment for the Arts Challenge America grant, and is a 2015 University of Maryland Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts’ NextLOOK artist.

So, what is Power and Lunch exactly at the Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival? It will be both scripted and unscripted. The audience, performers and food security professionals will work and perform together co-creating what Greenlee calls a “Perforum” (part performance, part public discourse, part animated small-town democracy) from start to finish. There will also be the opportunity to react to a work-in-progress documentary about the Power and Lunch perforum series by local producer Barr Weissman.

Results of the Power and Lunch “perforum” will depend upon the audience working with Greenlee, the performers and the food security professionals. This perforum method helps peope think about problems and come up with solutions-some solutions are policy-oriented perhaps. Many are person-to-person, institution-to-institution partnerships and resource sharing.

So, let’s get on to the interviews with Margot Greenlee and performer Tuyet Thi Pham.

The cast of Power and Lunch rehearses. Photo courtesy of Power and Lunch.

What was your impetus to connect the performing arts with social justice?

Margot: About half of my work is for stage and the other half is in healthcare settings. I’ve been working in healthcare settings for the past decade > bedside dance-making at the Georgetown Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, seated tai chi at the DC Metro VA hospital’s Assisted Living and Palliative Care Unit, movement classes for people with Parkinson’s and Dementia. With the “perforum” approach, I’m creating events that help people learn and grapple with tough topics. I happen to be very interested in healthcare, food policy, education policy. So for Power and Lunch, I’m turning the “perforum” approach that direction. I’ve also been commissioned by organizations to help them connect with their peers, stakeholders, decision-makers. So we created a day-long “perforum” for a pre-conference of the Association for Women in Development about child, early, and forced marriage for people from around the globe that are teaching sex in communities where sex ed is a dangerous topic.

Why a “Perforum” at the Atlas INTERSECTIONS Festival?

I think I’d gone to one too many performances that were about a big topic and I left feeling like, “well that was nice; but what do I do with that information?”

I try to think about the audience’s experience start to finish. Pacing, pacing, pacing. Mix up the learning styles. Something awe-inspiring from the performers so that the traditional dance and theater-goers get their fix. What will the audience need to do by the end of the show when we’re building a scene together? How do I teach them those skills prior so that the learning scaffolds well? What will help audience members connect their personal experiences to the topic at hand? How do I keep them all connected to the action? And how do I keep people at the event comfortable?

Please tell me a bit about the participating performers?

I have a group of about a dozen local professional dancer/actors that work with me. Tuyet Thi Pham has been on all of the projects. At a “perforum” at the Anacostia Playhouse in January 2018, joining Pham were four performers. Nora Achrati, Erica Chamblee, Tamieka Chavis, Kelly King, Shanna Lim, and Ryan Sellers.

They’ve all have strong traditional theater or dance training. They can generate text and movement quickly. They stand out as strong individuals on stage (able to steal focus AND blend). They have the emotional generosity to know that the show is both about their professionalism AND the topic, the ‘experts’ and the audience’s experience etc.

What else should potential audience members know?

It’s way beyond TedTalk. Way beyond a PowerPoint. There is a major audience participation part. That’s what excites me about this work. There is facilitation, improvisation, audience engagement at work.

Given all of the arts and entertainment options that people have, why should they take part in this Power and Lunch?

With Power and Lunch, you get to meet fellow audience members, you get to move, you get to dive into your own imagination and personal experience, you get to MAKE, you get to learn from experts in the field and be an expert too, you get to impact the effort. This can be a generative, artful environment where the intent is to learn and think as opposed to influence. A mutuality.

I also had the opportunity to chat with Tuyet Thi Pham, who has worked with Greenlee on Power and Lunch. Asked for her interest in food security, she said that “children need food in their bodies to succeed in school. They can’t live with food insecurity and thrive unless they are properly fueled. If we don’t catch problems of food insecurity early it will be harder later in a child’s life.

She went on to explain that with Power and Lunch, “a goal is to exchange knowledge with all the participants; and not just in a cerebral way. The idea is to reach any person’s heart and gut not just the mind. Power and Lunch is not just an intellectual exercise.”

As we concluded the interview, Tuyet Thi Pham said that, “Hunger hurts. Statistics don’t easily change any person’s views. We want to show how anyone, one person, can make a difference to effect change. One person can make a difference to put together the pieces of the food insecurity puzzle. It’s about exploring what can be done.”

Power and Lunch is taking place on March 4, 2018, at Atlas INTERSECTIONS FESTIVAL, Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, DC. Tickets are free but required – reserve your ticket online.


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