Food, coping hit stage in one-woman show

Going away to college is an adjustment for anyone but for Celia Dufournet, a French actress who moved to Claremont three years ago to study theater at Pomona College, it was an outright culture shock. With her emotions already running high, it didn’t help that food, oftentimes a coping mechanism, was one of the main sources of her distress.

“I realized how comfortable it is to be in your home country eating what you are used to and how much food can impact your emotions, how you are able to relate to people and how you are able to work,” she recalled.

Within her first few weeks she had “crashed” on over-sweetened American foods, slurped down oversized cups of cafe and experienced the art of eating a meal inside of a car.

“I have always seen food as a way to socialize with people. Usually, if I’m trying to get close to someone I’ll cook for them. Snacks or fast food to be eaten in the car or in a shorter amount of time takes that social aspect away. It got me thinking,” she reflected. “I thought it was an interesting way to look at bigger issues and how people relate to their environment.”

In order to plant her own roots in Claremont, Ms. Dufournet set out to get to know its people in the way she knew best, through food and through art.

For the past several months, the corporeal mime student has dedicated her time between classes getting out into the streets of Claremont, collecting personal accounts of food and community. She pieces the stories together in her one-woman show In Foodland Empire, playing at Pomona College’s Seaver Theater this Monday, December 9.

In Foodland Empire incorporates Claremont’s stories into a spoken-verse narrative that calls into question how we consider food and consume it.

“A lot of this [piece] is about community and building through food,” Ms. Dufournet said. “It’s about creating more bonds between people and seeing food as less of an individual pleasure and more of a shared responsibility.”

With a shopping cart, a 35-foot rope and 300 multi-hued shotgun shells, Ms. Dufournet takes to the stage to illustrate the good and the bad that comes along with consumption. The shopping cart is used to describe the way food is presented, the rope as a way food binds people together and the shotgun shells representing the way it can also be deadly.

“I felt I needed a very powerful symbol on stage to represent that danger,” she said. “The shells look almost cheerful and like candy. I liked the ambiguity.”

Ms. Dufournet has always seen her art as more than just performance, but a way to get people thinking about the world outside of the theater. A speech given by social activist and chef Jamie Oliver, who uses his campaign “Food Revolution” to aid in the fight against obesity, serves as a common thread throughout the show.

For the last two weeks, Ms. Dufournet has spent “too many hours to count” studying Mr. Oliver’s speech and her other interviews using a performance technique called Verbatim theatre, memorizing subjects’ words and intonations and using their testimony to create a moving piece.

Though she focuses on the dangers of food consumption, to Ms. Dufournet her performance is a moving testament to the human connection of what we consume. In between performance pieces, she weaves together the tales she gathered in her interviews. The anecdotes include a segment from Mike Manning from Last Drop Cafe on the way he uses his food and coffee shop to create a social atmosphere, Marnie Clarke from The Cheese Cave’s story of how the dairy industry brought her family together and testmony from the team at the Pomona College Organic Farm about their struggle to establish.

The stories include a Chinese man who struggles to find common ground in mealtime with his Japanese wife, a man who eats a snail for the first time and a vegan who comes across beef while dining in Tunisia.

“The consequences of that are very vivid,” she laughed.

Ms. Dufournet was born with a flair for theatrics, often putting on household performances starring herself and her little brother, a reluctant leading man. Her favorite productions involved reenacting Victor Hugo’s novel-turned-musical Notre-Dame de Paris with Ms. Dufournet starring as the feisty gypsy Esmeralda and her brother running around to step in as both the evil priest and the famed hunchback as well as any other male characters as needed.

Though she entertained interests in social work, psychology and even medicine, the young actress had already fallen in love with the movement of acting, and nothing else quite compared. Now using her art to respond to social issues, however, she has found a perfect blend of both worlds. She hopes In Foodland Empire will serve as a catalyst for more performances that get people talking.

“Art should be addressing the issues of its times. I don’t like art just being an entertainment, though I do think it should be entertaining,” she said. “I want people to have fun, but at the same time be inspired.”

Ms. Dufournet will perform In Foodland Empire at 8:30 p.m. on Monday, December 9 in the large studio of Seaver Theatre, 300 E. Bonita Ave. A brief discussion will take place after the performance.

—Beth Hartnett


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