The vast majority of press releases we receive here at the Heavy Table can be boiled down to a few moving parts: Who, What, Where, When.
But when the release for Orpheus and Eurydice: A Picnic Operetta crossed our desks, we were a bit bowled over. To execute this ambitious opera-in-the-outdoors, director Scotty Reynolds is using community gardens as his venues, working in collaboration with music director Erik Pearson, choreographer Taja Will, and chef Nick Schneider… plus nine singers and musicians, including Roland Hawkins II and Meredith Cain-Nielsen (both pictured to the left).
The theory is this: Start with an opera based on the Greek myth of Orpheus’ journey to the underworld to retrieve his love, Eurydice. Set it in a far-ranging array of Minneapolis and St. Paul community gardens. Then, add ongoing local food samplings to supplement and support the story. The show started last weekend, but another eight performances remain.
We fired a few questions at the production’s director (Reynolds, a staff artist at the Interact Center for Visual and Performing Arts) and chef (Schneider, of Cafe Brenda) to try to get a grip on this remarkable project.
NORTON: What was the genesis of the show?
REYNOLDS: I wanted to create a community event that was theatrical in nature existing within shared community space / community gardens — and use theatre as a way to continue conversation about the viability of urban agricultural spaces.
And I found something distinctly communal about dining together, chewing and digesting. I also wanted to find a multi-sensory way for audience to connect to opera, a form that is often alienating for audiences today.
NORTON: What kind of food can people expect to eat during the operetta?
SCHNEIDER: Typically the items are served amuse bouche style, small, tast,y and sometimes ornate. We are going for simple and easy to eat without too much distraction from the story.
Here are some examples of what we’ve served: watermelon gazpacho out of a homemade cucumber cup, a watermelon-tomato-mint “salad” (melon baller style), a mini bundle of blanch haricot verte, and carrots tied with garlic chives.
Also: A Grecian version of ants on a log — with a feta spread and seasoned plumped raisins, bakalava, grilled veg skewers, Vietnamese pickled eggs, and baby eggplant stuffed with walnut pesto.
NORTON: Have the logistics been daunting so far?
REYNOLDS: We began our “tour” at the Eat Street Community Garden, a space that Nick and I are both very familiar with, as we live next door. This was a great space for us to find our legs. The other venues offer different challenges and different opportunities, as each garden has a very different layout. Planes, traffic, piles of woodchips, post holes, trees — all of these things can become dynamic scenic elements as the action emerges from all of these features.
The performers come from a wide range of performance disciplines. In the mix we have dancers, classical singers, solo songwriters, jazz musicians, and actors. Finding a cohesive working style has been a challenge. And bringing the work into the elements has been even more challenging, but as we got more comfortable with the material, it’s been easy… a high physicality / high volume style has been a good fit for exploring these gardens.
The other daunting detail is food transport! We’ll have our first performances away from Eat Street this weekend. We’ll hopefully be making good use of some coolers and maybe a few church kitchens.
NORTON: Anything else you’d like to add about the event?
REYNOLDS: We’ve been very lucky to have the participation of Gardens of Eagan as a donor. This has allowed Nick to work with very fresh, in season ingredients. Also, many of the gardens have donated portions of their harvest to the project. This adds a special local magic… as the gardeners in our audience gets a taste of the “terrior” of their own soil woven into the story of the opera.
SCHNEIDER: For me this project is almost the ultimate in menu development. It necessitates that one think about food in a real multidimensional way. That is, how a dish can play into a part of the drama sequence (particularly, keying into the emotional action of the scene, e.g. wedding, loss, bitter feuding, honey bee metamorphosis — having both meaning and reference to the story, reference to the local and the seasonal, reference to the idea of “picnic food,” reference to the Greek tradition of eating and mythology (ambrosia)).
It has been very challenging but also really fun. We don’t often get opportunities in our culture to consciously search for meaning through food.
Saturday, Aug. 29, 4pm | Birchwood Community Garden
(2544 Hwy 100 South in St. Louis Park, behind Reformation Lutheran Church — audio description provided at this performance)
Sunday, Aug. 30, 4pm | JD River’s Children’s Garden
(Glenwood and Washburn Ave in Theodore Wirth Park, Mpls)
Saturday, Sep. 5, 4pm | Nicollet Island Farm
(Maple Place and Nicollet Street)
Saturday Sep. 12, 4pm | Columbus Community Garden
(33rd St and Columbus Ave, Minneapolis)
Sunday Sep. 13, 4pm | Celeste’s Dream Community Garden
(1880 Randolph Ave, outside the Sister of St. Joseph Carondelet, St. Paul)
Saturday Sep. 19, 4pm | Urban Farm, North Minneapolis
(12th Avenue North and Morgan Avenue North, Mpls)
Saturday Sep. 26, 4pm | Augsburg Community Garden
(20th Avenue and 6th Street)
Sunday Sep. 27, 4pm | Midway Green Spirit Community Garden
(at the intersection of Taylor and Hamline Avenue and Pierce Butler)
Tickets are a must, as seating is limited; call 612.619.2112. Donation appreciated, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds.
I’m hoping to take my son to one of the performances. This morning we were listening to MPR in the car, when they did a little piece about the picnic operetta on Art Hounds (audio archive isn’t up just yet).
This is a hugely enjoyable performance. Everyone will be delighted (and well fed).
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