Food And Belonging Infuse Every Room In A Historic Denver Building For This New Theater Experience

January 10, 2020
Buba Basishvili in "Recipe."Buba Basishvili in "Recipe."Courtesy of Theatre Artibus
Buba Basishvili in "Recipe."

Food doesn't just feed our bellies. It feeds our culture, memories and relationships.

That's the thrust behind a new roving theater experience called "Recipe" that opened in Denver on Thursday. 

It's set in a historic building, the Savoy at Curtis Park, in Denver's Five Points neighborhood. The Savoy is as much a character in the storyline as the human actors.

The structure used to house food-related businesses like a bakery, a vanilla extract manufacturer and a Jewish corner store. 

Three local theater groups are behind this intersection of the culinary and theatrical arts: Theatre Artibus, Emancipation Theater Company and Grapefruit Lab.

Theatre Artibus co-founder Meghan Frank said the project was born out of attending a Curtis Park Neighborhood meeting and speaking with members of the community. 

Stephanie Wolf/CPR News
Meghan Frank of Theatre Artibus on Jan. 8, 2020.

“‘Recipe’ essentially is a conversation both with this building itself as a character and the neighborhood in which it lives,” Frank said. 

Right away, a theme started to emerge.

“We felt like food was a great way to start the conversation since it seems to be a great common denominator and a place where stories happen, around the table and with neighbors,” Frank said. 

That’s where they began: Asking people to share their memories about food as a way to get at broader themes of belonging, home and community. 

They held story-sharing events and recorded interviews with residents. Those conversations helped shape the show.

In "Recipe," audience members move from room to room, story to story. Some of the recorded interviews are even used to create soundscapes, designed by Kenny Storms of Grapefruit Lab, for some of the scenes. 

Stephanie Wolf/CPR News
Julie Rada of Grapefruit Lab on Jan. 8, 2020.

The team behind the show also did a fair amount of research, pouring through census files, photographs and even oceanliner records to learn more about the businesses and people who once occupied the various spaces of the Savoy.

But this is a “fictionalized understanding” of much of that history, said co-creator Julie Rada, who also co-founded Grapefruit Lab. 

“What better than to tell the stories that we could imagine in here even if we don’t have all the details,” Rada said. “As artists, we get to meet these materials that let us dream up what could have taken place in a building like this.” 

The list of “Recipe” collaborators also includes Theatre Artibus’ Buba Basishvili, Jeannene Bragg and Emancipation Theater Company founder Jeff Campbell.

Stephanie Wolf/CPR News
Jeff Campbell of Emancipation Theater Company on Jan. 8, 2020.

Campbell’s scene recreates the Friday Night Fish Fry at Brother Jeff's Cultural Cafe in the 90s, a cultural buffet of fried food, art and performance “that gave birth to so many powerful, industrious, artistic folks who went on to do big beautiful things since then,” said Campbell, who plays community organizer and mentor Brother Jeff in the show.

While much of the show is grounding audiences in the history of the area, Campbell said, for him, this is not purely a historical piece.

Despite all of the change north Denver is experiencing, he sees this also as a contemporary work about the community he’s been a part of.

“For me, I’m just making a tribute to someone I love in this community, who meant a lot to me,” Campbell said. “Our community is still really strong. We’re still making businesses, creating fantastic art, running for office, raising fantastic families. So nothing’s going to stop that, not even gentrification.”   

Recipe” runs Jan. 9 - 19, 2020 at the Savoy at Curtis Park in Denver. 

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