Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
Something amazing is happening these days at the Flint Farmers’ Market as a theatrical production titled 9 x Nourished unfolds on the site. Considered a site-specific theatre piece, the effort behind this play is clearly to celebrate the ways the market nourishes the community, but it accomplishes much more.
A truly home grown effort, it was conceived and is directed by Janet Haley, UM-Flint Associate Professor of Theatre, and was written and devised by Michael Rohd and Flint Youth Theatre. The alliance of these two exceptional programs in this production only adds to the marvelous punch this show delivers.
Be prepared to move about the space during the ninety minutes playing time but also to be sometimes seated in a small group with a facilitator who is there to both usher and guide you through the story.
Interestingly, this play’s origination began back before the current market site was announced. So one source of nourishment is the sense of place and belonging felt by folks who have frequented the market over the years. It has been a meeting place with what some describe as an aura of familiarity and belonging. This new larger space just does it better and for more people, young and old alike.
Other sources of nourishment provided by the market and demonstrated in the show include Love, History, and Memory. We were treated to a story by Connie Cowper, our Sunflower group interpreter (audience members are assigned a group when they arrive) about how she met her special fellow at the market, and then shown all the spots they stopped on their first “date” there. Love nourishes for sure.
Arriving at a vegetable stand, we found some of the Then Chorus (period clad folks characterizing the old days of the market) ready to entertain us with a History lesson about the town and the ground below us. A tale weaving Flint history and the way it has nourished the area with the ongoing presence of the market is told with humor, passion, and an occasional comic bit of heckling from Current Chorus member Mark Vukelich. Knowing one’s history, can definitely nourish the spirit.
We ascended to the second floor overlook where we were asked to remember a time that we felt we were in the right place with no fear and complete acceptance. We leaned over the rail to watch the Choruses dance their way through an ethereal sort of fete that could have been anytime in the past century, or yesterday. Memory nourishes magically.
Other types of nourishing at the market emerge from the vendors, all local businesses striving to provide products and services that will benefit their customers. However, they are also often unseen promoters who find it their mission to uplift their city and to somehow empower those with whom they interact. We heard some of their stories and were impressed and yes, nourished.
So what about food? Of course, food nourishes. We much enjoyed the comical and tasty smelling moments spent with Andrew Morton and his demo kitchen crew as they prepared a healthy snack to counteract Layla Meillier’s unhealthy chips!
But overwhelmingly the most nourishing aspect of the market would be the people; the familiar faces, the friendly strangers, the musicians, the jovial vendors, the old and young all gathered in this beautiful space each market day.
Portrayed and performed with the audience as part of the action all the way, 9 x Nourished is itself a labor of love and totally unique in the way it serves as a sort of dedication of the space. It celebrates the new, honors the old and exalts the future as Flint strives to inaugurate a second rebirth of community and purpose led in no small measure by the Flint Farmers’ Market.
A large cast of FYT and UM-F performers did an incredible job of moving this piece along with nary a hitch Saturday night. Mark Gmazel’s overall narrator stint is terrific as are Brionna Allen’s and Mary Paige Rieffel’s renditions of Kevin O’Donnell’s original music. A couple youngsters, David A. Guster in the demo kitchen and Leah Dunlap in the vegetable stand, stood out and were a lot of fun to watch.
9 x Nourished continues at the Flint Farmers’ Market through November 2. Please call ahead or check online for performance times and days – 810-237-1530 or FlintYouthTheatre.org