Preview of Cooking Oil, from a performance in Kampala, Uganda, in August 2012.
CalArts’ Center for New Performance and Los Angeles Performance Practice present Cooking Oil, a play written by BBC World Service African Performance playwriting competition winner Deborah Asiimwe (Theater MFA 09) and directed by 2010 Fulbright Fellow Emily Mendelsohn (Theater MFA 09). The play runs from June 6 through 9 at AT1, part of Atwater Crossing’s Arts & Innovation Complex in Los Angeles.
Cooking Oil tells the story of a village devastated by the murder of Maria, a young girl who, along with a powerful politician, sold vegetable oil that was supposedly free aid from the United States. While the politician pocketed millions of shillings for political gain, Maria pocketed thousands for school fees. Storytellers in the village come to face their own complicity in an endless cycle of corruption as they come to terms with the murder. Combining traditional and contemporary music, dance and chant, Asiimwe and Mendelsohn invite us to interrogate international (in)dependence and how we gaze at a suffering “other.”
Cooking Oil has been in development as an extended international collaboration since its premiere at Uganda’s National Theatre in 2010. The play was performed as part of the Centre x Centre Festival in Kigali, Rwanda, in August 2011 and last year completed a workshop at the In Movement Center for Art & Social Justice in Kampala, Uganda. The play has been gathering an international company of artists from Los Angeles, New York, Kampala and Kigali to explore issues of international aid, women’s educational rights, and the role of performance in social change, while developing a unique American/African performance aesthetic.
“The performance has evolved to include leading actors, dancers and musicians from Rwanda and Uganda. The project is set up as a ritual, where performers and audiences sit together in a circle,” says Mendelsohn. “We committed to a long development process. We have rigorous aesthetic goals, which are made more rich by our commitment to richly get to know the contexts we are each creating from.”
A Public Dialogue Series accompanies the performances in Los Angeles, with individual events posted below. (Click on the links for a list of speakers and commentators):
- Thursday, June 6:
The Foreign Aid Effect—From Cooking Oil to Medicine in East Africa
Why Angelenos should care about what happens to aid in East Africa, and how aid is shaping East African lives—and ours!
- Friday, June 7:
Debating Artists as Change Agents in Kampala, Kigali and Los Angeles
What’s the role of the artist in changing a culture? A society?
- Saturday, June 8 (2 pm performance):
Must Power Corrupt? Creating a Culture of Accountable Leadership
Discussing the challenges, victories and heartaches in building good government in Kigali, Kampala and Los Angeles
- Saturday, June 8 (8 pm performance):
War, Corruption, & Desperation – Media’s Influence on How We View Africa
A discussion fit for the media capital of the world: How do we picture African nations and what does it mean for our mutual future?
- Sunday, June 9 (2 pm performance):
Getting Girls to School! Hopes and Challenges Locally and Globally
- Sunday, June 9 (8 pm performance):
Partnering Across Inequality – How Do We Imagine Positive Models for Human Development?
A look at some local LA examples of human development and what they teach us about the ethics of aid.
Below is a slideshow of stills from the production of Cooking Oil: