Whose touch brings you happiness?
What a loaded question during a global health crisis wherein we’re encouraged to stay put and keep our hands to ourselves. But posed in earnest via a Zoom chat, the question lands on me softly.
The Nourish Project, produced by Women’s Project Theater, conceived and directed by Rebecca Martínez, makes for an evening of many questions and much insight. The virtual production drifts between disciplinary modes and musings, with offerings of music, dance, and poetry aiming to provoke our five senses.
Upon sliding-scale ticket purchase, audience members are invited to select a natural element that most resonates with them — air, earth, fire, water. From there it’s clear the performances are keen on connecting us, grounding us during a time that’s been predominately destabilizing.
Along the way, we are introduced to the artists Zooming in from across the country, storytellers serving as musicians and guides and even a cook. We are invited to join our artists in a “spirit of flexibility and collaboration,” as performances will encourage us to move, to taste, and to chat as we’re able. What transpires is a handful of gorgeous pieces that could stand on their own, some delivered in real time and others pre-filmed.
One of the most potent parts of the production is the evident intentionality of every move made throughout the evening. Women’s Project was founded as space to “address the conspicuous underrepresentation of women artists working in the American theatre,” and through “The Nourish Project,” the creatives are also making and taking space as majority Black, Indigenous, and PoC. Here the opening land acknowledgement is just as beautiful and demanding as the pieces that follow. As a collective, we invoke the power and remembrances of ancestors. We answer, “whose memory gives you breath?”
What comes next is a collective setting of table, an extension of the welcoming, reminding us that we are sharing space, even if virtual. Our guide declares we are creating “alters of nourishment” and sends us off to collect three items after more careful instructions. This is in preparation of more offerings of nourishment to come.
The performances are fluid, stitched together by facilitated prompts beckoning more thoughts and virtually seamless digital design (Sara Sawicki). This is a mode that could easily fall into a didactic trap, but director Martínez’s hand is energetic. Our artists remain lively and engaging as we journey with them through personal memories of family and community.
We enter counselor and songwriter Joaquin Lopez’s kitchen, where he’s making pico de gallo and chorizo taquitos a la his family restaurant’s recipe, La Bonita, in Oregon. We then wade in another element, with poet and water advocate Latrelle Bright and NYC Youth Poet Laurate Camryn Bruno. Our prompt inquires, “what’s your earliest memory of water?” and these poets call upon history and the fight for Black lives with words that are haunting and urgent. Water gives and takes. And later, breakout rooms transport us to another realm, split by our chosen elements, where we embrace moments of weightlessness.
Sound design helmed by Christopher Darbassie shines in beats that cradle us through silence into nature and back again. Original songs performed by Edna Vazquez are especially fun and moving and yearn-filled as we are prompted to share, “whose love feeds you?” Her acoustic guitar prowess is matched by her voice, dancing with a brightness that further pairs with melancholic desire.
Somehow, we end back where we started, but maybe with some new strategies, an opened heart and mind better attuned to the little things. On the onset, I was guilty of thinking the production may be a bit naive considering the non-stop crises many of us are faced with. My needs are more material; receiving my stimulus check would bring a more immediate relief when compared to sitting with pictures of family I haven’t seen in over a year.
Nevertheless, as someone living solo and single during pandemic times, it was a welcomed pause to examine the ways I’m moving and being in my daily life. “The Nourish Project” does feed and fuel, as promised — it asserts that much of what we need, at least in the short-term, can be found within ourselves and each other.
“The Nourish Project” continues through Feb. 7 at wptheater.org/show/the-nourish-project/