On the eve of the world premiere of Pop-Up Love Party, executive chef Daniel Burns and director Alex McLean dish about the collaboration to The Chronicle Herald’s Bill Spurr. Read “Eat, drink and be philosophical with Zuppa” below, or at thechronicleherald.ca.
Even the people presenting the Pop-Ip Love Party have a little trouble defining it.
It’s “no dinner theatre,” but it is a “sensory slip and slide,” says a news release from Zuppa Theatre Company in Halifax.
Fortunately, director Alex McLean is more plain-spoken about the show, which runs March 16 to 29, not in a theatre, but at Lion & Bright, a cafe and wine bar.
“It’s a show that takes place in a restaurant,” said McLean. “We wanted the show to be in a place where people are relaxed, where they can order drinks. In terms of the play itself, it’s an adaptation of The Symposium, which is a 2,400-year old Greek philosophical dialogue.”
The thought of sitting through an old Greek philosophical dialogue makes it seem like drinking should be mandatory, but McLean says it’s actually fun subject matter.
“So, in its original Greek text, it’s the night after a big theatre festival and the guy who has just won the prize for the top tragedy at the festival has been out with his friends the night before and they all got really drunk, and are now really hungover,” he said. “So, it’s the next day, where they’re meeting at this guy’s house. Everybody’s a little the worse for wear. They’re about to begin their night, and one of the guys says since they all partied so hard last night, tonight they should take it easy and proposes a party game.”
The aim of the game is all the hungover guys have to give a speech about love and what does it mean in today’s world. Zuppa’s and McLean’s challenge is to create an atmosphere similar to the original production.
“The word symposium — and nobody knows this, I wish more people who ran symposiums knew this — but symposium means drinking party. When have you ever been to a symposium that feels like a drinking party? So our idea for the show, approaching this old text, was to give ourselves the challenge that these guys in ancient Greece had,” the director said. “So we want to make these ideas totally come to life. Each of the actors in the show wants to convince the other actors and the audience that their idea is the best.”
The company’s plan to make the show as visceral as possible is the other reason it’s being staged in a restaurant. Each of the seven speeches in The Symposium will be accompanied by a particular snack.
“It’s like you’re tasting the ideas, and smelling the ideas,” McLean said. “Not just something you see and hear. So from there came the idea of bringing in a chef to create food for the show.”
McLean remembered a conversation he once had with chef Daniel Burns about the theatricality of food, a conversation inspired by Burns’s stint at the Fat Duck in England, one of the world’s top restaurants.
Burns, a Dartmouth native, in 2013 opened Luksus in Brooklyn, N.Y., which was named one of the top 50 new restaurants in the United States. When McLean was framing the way The Symposium would be presented, he assumed Burns would be too busy to take part, but asked him anyway. Burns agreed to design the menu and have another chef execute it.
“The main thing is to have all the testing and the experiments done ahead of time, so that I’m confident in the recipes, then find someone you’re very confident will be able to do the production. And, for sure, with Dennis Johnston in charge of the production, it’s going to be very, very good,” said Burns, who once collaborated on an event with Johnston at his Halifax restaurant Fid.
Burns said he considered the themes of the play when thinking about the food that should be served during it.
“For example, there’s one where they’re talking about love and hate, so you have this black and white serving that’s a cracker and a mousse, a malt cookie and parsnip and yogurt mousse. I wouldn’t say it’s going to be exactly thematic each time, but to be reminiscent of what’s going on is helpful. The connection between the food and what the actors are saying should be quite strong in a few areas.
“Having worked at the Fat Duck, food can be both delicious and enjoyable, but also fun. It can make you laugh. So there’s some playfulness to some of the servings and less so with others.”