Food for thought at Artsbridge program

A group of artists used music and acting to make a point about the food we eat in a performance Monday at Washington Elementary School.

Zanesfield-based Mad River Theater Works presented “The Pasture,” a tale set in a dystopian future where naturally grown food is a thing of the past. It was the first day of their tour of area schools through Artsbridge’s Artists on Tour program.

“These works are created for arts education, so they really address issues that are in the curriculum, but they’re also entertaining,” said Gerri Torres, arts education director for Artsbridge, a local organization that promotes and financially support arts programs in the area.

The play told the story of Annapurna, a girl who only knows about trees, pigs, apples and farms from her father’s stories. She and her family live in the Barren Lands, where their only food is flavored cubes provided by the Process, a mammoth entity that controls virtually all aspects of life. With her father ill and the delivery of food packages cut off by a storm, Annapurna is inspired by a dream to seek out “real” food.

It may sound like heavy subject matter for a children’s play, but the second- through fifth-graders at Washington were entertained and intrigued by the play, which featured original songs and a healthy dose of humor.

“I liked how crazy the characters were,” said fourth-grader Lynncoln Tynan.

Mad River managing director Chris Westhoff said the quartet of performers were having fun too.

“It’s a total blast, and it’s a privilege,” he said. “It’s a privilege to get to do this work with the times the way they are and the arts taking a backseat to many things.”

Westhoff made a point to thank groups like the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ohio Arts Council, PNC Arts Alive and Honda of America for supporting Mad River’s work.

“The Pasture,” written by longtime group collaborator Tom Byrn, marks the first play in Mad River’s more-than-30-year history to be set in the future instead of the past. Westhoff said that allowed the group to tackle the subject of processed-versus-natural food in a way that didn’t single out any existing entities.

“You don’t want to tell people what to eat and what not to eat,” he said. “It allows us an objective artistic stance.”