Cooking Oil

Project Background & Overview

Cooking Oil is a musically woven play by award-winning playwright Deborah Asiimwe, brought to life with heightened physicality by an East African and American ensemble and director Emily Mendelsohn. A community relives the story of a murdered young woman and corrupt politician lured by a sudden influx of foreign aid to their struggling village. The story gives way to a difficult meditation on justice and hope as it forces the storytellers to face their own complicity. For over five years Asiimwe and Mendelsohn have been pursuing a joint aesthetic, sharing practices from their respective oratures and creating contemporary ritual. !

Our performance is devoted to intercultural exchange that reaches depths far beyond singular events. This project is an example of long-term relationship building, both regionally in East Africa and internationally. Our commitment to rigorously pursuing a joint aesthetic between American and African performance is made visible on stage with an international cast and creative team.                                                                                                             !

Play Synopsis

Cooking Oil tells the story of a young woman named Maria who illegally sells foreign aid in order to save funds for school fees. A village in the “developing world” receives relief aid in the form of cooking oil and a corrupt politician distributes this oil to be sold to the community. Maria is killed selling the oil across a local border. As her family and the implicated authorities assemble a story for judgement, the lines between right and wrong, guilt and innocence, truth and artifice become increasingly blurred. Who is guilty- the young girl who counts her earnings in the thousands, or the village who stood by in silence? !

Installation (Transformative- front disturbances-immersive)

A model for a peripheral installation was developed for the play by Shannon Scrofano during our workshop session in Kampala in 2012 and implemented for the Los Angeles premiere. The installation surrounded the audience and the performers and functioned as a porous border to the performance space. Forming a circle, this border includes both the characters’ village and a frame for stereotypical images from aid institutions. Through deconstructing these images and the architecture of the performance site, the project questions the assumptions of us/them embedded in aid narratives. !

Public Dialogue (Urgent – The Storm Front)

As a civic dialogue project exploring foreign aid’s impact on the “developing world,” our company made conversational space and digital archives that connected distinct locals, embraced multiple vantage points, and created open-ended dialogue about issues mutually important to East Africans and local audiences in Los Angeles such as the efficacy and regulation of structural aid, the role of artists as change agents, the education of women, how policy makers connect with their constituents, and issues of class and “aid.”!

COOKING OIL / International Team

Playwright: Deborah Asiimwe (Kampala, Uganda)
Director: Emily Mendelsohn (New York, USA)
Producer/Administrator: Miranda Wright (Los Angeles, USA)
Production Design: Shannon Scrofano (Los Angeles, USA)

Actors:     Esther Lutaaya (Kampala, Uganda)!
      Tonny Muwangala (Kampala, Uganda)!
      Kaya Kagiumu Mukasa (Kampala, Uganda)!
      Renell White (Los Angeles, USA)!
      Sharon Wang (Los Angeles, USA)!
Musicians:     Samuel Kamanzi (Rwanda- Currently in France)!
      Loren Fenton (Los Angeles, USA)


COOKING OIL / Creation & Performance History

June 2013: U.S. Premiere at ATX Art + Innovation Center, Los Angeles, USA

August 2012: Final Workshop at In Movement, Kampala, Uganda!

August 2011: Reading at Ishyo Art Center, Kigali, Rwanda!

October 2010:Initial workshop & presentation at Uganda’s National Theatre, Kapala, Uganda