Looking Back at Empty Kitchen / by Lenni Sanders

On Saturday 27th June we performed Empty Kitchen as part of Sensored Festival at Contact, after a week’s residency and preparation. A three course dinner with no food: only textures for the audience (maximum 6) to touch, pre-recorded audio through speakers, found footage videos on screens, and live performance. The stage in Space 5 was curtained off for us to decorate as a restaurant: food hygiene certificate, framed pictures of celebrities we said had visited previously, and specially laminated menus.

The journey of creating Empty Kitchen, as our first piece as iOrganic, was a delight. Our writing process prior to the start of the week was great fun: we wrote short pieces separately and edited each others, wrote together, and recorded by dictaphone our conversation about a real jalfrezi as we ate it, to transcribe and harvest ideas from. At the start of the week our script was far longer and denser with less opportunity for interactivity. We valued the week’s residency and frequent check ins with Re:Con hugely: they really helped the piece become its best version.

By Saturday, Empty Kitchen was sleeker, tighter, with more of a sense of purity of intention, and with much more room for audiences to affect the direction the meal took. Audience members could refuse to take one of the courses, could change the tone of the conversation, and small discussions might spark up between audience members comparing their dinners. We were very pleased with the use audience members made of the play-dough from the calamari course: playing with it and shaping it into all kinds of mini sculptures (lots of octopuses)! This kind of playfulness and freedom for audiences to really enjoy the tactility of the props is something that has become a very important idea for us in thinking about what kind of work we want to make as iOrganic.

The performance surprised us in how durational it became: rolling continuously with a short break to replace props, tuck in shirts. It was completely exhilarating to finish one performance and basically truck on straight into the next: as the evening grew later, adrenalin was running high. It was an amazing experience which we’d like to thank Re:Con and Contact for. Re:Con is a wonderful idea of Contact’s: a Young Programming and Producing Team which every year takes on four young arts practioners who work directly with the programming department culminating in an event or festival like Sensored.

In reviews, Empty Kitchen was described as “a daft, gorgeous idea” which was “equal parts fine dining, Futurism, Dada, spoken word, exhibition, media installation” in Exeunt Magazine and as “a three-course meal of delicious words and food you can feel but not taste – the first time I’ve had a jalfrezi made of screws and marbles!” in Now Then Manchester . We’re really happy with Empty Kitchen as a piece and hope to perform it again.