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FeastFest - Joanna Dong and James Ireland of Bradán Interviews.

FeastFest is a festival that brings together those who love food, art and life. Taking place in East London between September and November, it gets going on 9 & 10 September with Feast Days, two days of live performance and food. Events are free, though indoor theatre shows need to be booked for capacity reasons. 

I first caught up with Joanna Dong, Director of FeastFest to discuss the festival as a whole.

What first inspired you to create the festival?
I’ve worked for several years as a theatre producer working with international artists – and since moving to the UK, I’ve lived for much of that time in the London Borough of Newham. During the pandemic, I started spending more exploring the borough, particularly the Royal Docks close to where I live. I got to know the area and its communities more deeply and I was inspired to create a festival that brings high quality performance to local audiences. I’m also a cook and I understand the power of food to bring people together, so that’s where that element comes in!

How do you reflect on how last years festival went and how do you then use that reflection going forwards to this years?
Last year was our pilot year and we ran a small number of events to get to know our local audience. This year, thanks to funding from Arts Council England, Royal Docks and Culture Within Newham, we’re coming back on a bigger scale with lots more going on over the next three months. 
We are starting with our Feast Days on 9 and 10 Sep – two days of performance, food and fun. We want to have something for everyone so outdoor shows during the daytime are family friendly and our evening shows, which take place indoors, are more suitable for adults (and older children).

What do you look for when you’re curating the line up for the festival?
That’s very simple, it needs to be inspired by or related to food! And of course, it needs to be high quality and engaging.

How important is it for you to make the events free and accessible to anyone who would like to try them out? We are a festival originally for the local community so it’s very important to us that everyone is able to take part without a financial barrier. 

What do you want a festival visitor to take away from visiting? 
We want people to see things, to taste things, perhaps experience something they wouldn’t have done otherwise. And think about the ways that food and art can bring us together.
I also chatted with James Ireland of Bradán who will be performing Cooking the Vegan Salmon of Knowledge on both Feast Days.
Tell us a bit about Cooking the Vegan Salmon of Knowledge
Cooking the Vegan Salmon of Knowledge is a live cooking (and eating!) show for our future. I take every ingredient in my recipe for carrot-based vegan ‘salmon’, and use them as jumping-off points to discuss different moments in humanity’s relationship with food across modern and pre-history. Some of them go really really far back! For example with the salty soy sauce marinade, I’m talking about us as single-celled organisms living in the salty soup of the sea, and how when we crawled out onto the land we had to find a way to carry that salty sea with us inside our skin wherever we go - that’s why we eat so much salt and drink so much water!

The show looks at how human eating habits have changed over thousands of years – and how they might yet need to change again. What drew you to the topic? 
I think a lot about the climate catastrophe we’re experiencing, and what role art and storytelling can have in shaping narratives around it. I know that the way humanity engages with food is a big element of the harm we’re currently doing, especially in the west with our chains of global industrial food production. But I also wanted to look for hopeful stories. I thought there was something really interesting about the moment humans switched from hunter-gatherer diets to agriculture - that must have been a really revolutionary moment in the past. I think there’s hope there in that massive revolutionary change, and if we can think about today’s food practice in light of that past revolution maybe we can see our current practices as more open to being changed/fixed/revolutionised as well.
During the show you prepare a vegan dish – where did the idea come from to cook on stage?
There’s an element of transformation in all cooking, from raw ingredients to the dish we eat. I love the feeling of creating almost a witches brew potion, mixing together strange flavours to create magic. The oak woodsmoke element really adds to this! And if we tell the right story at the same time as that transformation is happening then we can really unleash some magic - and maybe that transformation becomes about more than just the dish directly in front of us.

What would you like audiences at FeastFest to take away from the experience?
Myself and the director of the show, Kate, talked a lot when we were creating this show about how we wanted it to be a thoughtful and considered space for contemplation, and a space very much for a positive future. There’s a lot of work out there that deals with the climate that can be heavy and upsetting, by the very nature of the topic. That can be very tough to engage with over time. We want to create a space where people feel gently held, a positive space of coming together for quiet contemplation of the future.

What’s next for Bradán?
We’ve spent the last year or so producing our first two shows, which both won awards at the festivals they debuted at, which is crazy! We’re really thankful to FeastFest for giving us the opportunity to bring Cooking the Vegan Salmon of Knowledge to London audiences for the first time, and we’re looking forward hopefully to some more longer-term collaborations with them in future festivals. We’re very excited once we’ve finished this set of performances to sit down together again and start creative work again!! Keep an eye on our socials @bradantheatre (insta/fb/X) to follow where we’re headed next!!

Bradán will perform Cooking the Vegan Salmon of Knowledge at The Factory E16 on Saturday 9 September and at Applecart Arts, East Ham on Sunday 10 September. Book here:

For more information on FeastFest’s Feast Days,go to: Insta/X: @FeastFestLondon

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