Jason Stanhope has been bitten by the theater bug
: Due to the potential threat of Hurricane Matthew, Charleston Arts Festival's Origin dinner has been rescheduled to Oct. 27.
"The basis of the whole evening is to take a raw space like High Wire and transform it into a theater." That's FIG Chef Jason Stanhope's answer when I ask him why he's volunteered to cook for a seemingly abstract dinner party — Charleston Arts Festival's Oct. 6 Origin event. The idea, in print, is a bit perplexing: For $150 per person attendees will participate in "a multi-course dinner designed around the theme of evolution." But for Stanhope and the founders of Charleston Arts Festival, Andrew Walker — the same guy behind defunct festival Jail Break
— and Terry Fox, it makes perfect sense.
"With Charleston Arts Festival I want to provide an opportunity for original productions using the breadth of talented Charleston artists. With Origin, I wanted to have a multi-disciplinary collaboration that allowed the participating artists to blend and overlay their mediums on top of a common concept," says Walker.
That means that instead of just enjoying a fancy tasting menu at High Wire Distilling, guests will sit in a makeshift blackbox theater, eat Stanhope's James Beard award-winning food, while being entertained with poetry, theater, dance, and projected images — a welcome departure from the wine dinner format Stanhope says.
"We all talk about shaking that formula up," says Stanhope. "Those dinners can feel a little bit ego-driven. You sit down and eat the food and when we’re done, we’ll give a speech about how righteous our product is and you’re supposed to clap. For this dinner, I’m actually just a piece of a big puzzle getting to work with other creatives."
That was the allure of being involved in Origin. For the past few months Stanhope has worked with artists like musician Nik Jenkins, poet Marcus Amaker, thespian Sharon Graci, and more, designing an evening that's a sensory experience all about evolution.
"The performance consists of three movements, Ocean, Land, and Fire," explains Walker. "Each movement is guided by our narrator, Sharon Graci, who speaks original prose written by Marcus Amaker. Live music, dance and projected visuals embody this narration while Jason Stanhope's dishes play on the physical/sensory connection of the experience."
Within that format, Stanhope says the team decided the best option would be a three-course meal. "We'll have bites and drinks early, then a reception type dessert/after dinner cocktail afterwards where you can relax and chat," Stanhope says. "The theater part will be very consuming of all your attention. Two courses will be on the table as you sit down and be beautiful and part of the table-scape. And functionally it will cut down on noise."
But planning Origin hasn't been all about logistics for the chef. Having the opportunity to work with people outside of his industry has been invigorating.
"It would be incredible just to open the conversation about what can we do different? How can we make things more interactive? How can we showcase our craft without putting it on a pedestal with a big spotlight and saying 'Here you go.' What other senses can we bring into the dining experience," says Stanhope. "It's a fun way for me to do something without the daunting task of having to be witty and conversational for two and half three hours."
Beyond avoiding the spotlight, which Stanhope admits he doesn't love adding, "I'm actually pretty shy," he welcomes the chance to direct eaters' attention to some of this city's other talented people.
"We always tell people we have such a wealth of riches as far as the food here, but we forget that there’s a wealth of talent inside and outside the restaurant scene as far as creatives are concerned and people that are making this town great. Maybe don’t get quite as much attention."
And crossing-genres isn't as crazy as it sounds. "I just think that part of the production is going to correlate so well with the philosophies I cook here," he adds. "I think it’s going to be a beautiful marriage of food and art."
Origin has two seatings at 7 and 9 p.m. on Thurs. Oct. 6 at High Wire Distilling. Tickets are $150 and may be purchased here.