FOHC Award 2023

Dr Emily Duncan

‘Food is our common ground, a universal experience.’
~ James Beard (chef and cookbook author)

Emily Duncan is an Ōtepoti–Dunedin raised and based writer, dramaturg, and director. She won the 2020 Bruce Mason Award, the 2021 Adam NZ Play Award, as well as the Best Play by a Woman Playwright and the McNaughton South Island Play Award categories. She won the McNaughton Award again in 2022 for her adaptation of Katherine Mansfield’s The Woman at the Store.

Emily was the University of Otago Robert Burns Fellow in 2019. She is the co-founder of Prospect Park Productions, home of Ōtepoti Theatre Lab and Ōtepoti Writers Lab. She has a PhD in Theatre from Otago and trained at the Strasberg Institute in New York City. Her plays have been published by Playmarket in the anthologies Here/Now (2015) and 101 New Zealand Monologues for Youth (2019).

Dr Duncan’s project for the FOHC Award 2023, Establishment, will comprise research, writing, a workshop, and a live reading presentation of a series of monologues about dining establishments that operated in Dunedin between the late 1920s to the mid-2010s.

For a relatively small city with a short immigrant settler history, Ōtepoti Dunedin has been home to an impressively diverse range of dining establishments. Each restaurant, tea rooms, café, or takeaway represents the intersection of a particular dream or ambition, cultural identity, and economic circumstances within the city. People have gathered at these venues to celebrate or commiserate significant personal or public events, to meet individual social needs, and to experience different foods and beverages, sometimes alongside music or other live performances.

Establishment is a mode of investigating and presenting these venues and the people who dined and worked there as an interlinked series of short dramatic monologues accompanied by projections of photographic images and related archives held in the Hocken Collections, alongside music representing the era of each piece. The establishments will range from high dining and special occasion restaurants such as Café Vedic on Princes Street (1928-64) to the more informal, as was Big Daddy’s in the Octagon (1971-94).

In her writing and research, Dr Duncan will apply a combination of the dramaturgical methodology from her PhD research (Waipiata: A Practice-Led Exploration of Heterotopic Playwriting) and play script development processes she has employed as a writer and dramaturg over the past five years with institutions and organisations including Toitū Otago Settlers Museum and Ōtepoti Theatre Lab.

Sociologist Erving Goffman’s (1922-1982) dramaturgical analysis draws analogies between the conduct of individuals and that of a theatrical performance (Presentation of Self in Everyday Life; Penguin, 1990). Goffman examined social roles as performances that are determined by our interactions and routines. Individuals ‘have many motives for trying to control the impression they receive of the situation’ (p. 26). Performances are influenced by situations and circumstances, including those in public dining settings, and can be read and written as such.

Restaurants are sites of specific routines and acts, where participants assume fronts or performances in accordance with their status and role in the setting and respective occasion. Establishment will be a dramatic survey of different aspects, perspectives, encounters, and interactions including food preparation, staff working conditions, and shared dining experiences.

In the first of her 2017 Reith Lectures, Dame Hilary Mantel explained historical fiction as the ‘threshold of where private and public history meet’ (BBC 4). Given the scope of the establishments and perspectives proposed in this project, an historical fiction writing methodology will lend itself to aesthetically unifying the tone, atmosphere, and gesture of the combined monologues. Alongside her research with the Hocken Collections, Dr Duncan will be inviting interested members of the public to share their public dining memories.

The intended outcome for Establishment is a public reading of the monologues in late 2023, presented in collaboration with Ōtepoti Theatre Lab. The reading will be accompanied by projected images sourced from the Hocken Collections and era-appropriate music. The occasion will be an opportunity for all involved and interested to share and celebrate the project alongside their own communal culinary-centred memories.