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How this MontCo playhouse is addressing hunger in Pa.’s second-wealthiest county

A free community lunch at Calvary Chapel in Montgomery County. February 3, 2017 Category: FeatureFeaturedMediumMethod

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details about the photo exhibit. (2/3 @ 3:05 p.m.)
Norristown playhouse Theatre Horizon is asking the patrons of its new play “Grand Concourse” to do something bold: Imagine no hunger in Montgomery County.

In MontCo, where the playhouse is located, over 80,000 people — 10 percent of its population — are affected by food insecurity, despite it being the second-wealthiest county in the Pennsylvania.

Addressing that is an exhibit titled “Imagine No Hunger” staged in the theater’s lobby which uses photographs to document food insecurity. The exhibit is a collaboration between Theatre Horizon and Linda Panetta, a photojournalist, activist and professor at Cabrini University.

“The idea of ‘Imagine No Hunger’ formed pretty organically out of a love for [“Grand Concourse”] and the feeling that it was relevant to our community,” said Rebecca May Flowers, artistic associate at Theatre Horizon and project coordinator for “Imagine No Hunger.”

Panetta and a few Cabrini students took the photos in the exhibit after volunteering at local organizations serving food insecure individuals. Accompanying the photos will be quotes from those photographed as well as statistical information.

Flowers said Norristown is “especially hard hit” by food insecurity.

The play itself takes place in a soup kitchen, “so there’s an obvious connection,” Flowers said. It “deals with forgiveness, the limits of forgiveness, the recklessness of youth, need and privilege. And on top of all that, it’s very funny.”

This isn’t the first time Theatre Horizon has incorporated social issues into its performances: “Imagine No Hunger” is an unofficial sequel to a 2015 project that the theater organized titled “Imagine No Homelessness,” which generated discussion about homelessness in Montgomery County.

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“Theatre is our way of processing what is going on in the world,” Flowers said. “It’s the way we know to advocate for the things we believe in and explore the things we want to learn more about.”

“If we aren’t helping people grow,” she said, “then we’re just spinning our wheels.”

In addition to the play and the lobby exhibit, many of the performances will feature a discussion with members of the cast, experts on food scarcity and representatives from the Coordinated Homeless Outreach Center (CHOC), a shelter and support center for homeless people in Norristown.

Flowers noted that CHOC got involved in “Imagine No Hunger” after a group of Theatre Horizon staff members and actors volunteered there.

“Everyone is working together and helping one another,” she said. “This is the very essence of what community means to me.”

She said she hopes that these discussions will help to shed light on why food scarcity exists in such a nominally wealthy area of Pennsylvania.

“Grand Concourse” was written by Heidi Schreck and is being directed by Beth Lopes. It will run from Feb. 3 to 26 at Theatre Horizon. Buy tickets for the play here.

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