Robert Karimi is a performance artist, poet, comedian, playwright and cook -- a skill set that raises questions about just what he hopes to do in the theater. So how does he describe the "show" he will embark on Thursday at Intermedia Arts?
Karimi calls "Viva La Soul Power" a "revolutionary culinary experience" that uses food to lubricate a conversation intended to draw out stories of heritage. In his description, the evening sounds like a mix between a night out at a restaurant and a diversity encounter session.
A San Francisco native, Karimi is Intermedia's artist-in-residence. He did a rough draft of "Viva La Soul Power" last year in Minneapolis and subsequently took the piece to Philadelphia. The "experience" is part of a monthlong festival at Intermedia, a grass-roots organization that uses the arts to improve its community. One of the aims of "28 Days of Good Energia," for example, is to raise awareness of diabetes and obesity.
Karimi cooked up an alter ego for his show, Mero Cocinero, "the most progressive chef in America, who wants to change the world through cooking," he said.
Mero Cocinero will gather his audience on the Intermedia stage and then walk them through several rooms and art installations throughout the building. He ends up in a makeshift kitchen -- with a refrigerator, sink and hot plates -- and prepares a meal. He won't reveal the menu, though he says he generally goes for Guatemalan/Filipino/Iranian/Mexican food.
Then the audience eats and talks. But Karimi intends to push for more than idle chit-chat.
"There is a Hawaiian tradition called the 'Talk Story,'" Karimi said. "While at dinner, you tell stories, not just conversation. It has the capacity for exchanging cultural ideas."
Karimi knows about cultural exchange. His mother is a Guatemalan Catholic, his father an Iranian Muslim. His childhood was filled with the stories of each tradition -- and with PBS cooking shows. Blending those elements with a love of standup comedy, he devised his alter ego in the 1990s to get people engaged in performance.
"Food is simply nourishment," Karimi said. "It brings people to the table for a taste. But can we make that taste a conscious taste instead of a mindless taste?"
A past National Poetry Slam champion, Karimi has begun emphasizing performances that depend on audience interaction. "Hmoob-land" was a multimedia exploration of Hmong stereotypes in the Twin Cities; "Shaving Time," performed in Chicago, explored the masks Middle Eastern men wore after 9/11.
"I want people to reconnect to their senses and realize they have the power to heal themselves through the exchange of cultural wisdom," he said.
Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299