“Confection” is a bit of a mystery. For starters, how many theatrical performances come with a suggestion that audience members wear comfortable shoes? But one thing is certain: There will be snacks.
The Folger Theatre commissioned Third Rail Projects, a New York-based company, to create an experience that is far more immersive than a typical night out at the theater. The company researched documents in the library that describe banquets and feasts enjoyed by the late-17th-century European aristocracy to create a piece that asks audiences to think about inequity, consumption and appetite.
During the 45-minute experience, a group of no more than 50 audience members will walk through the Folger Shakespeare Library’s usually restricted Paster and Sedgwick-Bond reading rooms; the five-member cast will perform, dance and interact with the audience. The evening culminates with a communal pastry experience.
To create the treats, Third Rail Projects approached Lila Miller, owner of D.C.-based Lupin Baking Company. She was intrigued by how the themes of “Confection” were interwoven with her usual work.
“On the baking side, you have to think about, ‘Where is my cinnamon and vanilla sourced? Where does the money go?’ ” she says. “There are people working on these cocoa farms — what are their lives like? Here we are just guzzling chocolate on a bad day, but where does [it] come from?”
Per the Folger’s request, Miller created three different desserts for “Confection” (how they fit in to the performance is something she’s keeping quiet about).
The first goodie is a brown bread, which is sweetened with molasses and has a good dose of allspice — a common ingredient in Jamaican cooking. “Here we are talking about the cost of indulgence, and this is a molasses-heavy thing, so I thought about molasses and Jamaica and the slave trade and extractive industries in general,” Miller says. “So as you’re eating it, you get this sweet treat and it’s satisfying and comforting, but it also has this allspice. I’m hoping people will also think about Jamaica; it brings up all these other connotations.”
The Folger specifically requested another treat — a French macaron. Since the tiny cookies are so prevalent, Miller wanted to make sure this one was special. “I thought that everyone would be so sick of the standard flavors — chocolate, chocolate with caramel, chocolate with coconut,” Miller says. She ended up filling the traditional cookies with a ginger buttercream that’s inspired by a ginger jam she uses in her non-theatrical baking.
The third pastry is a miniature cake, though not a variety offered by Duncan Hines. “I wanted to do flavors that were unique, that you wouldn’t just have when you go out for dinner or dessert somewhere,” Miller says. She eventually landed on a vanilla cake with a cardamom buttercream frosting and a passion fruit drizzle.
There will be no need to push and shove to get to the front of the pastry line. “Everyone gets something,” Miller says (however, there are no allowances made for dietary restrictions). “But there’s still this inequality of who gets what and how much of it — this sort of decadence and disparity element.”
Regardless of how much (or how little) each audience member gets, one thing about the confections of “Confection” is sure: They have to be better than an overpriced Twix devoured at intermission.
Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 E. Capitol St. SE; through March 24, various times, $40-$60.