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corporate dominance | genetic engineering

Theater troupe mocks genetic engineering

Help cancer grow, they cheered.
Become toxic like a flavor saver tomato, they chanted.
Ge-ne-ti-cal-ly en-gi-neered food!
Taking the message on the road...

Theater troupe mocks genetic engineering
By CAROLYN SZCZEPANSKI, Missourian staff
April 29, 2002 Help cancer grow, they cheered.
Become toxic like a flavor saver tomato, they chanted.

Ge-ne-ti-cal-ly en-gi-neered food!

The opening radical cheer resounded from the Ragtag Cinemacafe on Sunday evening as the cast of "RoadRage" came home to Columbia. The cast had been touring the Midwest with its satirical show on the threats of genetic engineering.

The show is set in a futuristic Columbia, Mo., in which the life-science corporation Biotech has taken over. Watch as legless 'loaf-a-cows' graze on local pastures and genetically modified corn is grown in the fields. Witness farmers getting arrested for patent infringement and community members growing sixth toes.

The performance, which includes songs, sock puppets and slideshows, is the original work of the five local cast members who began creating the sets and script in January. In April, the group set off in a gold van, complete with a rubber ducky on the dashboard and Stop Genetic Engineering painted across the side, to perform 16 shows in eight states in just 20 days.

The crowds have ranged from 82 people to seven, and the audience response has varied from an enthusiastic, packed coffeehouse in Kalamazoo, Ind., to an unsympathetic few in Mount Pleasant, Mich.

But all six cast members agree, touring with such a unique form of activism has been a worthwhile experience.

"I was getting bored with traditional outreach," said Sarah Bantz, who recently completed her Master's degree in Agricultural Economics at MU. "We wanted to do something that would grab people more than an informational presentation."

Cast member Abe Morgan was struck by the show's enthusiastic response, and said the tour has proven that political theater is still a viable form of activism.

Farce is particularly effective, said cast member Heidi Bennett.

"People like to see things presented humorously," she said. "They like to see the opposition presented in a goofy manner."

But, despite the parody that had people laughing out loud Sunday evening, "RoadRage" has a serious message—especially for farm-based economies, such as in Missouri.

"Genetic engineering comes from an economic push by agribusiness to grasp profits at the genetic level," Bantz told a crowd of 50 spectators Sunday night. "And Midwest universities and state governments are working in collaboration with gene giants."

Although GE research is carried out by public institutions and supported by state governments, Bantz said, the research results are patented by corporations, so little profit is passed on to the tax-paying public. Due to this cycle, Bantz added, corporations such as Monsanto and ConAgra, historically Midwest-based companies, essentially control the food supply.

William Fork, professor of biochemistry and associate dean of research for the MU School of Medicine, said genetic engineering improves the quantity and quality of food available, providing the means to feed a rapidly growing world population.

But Mark Des Marats, who traveled from Oregon to join the "RoadRage" tour, stressed that genetic engineering is simply a solution in search of a problem.

"For every reason the industry gives for needing genetic engineering, there is already a sustainable solution," Des Marats said.

Although they have no plans for further shows, the crew plans to stay in touch and sustain their activism in other forms.

"But I'm sure "RoadRage" will surface again in some form," Bantz said with a smile.