by Kirby Lindsay Laney, posted 4 April 2017
According to BrainyQuotes, Napoleon Bonaparte said ‘An army marches on its stomach,’ and while it takes more than food to bring the indescribably awesome Moisture Festival to Hale’s Palladium each spring, food donations, and the volunteers that set the table, play a big part in the hospitality this non-profit extends to attract 200+ amazing performers.
Every year, Moisture Festival brings Fremont an incredible array of talented, international performers. Every year Moisture Festival.org, a 501(c)3, covers food and lodging for the talent, along with 600+ volunteers who assist them. Thanks to generous donors annually Fremont can host what has become the largest, longest running Varieté showcase, in the warehouse of our oldest brewery.
Moisture Festival runs on a shoestring – and not one from Godfrey Daniels’ size 25 sneakers. A small staff (about 2.5 people) and very few corporate donations or government grants (most donations come from private individuals and small businesses,) create world-class entertainment on a tight budget. Development Director Cheryl Angle – or Director of Wheedling & Groveling, as she is called – works throughout the year to find donors wise enough to assist in bringing Moisture back here, year after year.
Angle likes to acknowledge the hard work of MF volunteers, like Jay Nuske who signed on as Moisture Festival Food Wizard. Nuske transforms the donations Angle procures from area restaurants and food vendors into a month of meals that feeds the army of MF performers and volunteers at the Palladium, as well as at any other remote Festival locations, such as the Burlesque Liber-tease at the Broadway Performance Hall.
A Day In The Life
Nuske and her team of Food Babes & Food Dudes (their actual titles) do much more than laying out the food generously donated by top local restaurants. As she explained, “I will come in early,” sometimes at 10a on show days, to clean up from the night before, cut vegetables, prepare platters, and do any other prep work. “I care about presentation,” she explained, “it’s not necessary, but I do take a lot of pride in it.”
For example, Angle explained, last year Theo Chocolate donated a significant amount of broken bars and Nuske laid out the samples in the order of its cacao content. “She was respectful of the product, and educational about it too,” Angle observed.
This year, Nuske also will have daily donations of baked goods from Macrina Bakery, for ‘breakfast’ on matinee days and/or dessert, with Theo’s yummies, for after late night shows. “New Roots Organics provides all the vegetables for the crudités,” Angle explained, allowing Nuske to call and ask for what she needs.
In the mornings, Nuske will get coffee started, and restock the other beverages, including donations from Talking Rain. Later in the day, performers over 21 can enjoy Hale’s Ales, Zin-phomaniac wines, and Schilling Cider. The Schilling donation last year led Hale’s to switch to the locally produced hard cider in its Brew Pub.
As performers and volunteers start arriving, the food staff lay out prepared platters of cheese and crackers, fruit and nuts, Tutta Bella donated salads and hummus for those who need sustenance before show time. “Everyone snacks,” Nuske explained. This year, in addition to the always popular Kind Bars, Moisture Fest received a selection of Field Roast Grain Meat that Nuske will put in wraps and spaghetti sauce.
“The meal usually happens after the show,” Nuske explained, “or in-between the shows,” on matinee days and/or those with late-night performances. The amount of prep work a meal needs, “depends upon the donor,” Nuske observed. “Pecado Bueno makes it super easy for me,” she said, as owner James Schmidt often attends the shows, this year on Sundays, and lays out his meals with signs he provides to indicate what everything is, identifying options for those on restricted diets. “On Ivar’s [Seafood & Chowder] nights,” Nuske explained, this year on Fridays, “I will have to make a vegetarian and gluten-free option.” The signature (and very tasty) Ivar’s chowder doesn’t work for a few diets, so Nuske will prepare a Baked Potato Bar, wraps or vegetarian chili.
Generally, MF meals must serve 90 hungry people, from performers who expend every ounce of their energy on the stage, to volunteers who work nearly as hard tending lights, sound, and house duties. “These people are physically giving us their all,” Angle said. “For Broadway,” Nuske explained about the remote location, “we have to make and carry” the food. “It’s a challenge,” Nuske allowed, since the Performance Hall doesn’t have the kitchen facilities the Palladium provides.
Unfortunately, even with a Food Wizard, gaps appear in meal plans when donations don’t always cover every eventuality. The team always preps and provides extra items, just in case. This situation took Nuske by surprise when she first joined the team, and she addressed it by storing a few extras in the refrigerator for these times.
Nuske also stocks up on items for those with eating restrictions, such as gluten-free, vegetarian or vegan. She checks in with them, asking the vegetarians about particular meals, to see “if they can eat the meat,” since some distinguish between seafood and beef. “On pizza nights,” Nuske mused, “I guard the vegetarian.” Hungry omnivores may grab a slice or two because it looks good, unaware of the others that have fewer options. “I usually have a gluten-free pizza or two,” Nuske said, “and that’s always heavily guarded.”
Days end for the Food Team after the final meal. “Sometimes the food goes very fast,” Nuske observed, “and you’re done. Sometimes we have leftovers,” to box up for later creations, such as ‘Leftover’ night. Nuske praised members of her team, talented foodies and chefs, who can, according to the Wizard, “do amazing things!”
Where The Food Comes From
An experienced veteran in non-profits, when Angle first came to MF and heard about the policy of feeding, well, everyone, “I was shocked! At first, I thought I’d rather raise the money and buy food,” she said. After only one MF season, she learned the significance of serving meals family-style. “These are people away from home,” Angle observed about the performers, “They are not getting family meals away from the show.” Most performers stay in private homes, also organized by the Festival, and “the meals are important to them,” she observed. Additionally, each year they get more acts with kids and performers traveling with their children, which only amplifies the need for a family meal.
On Wednesdays, Angle has meals donated by Eastlake Bar & Grill, thanks to James Schmidt’s brother, John Schmidt. Long-time donor Peter Glick of Roxy’s Diner, which has fed Moisture Festival for over a decade, will feed the largest crowds on Saturdays. Ballard Brothers / Taco Mamas has donated Thursday’s meals at the Palladium, along with a meal one night at Broadway.
“We still could use a couple of nights,” of meals, Angle acknowledged, before the Festival opened, “We would love to showcase Northwest cuisine,” she said, admitting that efforts to get locally-sourced oysters haven’t succeeded, so far. “I would love to show off for this international crowd the Best of Seattle,” she acknowledged, “we are open if there are unique products that someone wants to donate.”
At this point, however, Angle observed, “We have to buy some stuff, to make the soups, wraps, etc. We need cash donations…” This year, Moisture Festival returned almost entirely due to volunteer efforts and the 1,000 or so generous donors who give money each year. Ticket sales cover only ½ of the budget, and Angle must find donors, including restaurants and other small businesses, willing to give financial support to an alternative and creative extravaganza.
For Nuske, the great attraction of volunteering at Moisture Festival, “it’s the people; all of the people. Everyone loves it here!” For her four-plus weeks of work Nuske will receive a small stipend and, like so many Moisture volunteers, she’ll also be attending to her day job. “None of us is paid enough to be here by pay,” she said, but “people speak French,” they crack jokes, break out in song, and play together, all while putting on a critically acclaimed show over 50 times in a month. “I’ve always felt welcome, right from the beginning,” Nuske said.
At the annual MF Volunteer Orientation (more of a party, really) held in February, the majority signed up to join Nuske’s team. Angle noted that the Food Team volunteers have fun, working together in the basement kitchen of the Palladium. Nuske acknowledged that sometimes, “we were having a dance party,” as everyone be-bops around to music, enjoying their work. “I’ve never laughed so much,” Nuske said fondly of being, “down in the hole.” Nuske is proud of the team she’s built, and the people she’s identified as trustworthy enough to take on leadership positions when she cannot be on-site due to her day job.
Nuske first heard about Moisture Festival while married, from her spouse’s friends, but it was only after her divorce, about three years ago, that she took their advice to go and check it out. “I wanted to focus my energy,” she explained, “and Moisture Festival combined a lot of things that I liked.”
As a volunteer, she “tried everything” until then Food Wizard John Scharf took her under his wing. Nuske found the work rewarding, and it kept her from becoming bored. “She did it all last year,” Angle observed. Nuske acknowledged that, “I had a great team last year, and they’re going to help,” again this year, in addition to, “my Mom helped a little last year, and she will help again this year.”
Why Not Moisture?
If you haven’t seen Moisture Fest this year, it offers the same zany outrageousness as it has for 14 years. If you have seen it, can you consider donating?
Even if you don’t have a food product or catering kitchen to provide, individual and corporate donations are urgently needed to keep this incredible production marching on. Next year, if donors and volunteers continue to give generously, Moisture Festival will return for a 15th year.
Find out more about Moisture Festival on the website at Moisture Festival.org
- A Stalwart Moisture Fest Volunteer Speaks
- by Kirby Lindsay Laney, April 5, 2016
- Support A Million Laughs At Moisture
- by Kirby Lindsay Laney, February 27, 2016
- Smooth Operations At Moisture Festival
- by Kirby Lindsay Laney, March 24, 2015
©2017 Kirby Laney. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.