A new play that tackles healthy eating in schools by following the life of a lunch lady opens tonight. Among the performers is a Los Angeles Unified School District cafeteria worker who will take to the stage for the first time at age 58.
Frank Boeheim is part of the 21-person cast, which features 17 students from Los Angeles High School of the Arts. Boeheim was part of a group of LAUSD cafeteria workers interviewed by playwright Peter Howard last fall. Howard incorporated some of their lunch room stories into the script in an effort to reflect realistic community challenges.
"I was really interested that somebody wanted to write a play about what I do for a living," said Boeheim, who auditioned for the play and landed a role as a member of the chorus. He has about 30 lines in the performance.
Boeheim said a role in the play came as a surprise. He's worked as a cafeteria worker since 1997 and currently works at Bethune Middle School in South L.A.
"It's nothing I ever thought about doing,"he said. "It's quite a bit of fun to do this."
The play, titled "Lunch Lady Courage," is set in a city like Los Angeles and follows the life of a cafeteria worker who struggles to find healthy options for her students and her three children who attend the high school where she works. It's inspired by Bertolt Brecht's "Mother Courage and Her Children."
About 80 percent of L.A. Unified students qualify for free or reduced price meals. Howard wants the play to inspire healthier food options for Los Angeles schools.
"I hope students will take away some sense of the possibility and some sense of their power to control their future and the health of their community," he said.
Boeheim said that from his own experience inside L.A. schools, he sees a need for healthy meals that don't rely on the taste buds of adults.
"They need to make it so that the children want to eat it," Boeheim said, adding that he often hears students complain about the food choices. Some of their complaints made it straight into the script of the play.
As for Boeheim's presence onstage, Howard says he brings a sense of authenticy to the play.
"I have been so inspired by Frank's decision that this is something that he wanted to give a try," he said.
Boeheim balanced two months of rehearsals with his job as a cafeteria worker.