The Performance Project @ University Settlement: Suitcase Stories

Another play I went to quite recently was Suitcase Stories by the Performance Project (The Forum Project). Located at University Settlement on the verge of Chinatown and the Lower East Side, so pretty much in the heart of bars, lounges, and the drunk Bridge-and-Tunnel-crowd during this Saturday eve. Since I hadn’t been there in a while, it was quite pleasant to just stroll the area before the performance. I am always baffled at how New York changes but the LES has sort of stayed the same to when I first moved here, 4 years ago (I also happened to have my very first job there, which makes the neighborhood extra-special to me).

Well the play was one of a kind. If I hadn’t known the person to take me here, I probably wouldn’t have heard about it. The Performance Project has a driven mission to “create theater about oppression and liberation” (For more information check out their Facebook Site).

This particular show called the Suitcase Stories was divided into two pieces: First, four short plays were performed and then the audience was animated to take part in improving the play. Overall, a very unique and fun experience. The performance was its last one – a closing night to cherish at the end of March.

In the first part, the actors were basically all over the place, digging numbers out of a suitcase (as the name of the play implies). The audience then got to vote on a number. Whichever one was picked symbolized a play that was performed during the first hour. It started off with:

The Store, The Diner, The Office Party, The Job Search

Actors jumping around the suitcase
Actors jumping around the suitcase

All were scenarios, typical to real life encounters. For example, in The Store, a Latin-looking man was trying to buy a nice suit jacket for his first job interview. The store associate first completely ignored him, then pushed him off into a corner, and lastly accused him of trying to steal the suit jacket.

The Diner
had to do with conflict of identity and a server clashing with the strict religious views of a patron. The patron couldn’t accept that the waiter didn’t belong to either the male or female gender and the scene escalated in the waiter being fired from his/her job.

The Office Party showed how an attractive employee was drugged and raped by an important client of the company during an office party. While trying to stand up for her rights and going to HR, the client was of higher importance and the employee was let down.

The Job Search posed an interesting scenario as it was random accusations thrown at a job-seeking fellow. Re-enacted by “knocking on everyone’s door” the poor job seeker had to face one rejection after another – ranging from being out of work for too long over not having much of a social network (do you blog?) to not being able to speak 5 different languages fluently in today’s job market. I believe the job search is something not only young, struggling artists can relate to in today’s society, but pretty much everyone – even well-educated, polished, and promising candidates. Which makes the fact that New York’s economy is total shit even more depressing.

All four plays were perhaps something a broad audience could identify with over the long run. From facing ostracism for being different over being too “flirty” at a company party to dealing with unfair rejection during challenging times. Overall, a good mix of themes for an open-minded audience.

The Joker making sure everyone is animated
The Joker making sure everyone is animated

During the second half, the audience was animated to jump off their seats, pair up with a person they didn’t know, and make up silly symbols of greetings. This escapade was meant to loosen up the spirit and then encourage everyone to contribute to the plays. The Diner and The Jobsearch were selected for improvement by vote. A few spectators came up and acted out a suggested reaction of how the waiter could have dealt with the patron in a different way.

The show was unique as it was not meant to just sit there and listen but to actively improve and participate in the scenarios. I had a lot of fun because it took me out of my comfort zone, was highly interactive, and very inspiring for future performances.

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