Gotham Storytelling Festival, now in its 12th year at Frigid New York, has been curated for 2023 by storyteller Brad Lawrence. Out of 13 programmed shows, I picked 6 of those which were available for streaming as I am UK-based, and these are the first two shows to which I received access.
The full programme, running to Nov 11, is available here.
“Sheltered and alone is an understatement for David Hu, a first generation American raised by Chinese immigrants. David faced racial, social and financial hardship trying to fit in, and meet his parent’s cultural expectations of a good education and a job in the future. Through his journey of adversity David has dealt with depression, insecurity, alienation and eventually health issues. The OutCast is the story of David coming to terms with his struggles and learning that leaving his guard down is not a weakness, but a strength!”
This is a personal monologue, a tale of fitting in and of being different, an outsider in a white neighborhood. For Hu, the issues and hardship he faced do not make him a victim. It gives him a position of strength, and that strength allows him to cope. Not that there aren’t moments of anger here at the racism which is directed at those who are seen as “not belonging”. Of course there are, but this is also a funny show which makes important points through a humorous lens without making light of serious issues.
Despite some sound issues on the stream – a lot of background noise and the audience reactions being louder than the performer’s delivery, this is a solid 50 minutes of fringe storytelling on an important topic of cultural identity and dealing with the expectations and perceptions of family, friends, neighbours and people met on a casual basis. Hu is a performer who is comfortable in revealing his own crises and contradictions.
Some of The OutCast is relatable to children growing up poor, where their fashion choices are criticised and analysed to confirm your place in your ‘group’. Children can be cruel. People, generally, can be cruel. But Hu makes it clear we can all rise above it, whatever socio-economic class we belong to.
As a child of immigrants born in the USA, Hu reflects on whether he is American, Chinese-American, or something else. He points out the conflicts of living within a culture which clashes with that of your family, and how to use this difference to become your own person, independent of what others think.
It Came From New York
“This is Michele Carlo’s long running (founded 2005) storytelling show about being from the city so many move (or wish they could move) to. Featuring a funny, fierce, and fabulous cast of favorites—one from each borough of NYC—and one “Token” transplant.”
This group of performers love their city.
For Annie Tan (Manhattan) her story is a detective story to find out what is going on with the smells on her block. With a disarming style she fixes on how those who earn least can find themselves under attack, with the associated gentrification of home who are big earners and transient residents.
In Phyllis Marie Bowdwin (The Bronx)’s piece, the subway at 14th Street is the star, and how passengers behave. Any seasoned traveller will know exactly what’s going on here in this funny piece by an unflappable comedian with sharp characterisation and dialogue.
From Queens, Angel Yau has Chinese parents who immigrated into the USA, and her story involves images and video from her childhood while navigating who she was and is. It is about family, being Asian-American, and growing up in a diverse part of town.
The token contributor from Wisconsin is Kelli Dunham, non-binary, ex-nun, nurse. She is the wildcard. Very funny from an outsider’s perspective, her style is fast, chatty, and a little introspective. Her story looks at the clash between religion and sexuality and presents a different kind of experience set back from racial issues.
Rebecca Stronger from Brooklyn pushes at the tough reputation of the city in a deeply personal story of surviving what life throws at you, in this case a medical emergency on a work day which sparks off a deep discussion with a friend and a realisation that we can all do something worthwhile without really registering it.
Staten Island’s Nanci Richards is preoccupied with finding a place to call home and to find “her New York experience”. Her laconic delivery makes her story of having to head to the Hamptons to be a true New Yorker even more bizarre.
Hosted by Michele Carlo, writer, actor, and former burlesque emcee, It Came From New York is a delightful and intriguing set of tales accessible whether you know life in the Big Apple or not. I do need to note significant audio issues with this stream which meant I might have missed some detail of the stories, having to turn up the sound beyond comfort levels at times.
The OutCast and It Came From New York played in the Gotham Storytelling Festival at Frigid New York in November 2023. I reviewed from a copy of the livestream.