Parties can be fun, but they are often boring. Perfarties [performance+parties] are always fun, and they are never boring. In 2010, I began experimenting with the possibility of turning social gatherings into sites of surprise performance. Before it becomes clear to party guests that they are in fact participating in a performance, the party is brought to the brink of crisis. Just as the party seems ready to implode with awkwardness and conflict, it suddenly becomes clear that everything has been staged. The evening lapses into the comic relief of a humorous denouement and the guests bond through a collective processing of the trauma they’ve just endured.
THE MYSTERY OF ESTELLE THE TEACUP POODLE
Collaborators: Melina Davis, Emily Samaniego & Shane Crary-Ross
1. One week prior to party:
Theo creates a fake craigslist ad for an outrageous dog-sitting gig [an old, uptight Upper East Sider seeks somebody to look after her teacup poodle Estelle who has a rare heart condition.] He forwards the ad to those invited to the party and announces he has gotten the position.
Theo and Melina-- longtime platonic friends and roommates-- start spreading rumors that a new, unexpected romantic relationship has developed between them.
Emily, their other roommate begins expressing her discontent about this new relationship in private to those who will be attending the party.
2. The Party:
Theo and Melina display inappropriate amounts of syrupy affection.
When asked about his new dog-sitting gig, Theo is quick to change subject matter and expresses that he'd rather not talk about it.
Emily passive aggressively bad-mouths Theo and Melina to the other guests.
Before dinner, Theo asks everyone to express something they are grateful for. When it comes to him, he offers a rhapsodic speech about his new relationship with Melina; Emily sighs loudly and rolls her eyes. When it comes to her turn, she declares she is thankful for nothing and glares at Theo and Melina. Tension is mounting.
After dinner, Melina stands up and begins directing everyone to do their dishes when, suddenly, Emily stands up and yells at her to stop micromanaging. A shouting match erupts. Insults are exchanged. Mortified, some guests begin searching for their coats. Others try to intervene and deescalate the situation.
Melina accuses Emily of not having brought anything to the potluck dinner.
Emily screams back that indeed, she made a cake and that it is in the freezer. She storms over to the freezer to prove her point. As she wrenches it open, she lets out a terrified scream: “There’s a dead dog in the freezer!”
The lights go out. Dramatic music blasts from speakers around the room. A screen unfurls from the ceiling. The show has begun. The party erupts into relieved laughter. The guests are drawn into an interactive murder mystery shadow puppet show. One by one, they are called behind the screen to enact a scenario that explains how Estelle the teacup poodle might have ended up dead and in the freezer. After each scenario has been enacted, the guests vote on which scenario led to the tiny pooch in the icebox. Finally, the hosts perform the "here-whats-really-happened" before the guests are left to mingle.