Theatrical Performance by Brian Quijada
With a unique one-man performance that mixes spoken word, rap, beatboxing, live instruments, looping, and passionate story-telling, I would almost recommend that you don’t read any further and just simply trust me that you should go see Brian Quijada’s impressive Where Did We Sit On the Bus? at the Boise Contemporary Art Theatre. This show has almost everything that I think appeals to most of us Earthlings, so I’m going to do my best to do the performance justice while maintaining its novelty for when you inevitably decide to buy tickets.
In both his Chicago and Off-Broadway performances, Brian Quijada’s performance has been met with critical acclaim. Now we have him on the stage here in Boise, and what a privilege it is! Within his first few moments on stage you can feel the intensity that Quijada brings. My first clues to this were the killer high-tops he rocked along with the traditional black v-neck, the staple of all serious theatre performers. This fashion might be some sort of relevant metaphor for the merging of contemporary drama and urban culture, but maybe he just has good style. More important than what he was wearing, Quijada took command of the crowd by immediately starting into a beatbox loop and what’s that? A ukelele? He sets a short loop and walks to center stage, beginning a rhythmic introduction to his story of self-discovery and realized dreams.
Although there was a minimal set-up, Quijada makes remarkable use of the stage. There is a table with his music equipment and a lone white chair that are both located on top of a large square white surface. This large square is then equally divided into 9 smaller squares. Brian periodically moves the chair around, indicating a shift in the story. This shift is emphasized with an impressive projection and lighting rig. Sometimes it will isolate all of the light onto a single square that Brian sits on. Other times it will illuminate the entire floor in a variety of colors that relate to the current scene, most memorably when the stage is imitating a dance floor. This lighting really gave the performance a foundation of calculated creativity, skillfully balancing its more bizarre aspects.
The title of the play is taken from an experience Brian had in the third grade. While learning about Rosa Parks and curious about his own hispanic heritage, he asks the teacher, “Where did we sit on the bus?” He was surprised to hear the answer, “They weren’t around.” This sparks the theme behind the entire performance as Brian tries to understand his cultural identity as the son of parents who illegally immigrated from El Salvador, being brought up in suburban Illinois and having wealthy Jewish friends.
This isn’t a story about conquering immense personal struggle. It’s a very regular story about the cultural melting pot of America and a boy making sense of it all, while trying to find his own dreams. It was extremely relatable. He takes the common experience, from birth to marriage and injects a passionate musicality, ranging from 90’s rapping styles to reggae. Furthermore, he adds a humor that left me gasping for air. All of this was interlaced with such an honest and heartfelt story of a family’s desires and a child’s dreams. The most touching moment in the show came after Quijada recounted the stories of his parent’s lives, growing up in El Salvador and immigrating to the United States. He then courageously references the anti-immigration statements of our new president. Statements made much more scary considering this performance was on inauguration day. Raw emotion overwhelms him as he stutters and attempts to hold back tears. He pleads that we do more to embrace the suffering of others.
In a world where racially charged language has somehow become commonplace and politics have become overrun with intolerance, the message of Where Did We Sit on the Bus? is a much needed dose of acceptance and understanding. A huge portion of our population is experiencing such great fear and alienation from those that now have political power. Through the innovative musicality of Brian Quijada’s harmonica beat-boxed rhythms, ukulele strumming, loose rapping, silly singing, and hilarious dancing, this performance gives us a place to feel the intimacy of humanity that transcends any cultural divides and helps heal our hurting hearts.
I know that theatre can be a strange world to breach into for some, especially young-adults, but this is for both the youth and their parents generations. Everything from Quijada’s fashion, the fantastic stage and lighting, the bluetooth controlled looping, the dancing, all express a hybridization of music, tech, culture and passion that is particular to a modern crowd.
Where Did We Sit on the Bus? has my highest recommendation. I hope that you decide to go see it! Shows are running this Wednesday thru Saturday (1/25-1/28). Showtimes are at 8pm each evening with the addition of a Saturday Matinee at 2pm. If you are a student, tickets are only 16$. To purchase tickets, contact the BCT Box Office directly at (208) 331-9224. If the money is what’s holding you back, think about an average tab at a bar or restaurant, and then smack yourself with a therapeutic face-palm because this is worth so much more than that!