Story in a suitcase

Maki Yi, author and performer of the Suitcase Stories. | Photo by Emily Cooper

The Evergreen Cultural Centre will host Suitcase Stories, a one-woman show about the journey of Maki Yi who immigrated to Canada from South Korea with nothing but a single suitcase, May 17–19.

Suitcase Stories is a story of identity and of finding her way in a foreign land, which Yi relays with both humorous and thought-provoking anecdotes.

A shared journey

Yi both wrote and stars in this show, which was developed at Pacific Theatre in 2014, though originally it was not actually on the stage. Instead, Suitcase Stories began in the Pacific Theatre lobby, as Yi wanted to participate in the theatre’s 30th anniversary season in some way. So she proposed to share her story in ten-minute monologues before the main stage shows began.

“I shared my stories throughout the season,” says Yi. “Whatever the main show was, I tried to match my story with the themes of the show. There were eight main shows, so I ended up writing eight stories drawn from my life.”

At the end of the season those eight stories were re-written and put together into a single show, which was later added as a main stage production. Though the show has evolved somewhat since then for its current run at the Evergreen Cultural Centre, it is still the autobiographical story of someone who had to make their way in a completely foreign society and culture.

“It’s a story of someone coming from somewhere else and finding their place here. There’s an identity issue; when you come here it’s such a different culture, so there’s a collision that shapes your identity. There’s also a survival issue, because I came packed with just one suitcase and no idea of what I was going to do,” explains Yi.

Yi says she decided to leave Korea because she felt she wasn’t fitting into the society there; she felt she just needed to leave. Canada was an unknown, but she moved across the world because she had to go somewhere else. She says immigration was not easy in the slightest, but looking back Yi does her best to not focus on the negatives.

“When I went through some of the stuff in real time it was tough,” she says, “but when I go back now I find the humour in it. I think with anything in life, if you see it in different ways, you can find some humour in it. Even though it’s a negative experience, I come out with some kind of strength or some sort of positive things.”

Unique yet universal

For Colleen Lanki, director of the show, the strength of Suitcase Stories comes from its simplicity. The show did not have a large budget when it was originally produced, so everything Yi creates on stage comes out of a suitcase, her story unfolding from within it.

“She makes her own world out of a suitcase,” says Lanki. “The beauty of it is that she starts with an empty space, and it is full by the end of it: she fills the space with Maki.”

Lanki met Yi in 2012 when she was looking for a stage manager for a show she was working on. They’ve worked together multiple times since then, and when Yi asked her to be a part of this project, Lanki says she leapt into it.

“What draws me to this show is the candor,” says Lanki. “It’s her story, but it’s not told in a ‘woe is me’ way – it’s not self-indulgent. Maki just lets us sit on top of her suitcase and she pulls us around, takes us on a pretty nice ride. She makes you laugh the whole way, then you stop and think, wow.”

That “wow” is from the more serious side of Yi’s journey. Despite all the humour she draws from her experiences, she also relays trials and tribulations, anecdotes that are both very personal and also relatable to many people who went through similar things.

“Personal stories can be very universal,” says Yi. “It’s a unique story, but at the same time when I tell it, people tell me they can relate to it. I really want people to feel entertained, to have a good time, but at the same time, I want to give them something to think about in life.”

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