What's it about?
Paper Hat Game is the true story of a man in a big city who decides to make a game of giving strangers paper hats on subways to add some whimsy to their commutes.
What did I experience?
A subway thunders through the theatre. The train stops and I get on. The discordant sounds of the train galloping through tunnels makes me feel anxious, like I'm running late for something. I peer into one subway car after another. In each one lies the usual dismal scene: passengers sitting or standing with vacant expressions on their faces, passively being transported from one place to another.
But then, sitting among a stash of discarded newspapers, there he is. The Paper Hat Guy.
He's daunted by the city. I can tell, because I am, too. To distract from the discomfort he takes a sheet of newspaper and folds it into a perfectly shaped hat. He hands it to a fellow passenger who reluctantly accepts it and puts it on. He makes more hats and offers them to more passengers. Though confused, most accept the hats with enthusiasm while others, jaded and suspicious, decline. I want him to offer one to me but he can't, he's made of paper himself.
Hat-giving soon evolves into a game to which there are three rules:
1. You can’t talk.
2. You can’t force anybody to play.
3. Everybody wins.
As I watch from the corner I see that the Paper Hat Game is fun, whimsical, maybe even a little bit revolutionary. It forces strangers to interact with each other, uniting them in their confusion and delight. I'm struck by the image of a cluster of smartly dressed city dwellers with paper triangles on their heads, looking more like a team of trained performance artists like the Situationists than strangers on their way to somewhere else. They look pleased with Paper Hat Guy for injecting this drop of silliness into their commutes. It looks like they've all won.
But you can find only so many friends in the city through accessories made out of yesterday's sports section. The next time, which is a long time later, that Paper Hat Guy rides the subway, he holds a heavy iron (like the one you straighten clothes with) in his hand. The city has proven itself to be as frightening as Paper Hat Guy had hoped it wouldn't be and he needs to know that he can defend himself.
I feel a little disheartened because I know that Paper Hat Guy will never be the same again. No matter what light-hearted games he plays, Paper Hat Guy will probably always clutch an iron while navigating the city. After a while the iron won't be one that other people can see and ask about, but it will always be there in the back of his mind, ready to be thrown at anyone who doesn't want him to win. I know this because I, too, carry an iron in my mind when I walk this city.