Four years ago, I found myself obsessively watching a cable reality show called STORAGE WARS. The premise was simple and compelling – a ragtag group of professional and amateur bidders competed at on-site auctions to acquire self-storage lockers whose owners had abandoned them by being delinquent in their monthly payments.
It was equal parts game show, treasure hunt and casino. The bidders were not allowed to go inside the lockers and inspect the contents – they could only view them briefly from outside. Some of the lockers had only a handful of clearly visible items, while others were stocked from ceiling to floor, front to back, with boxes, bags, furniture, gym equipment, clothes and myriad other objects, most of which could not be seen directly.
Story-wise, there was built-in suspense: What was actually hidden inside the locker, out of view? Was there anything of real value contained within its walls? Or was it simply a lot of worthless junk that wouldn’t justify the winning bid, which often amounted to thousands of dollars? Bidders put their money down and spun the proverbial wheel.
Each episode had a three-act structure – bidding on the locker, discovering what was actually inside and then determining its value. And the show was cast beautifully; with an odd assortment of professional junk dealers and amateur treasure hunters who bantered, argued and played mind games with each other. This demi-monde even had its own lingo and nomenclature. For a writer, it all seemed like manna from heaven.
I began to think about writing a play set in this world. But what would set it apart from the show itself? What was it about the show that was really pushing my buttons? I needed to explore this on a deeper level.
I decided that my play was not going to be about reality television. Much of it was already a parody of itself anyway, so satirizing it seemed off the point. No, what captivated me was not the television show, but the actual activity that was at its heart. I was fascinated by this strange subculture of people who bought other people’s abandoned stuff in order to make a profit.
What did it say about our society that one person’s prized possessions, the meaningful objects that he or she had acquired and saved during a lifetime, could be auctioned off to the highest bidder, who had no emotional connection and saw them only as a potential source of profit? And what about the get-rich-quick mentality that seemed to pervade this world, with bidders openly sharing their delusional desire to find something so valuable in one of these abandoned units that they would be set for life? Did that say something about the American work ethic? On an even deeper level, I wondered about how we defined ourselves by the things we acquired and possessed.
Serious questions, all. And, I realized, ripe for some kind of humorous treatment. The result was STORAGE LOCKER, a comedy…of sorts.