By James Maher
Name: Regina Bartkoff and Charles Schick
Occupation: Artists, Performers
Location: 292 E. 3rd Street between Avenue C and D
Time: 7 pm on Thursday, March 12
Picking up from part 1 last week, where Regina was talking about her job working with horses at the Aqueduct Racetrack in her native Queens...
Regina: I didn’t want to be at the track forever and I didn’t know what I was doing, so I left and took the A train to Manhattan and got a job at WABC Radio. I don’t know why I did that. The whole thing started again. I had no friends and they thought I was weird and I was so depressed. I missed being outside. I felt my soul shrinking.
And then one day this temp came in and she had this black hair and cowboy boots and I remember just looking at her. And at 3 she just put her feet up on the desk and said, ‘No human being can work past 3.’ I said, ‘Yeah but they’re paying us till 5.’ And she said, ‘I’m a director and I have acting classes.’ She asked me to join them. The class just blew my mind because everything she talked about method acting was just incredible to me. I just fell in love with it. I just stuck with it. I met a boyfriend in the class and life was starting to come together.
I did a play down here and I came down to the Lower East Side and the first thing I fell in love with was Leshko’s and Odessa. My friends at the time said, ‘Why do you like this? It’s dangerous.’ Tompkins Square Park at the time was called ‘dog shit park.’ There would be like a million dogs running around the park and you would not walk through it at night. My friend Al said, ‘I’m going to try it.’
He got held up about six times walking through the park. I came down here walking around Avenue D. It looked like there were a thousand people on the street. I said, ‘What are these people doing? They said, ‘Hey little girl get out of here if you don’t know what they’re doing.’ This whole drug sale was going on. I don’t know why, but nothing flipped me out. I didn’t care if it was dangerous — there was life here.
I had a job at Phebe’s and then at an all-night restaurant, where I met Charlie. I didn’t like him at first. I though he was real arrogant. By then I was not the same shy person anymore. I was just on the Lower East Side, this little punk girl, in love with art. It was like the Leonard Cohen song, there was music on Clinton Street all through the evening. I loved it even more.
I remember when Charlie took me down to see his apartment on the Lower East Side. We all went there and he didn’t have money for canvas and so he just used his walls — all totally painted, the ceilings too. I thought it was magic and I said, ‘I want to do that.’ And he said, ‘yeah just get some canvases, some paint, some brushes. You don’t have to go to school for it, take it from me.' And I did, I was in a little apartment on East Fourth Street and I went there and I started to paint. That was it.
Charlie: We really haven’t progressed since then. It’s sort of like, do your own thing and you’ll be king. We’ve had odd jobs, worked in restaurants. I work right now as a tour guide on top of the buses.
Regina: Then we moved in together. We just ran around New York. We loved the Lower East Side, we loved Coney Island and in 1984 we had a kid together, Hannah, and then it was the three of us. It was really hard. We were broke.
Charlie: When she was coming we had to borrow money for a cab. We were kind of unprepared. It worked out though. Our life with Hannah was the best thing that ever happened to us. She’s getting married on April 4. We couldn’t be more proud!
Regina: Hannah was about 4 years old and I needed a job. So I got a job at El Sombrero on Stanton and Ludlow. They almost went down for good two years ago and then this relative took it over and I got hired back, and I’m there again.
At that time, you could work one day, maybe two days a week and be OK. And that was great about being an artist too because I thought, ‘I’ll take that deal. I’ll take five days off from work.’ Some people would have their feelings hurt about being a waitress. I was like, ‘Are you kidding, my mind is free even when I’m there.’ It’s easy and it was good money; pockets full of money and then you’d have five days off.
I missed the horses daily. And by luck — or so I thought — I got a job grooming horses at one of the biggest Carriage Houses. I lasted only a few months. Conditions were terrible for the horses and it was hard to take. That's another long story and why I'm against them today.
Acting and the sheer raw stark beauty of the Lower East Side had taken over from the horses and won my heart. It was a sweet life and you could live simply. The neighborhood was wide open then ... and you just breathed in freedom. Tompkins Park was open 24/7, a little more safe and it was great to have when you're broke with a kid. After the Tompkins Square Park riots they smashed the bandshell, the heart, that took a piece out of me too and it closes now at midnight.
Charlie: Not to romanticize starving artists, but you had to be willing to do this. God knows what’s going to happen. It was a different time and a different mindset. But the main thing for us is that doing it is the great reward.
Recently we've been doing Tennessee William's later plays. "In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel" and last year's "The Two-Character Play." It was a play we had been obsessed with for quite some time. We transform the entire space [at at 292 Gallery, 292 E. Third St.] every time we do a play. In our tiny 20-seat house it's intimate and electric, you can feel the energy exchange from the audience right close up in your face.
Regina: Now we go between painting and theatre. We have to find plays that we can do together. So far the track record has been a play, painting show, a play, a painting show. Also because we’re performers, when we paint it’s almost a performance. I have to be really awake and in the moment. I started doing pastels because oil paints are a living thing to us. It’s very fluid. Charlie’s got about 50,000 images behind that [painting]. But with the chalk you can only go so far before the paper rips.
Charlie: The change is difficult for us because it felt like home in the early days. You’d walk down the street and know everybody. It had a soulfulness to it. Not to romanticize violence and other aspects that you had to put up with if you were willing to live here. There was something to the people, faces, characters, and energy, and every street felt different. I felt there was so much interesting stuff to see. You didn’t have to look very hard. It was alive and surprising. Some days you just get a glimpse of the old. Just on some fluke you’re riding the subway home, and it just brings it all back. It’s a different world, I guess everywhere, but one that we don’t quite fit in.
Regina: What made me not feel like I fit into suburban New York? I don’t know. It wasn’t like I was a punk when I was a kid. What was it that that I just didn’t like and what made me come down here and feel immediately accepted?
Read part 1 here.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.
The exhibit Inner Cities continues through Saturday at 292 Gallery ... the exhibit features photos by Romy Ashby, drawings by Regina Bartkoff and paintings by Charles Schick. The gallery is at 292 E. Third St. between Avenue C and Avenue D. Gallery hours are 2-5 p.m. on Saturday and by appointment.