Thursday, July 11, 2013

Eviction inspires East Village resident to create this one-woman play

[Victoria Linchong's former home on Avenue C]

I amended parts of the section on her childhood. I was wrong on the chronology.

After a tumultuous eviction process from her apartment of nearly 20 years, Victoria Linchong did something that was very natural for her: The director-writer-actor wrote a play.

"DISPOSSESSED" is a one-woman play about finding and losing home that runs July 19-21 at the HERE Arts Center on Sixth Avenue.

From the press notes:

"DISPOSSESSED" is more than a lament over my eviction; it's also about the history of apartments ... specifically the history of apartments in NYC, and our relationship with our possessions. There are ruminations about the community within cities and tenement housing from Jane Jacobs and Luc Sante. Clayton Patterson and Paul Garrin have contributed some video ... And at the end of the play, everyone gets a book from my ridiculously extensive library.

Linchong was born in Stuy Town on Avenue C and East 20th Street. Her family moved away when she was 3, and they spent time in Taiwan and parts of Queens. In the fall of 1988, at age 17, she ran away from Queens and took up residence in the basement of Theater for the New City, where she had been working part time since age 14.

Linchong answered a few questions via email about the play and her life in the East Village.

What was it like living in the basement of Theater for the New City?

Uncomfortable. I lived in one of those cages downstairs that used to be vendor storage back when the place was a market. It was like 5 by 8 and the floor was cement. I slept on some limp foam thing and tried to prop it up with a couple of milk crates since the floor was disgusting. Next door was a guy from the Living Theater. I was slightly jealous of him since he had a real bed and a bigger cage. He smoked a lot of pot and talked to the television. I remember being woken up one night by him saying, "Oprah, you REALLY have problems."

Did your passion for theater develop at this time? Or had you been interested in the arts earlier in your teens?

I was a 17 when I lived in the basement of the theater but I'd started working there four years earlier. Out of sheer masochism, I've wanted to be in theater since I was 5 years old.

What were the circumstances that led to your eviction from your apartment of 20 years in 2011?

That's a long story and it's one of the threads of "DISPOSSESSED." Basically, it's just hard to hang onto an apartment during a recession when you are a struggling artist, especially if the landlord is all about kicking out rent-stabilized tenants.

So the play is more about losing your home. What other themes are you exploring here?

Living in apartments is so part of life in Manhattan that most people take it for granted, but it took more than 60 years for apartments to become acceptable housing for the middle- and upper-class. Apartments were originally housing for the poor — if there's such a thing as vernacular architecture in New York City, the apartment is it. There's text by Luc Sante about how apartments developed from tenements in the 1830s and I also use text by Jane Jacobs about community within cities.

A third thread in the play is a rumination about possessions. When you're forcibly evicted from your place, you lose a lot of your things and for me at least, it led to an investigation into what makes something valuable. I mean, I've always considered myself not particularly material — I don't have any interests in owning anything and I'm not a hoarder or even a collector — but the loss of various random things hit me really hard. Like a set of hand-made bamboo steamers from my great-aunt... the passport I had when I was 3 years old... stupid things that no one else would value except for me.

And the thing that I realized is that your possessions are valuable to you for how they shape your identity, how they inform your history. So losing certain things is like losing a piece of yourself.

What was your favorite thing about this particular apartment?

I lived in that apartment for 19 years so it really was like I had a longtime relationship with it. I was used to its creaks and dings and drips. I tore off three layers of linoleum and sanded and stained the floor myself. Which is why my friends often got splinters in their feet.

There were a lot of problems with the place, but since it was rent stabilized, it was like the amazing partner every artist dreams of. It was completely and utterly supportive of my work. I had cheap rent that allowed me to spend time on art that didn't necessarily pay. I had the central location where I could have meetings whenever I wanted, where I was never lonely, and inspiration or a much-needed coffee break was always around the corner. Plus the place had a huge outdoor area, really the roof of the building next door, which was supposed to be a fire escape, but I had countless nights of just sitting with a drink and looking at the sky.

Is there room for a struggling artist in the East Village of today?

The East Village used to be affordable, which is why there were so many artists. All you needed to do was find part-time work or get two or three paying gigs a month, and you could pay rent and eat out almost every night. But now everyone either has to work a full-time job or really hustle, so you don't have the time or brain space to do the work you really need to be doing. This is why everyone is moving out to Ditmas Park or Bushwick.

Do you still feel a sense of community in the neighborhood?

There's still the facts on the ground — the gardens, the squats, the evidence of how community action has shaped the area. There's still the small scale of the buildings and streets, and the Park in the middle of it all, which encourages people to walk around and creates great sidewalk life.

But a lot of the newer people come from places where they have to get into a car to go anywhere and their nearest neighbor is a mile away, so they don't have the same sociability. They don't look at anyone in the eyes or talk to people on the street.

I mean everyone always came from elsewhere to New York, but there used to be an extant culture here. And people from other places would get hip to that in a few weeks and start behaving like a New Yorker. But now, all the New Yorkers are leaving in droves because they can't afford living here anymore, so the new people coming in are less likely to get the lightbulb realization that "Oh, right, frat parties with people vomiting off the fire escape does NOT make me cool in New York."

Jane Jacobs said this pretty well in "The Death and Life of Great American Cities,"...Constant departures leave, of course, more than housing vacancies to be filled. They leave a community in a perpetually embryonic stage... The age of buildings is no index to the age of a community, which is formed by a continuity of a people."

You were born and raised in the neighborhood. What is the one constant that you have experienced here through the years?

Whew that's hard... OK, here's something, which really needs to be preserved. Corporate culture has yet to invade the East Village. The neighborhood is still predominantly mom-and-pop shops. You can count on the fingers of one hand the major national chains — there's MacDonald's, Dunkin' Donuts, Urban Outfitters, 7-Eleven and Subway.

So what has always been in the same is that you still know people in the shops, you can still leave your keys at the bodega. We haven't been bludgeoned into homogenous consumerism here. We still have a choice. I'm afraid that a lot of the newer people don't know or value this, which is why the 7-Eleven coming to Avenue A is so worrisome. The playing field isn't level and letting these giant behemoths onto it it is pretty risky.

What do you hope that people take away from "DISPOSSESSED" (aside from a book!)

I suppose part of what I want to express in the play is what I value about East Village: the beautiful, catalytic and extremely rare convergence of artists, activists and immigrants in the neighborhood, which is rapidly being eviscerated. I hope this crystallizes a deeper understanding of what is really at stake in the gentrification of the East Village. Maybe if enough people understand this, it'll help keep what's left of the heart and soul of the neighborhood intact.


July 19-21
Fri & Sat at 7pm, Sun at 2pm and 7pm
HERE Arts Center
145 6th Ave, New York City
(enter on Dominick St., one block south of Spring St).
General Admission $15
Find ticket info here.


Gojira said...

"I had cheap rent that allowed me to spend time on art that didn't necessarily pay" - sorry, but even artists have to occasionally leave La-La Land and get their hands dirty doing something to make money to pay their bills. No matter how long this woman has lived in the EV, no one owed her housing; the fact that she let a rent-stabilized apartment slip through her fingers of her own accord (and believe me, Housing Court is NOT a quick process, she probably had numerous chances to pay her arrears and get back in her landlord's good graces) speaks much about the sense of self-entitlement some people seem to have. Wish I could be sympathetic, but I'm not, especially because now the nabe has lost another long-time resident whose space will be rehabbed into something shiny and characterless and then filled with transplanted yahoos.

Anonymous said...

with more and ore dispossessed people every day..what will become of the rest??just sayin

shmnyc said...

You may not like to hear this, but I agree with you. I wrote something earlier that encapsulated what you wrote, in one obscure sentence. It didn't make the cut. :)

Anonymous said...

Stop bolding excerpts!

Doing that is akin to the teacher tapping a pointer to certain text on the blackboard to students he thinks are dumb!

I don't need to be 'told' what lines are 'important', I can glean what's important for me (it's all subjective) in your articles.

Anonymous said...

Let me see if I have this straight: We don't like new people in the neighborhood. And we don't like people who were born and raised here. Got it!

Anonymous said...

Rent stabilized or not, the point is not too long ago you could have a few part time jobs to get by AND have a life creating art. Developers have no problem jamming people into bigger, taller, boxier high rises but who is creating jobs? Not the tech companies Bloomberg wants to lure here. Instagram has what, 13 employees???

Anonymous said...

Why are there so many angry and harsh people who comment on this blog. No matter the topic, somebody is going to attack it whatever it is, particularly if it has to do with artists, and cheap rents. This poor woman is fabulous. And I am definitely going to see her play. If you don't get where she is coming from, and have no sympathy for her predicament, then it is obvious you are who she is complaining about, and what the rest of us consider a "yahoo"...

Anonymous said...

This does seem like an interesting play, however the thought that there are "frat parties" in Manhattan is pretty laughable.

I'm still trying to put together an EV glossary:

"Frat Guys" - No Greek affiliation necessary, just need to be a young white male with few visible tattoos

"Hipsters" - Any person under 35 that I don't like

"Yuppies" - Basically "Frat Guys" and any women they date/marry

Anonymous said...

@ 10:19

Thank you! The hate on this site is enough to make me stop reading it.

Why pontificate on a situation that you know nothing about Gojira? How do you know what happened in this very specific situation?

We need to be more supportive of the few artists who still live here. That's probably too much to ask.

shmnyc said...

Anonymous 10:19,
The reason there is so much anger and harshness is that people post anonymously.

bow boy said...

Please do NOT Stop bolding excerpts!

Bolding excerpts is a great thing. It layers the dialogue here: instead of it just being a one-way discussion from the topic-person, the bold reflects a lil' EVG-ness, and gives me the opportunity to learn more about EVG as well as the topic-person. I come to this site to learn what's going on in my neighborhood, but also learn a lil' about the perspective of the tireless person who has been doing the blog day-in and day-out when so many other blogs have petered out. Who is the EVG and what makes him keep it up? - for me, the answers are in bold. ty.

BB said...

interesting lady, seems really dedicated to her art.

bow boy said...

And while I'm at it, why do haters hate on the haters? Isn't that why we come here... to read about what our neighbors hate?

And by complaining about negative comments, aren't we just being as negative as the negative commenters that we hate?

Despite some possible mistakes, I love learning about this person's experience in the neighborhood, but if someone wants to take issue with her, so be it. Anyone is welcome to be an ass here (myself included). She's putting her life on stage, so I think she can take what any negative person responds with... or at least, she should be prepared. But all we have to go on is what is posted, so if we can't comment until we know the whole story, then no comment will be totally justified, including those who say, you just don't know enough.

If you don't like someone's negative comment, then call them on it, but don't say they shouldn't express themselves. Isn't that expression what this neighborhood used to be about?

If you can't take it, then don't read the comments, but don't blame EVG for allowing even the worst of us to have a place to voice our hate. And anonimity can be an important part of that process as any hacker or anarchist can tell you.

Please don't stop the anger, but show that love tops it everytime. Otherwise you risk being exactly what you are complaining about.

Marty Wombacher said...

It takes a lot of guts to speak your mind and put it out there on a stage. I applaud this woman and wish I was in town to see the play. It's creative efforts like this that make New York interesting, at least to me. I enjoyed the interview. And as far as EV Grieve bolding's his blog.

Anonymous said...

Well this is awkward. I know exactly where that apartment is...and I live in it now.

Victoria Linchong said...

Ha! Do you really live in my old apartment, Anonymous at 12:17? This is Victoria. I've passed by once or twice and the new person in my apartment seems to have a flag fetish - there's one on my old bedroom window and one on my old roof. Oh, and those frat parties with people vomiting and tossing things off on the roof did happen, which is why the door to the roof is now locked.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

I can identify with a lot of what Ms Linchong says. Sounds like an interesting show - will definitely check it out.

Anonymous said...

12:17 - The flags are ours! I put the two outside over a year ago. I had a friend move in who is former military and he decided to put another one in his window. We always wondered why the roof was closed, but it's always been implied by management that it was a for a good reason. It's a shame that years later we still can't take advantage of it. We spend many nights on 'the deck' doing the same things you used to.

Anonymous said...

I never said that the "haters" (their words) shouldn't be allowed to voice their opinions, here or anywhere. I merely stated the obvious, that people with such overly harsh and judgemental attitudes are precisely the "yahoos" (their word) this woman is describing in her play and in this interview. I do find the comment overly harsh, and hateful and completely presumptuous of circumstances of which they know nothing. If saying that makes me a "hater" then so be it. I prefer the term "empathetic" myself.

Jill said...

I don't see one moment in this interview that suggests that Victoria thinks she was entitled to that apartment and attacking her is completely off base. All she said was how much she appreciated the opportunity that her situation afforded her as an artist and it came to an end, in rather dire circumstances. There is no self pity or blame here, so wtf?

In fact, the fallout from this event was far greater than she is letting on. Becoming homeless is a scary thing, and you don't lose your relatively cheap apartment because you have a wad of cash in the bank to fall back on. It's taken her years to recover, and I'm extremely proud of her, to see how amazing she is doing, and how strong and resilient she is. This is a survivor story, not a pity party.

I am excited to see her play and how she will turn this life changing event into something broader than her personal story.

Anonymous said...

More power to Ms. Linchong.

I wish she were right about the absence of corporate culture though; it's already here. East Village has one of the highest densities of chain franchises of NYC neighborhoods.

This is from 2012 and the situation has only worsened since:
"Side-by-Side, East Village Chain Stores Would Span 16 City Blocks"

- East Villager

Anonymous said...

Frat party: (noun) colloquial term for especially vulgar forms of social events dominated by (approximately) college-age males. The revelers may or may not actually belong to a real fraternity or one portrayed as such on a reality television show. However, to qualify for the term "frat party", the levels of inebriation, testosterone, decibels, depth of conversation, musical taste, selection of alcohol and "food", and potential for property destruction at the event must correlate very highly with what one would find at an actual fraternity party.

(from E.V.I.L., the East Village Informational Lexicon)

- East Villager

Jill said...

There was a Delta Phi frat on 12th st in 2009. Not sure if they are still there, but there weren't any more horrible parties after this one.

john penley said...

Very sad story. Repeated over and over since the real estate mobsters invaded the hood. I love the creativity that came out of this tragedy gives her back a little power over the situation. America Sucks and so do the majority of its citizens. Worship money and to hell with compassion. I can still feel like crying over this too bad most don't give a shit. A pox on your bank accounts !

Bayou said...

I haven't seen Victoria in too long, but I can assure you she's had "day" jobs. I know. We worked together for a theatre company. She is an artist, a ferociously hands-on single mother and a hustler in the best possible way.

Look forward to the play.

rob said...

I completely understand gojira's point -- I've seen evictions that succeeded in part because of tenant 'entitlement' -- but Victoria is not one of those.

That said, *all* the evictions I've seen occurred after the neighborhood gentrified and market rates rose above those older tenants' rates. Some of the evicted, like Victoria, were active, integral and valued members of the community. I can't say the same of the landlords -- more like a blight on the community, evicting low-income residents and commerce alike.

Don't even try to defend them with "it's their business" -- they never evicted the dealers, thieves, murderers or arsonists in the '70's and '80's. Landlords operated, and still operate, outside the law whenever they can, at the expense of the well-being of tenants and the community in which they commit their crimes yet do not live.

Anonymous said...

Thats bs, there is an accepted atmosphere of terrorizing rent stablized tenants into forfeiting their rights. The mayor sets the precedant that the.banks and courts share a mutual intention of disposessing all rent controlled units, and turning a blind eye to any illegal, even thuggish behavior by landlords, to get stabilized tenants out whether there is legal cause or not.

Anonymous said...

Gojira you are what is wrong with the world. No empathy just crass put downs and sly comments held up by your intelligent "no one owes you anything!", ass kissing view of the world.
"Get use to it the worlds a harsh place and you blew it so I don't approve of your message." Just love when people snipe and reach for another glass of wine.
Does anyone realize that housing should be a human right and not just a profit machine that destroys neighborhoods? I know that many people actually felt that way in the hood many years ago. Now they just want to get a good high paying job and get what they want, everyone else be damned. I wish you could be sympathetic Gojira because that's what we need in this world .