They are living right here on the Lower East Side but most of us are oblivious to the existence, let alone the daily travails, of New York’s “shift-bed” residents. A hybrid documentary/live performance, “Your Day is My Night,” coming to University Settlement next month offers a rare glimpse into their hidden world.
Of the innovative production based on the lives of Chinese immigrants compelled to rent beds in 12-hour increments, Director Lynn Sachs says: “This shared domestic space becomes a… canvas on which lives are recounted and revealed.” Referring to her “new friends,” she explains, “We are making something together that we believe in, that expresses something about living in New York that perhaps has not been revealed before.”
Alison Fleminger, curator of University Settlement’s Performance Project was immediately drawn to the production. “Our aim is to encourage greater participation in the live arts and to help cultivate diverse creative communities on the Lower East Side.” All of the performers are artists who have some kind of background in dance or tai chi or qigong. They are, she notes, “artists who are conscious of the multi-layered communities that co-exist in New York City.”
One of the most compelling characters is a man named Yun Xiu Huang. He is a popular Fujianese wedding singer, “with a powerhouse operatic voice” says Sachs. He arrived in New York around 1990 to fulfill the American Dream, or at least leave behind the difficulties in his homeland. He has grown children in China who he hasn’t seen in years and who he may not see for many more. When asked if he’d try to bring his family to the U.S., he answered, “look at us. We’re adults living in shift beds. Our children wouldn’t want to come here.”
Sean Hanley, cinematographer and editor, observes, “the pain they experienced in China and the difficulty they’ve had living in the U.S., is something they never have a chance to talk about because everyone they know has been through it.” The project artfully weaves a visual and oral history of lives you never knew existed. And now it’s opening up new possibilities for creative expression. In conjunction with the production, The Tenement Museum is working on a Chinese immigration exhibition and the Museum of Chinese in America is planning to present a special focus on Yun Xiu Huang.
Performances run Thursday, Nov. 1st through Saturday, Nov. 3rd at 7:30 p.m. at University Settlement. Go here for tickets.