A press kit, transcript, and set of stills are now available for “Your Day is my Night” set to premiere at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in February 2013.
CHINATOWN — A multimedia performance is seeking to shine a light on the phenomenon of “shift beds,” in which struggling immigrants rent places to sleep in 12-hour installments.
The performance, “Your Day is My Night,” will show at University Settlement on Eldridge Street this Thursday and Friday night, as a prelude to a documentary of the same name that will premiere in February.
The show intersperses excerpts from the upcoming film with live performances from predominantly Chinese Americans, detailing the often private life of workers who share beds to survive, but who also gain a sense of community as they carve out life in America.
“What you will see is a place where adults interact and talk and have this really homely life,” said filmmaker Lynne Sachs, 51, who has so far spent two years working on the documentary and accompanying performance, along with cinematographer Sean Hanley. “There is a lot conversation and exchange of live experience.”
As New Yorkers complain about living in what they consider tiny apartments, “shift beds” have been commonplace in immigrant communities, as well as in China, for years.
Jacob Riis photographed the lifestyle at the turn of the last century, capturing the beds where one person sleeps during the day and someone else moves in at night.
“Often, if you see a very small building with a large pile of trash out the front, chances are lots of people live there,” said Sachs.
Shift-bed apartments currently exist in areas like the corner of East Broadway and Allen Street, Sachs explained, providing accommodation to renters willing to vacate for half of the day for about $150 a month.
Many of the performers taking the stage for the show are between 50 and 70 years old and have themselves spent time in a shift bed.
“I gave them a change — to be performers and tell their own life story,” Sachs said.
Those performing on stage create the narrative using tai chi, dance, song and acting, with any Chinese translated via subtitles.
Sachs, a Carroll Gardens resident, was first inspired to research New York’s shift-bed lifestyle when an elderly uncle recalled its prevalence in the 1980s.
“I began to research and found out it was still happening today,” she said.
Even though eight people occupying an 800-square-foot apartment may seem to offer a poor quality of life, Sachs pointed to the community the shift-bed system creates for workers whose families often stayed in China while money was sent home, or until a life could be set up in America.
“We are trying to show that shift beds aren’t the struggle they seem to be,” she said.
The Word Journal and the The Lo-Down wrote about the upcoming combination documentary/live performance “Your Day is My Night,” a look at New York’s “shift-bed” residents, mostly Chinese immigrants who take turns sharing the same bed. The Lo-Down piece in English can be read here and the World Journal one, translated from Chinese and edited, is below.
Directed by Lynne Sachs, the film “Your Day is My Night,” presents the harsh lives of Chinese immigrants who had to take turns sharing beds just to sleep. It will be shown, accompanied by a live performance, at University Settlement in the Lower East Side on Nov. 1-3.
Alison Fleminger, who organizes special events for University Settlement, said the film reflects the living conditions of immigrant communities in the Lower East Side and their diverse cultures. The performance artists share similar backgrounds with the subjects of the film or are of Chinese descent.
Director Sachs’ inspiration came from listening to stories from her relatives about the difficult lives of immigrants in the 1960s, where in one house, many people shared the same bed to cope with their limited income. Even many years later, she discovered that this kind of situation still happens to many immigrants, especially among new arrivals in Chinatown. Many people not only squeeze themselves into a small living space, they live a poor life, renting a bed with other people to take turns to sleep.
The film features seven Chinese actors, who are all regular people playing themselves. They were discovered by Sachs through the Lin Sing Association, based in Chinatown. She interviewed them in person and merged each of their stories into the movie. The seven are: Yi Chun Cao, Linda Y.H. Chan, Chung Qing Che, Ellen Ho, Yun Xiu Huang, Sheut Hing Lee, and Kam Yin Tsui.
Each has a distinct immigrant experience. Under the guidance of the director, their stories are presented through the sharing of the same bed. The bed documents each of their lives, carries their unique identities and speaks of each of their long histories. When they take turns to rest on this bed, their lives are intertwined.
Yi Chun Cao moved to the U.S. 23 years ago and worked in a restaurant. To save money, his family of three rented a small room. The whole family slept on one bed. Cao later worked as a custodian at Confucius Plaza.
In the movie, Cao recalled his experience of coming to the U.S. from China. In 1949, when the Guomintang Party was exiled to Taiwan, his parents and siblings all went there. He stayed on his own in Nanjing, China. When his older brother came to the U.S., Cao finally located him after writing to an uncle. According to Cao, the movie reminds him of his life, of being separated from his family since he was little, and being unable to see his parents again before they passed away.
Linda Y.H. Chan, 78, spoke of her difficult journey moving from China to the U.S. when she was a teenager. According to Chan, because her grandfather had returned to China after being overseas, after 1949, her family was repeatedly denounced by the Chinese government. Their home was ransacked and all their valuables were taken away. The government alleged they had more valuables hidden. Since they did not have any more to give to the government, the officers punched and kicked Chan who was just a teenager. Finally in 1958, to secure their safety and survival, her mother took her and her little brother and escaped to Hong Kong. Her father was already there.
Chan recalled that in 1962, her family came to New York from Hong Kong as refugees. At that time, she only had $5 in her pocket. Life in the U.S. was very difficult. Her parents worked in a garment factory in Chinatown. As a teenager, she started washing people’s clothes in Chinatown. Her family of four lived in one room. She and her little brother often slept on the floor or on the sofa.
Kam Yin Tsui worked as a dishwasher at a restaurant. Having no money to buy furniture for his empty apartment, he had to pick up a bed that other people had thrown out in the street. After working for more than 10 years, Tsui, who is retired, indicated that the details of his struggles during those early years are still fresh in his mind when he recalls them even now.
According to Tsui, he was smuggled into the United States in 1972. When he was young, he had to work the fields in rural villages of mainland China and later begged on the streets of Guangzhou, China. The travails he faced when he first came to the United States remind him of the miserable living conditions he endured during his childhood.
The movie and the live performance will be presented at University Settlement, 184 Eldridge St., on November 1-3 at 7:30 p.m. Ticket are $15; $10 for students and seniors.
Your Day is My Night: An Inside Look at New York’s “Shift-Bed” Residents
By Giacinta Frisillo
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.
Lynne Sachs and Your Day is My Night at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.
By Ann Hornaday, Published: October 19, 2011 in the Washington Post
Test screenings are par for the course in Hollywood, where studios regularly show their movies to audiences in order to get feedback during editing. The process is less common in the experimental world, where filmmakers can usually be found zealously crafting intensely personal expressions in what amounts to an insular aesthetic bubble.
But when Lynne Sachs presents a 30-minute excerpt from her new film, “Your Day Is My Night,” at the National Gallery of Art on Sunday, she intends to pay close attention to how the audience responds. “I’m going to listen and I’m going to take notes on what they say,” Sachs said in a telephone conversation from her home in Brooklyn.
Sachs filmed “Your Day Is My Night” in New York’s Chinatown, using nonprofessional actors in a documentary-fiction hybrid that addresses dislocation, memory and identity. Most of the action happens in a “shift bed” apartment house, where Chinese immigrants rent beds for the day or night, often sleeping in rooms crammed with bunk beds and mattresses. Canadian mattress company can assure you high quality mattresses at affordable range. Using beds as a metaphor for privacy, intimacy and power, the film also explores intercultural and trans-historical communication, topics by which Sachs has been consumed in recent years. (Two similarly themed short films, “The Task of the Translator” and “Sound of a Shadow,” will be shown before “Your Day Is My Night” on Sunday.)
“I’m planning to talk about the idea of translation, as in the translation of an experience, and a culture, and the film becomes a conduit for that,” Sachs continued, noting that “Your Day Is My Night” represents the culmination of 10 months of researching, writing and filming with her performers, each of whom is shown in the film grappling with his or her own history in a different way. “I’m curious to see how I’ve translated their experience to an audience — and it’s the first audience” to see the film.
Sachs began germinating the idea of a bed-themed film several years ago when speaking with a relative who had witnessed the 1960 crash of a jet in Brooklyn. When he said that there were a lot of “hot-bed houses” in the neighborhood, Sachs asked him what they were; he described housing for immigrants so poor they couldn’t afford an entire apartment, just a mattress within it. When Sachs sought out similar institutions in modern-day New York, she discovered a thriving “shift bed” culture in Chinatown.
“I got really interested in the fact that people live in these very small apartments, where the beds don’t have this sense of property, and started thinking about what our relationship is to . . . this mattress, which is like floating land.” She found her cast through the Lin Sing Association, a social and community organization in Chinatown, eventually working with seven performers to create a script based on their lives. “I did hours of interviews with them, then wrote a distillation of what they said that struck me as connected to these themes around beds. They taught me a lot. I didn’t realize I was going to learn so much about the Cultural Revolution.”
At one point in “Your Day Is My Night,” one of Sachs’s subjects, Chung Qing Che, recalls sleeping on a stone bed over a cooking fire in 1947 when he was roused by Maoist forces, who looted the family’s belongings and beat his father, who died shortly thereafter. Several scenes later, Sachs interweaves the documentary interviews into a dramatized narrative in which another character, Huang Yun Xiu, goes missing, having been urged to leave his comfort zone of Chinatown and visit the Manhattan Bridge. Like most of the material in “Your Day Is My Night,” the episode has its roots in a real experience, when Huang left Chinatown, panicked on the subway and vowed never to venture out of the neighborhood again.
“They can all thrive in their world and not speak a word of English,” Sachs said. “I did some shooting for the film at the Metropolitan Museum, at an exhibition they had from the Forbidden Palace, and I took two of the women up there; they had maybe been to that neighborhood once.”
For Sachs, who has made most of her films in such far-flung places as Cambodia, Israel, Japan and Argentina, making a movie set in the hermetic world of Chinatown has had the unlikely effect of opening up her own experience of New York. “This film is three subway stops from my house, and it’s expanded my world in such an amazing way,” Sachs said. “Just the other day I saw [one of the performers] from the film on the subway. I had seen him once before by chance, and both times we gave each other an enormous hug and he said, ‘I love you,’ because it’s one phrase he knows in English. All of a sudden we know each other, and we easily could have passed each other a hundred times.”
Your Day Is My Night
At the National Gallery of Art on Sunday at 2 p.m. Free admission. Call 202-842-6979 or visit www.nga.gov.