by Gariyana Williams
The Housing Works Theatre Troupe is a Theatre of the Oppressed NYC group that meets regularly to discuss, rehearse, and try to change housing discrimination throughout New York City. This troupe has been around for approximately five years and has been working on many plays, such as Nice to Judge You, Some things $ can't buy, The best but not the rest, Blood/Work, The Worm in the Big Apple, and many more. Now the troupe is currently working on a play called Apartment Complex, in which they show their experiences with housing voucher discrimination and other problems tenants face in an apartment building.
The members of this troupe include Gayle, Patricia, Marjorie, Jon Mincy, Eli, Cat, Evelyn, Helen, John, Aaron, and Goldie. These actors put their real life struggles on the table and in front of an audience so that everyone can see. I’m Gariyana, a Joker in training at TONYC, and I was excited to Joker this troupe because I never helped facilitate a toupe before, and I was curious to hear what experiences people have been through. I talked to the group at a rehearsal a few weeks ago, and the responses from them just made me want to Joker even more. They were open to tell their stories, so that made me more open to learn more about them.
“They said if anyone wants to join in, you can,” Evelyn, one of the newer members of the troupe, says. “I said, you know that is great, because I like to give opinions and you can learn from others. When you been through it, you can feel it you know, and really give advice on what’s going on for real from your heart. This is what theatre needs. We need people acting from what they went through, and let the people know what we go through and that we hope we can fix it with their help and their advice.” I really agree with Evelyn’s statement because I believe it’s easier to try to fix a problem if you’re a credible messenger, so getting advice from people that have also been through that problem can be a helpful tool.
Gayle says, “I really liked [being in the troupe] because I like to change policies. I want to make it a better world and I want to be more assertive, because I tend not to voice my opinion and now I’m trying to change that.” That really resonated with me, because I felt like that at one point in time, I thought I would get in trouble for speaking out against things I knew were wrong so I never said anything, but because I was an actor, and am now a Joker-in-Training, I’m learning to find my voice.
“Another good thing! We bond together, you know,” Evelyn says.
“I was attracted to TONYC because Housing Works had a theatre project when I first came to Housing Works in 1994,” says Cat, one of our first troupe actors. “I was in two [TONYC] plays. One was called Release Me and one was called I Remember You. It was a good, rewarding experience. We all collaborated on writing things in a group and we would come together. Release Me was about getting off drugs because it was like the drugs had a hold on so many people and it’s just just like ‘release me!’ [When the TONYC troupe started] I was like oh Housing Works has another theatre group and so I just collaborated with everything and got to know everybody and I really look forward to it, it’s like a big light in my life that I’m involved with this.”
These quotes both by Cat and Evelyn show me what a troupe is really about, coming together and really just building a connection with people that can assure you that you’re not alone and you don’t have to face problems alone.
Apartment Complex is important because it shows the abuse and discrimination tenants have to go through from their landlords. When people see the show, they can realize how real this problem is. Acknowledging a problem is the first step to fixing it. I think the show accurately represents how some NYC building owners behave towards the people who rent from them. Once the show is over, you’ll get a chance to spec-act, intervene, and learn more about what you can do about these housing policies and the discrimination throughout the city.
(Photo: Gariyana interviewing Marjorie and Cat at Housing Works.)