It’s almost Allston Christmastime, and you know what that means—streets crowded with moving vans! Armies of ignorant motorists driving in circles, cutting people off, and making illegal turns because they can’t follow their GPS. Sidewalks littered, literally, with mountains of broken and abandoned cheap Ikea furniture. And don’t forget the trucks getting scalped by Storrow Drive overpasses despite warning signs every couple of inches.
Nevertheless, if these are the horrors you’re primarily concerned about, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones. For some, Aug 31 is a date that rents go up, a time that is sometimes synonymous with survival.
With Emerson and Harvard buying more and more property for student housing, greedy landlords, and room-share operations becoming a more common quick fix for some families attempting to save their own homes, affordable housing for noncoeds is increasingly scarce. And so in taking on gentrification in a way that goes beyond griping about losing their favorite mom and pop shop, the Artists’ Theatre of Boston, in conjunction with housing rights nonprofit City Life/Vida Urbana, are telling the stories of those who are being pushed farther and farther away from the city.
This Place/Displaced is a documentary-minded show shining a spotlight on displacement, gentrification, and housing inequality in Greater Boston. Combining theater, prose, and verse with music, the writers, cast, and crew tell stories about space and place for those whose voices have been lost as they relocate to the farthest reaches of the T and beyond.
Few people understand this troubling dynamic quite like advocates at City Life, and community organizer Ronel Remy has helped focus the play’s messaging. A Boston resident who immigrated from Haiti 30 years ago, Remy’s faced eviction and displacement in multiple forms, both here and in New York, and brings the tenacity of a man who has had to fight for his home.
In preparation for this run, ATB producers went to City Life meetings to partner with those who were interested in sharing stories of displacement. In doing so, they were shocked by the number of people who wanted to participate. With help from director Josh Keaton, they sought out playwrights who were committed to telling such stories. The resulting roster is a veritable panel of experts, including award-winning playwright Kirsten Greenidge, who is also an assistant professor of theater at Boston University’s Center for Fine Art, as well as Zahra A. Belyea, an adjunct professor of writing for film and television at Emerson College. Producers Anneke Reich and Maurice Palmer paired up writers with community partners via City Life, all in the name of mixing art with truth and social justice.
Most folks have had nightmares dealing with shady landlords, run-down crap buildings, and high broker and realtor fees. Still, there’s a wide range of experiences, as is displayed in the diverse cross-section examined in This Place. As playwright Stephanie Brownell recalls, landlords in her hometown of Racine, Wisconsin offered tenants new appliances as an incentive to resign their leases.
In Boston, such thoughtfulness is absolutely unheard of in 2018.
This Place/Displaced at the Charlestown Working Theatre, 442 Bunker Hill St., Charlestown. Fridays and Saturdays, 8.17, 18, 24, and 25. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased in advance at artiststheater.org/productions/this-place-displaced.