Watch The Victorias: Actors on Playing a Sephardic Immigrant | The New Yorker Documentary


[bright music]

[soft cello music]

So one time, I was at a birthday party

talking to some people that I had never met before.

And they were like, what do you do?

And I was like, ah it’s kinda weird.

I work at this museum, and I wear a wig and an apron

and I pretend to be a 14-year-old girl.

And they both look at each other,

and then they look at me, and they go oh my god.

Are you Victoria Confino?

And I was like, yeah.

[bright music]

It was like too on the nose for me, this job.

I have a background in improv,

I have a background in history.

All I want to ever do is just be a different character.

So the fact that I could just,

for hours on end, basically do improv

was just like everything I’ve ever wanted.

[gentle music]

So the Victoria Confino program

is a costumed interpretation program

at the Tenement Museum

in which a group of 15 visitors

get to meet an actress playing a Sephardic Jewish immigrant,

Victoria Confino, in the year 1916.

Imagine that you could go 100 years ago

and knock on a regular person’s door

and just ask them how their day has been.

I’m performing a real person

who really did live in this building.

She is from Kastoria.

But above that, she would have identified as Sephardic.

Victoria immigrates with her family.

She worked as a seamstress.

Victoria was a singer.

She was 14, so she was constantly, [snaps fingers].

She and her family lived in a building

on the Lower East Side, 97 Orchard Street.

And their story is the story of many.

There’s three plains in researching Victoria.

There’s a was so, in other words,

her name was Victoria Confino,

and we have documents to prove it.

There was it must have been so,

so it’s like, Kastoria is on a big lake,

so Victoria probably went swimming growing up.

And then there’s also it might have been so.

So there’s like, Victoria might have liked

going to Coney Island with her friends.

Victoria might have gone to the nickelodeon

and thrown scraps of food at the screen

when she didn’t like the movie.

If you are on your period,

Victoria’s on her period.

If you have cramps, Victoria has cramps.

If you’re pissed about something your friend

said earlier, Victoria can totally be pissed

about something her friend said on the stoop earlier.

And it also felt really exciting

to provoke something from people.

To provoke genuine emotion.

And also to create a space where people

did feel comfortable sharing.

There was this reciprocal intimacy.

A school group, a religious school group,

sixth graders, Muslim, all girls,

came to meet Victoria.

And they’re like all leaning over.

And like, okay Victoria.

What are your dreams?

And I don’t think anyone has asked Victoria

what her dreams are.

I have not experienced that in one of my programs.

And I said well, this might be really silly,

but because I’ve only gone to school for two years,

but I really wanna be a teacher.

And I thought that was just gonna be

like okay, next question.

And they all looked at me so seriously.

And they’re like Victoria, that is not silly.

That is not a silly thing to say.

And it was so surprising that I started crying

like I am obviously right now.

And I couldn’t believe it.

They didn’t let it go for maybe three minutes,

where they’re like, that is not silly.

You can be a teacher.

And then they were like, Victoria do you talk

about these passions with your mom?


I was like, no but I guess I should.

[solemn music]

I believe that at any one time

there’s usually 11 women playing Victoria.

There’s really no ownership over Victoria.

The role, any stories we told,

that it really feels like this collective shared story.

There’s something so fun when you get to hear

somebody tell a really brilliant story

or handle an interaction in a really thoughtful way

that’s like, they’re so good.

Everything that I would do in that apartment

is 100% built off of what somebody else had started.

And one of the things that this woman

who I observed used to do

that I loved was she would open the door,

walk down the hallway to the stairs,

and yell up to see if the landlord was there, right?

So I just decided, I was like oh, I’m definitely doing that.

And I would just yell out, Mr. Rosenblach!

And then I’d wait, and I’d wait,

and I go, I don’t think he’s here.

[gentle music]

Sephardic Jews are a population

that had a really specific reputation

in the 1910s in New York City.

They were in a lot of ways quite a maligned

group of immigrants.

Yeah, it’s a little weird that

I, a white blue-eyed person,

was playing Victoria.

We want to talk about identity,

and we want to talk about difference,

and so who I was, and what I looked like,

was part of that, and fit into the program.

I remember there was once this all girls school

in the Lower East Side who came,

and it was all black and brown girls,

and I opened the door, and they just like, gasped.

And started looking at each other,

and were kind of like, wait what?

And it was a moment I actually identified with

in a way of not seeing myself a lot,

and what it felt like as a kid

to be like oh my god, that’s me,

that person looks like me.

Even though I’ve lived in this country

for most of my life, I didn’t consider myself an American.

I considered myself Colombian.

Working as Victoria, I started to think about

who gets to decide that they belong.

Like at what point do you belong?

If people would ask me if I was happy here,

and if the answer was no,

people could get really upset

about how much better this place was

than where I was coming from,

which I think I took a little personally,

because like I said, Kastoria’s like

a three hour drive from where,

from where I’m from.

Nothing about like,

why my family moved from Greece to America

was about Greece being so much worse than America.

That’s not, that wasn’t a factor.

And I guess it felt like there was a lot

of hostility about Victoria saying

that that’s not why she came here.

[gentle music]

It’s hard to explain why I feel so connected to her.

She’s not my ancestor.

But she really feels like she was my ancestor,

which is a very strange thing.

There is something about

living inside of a person

for so long, where they get in you.

They get grafted onto you.

And in a way, it’s kind of also like

you sort of better understand yourself.

I started playing Victoria

and then I immediately left my really longterm partner,

came out of the closet, and just started being

gay and chaotic around town.

And sometimes my friends would think

it was so funny, they’re like, Jim isn’t it funny

that you’re like at the lesbian bar,

and then you go to work, and you play this

14-year-old girl?

But it actually kind of made sense to me,

because Victoria was emerging into adulthood,

into this new world, kind of at the same time

that I was emerging into a new world.

So it actually felt really nice

to be going through these

huge moments of growth alongside Victoria.

One of the first things I learned

from the Victoria community

was these people have my back,

because I think we all uniquely understand

how delicate and special and complicated

this thing is.

[gentle uplifting music]

To have a group of people

who are so passionate about the work

that they sit around in their free time exchanging ideas,

that improves the museum.

That improves people’s experience visiting it.

And that was really underappreciated.

For what we’re expected to do

as an educator and as a Victoria,

yeah, there is no match for the pay.

And we loved it.

And that’s how they paid us.

Was in fulfilling work.

But you can’t pay your rent with fulfilling work.

So in March of 2020, the museum closed operations,

furloughed its staff.

And then by July

we were laid off.

All at once.

[solemn music]

It’s very precious,

and I know that the other Victorias feel that way.

And it doesn’t feel comprehensible

that I won’t be in that situation again.

It was a job that I did for money,

and it’s a job people have left,

like other people have played Victoria,

and then chosen to go on to do other things.

So it is weird how sad it makes me feel

to think of never playing Victoria again.

A thing that I used to do

that I took from another Victoria,

which is Rebeca.

She would, people would ask where the landlord was,

and she would go into the hallway,

up to the staircase, and she would yell up

the entire staircase five floors,

and she’d yell for Mr. Rosenblach.

She’d be like, Mr Rosenblach.

And I started doing that.

And who’s gonna teach the new Victoria?

It might be lost, that nugget.

I don’t think that that institution’s framework

and the way they treat the people who work for them

is sustainable.

I mean, it’s been proven that it’s not sustainable.

It’s also been really interesting

to see in myself and in other people

how much we want to protect institutions

over living people who work for those places.

[solemn music]

And it felt kind of radical for me,

to claim this identity of an American,

or Colombian, we gotta hyphenate it, right?


I think that’s one of the most long-lasting changes

that playing her has left.

I think that in moments where I felt

I was really able to be vulnerable,

and even connect with somebody else

around have you ever felt different?

Like was just,

was really impactful for me.

And transformative, I think, in some ways,

to allow myself to be vulnerable

in front of others like that.

And the last day, I remember

all of our Vickis were canceled,

and there’s four Victorias at the museum,

and we all just decided to dress up

in our costumes together.

I think with the subconscious awareness

that we would never be her again.

I don’t like the idea of her

getting relegated to a history

that like, forgets anyone who wasn’t

wealthy and important.

I think that’s one of the most powerful things

about Victoria’s story,

and all of us telling her story,

is that she was just an ordinary person.

[all singing in foreign language]

I’m Alexia Antoniou,

and I played Victoria Confino.

My name is Genevieve Simon,

and I played Victoria Confino.

I’m Nicole Daniels and I played Victoria Confino.

I am Rachel Cockrill and I played Victoria Confino.

My name is Estefania Giraldo,

and I played Victoria Confino. [laughs]

I’m Rebeca Miller and I played Victoria Confino.

I’m Jimmy Fay and I played Victoria Confino.

[all singing in foreign language]

[Girl] Senor Rosenblach!


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