News: Street Theater Goes Virtual with TNC's "Liberty or Just Us: A City Park Story" August 1-September 13


TNC's 2019 Street Theater production. Photo by Jonathan Slaff
Since outdoor performance permits are not being given at this time, Theater for the New City has adapted its 2020 Street Theater tour to the virtual space. The theater will live stream its new production, Liberty or Just Us: a City Park Story, from August 1 to September 13. The piece is an oratorio written and directed by Crystal Field and composed by Joseph Vernon Banks. Its playing schedule will be Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 PM plus Friday, August 14 at 6:30 PM. Each performance will pay tribute to the park, playground or neighborhood street it was originally scheduled for. (See complete schedule below.)

If Phase 4 regulations change, the production is fully prepared to shift to live outdoor performances on the same schedule, with social distancing and occupancy limits strictly enforced.

Audiences will be able to view the performance on the theater's website and its Facebook page. These live performances, with the performers "zooming" in from their residences, are designed to create the feeling of performing outside and holding a large, non-captive audience.

Liberty or Just Us: a City Park Story is an oratorio that honors New York City parks for being sites of activism for many 20th- and 21st-century progressive causes, from the Triangle Shirtwaist protests to Occupy Wall Street. It revisits these movements through the eyes of a contemporary Parks Manager in songs featuring him and the multi-ethnic, multi-abled ensemble. The piece celebrates the idea that the USA can be a country of all its people, that moral aspiration can be reinvented to harness energy to overcome our problems, and that our vision can focus on dignity rather than power, equality rather than wealth and solidarity rather than competition. The audience is invited to sing along, both in new songs and in new lyrics for old tunes.

TNC's Street Theater productions are always a bouncy joyride through the undulations of the body politic, with astute commentary couched in satire and song. They are delightfully suited for family entertainment, since complex social issues are often presented through children's allegories, with children and neighborhood people as the heroes.

In a typical year, the production arrives on a truck and is mounted on an elevated proscenium with trap doors, giant puppets, smoke machines and a huge (9' x 12') running screen or "cranky" providing continuous moving scenery behind the actors. Music varies in style from Bossa Nova to Hip Hop to Musical Comedy to classical Cantata. Seating is laid out with milk crates and a crowd is summoned by playing recorded jazzy, peppy music before the show starts.

Later in the run, if city and state regulations permit outdoor performances, social distancing will be achieved by spreading the milk crates out for individuals and couples and marking areas where 3-4 family members can sit together. The cast of 20 will be staged far apart on three separate platforms, each with multiple stair units. Actors and crew will don gloves and masks as necessary. Disposable song sheets will be passed out to the audience for sing-alongs and attendees may even be asked to provide harmonies. Instead of the "cranky," there will be a painted banner behind the center platform.

To accommodate the need for simplicity, author/director Crystal Field and composer Joseph Vernon Banks have adopted the form of an oratorio this year. The restrictions of technology are taken into account and the music is accordingly simple. Since live Zoom requires presenters to take stage sequentially, there's no way for the ensemble to sing together, so songs are divided up verse-by-verse. There are lots of shoutouts. Classic folk songs are also used, notably "This Train is Bound for Glory" by Woodie Guthrie. When the audience is to sing along, words will be projected on the screen. Accompaniment will be by a solo keyboardist and two guitars.

In virtual performances, the cast will perform live by Zoom from their individual residences. Virtual backgrounds will replace the painted banners of the outdoor version. The script will include specific references to each location. The live stream will be available on the Theater for the New City website and on the theater's Facebook page. Each park that has its own website will also broadcast the performance from its site.

One venue recurs: the tour is scheduled to begin August 1 at First Avenue and East Tenth Street and to return there September 5. The hope is that the show can go on outside Theater for the New City at least once.

SCHEDULE (AS OF JULY 19)

On each date below, in a live streaming performance, the production will celebrate a location which would have been site of the performance. If regulations change, the production will be performed live outdoors in these locations on the same schedule

Saturday August 1 -- 2:00 PM --10th Street and 1st Ave. (MANHATTAN)

Sunday August 2 -- 2:00 PM -- Sliding Rock (St. Mary’s Park) (BRONX)

Saturday August 8 -- 2:00 PM --Abe Lebewohl Park, 2nd Ave. @ E. 10th St. (MANHATTAN)

Sunday August 9 -- 2:00 PM -- Central Park Bandshell (MANHATTAN)

Friday August 14 -- 6:00 PM -- Coney Island (BROOKLYN)

Saturday August 15 -- 2:00 PM --Fort Greene Park (BROOKLYN)

Sunday August 16 -- 2:00 PM -- Jackie Robinson Park (BROOKLYN)

Saturday August 22 -- 2:00 PM --Sunset Park (QUEENS)

Sunday August 23 -- 2:00 PM -- Travers Park (QUEENS)

Saturday August 29 -- 2:00 PM -- Washington Square Park (MANHATTAN)

Sunday August 30 -- 2:00 PM -- Wise Towers, 117 W. 90 St. (MANHATTAN)

Saturday September 5 -- 2:00 PM -- 10th Street and 1st Ave. (MANHATTAN)

Saturday September 12 -- 2:00 PM -- Tappen Park (STATEN ISLAND)

Sunday September 13 -- 2:00 PM -- Tompkins Square Park (MANHATTAN)

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