‘It’s the Economy Stupid! or The Turning Point,’ Street Theater in New York

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Theater for the New City’s award-winning Street Theater Company opens its 32nd annual tour August 2 with “It’s the Economy Stupid! or The Turning Point,” a rip-roaring musical which will tour City streets, parks and playgrounds throughout the five boroughs through September 14. The production, free to all New Yorkers, has book, lyrics and direction by Crystal Field and musical score composed by David Tice. (Schedule follows at bottom of this document.)

The piece recounts the New Yorkization of the misfit angel Gabriel, who rides earthward on a bad dream to warn the inhabitants that the fate of their planet is in their hands. He must overcome the villainous Electric Man, messenger of the Dark Force, and save the world.

TNC’s award-winning Street Theater always contains an elaborate assemblage of trap doors, giant puppets, smoke machines, masks, original choreography and a huge (9′ x 12′) running screen or “cranky” providing continuous movement behind the actors.

The company of 27 actors, twelve crew members, two assistant directors and five live musicians shares the challenge of performing outside and holding a large, non-captive audience. The music varies in style from Bossa Nova to Gilbert & Sullivan. Complex social issues are often presented through children’s allegories, with children as the heroes, making these free productions a popular form of family entertainment.

Street Theater David Zen Mansley, Primy Rivera, Mark Marcante, Briana Bartenieff, Gabriela Nunic, Michael David Gordon..
Angels are sent down to warn the earthlings that their planet is at a turning point in It’s the Economy, Stupid! or The Turning Point. LR: David Zen Mansley, Primy Rivera, Mark Marcante, Briana Bartenieff, Gabriela Nunic, Michael David Gordon. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

The story of the play is a heavenly fantasy. Angels of every religion are milling about the heavenly kingdom, which is abuzz since things are so awry on Earth. The planet is at a turning point: it can go toward life and peace, or death and destruction–the destruction of the planet. Even the Senior Minister has washed his hands! Given free choice, the time has come for the world to solve its own problems, Americans especially! One of the Angels must go down from Cloud Nine and wise up the earthlings.

Gabriel, a trumpet-playing misfit, appears with a bag of bad dreams he has captured, thinking he can get the people a better night’s sleep. He opens the bag to show The Boss and the dreams all escape, requiring a cosmic roundup. To get rid of the pesky troublemaker, the Boss dispatches Gabriel to be the messenger. “Go!” sing the Angels, “You can get there on one of your bad dreams.” One of the Bad Dreams squeaks “I’ll take ‘im,” and they vanish through a hole in the clouds.

The play becomes a saga of the New Yorkization of Gabriel, who feuds with Electric Man (a Dark Force Messenger, who disrupts the earthlings’ desire for life, peace and health) and attempts to enlighten the three American Leaders: a Fireman, a Cop and a Teacher. He is dumped into the middle of a fire fight in Iraq and witnesses Anti-War protests in New York. He even spends a night in a City jail. In a surprise ending, this trumpet playing loudmouth, chatterbox, windbag of an Angel co-opts the Dark Force Messenger and brings him home to Heaven. All hail the adventures of Gabriel!

There is great political comedy to be wrung out of a “heavenly” perspective on our current troubles and scandals. The play gives us an angel’s eye view on issues of conservation, rising prices, the war in Iraq, affordable housing, job creation and privatization of everything (even water!). The angels’ call to action is kind of like the sound of a tree falling in the forest: our higher selves are crying out, but does anybody hear them? With the political economy–and civilization–at a tipping point, the politics of concealment and privatization won’t save us. Only sacrifice, forthrightness, and a higher awareness of the brotherhood of man (and woman) can do that. (P.S.: Don’t forget to vote!)

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Author/director Crystal Field began writing street theater in 1968 as a member of Theater of the Living Arts in Philadelphia. She wrote and performed her own outdoor theater pieces against the Vietnam War and also curated and performed many poetry programs for the Philadelphia Public Schools. There she found tremendous enthusiasm and comprehension on the part of poor and minority students for both modern and classical poetry when presented in a context of relevancy to current issues. She realized that for poetry to find its true audience, the bonds of authoritarian criticism must and can be transcended. Her earliest New York street productions were playlets written in Philadelphia and performed on the flatbed truck of Bread and Puppet Theater in Central Park. Peter Schumann, director of that troupe, was her first NY artistic supporter.

In 1971, Ms. Field became a protege of Robert Nichols, founder of the Judson Poets Theater in Manhattan. It is an interesting historic note that “”The Expressway” by Robert Nichols, directed by Crystal Field (a Street theater satire about Robert Moses’ plan for a throughway to run across Little Italy from the West Side Highway to the FDR Drive). It was actually the first production of Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival. Nichols wrote street theater plays for TNC in its early years, but as time went on, wrote scenarios and only the first lines of songs, leaving Field to “fill in the blanks.” When Nichols announced his retirement to Vermont in 1975, he urged Field to “write your own.” The undertaking, while stressful at first, became the impetus for her to express her own topical political philosophy and to immerse her plays in that special brand of humor referred to often as “that brainy slapstick.” Her first complete work was “Mama Liberty’s Bicentennial Party” (1976), in honor of the 200th anniversary of the American Revolution.

Field has written and directed a completely new opera for the TNC Street Theater Company each successive year. She collaborated for eleven years with composer Mark Hardwick, whose “Pump Boys and Dinettes” and “Oil City Symphony” were inspired by his street theater work with Ms. Field. At the time of his death from AIDS in 1994, he was writing a clown musical with Field called “On the Road,” which was never finished. One long-running actor in TNC Street Theater was Tim Robbins, who was a member of the company for six years in the 1980s, from age twelve to 18.

The Village Halloween Parade, which TNC produced single-handedly for the Parade’s first two years, grew out of the procession which preceded each Street Theater production. Ralph Lee, who created the Parade with Ms. Field, was chief designer for TNC’s Street Theater for four years before the Village Halloween Parade began.

Field has also written for TNC’s annual Halloween Ball and for an annual Yuletime pageant that was performed outdoors for 2,000 children on the Saturday before Christmas. She has written two full-length indoor plays, “Upstate” and “One Director Against His Cast.” She is Executive Director of TNC.

Composer David Tice received a masters degree in composition and piano at the University of Michigan School of Music. For three summers he was repetiteur and choral director at the Jandor International Opera Seminar in Ghent, Belgium. In 1971 he appeared in the very first play ever done at TNC, “Dracula:Sabbat.” Since then, he has been active as a composer in NY experimental theater, composing scores for such shows as “Radio Wisdom” (Richard Foreman), “Owls in the Ivy” (Arthur Williams), “Dead Wrong!” (Jeffrey Herman), “Twenty-four Inches” (Robert Patrick) and “The Tree Artist” (Rosalyn Drexler). All but “Dead Wrong” were presented by TNC; he received ASCAP awards for the last two. Tice has acted in numerous films and television dramas, notably Woody Allen’s “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” in which he appears as a bemused waiter. He has accompanied singers such as Matti Lehtinen, Leyna Gabriele, William McGrath, Dorothy Coulter and Ron Bottcher and accompanies soprano Clamma Dale in the CD “Unforgotten,” which is in current release.

SCHEDULE:

Sat, August 2nd – 2PM – Manhattan – TNC, East 10th Street at 1st Avenue

Sun, August 3rd – 2PM – Manhattan – Jackie Robinson Park

Sat, August 9th – 2PM – Manhattan – Tompkins Square Park at E. 7th St and Ave. A

Sun, August 10th – 2PM – Brooklyn – Herbert Von King Park at Marcy & Tompkins

Fri, August 15th – 8PM – Brooklyn – Coney Island Boardwalk at W. 10th St.

Sat, August 16th – 2PM – Bronx – St. Mary’s Park at 147th St. & St. Ann’s Ave

Sun, August 17th – 2PM – Manhattan – Central Park Bandshell, 72nd Street Crosswalk

Sat, August 23rd – 2PM – Brooklyn – Prospect Park Concert Grove

Sun, August 24th – 2PM – Queens – Travers Park, 34th Ave between 77th & 78th Streets

Sat, September 6th – 2PM – Manhattan – Wise Towers at W. 90th St bet. – Columbus & Amsterdam

Sun, September 7th – 2PM – Manhattan – Washington Square Park

Sat, September 13th – 2PM – Staten Island – Sobel Court & Bowen Street

Sun, September 14th – 2PM – Manhattan – St. Marks Church, E. 10th St at 2nd Ave

Please see Theater for the New City’s website for more info. Free to the public. Performances run one hour. Audience information is available at (212) 254-1109.