A gang member learns to fight for his community and morphs into a civic leader in “99% “Reduced Fat, or, You Can Bank On Us,” Theater for the New City’s 36th annual Street Theater musical, which will tour City streets, parks and playgrounds throughout the five boroughs from August 4 to September 16 in free performances.
It’s the saga of a tough young man named B.C., known for stealing tires and bullying store owners, who falls for Suzy Freedom, a young and oh-so-innocent activist in Zuccotti Park. Guided by her dreams, he abandons hooliganism to become a community organizer. The production will have book, lyrics and direction by Crystal Field and musical score composed by Joseph Vernon Banks. (Schedule follows at bottom of this document.)
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 30 actors, 15 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. Each scene is set in a new, complex and often humorous tableau. There is a constant turnover of ingenious metatheatrical devices, executed with masks, outrageous costumes, graphic painted scenery, puppetry and primitive stage tricks.
The musical reflects the emotional forces at work on today’s crop of community activists: dreams versus pragmatism, the hope of the American Dream versus the deflation of the Obama euphoria, the fragility of ideals versus the nuts-and-bolts of self-reliance.
Spooked by the loss of his best friend, who sniffed everything from incense to bath salts, a surly young gang member known as B.C. (Justin Rodriguez) begins to feel the weakness and impotence of a tough’s life. He wanders aimlessly through the city, witnessing impotence and suffering everywhere. Teachers teach to the test and students learn nothing. The Mayor campaigns on a bicycle against sugary drinks and smoking in the park. Pink slips fly while schools and hospitals close. Stop and frisk and racial profiling push him from one neighborhood to another. (“Why don’t you go back to where you came from!” “Where’s That!? The Bronx? Cause that’s where I was born.”) The illusory nature of the American Dream is distilled at a concert where a Hip Hop artist performs, jumping all over the stage. People yell, scream and finally bum rush the stage but all they can grab is thin air-it’s a hologram!
B.C. finds himself at an Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park, where, he is beguiled by Suzy Freedom (Bridget Dowret), a young protestor. She is an enlightening dreamer, pursued by police sirens, nightsticks and mace. Lured by her desire for a better world, she blindly follows her visions: flying off the top of the Freedom Tower into the Land of Angels, where everyone has a three-room apartment and where everyone can afford organic food, college is tuition free and the government pays for health care. “Naive, naive,” everyone says as she wafts away, “She didn’t know where she was going.”
With her disappearance, B.C. knows he has lost the only thing he has ever prized. He tries to return to his old life, but a police raid throws him into the arms of his Seventh Grade teacher, Mr. Smiley (Michael Vazquez and Michael David Gordon alternate in the part), who gives him the best-selling book he has written, “Recipes for the Future.” It’s a manual of gourmet meals for under $3.00, plans for Urban Gardens and methods of organizing grass roots protests and civil actions. It is linked with a smiley face onto Facebook and Twitter. B.C. and Smiley found a Cultural Center for the neighborhood and organize for future elections. B.C. is also nurtured by a Mentoring Angel (Mark Marcante) and the “Un-Leader” of a local Occupy Wall Street contingent (Alexander Bartenieff). Our hero has found his role in life, gathering strength from his immigrant heritage, the idea of taking government out of the hands of corporations, and the notion that politics doesn’t die with an election. One man in office cannot change the world, but pressure from the ground up can and will accomplish all.
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) 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 Joseph-Vernon Banks has written original music for the TNC street theater productions “Bamboozled, or the Real Reality Show,” “Tap Dance,” “State Of The Union,” “The Patients Are Running The Asylum,” “Bio-Tech,” “Code Orange: on the M15,” “Social Insecurity,” “Buckle My Shoe” and “Gone Fission: Alternative Power,” all with book and lyrics by Crystal Field. His other TNC productions include music and lyrics for “Life’s Too Short To Cry” by Michael Vazquez. His awards include a Meet The Composer Grant, the ASCAP Special Awards Program, and a fellowship from the Tisch Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program at NYU. His musical “Girlfriends!” premiered at The Goodspeed Opera House. He has been a composer-in-residence in The Tribeca Performing Arts Center Work and Show Series and is a member of The Dramatists Guild.
S C H E D U L E
Saturday 8/4 (2:00 PM) – TNC, 10th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues, Manhattan
Sunday 8/5 (2:00 PM) – St. Mary’s Park, 147th Street & St. Ann’s Avenue, The Bronx
Saturday 8/11 (2:00 PM) – Jackie Robinson Park, W. 147th St. & Bradhurst Avenue,Manhattan
Sunday 8/12 (2:00 PM) – Herbert von King Park, Lafayette & Tompkins Avenues, Bed-Stuy,Brooklyn
Friday 8/17 (8:00 PM) – Coney Island Boardwalk (at West 10th Street), Brooklyn
Saturday 8/18 (2:00 PM) – Wise Towers, West 90th Street bet Columbus & Amsterdam, Manhattan
Sunday 8/19 (2:00 PM) – Central Park Bandshell, 72nd Street Crosswalk, Manhattan
Saturday 8/25 (2:00 PM) – Sunset Park, 6th Avenue & 44th Street, Brooklyn
Sunday 8/26 (2:00 PM) – Travers Park, 34th Avenue bet 77th & 78th Streets, Jackson Heights, Queens
Saturday 9/8 (2:00 PM) – Tompkins Square Park, East 7th Street bet Ave A & Ave B, Manhattan
Sunday 9/9 (2:00 PM) – Washington Square Park, Manhattan
Saturday 9/15 (2:00 PM) – Staten Island (Stapleton Playground, Tompkins Ave. & Broad Street)
Sunday, 9/16 (2:00 PM) – St. Marks Church, East 10th Street & 2nd Avenue, Manhattan