‘EMERGENCY!!! or The World Takes A Selfie’ Invades The NYC Streets

Theater for the New City’s award-winning Street Theater Company opens its 38th annual tour August 2 with “EMERGENCY!!! or The World Takes A Selfie,” a rip-roaring outdoor musical comedy about a New York EMT worker on a workingman’s grand tour of the world, who decides to tackle global problems the way he does emergencies of his NYC beat. Free performances will tour City streets, parks and playgrounds throughout the five boroughs through September 14. The piece has book, lyrics and direction by Crystal Field and musical score composed by Joseph Vernon Banks.

The hero of this musical is the kind of guy who starts his day at 4:30 AM and usually finishes about the same time. Every day, an EMT worker becomes inextricably entwined with the private lives of all kinds of New Yorkers, whose personal crises include traffic accidents, violent episodes, heart attacks and sometimes just plain loneliness. He ministers to the widest variety of human beings, from vaudeville entertainers stricken with heart attacks in the midst of their finest act to loosely lovely ladies of the night, young planet-saving protesters and even an occasional investigative journalist, one of whom makes him a sidekick for a worldwide expedition. Thus begins an odyssey through trauma, violence, spying and accidental wars on a global scale.

Foreground: Briana Bartenieff. LR: Celeste Bradsher-Layne, Lily Frenaux, Terry Lee King, Justin Rodriguez, Primy Rivera, Danielle Hauser, Michael David Gordon. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.


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, 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 Hip Hop to Musical Comedy to Gilbert & Sullivan. Complex social issues are often presented through children’s allegories, with children and neighborhood people as the heroes, making these free productions a popular form of family entertainment.

Last summer, TNC’s Street Theater production was “Sanitation, or Off the Grid,” a musical about three proud NYC Sanitation Workers who take a misbegotten ocean cruise are are saved from Somali pirates, drone attacks in Pakistan, earthquakes, fracking and oil spills in the North Atlantic. Blog critic Travis Stewart wrote, “Where do you go when you want to re-discover your lost joy in attending live theatre, recapture your innocence, reconnect, and get back to basics? At least since 2004, I have been attending Theater for the New City’s annual street theatre, a unique hybrid of community theatre, activist agit-prop, children’s theatre, and Broadway style musical comedy. It’s the community aspect that always captures my heart.” Usher Nonsense (Jervelle Frederick) added, “‘Sanitation or Off the Grid’ is daring, fresh, informative and entertaining….The musical charges head on at the issues facing this country with honesty and courage! A show like this would be expected to be a dull adult conversation but it is done in a manner that is children friendly….I’ve often asked for a production just like this one to come into being to educate the public on the events and problems facing America and the world….Everyone involved with this production is in their own right an activist, they have the well being of the citizens in their hearts-I applaud them all for their work.”


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 Joseph-Vernon Banks has written original music for the TNC street theater productions “99% “Reduced Fat, or, You Can Bank On Us,” “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.

“EMERGENCY!!! or The World Takes A Selfie” will be presented by Theater for the New City, 155 1st Ave, Manhattan, from August 2 to September 14, 2014, in NYC streets, parks, and playgrounds throughout the five boroughs. See complete schedule at bottom of this page. Free to the public. For more information call the audience info (212) 254-1109 or visit www.theaterforthenewcity.net.


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

Sun, August 3 – 2PM – Bronx – St. Mary’s Park at 147th St. & St. Ann’s Ave

Sat, August 9 – 2PM – Manhattan – Jackie Robinson Park, W. 147th Street & Bradhurst Avenue

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

Fri, August 15 – 6:30PM – Brooklyn – Coney Island Boardwalk at W. 10th St.

Sat, August 16 – 2PM – Manhattan – Wise Towers at W. 90th St bet. Columbus & Amsterdam

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

Sat, August 23 – 2PM – Brooklyn – Sunset Park, 6th Avenue & 44th Street

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

Sat, September 6th – 2PM – Staten Island – Corporal Thompson Park, at Broadway & Wayne Street, West New Brighton

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

Sat, September 13 – 7PM – Manhattan – Tompkins Square Park at E. 7th St and Ave. A

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