‘Generation buY,’ Directed By Philip Suraci

“Generation buY,” conceived and directed by Philip Suraci, is an interesting soul mate to the new movie, “The Joneses” with David Duchovny and Demi Moore. Written in collaboration with and performed by an ensemble of 15 kids and three adult actors, the play uses humor, song, shadow puppets and story telling to explore the unsavory side of advertising to youth. Theater for the New City, located in Manhattan’s East Village, will present the piece May 6 to 16, 2010.

Part expose, part satire, “Generation buY” shares the real life techniques of marketers to kids: surreptitious video taping, packaged slumber parties for teenage girls, cause marketing and the co-opting of rock and roll, cartoons, and “cool.” In the play, a 13 year old girl named Vanessa is under siege. Her schoolmates are obsessed with consumer products and brands. To her, they are virtual robots speaking in slogans and jingles. Her mother is a master marketer who will stop at nothing to get her clients what they need.

Front: (lr) Kendrick Shoji, Jason Vazquez, Malcom McKenzie; back: (l-r) Malcom Zelaya, Tiffany Otero, Eli Cauley. Photo by Jonathan Slaff

The mother’s company, Youth Marketing International, is proud to get brands (i.e. McDonalds, X-Box) into schools as part of actual student lesson plans. With everyone around her out to “sell her,” how will Vanessa survive? Adults in attendance are challenged to wonder if American society treats its children as anything more than vessels of consumption, and why.

Rehearsals began in January and were devoted to generating material directly from the young actors. Suraci brainstormed ideas with them, i.e. “What happens at parties you go to?” The actors were broken into small groups to devise short scenes. Each scene was presented to the rest of the group and the dialogue recorded. Over the course of rehearsals, scenes were created on places where marketing to children occurs: school, malls, etc. Suraci took the recorded dialogue and edited it into the play.

While pursuing a master’s degree in educational theater (NYU 2004), Suraci was deeply impressed by the depth and complexity of thought of relatively young people (ages 10-13). When these students and their words were placed in a dramatic context, Suraci found the result to be powerful, provocative and beautiful. This is the second play by-kids-for-adults to be directed by Suraci at Theater for the New City. The first was “Lysistrata’s Children,” in 2007 and 2008.

In Aristophanes’ original, Athenian wives denied their husbands sex in order to persuade them to make peace. In Suraci’s ingenious adaptation, children withheld love from their parents until they signed an oath of “Victory over violence” and join the children’s quest for peace. There was sly comedy in the children’s manipulation of their parents’ behavior and in the parents’ responses to their children’s demands. It was devised for and with its teenage cast in a collaborative process that pioneered Suraci’s method in “Generation buY.”

Font (lr) Priscilla DelMoral, back (l-r) Frances Raybaud, Malcom Zelaya, Tiffany Otero

Suraci feels deeply fortunate to be working at Theater for the New City. He writes, “Crystal Field and TNC have had the courage, heart and vision to present both ‘Generation buY’ and ‘Lysistrata’s Children,” original works exploring a new application of theater. By championing the humanity of children through art, TNC exemplifies the daring and sincerity that is the true youthful spirit. They foster a vision of a more hopeful, joyful world through the transformative power of theater.”

The young actors are Lola Buncher, Eli Cauley, Ty Cotton, Priscilla Delmoral, Leila Eliot, Mykel Macedon, Will Mairs, Malcolm McKenzie, Tiffany Otero, Valentine Petrillo, Willa Pittman, Frances Raybaud, Collin Rhyins, Kendrik Shoji, Mitchel Thomas, Jason Vazquez, Malcolm Zelaya, Michell Wolinsky. The adult actors are Tom O’Connor, Elisa Blynn and Jackie Donnaruma.

Musical Director is Joseph Albano Feiger. Choreography is by Barry Blumenfeld. Set Design is by Mark Marcante. Lighting Design is by Alex Bartenieff. Costume Design is by Kat Martin. Mask and puppet design are by Spica Wobbe.

Performances are May 6 to 16, 2010 at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, NYC. The production schedule is Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Sundays at 3:00 pm. Tickets are adults $15; seniors, teachers and students $5. The box office is reachable at (212) 254-1109 and online ticketing is available at www.theaterforthenewcity.net.