Gone Fission, or Alternative Power: an Operetta for the Street

Theater for the New City’s award-winning Street Theater Company opens its 34th annual tour July 31, 2010 with “Gone Fission, or Alternative Power,” an Operatta for the Street. The rip-roaring production will tour City streets, parks and playgrounds throughout the five boroughs through September 12, 2010. The production, free to all New Yorkers, will have book, lyrics and direction by Crystal Field and musical score composed by Joseph Vernon Banks. (Schedule follows at bottom of this story.)


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 over twoscore actors, over a dozen 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 Broadway 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.


THE CENSUS TAKER COMMISERATES WITH THE FISHES- Lenin Alevante (Fish), Briana Bartenieff (Oyster), Mark Marcante (Neptune), Michael David Gordon (Census Taker), Ramon Torres (Dolphin). Fish costumes by David Zen Mansley. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

The Census Taker takes his neighbors so seriously that he realizes that grassroots organizing is the way to go. When he goes to an angry Community Board meeting with a chorus of shrimp, fish, dolphins, a pelican, and a polar bear, led by Father Neptune, to plead the case for Alternative Power, the meeting elects him as a public member. He considers a run for City Council. As Father Neptune says, “You’ve gotta start somewhere!”

The sea creatures are played by actors in gigantic fish costumes made by Hollywood special effects maven David “Zen” Mansley. The mountain plays itself. There are seven production numbers, a live five-piece band and a company of 50.


Crystal Field in her office at Theater for the New City. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

Author/director/lyricist 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 “Tap Dance,” “State Of The Union,” “The Patients Are Running The Asylum,” “Bio-Tech,” “Code Orange: on the M15,” “Social Insecurity” and “Buckle My Shoe,” 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.


Sat, July 31st – 2PM – Manhattan – TNC, East 10th Street at 1st Avenue

Sun, August 1st – 2PM – Manhattan – Jackie Robinson Park, W. 147th Street & Bradhurst Avenue

Sat, August 7th – 2PM – Bronx – St. Mary’s Park at 147th St. & St. Ann’s Ave

Sun, August 8th – 2PM – Brooklyn – Herbert Von King Park at Marcy & Tompkins

Fri, August 13th – 8PM – Brooklyn – Coney Island Boardwalk at W. 10th St.

Sat, August 14th – 2PM – Manhattan – Tompkins Square Park at E. 7th St and Ave. A

Sun, August 15th – 2PM – Manhattan – Central Park Bandshell, 72nd Street Crosswalk

Sat, August 21st – 2PM – Brooklyn – Prospect Park Concert Grove

Sun, August 22nd – 2PM – Queens – Travers Park, 34th Ave between 77th & 78th Streets

Sat, August 28th – 2PM – Manhattan – Wise Towers at W. 90th St bet. – Columbus & Amsterdam

Sun, August 29th – 2PM – Manhattan – Washington Square Park

Sat, September 11th – 2PM – Staten Island – Sobel Court & Bowen Street

Sun, September 12th – 2PM – Manhattan – St. Marks Church, E. 10th St at 2nd Ave