‘Teach It Right, or, Right To Teach’ Tells Struggles Facing NYC Public Education

Theater for the New City’s award-winning Street Theater Company opens its 39th annual tour August 8 with “Teach It Right, or, Right to Teach,” a rip-roaring musical which tackles the challenges and struggles facing NYC’s public education. Free performances will tour City streets, parks and playgrounds throughout the five boroughs through September 20. Book, lyrics and direction are by Crystal Field; the musical score is composed and arranged by Joseph Vernon Banks. (Schedule follows at bottom).

The production tells the story of a NYC middle school student (who is on the edge of high school). His school often has no heat in winter, is broiling hot in summer (Budget cuts!), has no art classes (“If we don’t have Music, why should we have Art? More budget cuts!”) and a charter school is about to grab half its building.

Cast crew
LR: Libby Del Campo, Lily Fremaux, Michael David Gordon, Justin Rodriguez. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

The student, Michael, deprived of an after school program, tries for a part-time job at McDonald’s, where he is caught up in a melee when someone bucks the line. Knocked unconscious, he is rescued by an undocumented worker, but dreams an Odyssey through the beggar/transient underground, where the king of the panhandlers is organizing an underground to fight the Real Estate Cartel, headed by B.M. Peabody. The Cartel wants to purge the City of anyone living at or near the poverty line in order to obtain a contract for the 2022 Olympics. This syndicate lures Michael into its political web, hijacking him into a Clown Car of Republican presidential nominees (driven by Donald Trump, who is working for Uber) and delivering him to their Glitter Clutter Club in the sub-basement of Trump Towers.

Meanwhile, Michael’s teacher, R.C. Brown, is searching for him. He has suffered, like Michael, at the middle school, enduring budget cuts, teaching to the test and spending his own money for supplies. He, too, is kidnapped by the Cartel to keep him from finding Michael, but the plot is foiled by B.M. Peabody’s beautiful daughter, who has a crush on Michael and is now an anti-fracking fast food worker, union organizer and community activist. Michael and R.C. Brown, both now entering high school as student and teacher, are reunited to face the battles of NYC schools, where disputes over privatization reflect the challenges and struggles of the world outside. They will be leaders in the fight to teach it right and for the right to teach.


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.


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

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 “EMERGENCY!!! or The World Takes A Selfie,” “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.

Theater for the New City will present “Teach It Right, Or, Right To Teach” August 8 to September 20 in NYC streets, parks, and playgrounds throughout the five boroughs. See a complete schedule at the bottom. For information please visit the website: www.theaterforthenewcity.net or call (212) 254-1109. Performances are free to the public.


Sat, August 8 – 2PM – Manhattan – TNC, East 10th Street at 1st Avenue

Sun, August 9 – 2PM Bronx – St. Mary’s Park at 147th St. & St. Ann’s Ave

Sat, August 15 – 2PM – Manhattan Jackie Robinson Park, W. 147th Street & Bradhurst Avenue

Sun, August 16 – 2PM – Brooklyn – Herbert Von King Park at Marcy & Tompkins

Fri, August 21 – 6:30PM – Brooklyn – Coney Island Boardwalk at W. 10th St.

Sat, August 22 – 2PM Manhattan – Wise Towers at W. 90th St bet. Columbus & Amsterdam

Sun, August 23 – 2PM Manhattan Central Park Bandshell, 72nd Street Crosswalk

Sat, August 29 – 2PM – Brooklyn Sunset Park, 6th Avenue & 44th Street

Sun, August 30 – 2PM – Queens Travers Park, 34th Ave between 77th & 78th Streets

Sat, September 12 – 2PM Staten Island Corporal Thompson Park, at Broadway & Wayne Street, West New Brighton

Sun, September 13 – 2PM Manhattan – Washington Square Park

Sat, September 19 – 2PM – Manhattan – Tompkins Square Park at E. 7th St and Ave. A

Sun, September 20 – 2PM – Manhattan – St. Marks Church, E. 10th St at 2nd Ave

Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.