Theater for The New City Presents ‘Sanitation, or Off the Grid’

Theater for the New City’s award-winning Street Theater Company opens its 37th annual tour August 3 with “Sanitation, or Off the Grid,” a rip-roaring musical which will tour City streets, parks and playgrounds throughout the five boroughs through September 15. 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 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, 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.

Uncle Sam cybersnoops, even in our cyber-trash (say that ten times fast!), in Sanitation, or Off the Grid, Theater for the New City’s 2013 street theater musical, written and directed by Crystal Field, which will tour City streets, parks and playgrounds throughout the five boroughs August 3 to September 15. L-R: Lenin Alivante, T. Scott Lilly, Mark Marcante. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

In the show, three friends-proud NYC Sanitation Workers from the Lower East Side-pool their resources and calculate their sick days to take a Mediterranean cruise for a well-earned vacation. They are on their way to paradise, but their departure is interrupted by Hurricane Sandy! A sanitation truck follows a fire truck to every emergency and these dauntless DOS workers rise to impromptu acts of heroism, like rescuing people stranded in buildings, removing abandoned cars attached to fallen power wires and taking disabled people to hospitals. Finally, after a proper sendoff from their neighborhood, off they go again. But what adventures await them? Their cruise ship breaks down, leaving them adrift in the Gulf of Mexico in a ship filled with no working toilets, no lights and -you guessed it-garbage. “Feels like we never left home,” our heroes sigh.

On the high seas (and low lands), they are saved and saved again: from Somali pirates, drone attacks in Pakistan, earthquakes, fracking and oil spills in the North Atlantic. They begin to realize that there is political and social garbage, too. And trashing of the environment. These all have to be cleaned up, just like somebody has to always truck away the odds and ends of people’s lives. They find strength in friendship and, as newly activist heroes, band together to fight pollution, including the pollution of our minds, and its converse, the super-sanitizing of our news reports-the burying of our whistle blowers.

Returning to Avenue D, where some folks still don’t have phone or Internet-they’ll again collect the garbage, but they’re out to do some political and environmental cleanup and the’re asking us to come along and help!

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.


Sat, August 3rd – 2PM – Manhattan – TNC, East 10th Street at 1st Avenue

Sun, August 4th – 2PM – Bronx – St. Mary’s Park at 147th St. & St. Ann’s Ave

Sat, August 10th – 2PM – Manhattan – Jackie Robinson Park, W. 147th Street & Bradhurst Avenue

Sun, August 11th – 2PM – Brooklyn – Herbert Von King Park at Marcy & Tompkins

Fri, August 16th – 6:30PM – Brooklyn – Coney Island Boardwalk at W. 10th St.

Sat, August 17th – 2PM – Manhattan – Wise Towers at W. 90th St bet. Columbus & Amsterdam

Sun, August 18th – 2PM – Manhattan – Central Park Bandshell, 72nd Street Crosswalk

Sat, August 24th – 2PM – Brooklyn – Sunset Park, 6th Avenue & 44th Street

Sun, August 25th – 2PM – Queens – Travers Park, 34th Ave between 77th & 78th Streets

Sat, September 7th – 2PM – Staten Island – Corporal Thompson Park, at Broadway & Wayne Street, West New Brighton

Sun, September 8th – 2PM – Manhattan – Washington Square Park

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

Sun, September 15th – 2PM – Manhattan – St. Marks Church, E. 10th St at 2nd Ave