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Regional Spotlight: How Theater For the New City is Working Through the Global Health Crisis

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Regional Spotlight: How Theater For the New City is Working Through the Global Health Crisis

Now more than ever it is important to support theater and do our part to keep the art form that we love so much alive and as thriving as it can be during these unprecedented times. While the global health crisis has temporarily put the theater world on hold, pausing all live performances and large gatherings to help stop the spread of COVID-19, theaters around the country have taken a hit. During this time of adjusting to our temporary new normal, theaters are figuring out how to take care of their team, and discovering the best ways to virtually bring theater to audiences.

Through our regional theater interview series, we are checking in with theaters all around the country, talking to them about how they are handling these difficult circumstances, learning what they are doing to move forward, and discovering the best way for people to help regional theaters during this time.

Today we're checking in with Theater For the New City. We chatted with TNC Co-founder and Artistic Director Crystal Field.


First of all, I want to check in on the health and wellbeing of everyone at Theater for the New City. How is everyone doing during this difficult time?

Physically everyone is doing very well. No one on staff has gotten the virus, knock on wood. Most of us are working from home but I am going into the theater 3 times a week for 4 hours. Mark Marcante is also going in three times a week. Dan and Matt, who live nearby, are coming in a few times a week and so is Alex Bartenieff. We are cleaning like crazy, sanitizing everything and moving things around in all four theaters. So that when the time comes, when we are allowed to open, we will be ready to go. The lights are being repaired, the drains on the roof are being cleaned. Remember, that we own our building and we are therefore responsible for its maintenance and its upkeep.

The rest of the staff is working from home, as we all are. Actually, I am working more hours now, than I ever worked before the virus. Partly because I have had to enter the digital world. I now know the meaning of the word "platform."

Jon Weber's wife gave birth to a lovely little girl last week. He was with her in the delivery room. They almost did not allow him in. But they did. At any rate, it's a great time for him to work at home because he would've had to be there anyway. Schedules are crazy for everyone. He sleeps when the baby sleeps. But physically we are all in great shape. Mentally, thats another story. Emily does my emails with me but we always do them together at the theater. And we do so many things together and now we don't.

At first I was going to the theater everyday. I am an essential worker. Theater puts soul into living. and without theater and the arts, you might as well be in the grave. People don't realize this. When you play, we work. So everyone said to me "You are an icon. You are the head of this theater. You're old. If anything happens to you everything will fall apart. We must protect you, You must protect yourself. Stay Home. work from home." Alex bought me a printer because my old one was no good. I stayed home and I began to cry for no reason at all. A great sadness swelled up within me. After a while, I thought maybe I'll go down one day because there were things I had to pick up and frankly there are things I cannot do at home. My equipment is unprofessional. Not that its bad, it just doesn't do enough. And there are many things that I cannot access at home that are down there. So now I am going three days a week because it is essential that I do so, for the sake of the theater and I feel much better. I am not crying anymore. And by the way the theater could run very well without me for at least a year. I make final decisions but I do not make them alone.

What do the days look like right now for those who work at Theater for the New City?

We are keeping everyone on staff, paid. We have a very small staff of 8 people and their salaries are so small that I am loathed to tell you what they are. However, we are a marginal theater, we will run out of money in about 6 weeks. Everyone on staff is working very hard. We are doing readings of new plays online. We have board meetings through Zoom every month. We are posting on Facebook and Instagram. John David West is our official Marketing person.

There are people on the board who are actually working for the theater at no pay, of course. We are revving up for an incredibly huge Memorial Day weekend LES (Lower East Side Festival of the Arts). We have an 18 member committee meeting every Saturday at 2pm through Zoom. We are doing live readings of new work online through Zoom on Facebook Live. The LES festival will be on the website. One day blends into another. I don't know what day of the week it is anymore. My life revolves around two telephones and a computer. Luckily I have a partner, which makes things much better. We have become very careful of each other because we don't want to fight. Which is what we started to do but don't anymore. Because we understand that human kindness is a plus.

How much planning is going on both short term and long term for the theater?

We know for sure that LES will be online. We know that we will not have an outside portion on Saturday. Our permit has just been cancelled. But we have a great committee and in the committee we have curators for different categories. Lissa Moira for Poetry, Carolyn Ratcliff for fine arts, Donna Meija for the children's portion, Eva Dorrapaal for film and me for theater, dance and music. We have sent out a call for videos. We will also have a live component on Saturday May 22nd. We will have live Performances by David Amram, Charles Busch (Whose play that we first produced "The Confession of Lily Dare" has been nominated for a Drama Desk Award.) We are asking F. Murray Abraham, Michael David Gordan, William Electric Black, Penny Arcade and Phoebe Legere to all be a part of our live performance on May 22nd starting at 8pm.

We are also at this time posting on Facebook and Instagram an open Mic Series. John David West is going to coordinate the digital end of LES. At the same time I am getting ready for Street Theater. I am writing my usual musical, which this year is called "Liberty or Just Us." Joseph Vernon Banks is the composer of the music. If we are not allowed to do a full musical because of the virus, I will write a narrated choral piece. If it turns out that we cannot do anything in the streets or in the parks because of the virus, we will do online performances. If we can't open August 1st, we will open the next week, and if we can't do that, we will open the week after that, etc. We have a whole season programmed. We are taking submissions for the Dream Up Festival which will open at the end of August. The whole rest of the year, all the way up to June 30th, was booked. We will be giving priority to the shows that were cancelled but we can't do that until we know when we will be able to accomplish that. We have to wait. We will also reschedule a number of rentals, for which we had to give back the deposits.

Do you have plans to bring any previously filmed productions/upcoming events/classes etc. online?

Mary Tierney's workshop is going to go online as well as everything else we are doing. Mark Marcante's commedia class cannot go online. It will be rescheduled when we can open.

What is the best way for people to help Theater for the New City right now?

Right now we are in desperate need of funds. We were shocked to find that we were declined for the cultural emergency grant administered by the New York Community Trust. It brought back the unhappy memories of the 1980s when foundations were helping theaters of color and Miguel Algarin hung his head when he told me that Nuyorican Poets Cafe had gotten a small grant, knowing full well that TNC was not given one, although he and everyone else knew that we were in the forefront of the fight. We are still in the forefront but we are not a theater of color. We are a theater of many colors. But we are also a theater of Emerging Writers.

We have been denied grants because we were around too long. We are not a start up. Our tears will fall because we feel very unappreciated by the elite in the private foundation world. On the other hand, we get standing room only audiences for unknown playwrights.

We are also not the MET, we are not Lincoln Center, we are not The Public Theater, we are not even La MaMa really, we don't have a money board. But we have a great board and we will survive, as we have, in the past. Flourish we may not, but survive we will and we have the respect, and I mean deep respect, of the theater community. Our fellow compatriots know how very valuable we are. That is really a blessing. Our audience grows and grows.


Learn more about Theater For the New City at theaterforthenewcity.net. Donate to the theater here!


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