Theater for the New City Announces SHAME! OR THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE

Theater for the New City Announces SHAME! OR THE DOOMSDAY MACHINETheater for the New City's award-winning Street Theater Company will open its 42nd annual tour August 4 with "SHAME! Or The Doomsday Machine," a rip-roaring musical in which the Theory of Relativity explains modern politics. Free performances will tour closed-off streets, parks and playgrounds throughout the five boroughs until September 16. Book, lyrics and direction are by Crystal Field; the musical score is composed and arranged by Joseph Vernon Banks. (Schedule follows at bottom of this document.)

It's a gauzy and improbable fable, just right for a hot summer afternoon. A high school teacher, played by Michael David Gordon, gets pummeled with hard questions when his lecture on The Theory of Relativity rockets his class into unexpected places. The students apply the theory to fears of their own lives, stumping the prof with questions like "What's the relative speed of your own blood--does it run faster when a cop shoots you in the back, or when you are hiding under a desk from a high school shooter?" "What is your relative amount of pain if you've lost your Medicare versus if your doctor doesn't take Medicaid?" "What's your relative speed to prison if you are an American criminal or a Guatemalan immigrant?"

The teacher is trying to teach theories but the students want answers. Overwhelmed by their mounting questions, he dismisses the class and goes on a trip to find the truth. Distressed, irritated and depressed, he is sucked into a local black hole and finds himself on a trip to discover the truth. It turns out there are not only parallel universes, but also parallel worlds here on Earth: notably, the world of his students versus the world of "The Apprentice" with backbiting, power grabs, greed and money laundering. There's even a third world in a seedy dive on Franklin Street: a modern Hades where devils live, work and act as a moral and ethical cleanup crew. It's an underground cabaret cave run by two Spiritual Guardians, played by Crystal Field and Mark Marcante.

In the "The Apprentice" world, a TV Host sets a mighty economic empire before his applicants and urges them to fight, deceive and undercut each other in order to "win" their version of "The American Dream." "Fired" and "Hired" sing the contestants as they battle among themselves. They celebrate New York as a mean city that is the hub of competitive conflict in the new world order. But in fact, they are actually building a Doomsday Machine!

In response to the clamorous demands of all New Yorkers, the Guardians spring into action against the Doomsday Machine. They change the TV Host into a "Black man," a "woman," a "middle eastern immigrant," a "welfare recipient" and a "volcano" (this one caused by fracking in Pennsylvania). From this, the students learn that answers to all their questions are relative because there is nothing lasting but impermanence, even for your oppressors. And change will come.

A little flying corporate fairy tries to help the Host in his plight--she represents corporate conscience but the best she can do is hawk Alka-Seltzer. When the Host says he's bored, New York replies "Yes, water board" and a bucket of water is thrown on his head. Finally he is deported...to Hell. The students lead the way to all of us employing our civil rights, the time of MeToo goes forward and the teacher runs for elected office.

The production will be staged with 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 (led by the composer at the keyboard) will share the challenge of performing outside and holding a large, non-captive audience. The music will vary in style from Bossa Nova to Hip Hop to Musical Comedy to Gilbert & Sullivan. The play is a bouncy joyride through the undulations of the body politic, with astute commentary couched in satire, song and slapstick.

TNC's free street theater productions are delightfully suited for family audiences, since complex social issues are often presented through children's allegories, with children and neighborhood people as the heroes.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS
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 protégé 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 "Checks and Balances, or Bottoms Up!," "Teach it Right, or Right to Teach," "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.

Photo: INSTEAD OF THE KIDS, JAIL THE CROOKS! -- TNC's Street Theater Ensemble in "SHAME! Or The Doomsday Machine." In jail, L-R: Briana Bartenieff, Alexander Bartenieff, Daniel George. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

www.theaterforthenewcity.net



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