Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Stream Now
Click Here for More Articles on Stream Now

Theater for the New City's 25th Lower East Side Festival of the Arts will be Held Virtually in May

Theater for the New City's 25th Lower East Side Festival of the Arts will be Held Virtually in May

For the 25th year, a handful of stars and over 100 performing arts organizations, independent artists, poets, puppeteers and film makers will join forces May 22 to 24 in the Lower East Side Festival of the Arts, available virtually on the website ( of its presenting organization, Theater for the New City (TNC).

The event started in 1996 as a three-day, indoor and outdoor multi-arts festival intended to demonstrate the creative explosion of the Lower East Side and the area's importance to culture and tourism for New York City. It employed two theater spaces at TNC plus the block of East Tenth Street between First and Second Avenues. For the past 24 years, it has been organized by TNC and a coalition of civic, cultural and business leaders and presented free to an average attendance of 4,000. This year, with obligatory separation caused by Coronavirus, it is being mounted entirely on TNC's website, with the possibility of sharing it with the world for the first time.

The 2020 festival, themed "Renaissance: Arts Alive 25," is dedicated to essential workers: the frontline professionals who preserve our daily lives. These include professionals in the healthcare sector (doctors, nurses, EMT), government services (including fire, police, sanitation, mass transit, National Guard); public utilities, post office and other delivery services; private industries including eldercare, airports, food service workers, grocery store clerks and workers in such jobs as cashiers, stock clerks, security, airport, gas station attendants, pharmacists, funeral home workers, news providers, homeless services, food pantry workers and volunteers, janitorial staff, radio and TV engineers, communications network providers and more.

There will be three days of theater and theater-related events, from Friday, May 22 to Sunday, May 24. Offerings will include both live and recorded material from artists presently residing on the Lower East Side, arts groups performing there, prominent writers and artists whose work has dealt directly with the Lower East Side experience, and plays written especially for this festival. The distinct ethnic communities of the Lower East Side are amply represented, including the Latin American, African American, Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Irish, Italian, Jewish, Native American, Polish and Ukrainian communities. There will be testimonials by local elected officials and activists.

Disciplines presented will include theater, music, dance, poetry, puppetry, late night cabaret, visual art, film and kids' programming. The complete lineup and hour-by-hour schedule will be posted on on and after May 18.

On Saturday, May 23 at 8:00 PM, there will be a live concert of performances by David Amram, Charles Busch, F. Murray Abraham, Penny Arcade, Phoebe Legere, Austin Pendleton, William Electric Black and Reno. Following their performances, a number of these major LES artists will do a virtual "sit around" to discuss theater, politics, COVID-19 and the human spirit.

There will be a Poetry Jam Sunday, May 24 with 28 poets.

All events will be streaming from 6:00 PM Friday, May 22 to 11:59 PM Sunday, May 24. Attendees will be able to select disciplines and artists from the TNC website's online timetable and index.

Emcees will be Crystal Field, Robert Gonzales, Alberto Minero and Sabura Rashid.

Curators are Crystal Field (Theater), Lissa Moira (Poetry), Carolyn Ratcliff (Fine Arts), Donna Mejia (Kids' Performances) and Eva Dorrepaal (Film). Technical staff are David Aronson, John David West, Brian Park, Roy Chang and Alexander Bartenieff.

The concept of the festival was developed by Crystal Field, Executive Artistic Director of TNC and Esther Cartegena (d. 2006), President of Loisaida, Inc., to portray the Lower East Side (LES) as a haven for artists and artistic creation. The region is a unique multi-ethnic community with an unusually high level of artistic vitality. Large populations with differing languages and cultures coexist there successfully and a large artistic population helps glue the neighborhood together. Its theaters are also an unprecedented source of tourism. Sam Shepard's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, "Buried Child," was commissioned and first produced by TNC. The committee envisioned an event that would demonstrate the region's cultural fervor, its large artistic population and its multiplicity of ethnic influences to contradict the neighborhood's stereotype as a dangerous refuge for drug dealers and criminal activity.

The first festival, presented June 14 to 16, 1996, featured over 100 attractions, drew favorable press and attracted crowds from all around the City. Its success prompted TNC to continue the festival as an annual event.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Slaff

Related Articles

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes & More

More Hot Stories For You