Local Play Gives Birth to Social Change

Performers in Theater for the New City’s “Emergency or the World Takes a Selfie” pose in character

“I loved giving birth,” fourteen-year-old Lily Fremaux says. Lily is a performer in “Emergency or the World Takes a Selfie,” a performance by Theater for the New City (TNC). Her main role is playing a pregnant woman.

Each summer, TNC performs a different play, each with a focus on current events. Although TNC is based in the East Village, the performances are conducted in thirteen locations across all five boroughs of New York City. The locations include parks, playgrounds, and closed-off streets.

The performances are written and directed for the stage by Crystal Field, who also performs in them, with music by Joseph-Vernon Banks. It features a cast of fifty performers of all ages. All performances are free.

The cast of performers are largely dedicated to their art. Many have been with the company for over four years and are very close and supportive of each other. “All the people are very funny and spontaneous and really add something to the show,” performer Holly Phillips says.

The cast is also very welcoming. After the final act, performers run to the audience and pull them out of their seats and onto the stage to dance. A cast member shouts, “We’re hosting a block party afterwards so whoever stays gets food!”

This year’s performance centers around an EMT who is suspended after he ignores protocol. While off the job, he meets an investigative reporter and they both land in the hospital after being shot at by members of the National Rifle Association. In recovery, they dream they have encountered many “emergencies” all over the world, including the power crisis in Ukraine and the unequal distribution of wealth in Brazil.

TNC’s performances address a wide range of issues with humor. For example, to draw attention to congress’s ineffectiveness, congressmen and women are portrayed as zombies which gained enthusiastic applause from the crowd. One audience member says, “I loved that part. It was really clever and it cracked me up.”

Even though the performance addresses many issues, it also provides solutions and advocates people to take action. The EMT worker shouts, “When the protocol is corrupt, break it!” And at the end of the performance all the actors gather together to sing a song with the lyrics, “You are the source. Spread the information. Post it. Tweet it. Even take a selfie.”

So it is no surprise that the theater’s Facebook page contains many posts about current issues with a left-wing bent. Their most recent posts include an excerpt from Hillary Clinton’s book, Hard Choices, about global women’s rights, and a quote, “I wish more people cared about Earth as much as they cared about who they believe created it.”

John Buckley, a TNC performer and manager of the theater’s Facebook page, writes, “TNC aims to raise social awareness in the communities it performs in, creating civic dialogue that inspires a better understanding of the world beyond the communities’ geographic boundaries.” TNC has gained national recognition as it has won the Pulitzer Prize for theater and 42 Off-Broadway Theater Awards, also known as Obie Awards.

“Street theater is very much about what is going on in the world and how we can change it,” Lily says. “I feel like not a lot of other plays accomplish that.”