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Performers at TNC gala shine spotlight on theater itself

BY CLAUDE SOLNIK | Monday is traditionally the day when theaters are dark, stages are empty and performers take a break, providing a kind of industrywide intermission. It is also a day when events designed for performers and the theatergoing community often take place.

So, about 200 people, including performers, donors and simply fans of one of New York City’s longest-going and truest homes to new work united Feb. 12, as Theater for the New City held its 21st annual Love N’ Courage benefit at the Players club on Gramercy Park South.

Crystal Field is the co-founder and executive artistic director of the East Village hotbed of creativity. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)
Phoebe Legere was the night’s emcee and gave a rousing performance of her own. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)
TNC’s Crystal Field, right, honored City Councilmember Carlina Rivera, who was actually last year’s honoree but missed the event because she was giving birth. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)

Phoebe Legere emceed and performed at the event where Charles Busch sang, Penny Arcade (the evening’s honoree) performed, TNC’s Street Theater cast performed and students in the theater’s after-school cultural arts program belted out a song.

TNC Creative Artistic Director Crystal Field, an impresario who has helped bring so many performers and creators’ work to the public, spoke about the East Village theater’s performers, its mission and ongoing role in presenting new work.

It was at once a night to showcase theater and performers and, for a moment, to appreciate, and financially and spiritually support, the theater itself, such an essential element for performers and audiences.

Youths in TNC’s afterschool program sang. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)
TNC performer Terry Lee King. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)
Playwright Lissa Moira. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)

Performers repeatedly singled out co-founder Field, as well as TNC itself, located at 155 First Ave., at 10th Street, for Field’s role in nurturing creativity, careers and craft, helping them find a voice that otherwise might never have emerged.

TNC board member Mary Tierney put it simply, saying the event was held at the Players club, a landmark, “just like Theater for The New City.” While theaters themselves don’t typically get applause at performances, many paid tribute to the theater, its leaders and staff.

“Crystal was right there rooting for me” over the years, Legere said, calling her a mentor, as the evening began. “Let’s make some theatrical magic,” Legere declared, before launching an evening of performance interspersed with praise.

The Head Peddlers — Elizabeth Ruf and Karl Bateman — performed during the cocktail hour. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)
From left, TNC mainstays Jeny Vath, Emily Pezzella and Briana Bartenieff. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)

City Councilmember Carlina Rivera, chairperson of the Council’s Cultural Affairs Committee, announced a grant for the theater to support the building itself, and called Crystal Field a “a visionary and a pioneer” who had created a “special place” with “heart and grit.”

“Theater for New City is a garden that allows us to create with freedom and abandon,” playwright and director Melanie Maria Goodreaux said. “I appreciate everyone who has paved the way for all kinds of stories, in all its diversity, to find the humanity that we all crave and the company and people that we all crave at Theater for the New City.”

Performers talked about how TNC has been there for them, providing a kind of artistic home and a loyalty that translates into opportunity.

“Crystal said, ‘Write a play and I will produce it,”’ Charles Busch said of his debut as a playwright.

Penny Arcade. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)
Charles Busch. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)
Hollie Harper performed stand-up comedy. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)

Field was not only there at the beginning, but over the years, just as Busch has remained loyal to the theater that helped him grow.

“Crystal produced my very first play, ‘Rise,’ when I was very young and it was a terrible play, but she never lost faith in me,” Busch said. “Over the years, every time I’ve been totally traumatized by my experience in showbiz, I would retreat to Theater for the New City and each time my hopes and dreams have been restored.”

Actor F. Murray Abraham provided a thousand-dollar check as a form of financial support for this Downtown theatrical institution.

The cast of “Ella the Ungovernable” did a number from the show. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)
Dick Zigun, the Mayor of Coney Island. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)
Whimsical Hips. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)

The cast of “Ella the Ungovernable,” by David McDonald, performed in another memorable moment at the event, which also included an excerpt from “The Boy Who Listened to Paintings,” by Dean Kostos and Paul Kirby.

The Yip Harburg Rainbow Troupe performed songs by lyricist and librettist Yip Harburg. Carol Tandava Arts’ Whimsical Hips gave a belly dancing performance.

Brianna Bartenieff said she was working on her first play, which she said would be presented at Theater for the New City.

The Yip Harburg Rainbow Troupe, featuring Ben Harburg, grandson of “Over the Rainbow” lyricist Yip. (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)
Cast members performed a song from “The Boy Who Listened to Paintings.” (Photo by Jonathan Slaff)

Penny Arcade, though, may have best summarized the night, indicating TNC provides not just a place to be heard, but a way for performers to discover themselves.

“At Theater For the New City, I started to find my voice,” the spoken-word artist said. She then launched into a performance, a tribute to her talent and to TNC’s and Crystal Field’s ability to give people a place and the space to find themselves and be found by audiences.

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