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Takin’ it to the street: Theater for New City tackles climate change in touring show

BY KASEY NOSS | A cataclysmic storm; a subway system underwater; elements of Earth that dance and sing: Theater for the New City’s 2023 summer stage series has all this and more.

This August, Theater for the New City’s Street Theater Summer Tour presents “Life on the Third Rail, or, A Subway Delay to the Future.” The series kicks off Sat., Aug. 5, outside TNC’s theater, at E. 10th St. and First Ave.

This year’s marks the 36th annual edition of TNC’s award-winning Summer Street Theater program, which takes an original musical on the road through various parks, playgrounds and closed-off streets throughout the five boroughs.

“You don’t have the luxury of a silent theater. You have the street,” said Crystal Field, co-founder and artistic director of TNC and executive director of this year’s show. “People can come, they can leave, they can throw stuff at you if they don’t like it. I love it.”

Crystal Field, in foreground, directs the cast during a rehearsal. (Photo by My Le)

The show, set in New York City during a violent, climate-change-induced hurricane, follows a train operator and a subway conductor whose car becomes trapped by the deluge. As they await rescue from the flooded tunnels of the city’s subway system, they dream that Earth’s elements — including water, air, the “green of the plants” and the “electricity of light” — come alive and beckon the pair to help them. The ensuing production raises questions of environmental exploitation and global destruction and whether humankind can rise to the occasion to stop it all before it’s too late.

“The musical questions the future of NYC and the planet together, starting with climate change but rippling through many other economic and social challenges, from subway surfing to affordable housing, that weigh on our City’s ultimate survival,” TNC’s Web site says.

“We go from reality to fantasy very easily,” said Field, a seasoned veteran of street theater who also wrote the show’s book and lyrics. “Street theater always borders on the mythic.”

(Photo by My Le)

All performances in the Summer Stage series are free — an aspect Field says is “very important” to the inherently “political” mission of street theater.

“It’s political theater – no ifs, ands or buts,” Field stressed. “You’re in the street, and you’re talking to the general public, many of whom don’t go to the theater.”

Stylistically, she described street theater as “a combination of puppetry and dance with a background in vaudeville and commedia.”

To stage the whimsical and ambitious production, TNC has enlisted the aid of trapdoors, giant puppets, smoke machines, masks and a 9-foot-by-12-foot screen — or “cranky” — providing continuous moving scenery behind the actors. The company, which numbers 50 people in total, is comprised of 22 actors, 10 crew members, two stage managers, three assistant directors and five live musicians playing eclectic musical styles, including bossa nova, hip hop, musical comedy and classical cantata.

“I look forward to doing this every year,” said prop master Lytza Colon, another longtime participant in the program. “It’s wonderful.”

The production features Michael David Gordon as the train operator, Cheryl Gadsdon as the conductor and Yesenia Ortiz as the subway tracker. The musical score is composed and arranged by Joseph Vernon Banks.

“Life on the Third Rail” will be performed Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. from Aug. 5 through Sept. 17, with a special performance on Fri., Aug. 18, at 5 p.m., on the Coney Island boardwalk. For a complete schedule of performances, visit

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