Late this morning we were in Brooklyn Bridge Park with a bunch of kids watching other kids perform "It Wasn't Always This Way," a charming thirty-minute puppet show, produced by White Bird Productions, about the natural and man-made environment of New York City.
Large puppets marked the history and geography of our urban environment: the island of Manhattan forming, birds flying, buildings being built, subways moving and much more. It was a delightful half-hour, with terrific music supplied by adults, from tom-toms to "The Sidewalks of New York," and you could tell it grabbed the attention of the very young audience by the lack of a single crying child during the entire performance.
According to its website,
For over 18 years, White Bird Productions has been producing plays, commissioning new work, collaborating with musicians and choreographers and, through Creative Theatrics, offering children’s theater classes in Brooklyn. Based in the Alliance of Resident Theatres/New York’s South Oxford Space in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, White Bird Productions has a particular interest in the urban landscape, and how the residents and the natural environment of New York complement and collide with one another.
Earlier work exploring these issues includes Villagers (John Istel) at St. Mark’s Church in the Bouwerie, COMBUSTION: The Politics of Trash at BAM (Kathryn Dickinson), and Islands: An Urban Archipelago (David Pleasant and Dickinson) at Blue Heron Arts Centre. White Bird has also developed and produced Boro Tales: Brooklyn at the Blue Heron Arts Centre and BRIC Studio in downtown Brooklyn and Boro Tales: Manhattan at HERE Arts Centre, with three boroughs to come in this five-borough project that seeks to celebrate our urban environment through the lens of well-known NYC playwrights.
This show began with a look, not 400 years ago, in 1609, when Hudson first sailed here, but 400 years in the future:
This wasn't history by Mike Wallace or Russell Shorto, but it was visual, musical and understandable, aimed at little kids. The new book Mannahatta, from the Wildlife Conservation Society, after all, details the streams that once ran through Manhattan.
A turtle, or perhaps a tortoise, roams.
A forest on a hill.
A beaver blissfully frolics in the water before the Astor family turns it into someone's chapeau.
The native people have their canoes.
What is this big ship? Rather than a Cunard liner, it looks like the Half Moon to us.
The Dutch build their houses, like the one in the neighborhood where we grew up.
The pigs are coming, or maybe they're real estate developers.
The houses seem a little skittish at the arrival of the pigs. But then the houses throw out scraps. . .
. . . and the pigs gobble them up. They're the sanitation department, only with shorter work breaks.
New multistory houses push aside the farmhouses and trees.
The Statue of Liberty brings new New Yorkers to their homes.
The first street musicians.
The first highrises.
Eventually skyscrapers, subways and high-flying planes become part of NYC's daily environment.
And the show ends in 2009, with a parade of all the actors in the natural history of New York, reminding us that it wasn't always this way. . .
. . . and getting applause and love from the audience. The kids, and the adults behind the show, did a magnificent job. It was a beautiful morning - now time to walk down Main Street for iced tea at Starbucks. Yeah, chain stores are part of NYC's environment, too.