Mostly-true story of voter registration drive in 1964 has a disturbing currency in light of efforts to suppress voting today.

June 8 to 25, 2023
Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (at E. 10th Street)
Presented by Theater for the New City
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM
$18 gen. adm., $15 seniors & students
Box office:, (212) 254-1109
Runs :90
Critics are invited on or after Saturday,June 10, opens June 10.
Photos are available at

NEW YORK, May 5 -- "Freedom Summer," a suspenseful play by Toby Armour, takes its name from the now-famous civil rights campaign in June 1964, when a cohort of mostly northern college students attempted to register as many African-American voters as possible in Mississippi. Police, white citizens' councils and the KKK used arrests, arson, and murder to oppose the project. This play is inspired by the playwright's firsthand experiences in the campaign as a civil rights worker and reflects the excruciating stresses of the time. It centers on two young women who are thrown together by chance as volunteers in the effort. Theater for the New City, which has been Toby Armour's theatrical home since 1988, will present the play's world premiere run June 8 to 25. Joan Kane directs a cast of six.

In the play Sylvie, a Jewish girl from up North, knows too little of the evil she is facing. Terry, African-American and raised in Mississippi, perhaps knows too much. They struggle together, facing danger and disappointment, discovering some old fashioned home truths and unearthing some well-kept political secrets. The biggest difference between the two is that Sylvie can leave any time and return to a safe life up North. Terry must remain in Mississippi with a target on her back and live under the threat that her family's house will be burned when the KKK comes looking for her.

Toby Armour was a graduate student at Brandeis when she, like many others, traveled to Mississippi to conduct Black voter registration. Sylvie comes from Toby Armour's first hand experiences. The character of Terry comes from Armour's recollections of a fellow volunteer plus written accounts of other African-American civil rights workers.

Fear is palpable from the beginning of the play, when news of the discovery of bodies of three missing Civil Rights workers comes to CORE (Congress of Racial Equality)/SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) headquarters. Armour met the woman she renames Terry that night; it was Armour's first day in Jackson.

Terry fears she will be killed canvassing for voters. The people she calls on are even more afraid they will be killed for trying to vote. It is a relief for Terry to be working with children in the Freedom Schools that were also started that summer. She is inspired to be working with famed Black activist Fannie Lou Hamer, whom Terry is able to assist as she leads Black delegates to the 1964 Democratic Convention.

At CORE/SNCC headquarters Sylvie, new and untrained, is terrified that she will make a mistake at the switchboard that will endanger activists who are calling in. She is awed to speak to Eudora Welty on the phone; she is thrilled to chauffer Howard Zinn, the famous political philosopher-historian, in her rental car until she suddenly remembers her license plate is being tracked by Mississippi police. Venturing into the white part of Jackson on a special undercover assignment, she bumbles twice and narrowly escapes entrapment each time. Ultimately, she uncovers surprising, hitherto secret information in the Mississippi State House archives.

Terry and Sylvie share a wonderful day in the country with Freedom School children whom they take on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Amid the ever-present danger, the two young volunteers learn much of value that summer, including the value of friendship.

The 1964 Freedom Summer project was designed to draw the nation's attention to the violent oppression experienced by Mississippi Blacks who attempted to exercise their constitutional rights, and to develop a grassroots freedom movement that could be sustained after student activists left Mississippi. Less than 50 years later, in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act and the same year, the Shelby County v. Holder decision opened the door, once again, for voter suppression. Since then, states have made it harder to vote. So Toby Armour's play has an agonizing currency today.

Arianne Banda plays Terry and Clara Francesca plays Sylvie. The ensemble includes Beth Griffith, Clarence Comfort, Debra Khan-Bey and Tim Dietrich. Set design is by Mark Marcante and Lytza Colón. Costume design is by Billy Little. Lighting design is by Alexander Bartienieff. Sound design is by Joy Linscheid. Projections are by Jim Marlowe. Stage manager is Richard Urquiza. Assistant director is Maggie Connick. Production manager is Bruce A! Kraemer.

Toby Armour's plays have been presented in NYC and from Alaska to Key West, as well as in Scotland, Ireland, London and Cairo. "Voices from the Black Canyon" won the Lewis National Playwriting Competition. "Fanon's People," which debuted at TNC, won four Dramalog awards when produced at the Fountain Theater in LA. She has been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Arts Council, the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, the Arizona Arts Commission, and the Jerome Foundation. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild. Her last play at TNC, directed by Joan Kane, was "Susan B.," a bioplay on the great suffragist Susan B. Anthony. It was first developed at Theater for the New City under the direction of the late George Ferencz. Ferencz also directed two of Armour's previous plays at TNC, "155 First Avenue" (2012) and "155 Through the Roof" (2014). She is grateful to Crystal Field, Joan Kane and the actors and crew for all their support and wisdom in this production and she is ever grateful to Theater for the New City for its many years of making courageous and exciting theater in New York.

Joan Kane (Director) is a playwright, dramaturg, actor and educator. She is the founding Artistic Director of Ego Actus ( She has directed "Sycorax, Cyber Queen of Qamara" by Fengar Gael at HERE, "Play Nice!" by Robin Rice at 59E59 Theaters, "I Know What Boys Want" by Penny Jackson on Theatre Row, "Six Characters in Search of an Author" in Oslo, Norway and "Kafka’s Belinda" in Prague. She was awarded Best Director in the 2016 United Solo Festival and was named to the Indie Theatre Hall of Fame by She graduated from the High School of Performing Arts, studied acting at the Neighborhood Playhouse with Sanford Meisner and earned an MFA in Directing from The New School and an MS in Museum Education from Bank Street College. She is a member of SDC, DG, NYWITF and LPTW.  In the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, she has received a five star review for her solo show, "Almost 13," and four star reviews for her productions of "Safe" and "What Do You Mean." She thanks Crystal Field and Mark Marcante for their support and their passion for keeping theater alive during the maddening days we are living in.(

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CRITICS ARE INVITED on or after June 10.