America In Crisis

Learning from Loss

It is only as Americans that we can fully understand the enormity of what has happened to our nation. And as artists, with our emotions so close to the surface, we may find it hard not to relate everything we do to our current situation. I believe that the choices we make as artists will forever be changed by this tragedy. I will never think of liberty and freedom in the same way. I will never look at my neighbor in the same way. I, as well as others, have realized how much we (Americans) take for granted. Perhaps, as a national community, we can learn from our loss and keep dear to our hearts, for the rest of our lives, our families, our freedom, and our country. May God bless us all.

Lindsay Wray

Artist

Los Angeles, California

Life Must Continue

I was on my way to an audition for "Saturday Night Fever." It was such a beautiful morning. I got out of the subway at Union Square and?boom?the second plane hit. I had never seen anything like it: hundreds of people standing there, staring, crying, and trying to help each other figure out what was happening. I proceeded to the audition and, completely distracted, completely not nervous, I did the audition. People left due to concern, but I didn't know when I would get to do the audition again, so I stayed.

When I left and walked back to where I was when the buildings were on fire, they were gone. I didn't know what to do. I thought it was a weird dream, and I walked home to 104th in complete shock: crying, unable to talk to my family in Texas, and scared.

The next day we had rehearsal for the show I'm doing in Philadelphia. It was a very difficult day; I felt like my career was so trivial. What am I doing singing "The Saga of Jenny" while my brothers and sisters are down the street picking up their co-workers' and family members' body parts?

Life must continue. We must be strong. This is a test for us, for our country, for strength. I don't know what I can do to assist, but what my soul is doing is giving these people, alive and dead, all the love that I can. I am with those volunteers. I am with those firemen. I am worried about them; I cry for them; I love them.

I cannot volunteer my time because I am in rehearsal. I cannot give a lot of money because I am poor. I cannot give blood because I am gay. I do not know what else to give but my heart.

Tonight, I went back to the spot in Union Square where I saw those buildings explode, and the energy in that park gave me a new light. No matter what religion, belief, or level of sanity, love unites, pain unites, and humanity will survive united. I must continue my art. I must continue my life, because this is the way I survive my childhood, and performing will be the only way that I will survive this.

I love New York. God Bless America.

Bret Shuford

Actor

New York City

Respond

Mere words don't seem adequate to express how the unspeakable horror of last Tuesday has affected, I think, virtually everyone in the city and the U.S. Whether we knew anyone personally involved in the tragedy or not, there's a very real sense that nothing will ever be the same again. Even mundane, day-to-day things like getting on the subway or the sound of a plane passing overhead have taken on a distinct element of fear.

I have no doubt that this will be a defining moment in all of our lives, the kind of monumental event that becomes a sort of "dividing line" for us. Even now, the things that seemed tremendously important to me in the days before those planes crashed--setting up those auditions, opening that show, etc.--seem utterly trivial now.

I think that the challenge for all of us as theatre artists is to get involved and try to find ways to use our art to respond to this tragedy. We have a history of doing that; in the very early days of the AIDS crisis, for instance, theatre artists were among the first to create art that dealt with the issue and helped audiences cope with their feelings of helplessness and grief. Whether it's creating a theatre piece that examines the tragedy itself, staging a benefit concert to aid in the relief efforts, or simply providing a diversion in the days that lie ahead, it's important for all of us to use our gifts in a meaningful way.

Mark Cannistraro

Director

New York City (West Village)

The Greatest Challenge

Other than the very air we breathe being painted dull with incomprehension, other than a gaping hole in our skyline staring back at us?blank and helpless--when we look downtown, other than the physical smell of burning curling far uptown when the winds decide it is time to reawaken the horrible reality for us, other than an incessant, low murmur of mourning within all our hearts for those who were lost, New York is surviving and moving on and shaking our composite fist at the unseen cowards out there, and shouting, "We're still here!" Let them take grim satisfaction in the damage they have done. We are not stopped.

Reaching beyond the grief, the anguish, the horror, I find myself resolved to defy the dark souls that have attacked us. I do so in the only way I know how: by getting on with my life, my work, my art, my ideals. My passion has always been bringing people together, creating a sense of community, finding a common humanity that unites us. I will not be stopped now. I will not hand them that victory.

Suddenly we have all been cruelly cast into the lion's den and, like Daniel, it is our inner voice, our faith, our commitment to our deepest beliefs that must save us. I urge everyone I know to get on with the details of living, for as trivial as some of what we do may seem to us in light of this disaster, I believe that every breath and every movement that propel us to another day is an affirmation of life. And life must matter.

Another veil of innocence has been torn from my eyes, and I will surely look at the world differently from this time on, and that will affect my art in ways that I can only imagine now. I fear for the economy of the country, and New York in particular; luckily, my choices as an artist have never been based on the need for affluence. More than anything, this atrocity has awakened a spirit of patriotism within me, a fierce pride in being both an American and a New Yorker. They tried to plunge us into darkness; instead, they have lighted the spark of outrage and ignited the fire of patriotism.

Perhaps the greatest challenge of all is not hating those who hate us.

Bob Ost

Playwright-Composer-Lyricist, President of Theater Resources Unlimited

New York City

Speechless--But Not Silent

As a writer and monologist, I have always used humor to cut through my pain. Or maybe it was to get at my pain?I am not sure. I have made fun of practically everything on stage. Favorite targets include my teenage abortion, race relations (my poor Puerto Rican boyfriend bares the brunt of those jokes!), and the Holocaust. I am a native New York Jew, so my DNA boasts guilt, cynicism, humor, and diarrhea of the mouth.

Last Tuesday, I was speechless--but not silent. I watched the events unfold on TV and I ran around my apartment screaming like a banshee. I never knew I could produce the sounds that emanated from my body. By Wednesday, I thought I was ready to sit down and write--yet I couldn't find the letters to spell "ahrgehelitanooooooah!" That scream, mixed with the sound of the towers crumbling, rings in my ears.

I know that, in time, I will be able to find humor in September 11, 2001. I have to. Certainly irony already exists. Did you hear the story about the stranded South African tourist who made a wreath to commemorate the World Trade Center and, while she placed it on the Union Square memorial, was promptly mugged? How about the guy who worked at the World Trade Center who narrowly escaped only to find that his sister and niece were on one of the hijacked planes? Or the government official who, just hours after the towers toppled, angrily intoned, "This is why we don't need any more money for education or health care--we need it for our military!"

All of these twisted events will be funny to me one day, and they will undoubtedly be used in my work. Just not today.

Raven Snook

Writer-Solo Performer-Critic

Harlem, New York

Accept the Challenges

Last week, the United States suffered a major catastrophe at the hands of an enemy that lurks in the shadows. It is hard to know how it will ultimately affect our city and nation. To be certain, we will live in fear for a long time. There will be more cameras, metal detectors, and security guards. We will also hesitate before we drive through that tunnel, book a ticket on the airplane, or go into that skyscraper. I lived in London during one of the IRA's campaigns there, and I learned a couple of important lessons: First, a terrorist can be anywhere, but he cannot be everywhere; second, always be cautious but never afraid, because fear is a victory for the darkness.

In terms of our profession, our path has changed. I believe that there will be a return to a level of seriousness in the arts, especially the theatre. As our nation turns to (a possible) wartime footing, the need for the performing arts will not diminish; indeed, it will probably be compounded. The World War II period--the last time our nation faced such loss and hardship--produced two of the enduring classics of the American cinema: "Casablanca" (made at the height of the war) and "Citizen Kane" (made in the uncertain days preceding the war). Actors, directors, and writers have a special place during this time of our nation's sorrow. We must be willing to accept the challenges of this new world.

Tony Pennino

Playwright (board member Elite Fighting Crew)

Hoboken, New Jersey

Like a Londoner in the Blitz

I was on my way toward NYC when I heard the news and canceled any attempt to reach the city, but was frantic in my tries to reach people on my cell phone. I was relieved when I got through to a few and, later, when I could e-mail once I got back to home base. I understand security and logistic concerns, but that we had to cancel or postpone any events makes me feel these fanatics got the upper hand. I rejoiced to hear that Broadway had gone up again last week. I feel like a Londoner in the Blitz and am eager to get back to NYC for the next round of auditions.

M. J. J. Cashman.

Actor

Lowell, Massachusetts

More Important Now

If what we do--making art, sustaining culture, fostering creativity?was important last week, it is more so now. I work at New Dramatists, a 52-year-old center for the support and development of playwrights. It is meant to be a safe haven for their work and personal, artistic growth, but the words "safe haven" sound naive and anachronistic this week. In the first 24 hours after the attack on the World Trade Center, the magnitude of events and the suffering made this, our purpose, feel slightly trivial--as though the only "important" work in this world was that directed at responding to the crisis and helping the victims.

The passage of days has changed that initial feeling, though. I find myself returning for comfort and guidance to poets and playwrights, as always, to Auden's "September 1, 1939" ("All I have is a voice..."), and to Shaw's "Heartbreak House," with its wartime cri de coeur to the dying cultural elite, "Learn Navigation!" And so, I feel the commitment and the dedication to first principles of this work deepening. Our writings and paintings and songs are what we'll be remembered by--judged by. It's through our art that we teach ourselves about our own humanity. That humanity is what we most need now.

Todd London

Artistic Director, New Dramatists

New York City

A New Perspective

I think we've all seen a dramatic shift in our sense of priorities, especially those of us in New York City. The artistic community has always explored the human element, looked inward at who we were, what our purpose was, and how we could better ourselves as individuals and as a society. Now, the business and financial community has taken on a new perspective as well.

I think the work of creative artists will gain greater appreciation from an audience that is now more aware than ever of human frailty. I never felt nervous living in Manhattan; I do now. Yet I am more aware, have heightened senses, and have grown from this horrible tragedy. It appears that many others around us have grown as well.

Rich Mintzer

Writer-Author-Journalist

New York City

A Duty to Inspire

Theatre's purpose is to make the world a better place. When we communicate our thoughts and feelings--ourselves--directly to others; when we entertain them; when we reflect our communities; and when we consider our ideals, our hopes, and our ways of acting towards one another, we explore our humanity. Through what we learn, and the very fact that we take the journey together, we improve the world.

The devastating events of this past week, as well as the stunning love from around the world that has come in response, only make the worth of this art, the possibilities of our coming together, and the dire need for understanding and union all the more apparent. And they intensify the need for art that pursues these goals.

As a writer, director, and performer, and as the artistic director of a theatre devoted in its mission--to explore America's cultural legacy in the context of the world--I am newly driven to find plays and work with artists who are devoted to this pursuit. It is the pursuit of love and growth for humankind that we must share and must inspire in our audience, our beloved city of New York, and our country.

As an American citizen, too, I see that this spirit is at the core of all that is worthy in America (however much unworthy lives by its side), and that America, all too obviously, is prominently poised to share whatever we are with the world. My artistic duty, then, is also my citizen's duty: to inspire an audience, to inspire a country, and so to inspire the world, of which I am a citizen as well--where love and understanding are indeed opposed, but thrive even so.

Alex Roe

Artistic Director, Metropolitan Playhouse

Upper West Side

The Only Gifts I Have to Give

When I write solo performances for the stage, there comes a point in my process when I stop writing and ask myself, "Why should anybody care?" This leads me, hopefully, to a partial answer: "Because I care so deeply I cannot remain silent, and, hopefully, this care will somehow translate to the stage."

But now, after so much sorrow, grief, pain, and anger, the question almost shifts in my mind to "Why write anything? Shouldn't I do something useful in this time of crisis?" Everything shattered into focus Tuesday morning. As those buildings collapsed, I collapsed with them into silence, into fear, into family, into prayer, and all the demands of my career seemed meaningless.

I honestly wondered if I could go on doing what I did before. In many ways, the answer has to be yes, we must do what we did before. But under it all lays sadness and disbelief, and the sudden realization that I may die at anytime, that this letter may be the last thing I write. Even though I still have a thousand tiny things to do, I don't have the luxury to not at least try to reveal my heart to you.

So, as I fly around the country performing the shows I have written, I take with me a new understanding of how fragile my life truly is. I honor those who have died and those who are shifting through the rubble with my gifts of writing and performance--the only gifts I have to give. I perform for them all this year, carrying them with me in my thoughts and prayers. I write now to symbolically shed light, to bring hope and humor to the rest of us that remain, covered in ash and dust, looking for answers that may never come.

Antonio Sacre

Solo Theatre Artist

Los Angeles, California

How Can We Sing?

Today I was supposed to start the fall semester, teaching vocal technique at NYU/CAP21. I woke up around eight, started the coffee, walked the dogs, showered.

Then all hell broke loose.

We all watched in horror as our country was shaken to its core.

School was cancelled, of course.

So now I sit here wondering how I will walk into a class in the coming days and work on "lovely little musical theatre ditties" when our country and the world is still reeling in the aftermath of this tragedy, and will be for a long time to come. Is there a place for musical comedy now? How can there be? How can we laugh now? How can we sing?

Then I was reminded of something my most beloved mentor once said to me.

At the end of World War II, among the first buildings to be rebuilt in Europe were the theatres. The morale of the people was held in high premium.

A place to congregate and leave behind the tensions and strife of the day was of utmost importance to the fabric of society. At a time of strife, what we do becomes very important. We are the morale officers in this crisis.

We are the guardians of the light when the darkness is creeping closer. So sing, my darlings. Sing your hearts out. Sing on the streets. Sing with a purpose. Make one person a day smile with your joy and we will win the war.

Sing, act, dance, hone your craft, communicate your joy and spread the light.

That's how I plan to get through this. Love and peace.

David Sabella

Actor-Singer-Teacher

New York City