Published in the December, 2001 issue of
Theatre Bay Area's "Callboard" Magazine
I woke up early on the day the planes were flown out of the sky onto the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I was scheduled to direct for the San Francisco Fringe Festival production of Daytrippers Play-in-a-Day Marathon. It’s a program that involves creating fully realized theatre in one day. I was going to direct a play that my friend Aoise had been writing from midnight to three in the morning, and it would be going up that at ten that night. Our previous three nights had been sold out.
Got my e-mail, took a bath, read the play, and got ready to go. It was only just as I was about to leave that my father came in and told me there had been "major terrorist attacks," and that I might have trouble with public transportation.
The MUNI ride was a new kind of quiet. One man and woman talked in low tones. They didn’t seem to know each other, but wanted the company. He talked about how the "CIA was already working on it," and we’d get them back.
Just before the train went into the tunnel, my dear friend Katy called me. She was very distraught by what she’d seen on the television. She didn’t want to cross the Bay Bridge from Oakland into San Francisco to act in Daytrippers.
I told her to come to rehearsal. Sensitive.
At the theatre, we all gathered, shared concerns about New Yorkers we knew. I actually managed to get through to a couple of people, though one number I had to dial seventeen times to get a line. The Fringe producer, Christina, showed up and let us know that it was our decision about whether to go on or not.
"Are we going to do this," someone asked. "Should we do this" was also asked. No one could answer.
The Artistic Director of the company, Brad, gathered us in a circle. He said something to the effect of "Anyone who needs to go, please go. We will hug you and tell you we love you and invite you back." One person left. We read all the plays, checking for content we couldn’t get behind. Two more people took Brad up on the "hug and invitation" deal.
One of the actors, Jeff, offered up his house for rehearsals. Just as we were all leaving the theatre, Katy showed up. After getting across the bridge, her car had died. She joined us on the twenty minute trek to Jeff’s.
The place was big enough to have one group rehearse in the living room, one in the garage, and one in the alley. My cast had remained intact, but two others didn’t have directors. I offered to have one of my actors join another cast, while I replaced them in my show. Brad instead moved me into Alan Goy’s The Lake, the group Katy was in.
She wasn’t doing well. The rest of us had all had a chance to decompress and absorb. We had all been offered a choice. She’d been offered "get to rehearsal and deal with it." By me. Trapped in a choice she hadn’t actually ever made, and she decided to leave at three. She left with our love and concern (and my guilt) at three.
Dear sweet Aoise, who I’d called to say "um, we’re short about two directors, it’d be great if you could come in and help out," ended up taking over the part. She had gotten six total hours of sleep in the last two days, having written for the previous night’s Daytrippers as well. She’d worked a day job. And at three-thirty, she decided to do the night’s performance off-book.
Rehearsals for Daytrippers are always intense, and not shockingly, these were more so. We kept grinding along, taking quick breaks to eat and watch the news. I saw one of the plane’s actually hitting the WTC at around five. I was sorry to see it. It made things even harder.
We finished rehearsing. Aoise went off to run sound for another play she’d directed. Six people attended. Time for our show. Brad had made admission free, but planned to pass around a hat for donations to the Red Cross after the show.
The show was good, very good. The theatre crackled with the usual energy that comes from the one-day theatre process, plus the collective grief for the suffering of others. The first was the piece Aoise’d written (and never got to see), a light comedy about counterfeit money. Second was The Lake.
Because theatre is there to overcome this all-too-real and tragic world. To help us understand our horrors and rejoice in our humanity. To take us away from the world and help us understand it better for our momentary absence.
I always used to feel an odd tinge of jealousy when people older than me would talk about where they were the day JFK was assassinated, or men landed on the moon. I’m not jealous now. I know where I was the day people were turned into missiles.
During it all, I played. Keeping on was my way of coping with the shock. Spending all day in my church, the theatre, was my only possible choice. A couple of people later expressed a distaste for our insensitivity for going on with the performance. And every opinion is valid in trying times. I can’t tell them what’s right or wrong.
Daytrippers raised about $400 for Red Cross. We told people where to give blood. Hell, we even entertained and distracted them for a little bit. Everyone does their bit, and America and the world will recover.
In what feels like the most trivial part of the story, Daytrippers was selected for the Best of Fringe. We’re doing it again. And the first people asked back, before the any of the rest of us, were Katy and the others who had to leave on Tuesday.
©2001 Dawson Moore