Theatre of Witness
by Director Abigail Gampel
Back to Normal in New York City
are the exact words said
by one of our interviewees, he almost laughed as he spoke. For many
years he had lived 3 blocks from the World Trade Center and this phrase
was commenting on the fact that after surviving the horrors of 9/11,
he and all of the tenants he was fighting for in his neighborhood
- the downtown community - though very much alive, still had no electricity-
the air they were breathing was toxic as was the water they had available-
they had no access to the simple comforts folks uptown in Manhattan
had and yet, as he said, the mayor was parading around Ground Zero
exclaiming Everythings Back to Normal in New York City.
The contrast of realities that group of words painted against the
destroyed backdrop of lower Manhattan- brought forth a section of
the theatre piece called Surrealism where all of the actors
flew about the stage growing more and more frenzied. The many points
of view that can be easily construed about things political, racial,
the surreal quality that fear can generate and how terror can be embellished-
all of these morphed together into a powerful theatrical statement.
We began the creative process of building this piece of theatre, by
putting together an ensemble of 8 actors who would wear the hats of
anthropologist, archaeologist, psychologist, performer, auteur and
philosopher all storytellers.
As a group, our ensemble interviewed people who lived or worked in
lower Manhattan about their experiences around the subject of 9/11.
From each interview we sought what resonated the most deeply, found
repetitions of themes, and worked at distilling theatrical truth.
Many of the interviews were transcribed verbatim from tapes, we wanted
to use the language intact. We also used our own experiences as New
Yorkers and 9/11 survivors in telling the stories. The Ensemble
then wrote scenes, monologues, poetry, stream of consciousness prose,
selected interview segments, all of which became the sinew of this
piece of theatre.
How to achieve the pulse of this topic. The after effects of 9/11
on residents of lower Manhattan. We discovered that the boundaries
of lower Manhattan blur into countless neighborhoods, bridging the
boroughs of New York, America and the world. As we work further on
this piece, our challenge is to allow the act of witnessing to reveal
and untangle the many tendrils of connection. It is a day that many
we spoke to initially would prefer to brush off, as if it were a part
of the past. But as more questions were asked it became apparent that
even with all of the television shows, books and political agendas,
the hurt and individual experience around 9/11 has not gone away.
The core of its staying power being the fact that we can clean up
the debris- but human beings dont clean up so easily! We are
filled with hidden places that haphazardly store away confusion and
the pain of loss. Here we are 2 years later and Everythings
Back to Normal in New York City except for the fact that Ground
Zero is a looking glass into the past and the future.
Arts Against Political Violence, a theater of witness project
sponsored by the International
Trauma Studies Program at New York University has believed for
many years that theatre is a valuable tool in aiding conversation,
revelation and transformation for individuals and communities that
have experienced the realities of trauma.