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A Decade On: Artists Respond to 9-11

8 Sep

“That whole idea of decade packaging, things don’t happen that way…that packaging of time is a journalist convenience that they use to trivialize and to dismiss important events and important ideas. I defy that.”
Utah Phillips, “Bridges” from The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere

Journalist convenience or not, a decade is about to come up on the day two planes flew into the World Trade Center towers, one flew into the Pentagon and one crashed in rural Pennsylvania, and true to Phillips’ word, the past hasn’t gone anywhere. This weekend, the Workhaus Collective is opening A Short Play About 9/11 by Dominic Orlando at the Playwright’s Center, to mark the decade in their own way. For the actual date, the play is part of an expanded event, A Decade On: Artists Respond to 9/11, featuring more performance, comedy and visual art.

CakeIn15 caught up with performing artists Paige Collette and Erin Search-Wells, whose work Paige & Erin: 9/11 (directed by Bedlam Theatre‘s Maren Ward) will be a part of A Decade On to talk about being in New York on 9/11/2001 as students at the Experimental Theatre Wing at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, having more stories than they know what to do with and how Saturday Night Live relates to tragedy. A Short Play About 9/11 opens for previews tomorrow and Paige & Erin: 9/11 will be performed on 9/11 and 9/17. Tickets are available at Brown Paper Tickets.

Paige Collette and Erin Search-Wells performing at Bedlam’s 10x10Fest

CakeIn15: In trying to figure out how to ask questions about a piece about something as big as 9/11 it’s a daunting task. Was there anything that you specifically wanted not to do? What did you steer towards?

Paige Collette: Being ourselves.

Erin Search-Wells: We probably steered towards a lot of things too quickly. The first conversation that we had, we felt like the construction that was happening outside the bar had something to do with the fact that we were even talking about 9/11, like, “They are still constructing those towers!”

PC: We came up with the idea at a bar and we met a visual artist that night and were like, “You will do drawings…”

ESW: “You will design our postcards! Because it’s all happening tonight!” Everything was part of the show.

PC: We were smoking these cigarettes against the sky and we were like, “We’ll smoke these cigarettes and they’ll be like the towers…”

ESW: “The towers falling…”

PC: That didn’t make it into the show.

C15: There were cocktails involved then, I have to imagine.

PC: Of course.

ESW: And of course, most of that is not in the show. Because we steered away from that first night!

C15: So it started off as tongue-as-possible-in-cheek.

ESW: But we’ve also had conversations over the years. We figured out that about 5 years ago Paige tried to get me to read this book [The Terror Dream] by Susan Faludi about the 9/11 myth that’s about what happened to sexualization, the masculine/feminine gender roles right after 9/11, like talking about these firemen, and even though for years it’s been “firefighters” they suddenly went back to “firemen”. So she had tried to get me to read this book and then all of a sudden I was like, “Have you read this book?” And she was like, “Erin, I told you to read that book.” So we had been having these conversations about women and theater and artists about 9/11 for years probably, so there were some jokes, but also some serious questions we had.

C15: But the piece, as it was performed at Bedlam’s 10x10Fest, had only a few “big P” political moments, with a lot of it more focused on your stories. With so much to pull from, what was the process like to pare away the stories into a working shape?

ESW: Well, I think we had to do that, we were always tempted to be like, “And then, remember when you were dating that one guy who said this…?”

PC: The guy who was in the Marines, the guy I lost my virginity to.

ESW: That would be one of them! [Laughs]

PC: Who was like, “It’s only a matter of when we’re going to war.”

ESW: Yup, yup. There’s so many memories we have of things after that. I had a class called “The Search for Peace in the Nuclear Age” and everyone in the class was pretty liberal and we were learning about the Cold War and then this guy, out of nowhere, said, “You guys are fools if you don’t believe Iraq has missiles pointed directly at us right now and is just waiting to attack us.” And all of a sudden it was like, “Oh, this person has a totally different view of where we get our information.” So I mean, that story’s not included, though I feel like it has to do with it, there are just so many. I think we tried to relate it to eachother, so stuff we know about eachother stays in the show.

C15: And becomes more about your personal relationship built around 9/11 so that you’re almost not specifically talking about 9/11 but are talking about yourselves in the context of the event.

PC: Yeah. I am definitely a “the personal is political” kind of person and I think that when we decided to do the show we looked at our old journal entries and sent some texts to eachother and then just started scripting so see what stuck and how things flowed. I don’t think that we would ever do a conspiracy theory, unveiling, historical fiction drama about 9/11 because I almost feel like that kind of stuff has happened, so then how can we talk about 9/11 except from our point of view?

ESW: And if you notice, as soon as you bring it up, everyone wants to tell their story, so it’s especially one of those events where people are like, “I remember where I was, and I remember what I was doing and I remember the whole day and where I slept that night.”

PC: I think sometimes with a bigger piece, people feel like they don’t necessarily feel like they can tell their story or have their experience because it feels so big, so it was cool to do this and feel like people really responded as individuals.

C15: In thinking about the actual day of the anniversary, are you thinking about a need to go out and be with people, to be with a community?

ESW: Not before I was doing this piece, but now that I’m doing it, I feel that a lot more.

PC: I think because I spent so much time by myself right after it happened, it is was kind of something for myself. It’s also really interesting not being in New York. I’m glad to be performing, I’m glad the event is happening, but I don’t know if I would have consciously sought out a community event.

ESW: Yeah, it was a very alone and scary time for me too. I was very alone, I lived alone, I lived far away from all the other dorms, so it feels kind of private, like…yeah, I don’t know what else to say about that.

PC: I kind of happened on a five-year anniversary event that I talk about in the new version of this piece. I went and had dinner with a friend and I don’t think it was like, “Ok, we are definitely going to this event.” Were out, we were drinking, we were like, “OK, let’s go.” and I’m so glad that we went, it was a five-year anniversary burlesque tribute and it was phenomenal, it was so powerful. But that’s kind of the thing about New York, too, so much of my life there did not feel planned, it was just “Oh, this happens, then this happens, then this leads to this.” So think I will have my experience at the ten-year anniversary of 9/11 but not necessarily going to plan, I’m just going to let the ten-year anniversary happen.

C15: So with all these different stories, what should people expect from the A Decade On event at the Playwright’s Center?

PC: I think it’s going to be a cool event. There’s going to be a stand-up comic before us [and the Workhaus play], there’s supposed to be a good amount of humor in that too.

C15: Is it one of those things where you can only really laugh, because it gets you through so much other stuff?

PC: Yeah, I mean I think humor puts people in a place where they are ready to receive, I mean, I think we both grew up watching Saturday Night Live and that was really influential for me, like old, old Saturday Night Live, Gilda Radner and Jane Curtin. I’m such a big fan of comedy, audiences will go with you if you are being funny, whereas if it’s just drama, it’s hard to include the audience, so I think it’s smart to use comedy around big issues.

BONUS: Here’s some Utah Phillips for your soul.

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