Up Front: American Theaters Reflect on the Events of September 11
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Up Front
American Theaters Reflect on the Events of September 11

In November, a peer review panel at the NEA approved a $100,000 grant request from the Berkeley Repertory Theatre for a production of Tony Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul and passed it on to acting chairman Robert S. Martin, who usually accepts such recommendations. But at the end of the month word of the grant leaked out and the New York Times reported that Martin was delaying his decision on the matter. It seemed likely that the play’s politically sensitive subject—Afghanistan—was the source of his concern. Several weeks later Martin announced that the agency would provide $60,000 to support the theater’s production. Another grant to support the work of performance artist William Pope.L (see Theater 31:3), rumored to have been pulled, indeed was. Collage: Emmy Grinwis

We are five first-year students in Yale’s Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism program. At noon every Tuesday, we have a two-hour Theater magazine workshop. No one showed up for our first class. The date was September 11, 2001.

Our first assignment: Interview artistic directors around the country about theater and the World Trade Center. About theater and the Pentagon. About theater and terrorism, theater and war, theater and politics, theater and life. About what changed the moment after concrete and flesh collapsed into a smoldering pit in lower Manhattan.

Some of us had never conducted an interview before, while others were experienced journalists. We all started calling people. Each interview we conducted bred more questions. We started more arguments. We heard more stories. We got articulate responses, angry responses, banal responses. Hundreds of pages of opinion and passion collected from the middle of September to the end of October have been whittled into the twenty that follow. Many of the theater artists we interviewed could not be included.

We intentionally engaged in broad-ranging discussions with our subjects. We asked them to tell us what they saw changing in their artistic work and in the national culture. We wanted them to express their vision of theater’s future in America and to share their hopes and plans for their own theaters, their own art. Our conversations often wound their way to questions that are difficult to ask in the face of the extreme patriotism demanded by the media and the government, by our friends and our neighbors: Do you think theaters should respond to these events directly and immediately? If not, why? If so, do you believe theater has, or had, or will have an influential political voice in the United States? [End Page 1]

As the five of us sit down to write this introduction we argue, as we have throughout the process. The questions are trite. The questions are important. We shouldn’t be asking the questions in the first place because we are no better than the blood-starved media preying on a tragic event. This interview is sentimental. No, this interview documents a raw emotional response. We have perspective. We have no perspective. We feel inspired. We feel numb. We feel alive. We are alive. Whatever our disagreements, we have represented this moment in American theater in as clear, open, and honest a way as possible.

—Emmy Grinwis, John J. Hanlon, Alice Rebecca Moore,
Magda Romanska, and Alexis Soloski

Oskar Eustis, Artistic Director,
Trinity Repertory Company, Providence, Rhode Island

Theaters have to react, but we have to react thoughtfully and carefully. The major decision I’ve had to make is not to change my mind about presenting Tony Kushner’s play Homebody/Kabul, which takes place primarily in Afghanistan, has numerous Afghanis and members of the Taliban portrayed on stage, and presents an extremely complicated view of Afghani history and Afghani political reality. I’ve already received a number of reactions from the community suggesting that it’s inappropriate to perform this play. I think it’s the right thing for us to be doing. It certainly wasn’t selected because of the terrorist attacks—but in the wake of those attacks, and what I fear is going to be the much more overriding reality of the world...