Students portray personal 9/11 stories through theatre
Students and staff alike can remember the tragic events that occurred Sept. 11, 2001. Terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center in New York City’s financial district, taking down both Twin Towers and killing nearly 3,000 people 21 years ago.
Many students attending Charleston Southern University now were barely alive when the attack occurred, most not even being a thought in the minds of their parents yet. Despite this, several CSU students can recall yearly memorials in their schools as they grew up, recounting the events of this tragedy and creating space to mourn the lives lost and forever changed.
This year, CSU’s theatre department, under the direction of Professor Thomas Keating, is honoring and remembering the event in a new and special way.
“Bystander 9/11” is a play written by Meron Langsner, an Israeli man who lived and worked in NYC and was on his way to work right by the towers when they fell. He had been running late, which would ultimately save his life.
This play follows the story of Langsner as he experienced 9/11, both the day of and the events which followed as he and his fellow New Yorkers navigated this new world in which they were living.
The role of the narrator is played by three CSU students: Anna Blaser, Dakota Channer, and Marissa Stillman. The audience follows them as they each tell this story, which has its surprising moments of comedy and wit among heartache and sobering reality.
Several cast members expressed similar feelings with how rehearsing this play and telling this story night after night has affected them and their perspective on this event.
“The country is in so much chaos right now, and our generation is living through that. It’s cool to see how an entire generation and an entire country of people came together for an event that happened in one small part of the country,” said Channer.
“It’s definitely more eye-opening for me, like, you hear stories and sometimes it’s hard to picture it as a real event, but through the play, you put yourself in these characters who are witnessing a traumatic event and you feel for them,” said Skylar Scott.
“It’s definitely sobering in a way. I’m kind of honored to be able to portray it because it’s something that’s beyond my grasp,” said David Osborne.
Several students spoke highly of the direction of Keating.
“As somebody who is really new to theatre… he has made the first experience a really great one,” said Rebecca Alford.
“He’s just very open about where he came from and just how blessed he is to be doing this here,” Sarah Rhoton said. “He directs in such a way to where you pick it up quickly and he offers grace and support. He’s very encouraging.”
Keating himself had similar sentiments to share of the cast members and working with them, especially relative to his personal experience, as he was in New York City on 9/11.
“It’s moving. They do a really good job of capturing the sentiments that were being expressed by the people in New York City. It moves me in that I can feel what people were saying and doing and how their behavior was when I was there,” said Keating.
Audience members may be surprised by several moments of movement and synergy in the play, including one in which the falling of a twin tower is portrayed through interpretive dance, as choreographed by student Rachel Cramer.
“Each person is doing something different. One is fluid, others are very jagged and rough,” said Cramer.
Students work alongside one another throughout this play to bring to life this story, persevering through the struggles they faced along the way as they pushed their capabilities to immerse themselves into this world.
“Thinking about how would I react seeing that? And how the people that I play, how are they reacting? I’d just scream and run, but this person’s doing something else, so accurately portraying what someone might feel in that moment is just very hard for me,” said Blaikly Denton.
Jalyn Landrun added, “I want everyone in the audience to feel the way that we’re trying to portray it… I want it to have them laugh, have them cry… knowing how everyone experienced it… I just want that to come through.”
The poster for the play was produced in collaboration with the graphic design department by way of a contest. The chosen poster, which is displayed around campus, was designed by student Zoe Ganiszewski.
The play is free to CSU students and employees. Guests may see it for $15; cash and check are the only accepted forms of payment.
The play will run from Nov. 15-19. The show is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m, in the Blackbox Theatre, in the Lightsey Music building.
“It’s a really healing play,” Blaser said. “I think a lot of people are going to be in tears and there’s going to be a lot of emotions, but I think at the end of it, it’s definitely very healing.”
Marissa Thompson is a senior communication major and is an intern with the Office of Marketing & Communication.