Words and Music in the Midst of War
Every adult who was alive on September 11, 2001, has a vivid memory of where they were and what they were doing when they first became aware of the horror that was taking place right here in our country.
So much of my life was spent as a musical theater director for community and high school productions that nearly every event for those thirty-plus years is tied to a specific show. In the fall of 2001 the community group I directed for, Pocono Lively Arts, held auditions for Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music on September 8 and 9 and had callbacks for adults on the evening of September 10.
On the morning of September 11 I was on the phone with a friend and fellow voice teacher, asking about one of his students who had auditioned.
The call was interrupted by a friend telling me the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane.
The following is an excerpt from my upcoming book, “More Fog, Please!” and is my recollection of what followed for us during that time.
We had callbacks for the production on Monday night, September 10. I was on the phone the next morning talking to a voice teacher about Anastasia Dietze, a young woman we were seriously considering (and eventually cast) for Maria, when my phone call was interrupted. It was my friend Judy Lawler. “A plane just hit the World Trade Center,” she told me. I told her I would call her back. Then the nightmare unfolded.
My son Steve, who had been my lighting director for a number of years, was living and working in Westchester County, New York. I had no reason to think he might have been in Manhattan but I was not able to reach him by phone for many hours. Hearing from him, finally, that night, was a huge relief. I could hear the stress and anguish in his voice; New York had become his city.
Cast member David Wertz’s father worked in one of the Twin Towers; his dad was late leaving for work that morning because he had to take David’s little brother to school. When the first plane hit, if he had not been late, he would have been at his desk instead of on the George Washington Bridge headed into Manhattan. He was able to turn around and was home by six o’clock. The family hadn’t heard from him all day and didn’t know where he was, or if he was safe.
Another high school student, Meghan Lastra, had a cousin who had just begun work at the World Trade Center; in fact, it was his first day. He was missing during our rehearsal period. We learned he had been uneasy about working there. His remains were finally recovered. We grieved with her family. Many people in our community lost loved ones that dreadful day.
Stroudsburg is within commuting distance of the New York City area; many residents work in and near the city. Children were kept overnight at several schools in the county, thanks to the generosity and kindness of many people who provided bedding, food, and comfort. Some parents never returned home. It was a very sad, tense time.
PLA members wondered what we should do about the show. Should we continue? My director’s note for this production reflects the feelings we all experienced :
On September 11, we were making final casting decisions for this production. We had just spent an inspiring weekend hearing some one hundred fifty adults and children who were willing to share their time and talent in order to help present this show to the community. Then that Tuesday morning, as so many did, we wondered if this undertaking was meaningful at all in the harsh new world in which we all found ourselves.
The answer, of course, is yes. Without beauty, without music and art, civilization would indeed be totally changed. That all of us want to continue to create and re-create reinforces our very reason for being.
Over the past weeks, all of us involved with this production have found a renewed appreciation for this story of love and courage. The story of Captain von Trapp and his family seems especially timely today, and I think, particularly for the children in the cast; our participation has given us a truly worthwhile experience.
As always, we are very grateful to the small army of volunteers who make this production possible – the remarkable people who work backstage, the musicians in the orchestra, the people who usher and help with tickets. Thanks to all of them, we can offer you an afternoon or evening of reliving this lovely American tradition, musical theater, by two of the finest of its creators, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Community productions such as ours are a part of the very essence of this great country.
Many thanks to you, our loyal audience, for helping us to celebrate America in this special way.
Pocono Lively Arts (Stroudsburg High School)