It is fitting that “The Memory of Water” is at the forefront of our minds at the theatre this week and today. Our memories, individual and shared, are what bind us together. As a country, we will never forget the events of 9/11/2001. As individuals, we will never forget where we were on that fateful day and the way in which we responded to the events that unfolded.
In today’s special edition of Curtain Up, Resident Ensemble Member David Hennessey recalls his response as an artist.
Let’s pretend . . . . . But how can we?
by David Hennessey
In my acting career, I’ve usually had little problem putting aside my daily cares so I could go on stage and do the job the audience has paid to see. Of course, like people in any line of work, I have my “off” days. But only a few times in more than 20 professional years has my life outside the theatre left me at a loss, wondering how I could ever focus on the performing task at hand.
One of them was shortly after the 9/11 attacks.
On Sunday, September 15th, 2001, I headed to the St. Mane Theatre for our scheduled matinee of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. We hadn’t performed it for a week so that the cast of Eugene O’Neil’s A Moon for the Misbegotten could prepare to open their show on that Friday, a mere three days after the towers crumbled.
With five weeks of our run already under our belts, I knew we certainly could perform our show. The problem was wanting to. I heard other cast members express misgivings similar to mine: presenting any play, much less a comedy, seemed pointless, insignificant, and disrespectful. How could we -– how dare we — play an elaborate game of “Let’s Pretend” in the roiling wake of national tragedy?
Before hearing our “places” call, I descended the steep, creaky stairs to the backstage so I could be alone (my usual practice as an introvert). On this day, I made sure to go down earlier than usual because I knew I’d need the extra time.
Where to find the inspiration even to step on stage? How was it possible to “set aside” all I had seen and heard in the last few days and enter an imaginary, seemingly frivolous world of pining lovers, practical jokes, and mistaken identities? I couldn’t just will the week’s events out of my mind. I thought again of the multiple disaster scenes, the deaths and casualties, the first responders and all the families affected.
And that’s where I found my inspiration.
Silently, I dedicated my performance in honor of all of those people, offering it up as a prayer. That was all the focus I needed to go out and do my job. When the lights finally dimmed, we took the stage, and the show began. Eric started the familiar opening monologue: “If music be the food of love, play on.”
That audience needed and wanted to be there. Entering our imaginary world was one way we could all could start coping with real world trauma.