How 9/11 Helped 24th STreet Find Its Role
On this anniversary of the Sept. 11th attacks, we all remember where we were that fateful morning and what we felt. Although our little theatre in LA had no direct connection to the attacks, 9/11 played a significant role in 24th STreet’s development. Much of who we are today stems from the realization we had on Sept. 11th & 12th, 2001. Our theatre was founded just 4 years earlier in 1997 and were still young and trying to create programming that appealed to university students at nearby USC. So we’d booked a traveling “erotic circus” (for adults only!) from NYC for Sept. 11th & 12th. We’d booked them the previous year and their wildly inappropriate adult circus was a big hit with the college students. So the next year, we figured, let’s book ‘em for two nights.
Like most of us, I remember standing in front of my TV that morning of 9/11, not sitting, but standing, with my head literally in my hands as I watched the horrible events unfold on live TV. The only unique part of my experience that morning was realizing that I needed to cancel the porn circus that was in route to LA. That was a no-brainer. The entire country shut down immediately on 9/11, even all air traffic in the US had come to a halt. There would be no shows anywhere that day. So we sent emails to our audience announcing the cancellation.
It was the next day, Sept. 12th, when we really learned our lesson. Because on that day, Mark Seldis, a pal and local theatre producer who then ran The Actor’s Gang theatre, called and asked me if the show would go on the evening of the 12th? Even if we’d been inclined to do the show on 9/12 while the whole nation was still in lockdown, this extremely erotic show, I told him, was soooooooo utterly inappropriate for the somberness of the day. But then Mark asked if I’d consider opening our carriage doors that evening, just for the theatre community. He offered to bring some wine. “We’re all just so scared,” he said, “and we need to get out of our houses and be together.” We’d all been watching the towers collapse over and over again in slow motion for 36 hours, and life as we knew it had clearly changed, but we didn’t yet know to what extent. I realized that Mark was right. We were all terrified, and perhaps our little 99-seat theatre had an important role to play, at least for a small group in our community. These are the times when art can soothe and really make a difference (even with a hugely inappropriate show, I hoped).
So I called the circus and told them that the show for Sept. 12th was a go. Then I sent out a few emails announcing that the show would go on, but not really expecting anybody but Mark to show up. I still remember the empty streets and the shuttered stores as I drove to the theatre that evening. LA was a ghost town. I wondered if we were making a huge mistake that’d be interpreted as disrespectful and out of touch. As I drove past the empty downtown LA, where the Music Center, like everything else, was still closed, my doubt turned to confidence. We have a job to do for this city, I thought...before doubting again that my little theatre could have much impact. I was relieved when people started to arrive at the theatre for the show. People were actually coming. But even more importantly, everyone was hugging and taking very real comfort from the very real people in the room, as opposed to the familiar voices of Peter Jennings and Aaron Brown we’d all relied on for the past couple of days. We were not alone. We were together, for the first time in the hours following the unthinkable. We were a community, a city, a world. And that was so comforting! Coming together that night made us all realize that life as we knew it would indeed go on! And that was so powerful! For me, and for everyone there that night. And it was packed, standing room only.
It taught us that 24th STreet, our little theatre in LA, for those 150 people who crowded in on Sept. 12th, had a vital role to play. Not just a role, but a responsibility. We had a responsibility to our community to begin the healing, even before the smoke had cleared. And we did. We opened our doors and helped our fellow man in a time of severe crisis. What we did that night, with the most inappropriate show ever... so clearly mattered. And to this day, it’s one of my proudest moments in my 18 years at 24th STreet Theatre. And it has helped us continue to make sure that what we’re doing at this little theatre really matters. We think of it often and it helps guide us. And every year as the names are read aloud and the bagpipes play, I remember the silver lining in that dark cloud that hovered over Manhattan. There’s always a silver lining.