Corrections or additions?
This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the September 11, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
September 11 on Stage
Exile is too strong a word, but it’s the closest New
York playwright and actor Marc Wolf can come to describe his own experience
of September 11. On the day that New York City was struck by terrorists,
Wolf was 3,000 miles away in Los Angeles performing his one-man documentary
drama about gays in the military, "Another American: Asking and
The world changed, but Wolf had a job to do and the show went on.
He finished his Los Angeles run and proceeded directly to Seattle
where he went into technical rehearsals on September 17 and worked
through October. By the time he was ready to make his way home, Wolf’s
return trip had become part of a new play, commissioned through grant
monies from New Jersey’s Dodge Foundation. Driving from Washington
State to the Grand Canyon, New Mexico, across Texas, and on into Alabama,
Louisiana, and Mississippi, Wolf stopped to interview all kinds of
people about their responses to the events of September 11. Their
words will provide the text for his next play, which will premiere
at McCarter Theater during the 2003 season.
Even as the nation was being pounded by the previously unknown shock
and sorrow of September, 2001, the trustees and staff of the Geraldine
R. Dodge Foundation were addressing the unprecedented challenge. Given
its mission — "to support and encourage those values that
contribute to making our society more humane and our world more livable"
— the Dodge Foundation looked to its creative constituents for
"We determined that the best way to support this mission was to
respond from our greatest strength — those organizations we support,"
explained David Grant, executive director of the foundation, "
— and to enable them to implement their own essential, responses
to the crisis." The Morristown-based foundation awarded just over
$1 million in grants to 45 organizations to support responses to the
extraordinary events of September 11. The Dodge program targeted its
funded organizations — primarily focused in the areas of arts,
education, critical issues, and welfare of animals — and invited
them to apply for special project funds.
The largest of the Dodge grants, $75,000, went to the Newark Museum
for the creation of its "Garden of Remembrance: A Memorial to
September 11." The indoor garden, which opened in March, is based
on the gardens of medieval Spain and represents an era when Christians,
Muslims, and Jews experienced what historians have called "convivencia,"
or living together. The museum garden, which has served as a site
for performances of music and poetry, lectures, and a town meeting,
can be visited through Sunday, September 15.
Also winning project grants were two of the state’s
leading theater organizations, New Jersey Theater Alliance and McCarter
The New Jersey Theater Alliance, a consortium of all the state’s professional
theaters, won a $40,000 grant to support a public symposium entitled
"Theater: A Catalyst for Transformation in Times of Crisis,"
which took place in late January, 2002, at Crossroads Theater in New
Brunswick. The panel discussion, moderated by Clement Price of Rutgers,
featured playwrights Emily Mann, Al Carmines, and Deborah Brevoort,
and educators Israel Hicks and Kathleen Gaffney. Hicks, on the faculty
of Rutgers’ Mason Gross School of the Arts, characterized today’s
theater as "one of the few places left on the planet where we
can gather together and have a collective thought."
Now the symposium transcript and an edited videotape are available
for college use. In addition, segments of the symposium are featured
in a one-hour radio program, produced by Ilene Delauhunty, and selected
for NPR’s national September 11 programing.
"I think everyone can agree on one thing, that the theater does
provide a forum for an exchange of ideas and dialogue, and helps us
understand ourselves and each other," says NJTA executive director
John McEwen. "Theater can be a tool; it may not provide all the
answers, but it can certainly provoke questions and dialogue. It also
provides a sanctuary where people can come together and experience
something as a community."
McEwen says the symposium gave rise to a follow-up project aimed specifically
at post-September 11 needs of young people. On Monday, October 28,
theater education directors and teaching artists will share a day-long
program, led by Kathleen Gaffney of Arts Genesis, designed to widen
the horizons of theater company educators and teachers on how to use
drama as a tool to promote tolerance, democracy, and even healing
in the classroom.
As Marc Wolf continued performing his one-man drama in Seattle after
September 11, he tolerated his life in exile.
"Even if I could have flown home or driven home, I had a job to
do," says Wolf, "and I was thankful to have something meaningful
and productive, a way to bring people together with something that
is about America and which is patriotic in a number of surprising
In response to the Dodge Foundation’s program, Emily Mann, artistic
director of McCarter, applied for funds to commission a September
11 drama from Wolf.
"It doesn’t matter where you were," says Wolf, "there’s
no rhyme or reason to one’s response. Because of technology, everyone
in America experienced September 11."
Wolf’s "Another American" deals with the experiences
of gays in the U.S. military. The play, which won an Obie Award, was
seen at McCarter Theater in January, 2001. Over the course of the
two-actor work, Wolf, simply clad in black T-shirt and chinos, plays
18 different individuals, men and women, each based on actual interviews.
As directed by Joe Mantello, he gave a powerful, seamless performance
of an exploration of the unexpected consequences of the government’s
"Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy.
As he presented "Another American" in nightly shows in the
shadow of September 11, Marc Wolf, whose home is in New York’s Hell’s
Kitchen, in the West 50s, was struck by the way his play, which he
had first presented in workshop productions in 1998, took on new meanings.
"I felt that while I was performing the military suddenly moved
to center stage in America. We now understand what an integral part
of our lives the military is, whereas before we sort of had blinders
on. Most of us thought of the military as something peripheral to
Wolf was born and raised in Englewood, where his mother was a social
worker and his father worked as an anesthesiologist at Hackensack
Hospital. Wolf went on to Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts,
where he majored in both theater and political science. After graduating
in 1984, Wolf spent the next 12 years working as an actor in New York
on the Off-Broadway stage, as well as a serving time on the television
soap opera "Guiding Light." Although both his parents now
work in New York City, on September 11 they were with him in Los Angeles
to see him perform "Another American" at the Mark Taper Forum.
His brother, a painter, also lives in New York, and their sister,
a social worker, moved from New York to Massachusetts last year on
The now popular docu-drama genre can be traced back to works such
as Emily Mann’s 1977 play "Annulla, An Autobiography," based
on interviews that explored the experiences of Holocaust survivors.
Even more influential was Mann’s hit play "Having Our Say,"
the story of the Delany sisters of Mount Vernon, New York, and their
"first hundred years." After a big Broadway success, the play
was made into a critically acclaimed TV movie.
Wolf’s dramatic method, however, is closest to the work of Anna Deavere
Smith, who creates her texts and performs them. Her "Fires in
the Mirror" is a 1992 play based on the racial strive in Crown
Heights, Brooklyn. And her critically acclaimed "Twilight: Los
Angeles, 1992" examines the aftermath of the police beating of
The germ of Wolf’s newly commissioned play became evident to him as
soon as he left Los Angeles that first weekend after September 11.
Wolf’s customary assumptions no longer held. "I found I had an
opportunity as a New Yorker to explore the county when people were
looking at New York in a way that was different."
"In the past I’ve found that being from New York, people you meet
are either intimidated by you, or they have a chip on their shoulder
— but it’s not usually an opening to conversation," he says.
"In the airport, when I showed my New York driver’s license, with
my New York City address, one woman said to me: `You’re going home
to a lot of sadness.’ I wasn’t in fact going home, but her simple
statement had a truth to it."
Wolf was also struck by the more recent debate around New York’s September
11 public commemoration; rather than new speeches, the commemoration
centers on public figures reading historic works such as Lincoln’s
"It made me realize the power of the word," he says. "And
I think we often forget how important the power of the word can be.
People are turning to the arts to help them deal with this tragedy.
It’s so clear to me that theater and visual arts are different pieces
in a pie that adds up to a full society. My goal is to be one small
— but necessary — part of it."
Even though Wolf was safely out of the city on September 11, he believes
he has a statement to make.
"Exile is definitely too strong a word, but I think as an artist
I felt great dislocation and unease from not being where I felt I
needed to be. Cosmically or existentially I felt I needed to be home
— but physically I needed to be in Seattle. Then I thought that
as a creator of plays I was in a unique position. Through the interviews
with other people I could stretch out this great uneasiness of not
being home. I could use the place where I was."
Wolf is still in the earliest stages of listening to his taped interviews
and seeking a shape for the work. Even its themes are not yet clear.
But even though his informants come from other places, New York City
is at the heart of the play.
"I want it to be one of the pieces of human creation that comes
out of the experience," he says. "As a New Yorker, I want
to help my home and the home of other people to be better than it
was before. Maybe it can be one of the pieces in the huge puzzle that
helps to rebuild New York City. That is my goal."
— Nicole Plett
609-897-9250. Marc Wolf will appear with Emily Mann of McCarter Theater,
as she introduces her latest book, "Political Stages: Plays That
Shaped a Century." Also joining the readings will be actress Blair
Brown. Free. Thursday, October 24, 7 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.