Sept. 11 wasn't the only event to shape the arts and entertainment world in 2001. But it had far-reaching reverberations, beyond delayed season premieres, dark stages, thwarted logistics and fluctuating movie schedules. For many, it provided a test of will: the will to create, the will to perform, the will to interpret, the will to keep on. For our annual year-end issue, we talked to writers, performers, executives and administrators from the Broadway stage to community arts centers for their thoughts about an unprecedented period in the country's culture.
Kevin McKenzie, artistic director, American Ballet Theatre: We were in Kansas City. It was the first day of a three-week tour. Then I heard on the radio that something was going on, turned on the TV and thought--here we go. When I got to the theater, things weren't exactly in disarray, people were going about their business--but there was a general assumption that we probably would not perform. I had to get people shepherded into the idea that, No. 1, you are safe, you are in no danger here performing, but No. 2 and most importantly, there can't be a question in your mind as to whether or not it's appropriate to perform. You are part of the healing process.
Last night, it was going to be a fun tour. This morning, it's a mission.
Jonathan Hensleigh, screenwriter whose credits include "Armageddon" (1998): That afternoon, I ran into somebody very prominently affiliated with the film "Armageddon" who said to me, "Yeah, wasn't it cool the way the buildings, how similar when the plane went into it to the asteroids hitting the buildings in 'Armageddon,'" and I stared at the person. It was one of those Hollywood moments where the mixture of disbelief and revulsion is almost overwhelming. I mumbled something like, "Yeah, really cool," and walked away and vomited in my car.
Bill Viola, video artist: I have been living this tragedy through my work in ways that I don't think I have ever experienced in my life, and I have been working in video for 32 years now.
I am working on a large, digital, projected fresco of sorts. It's a series of five large panels of moving images, all interconnected, to tell a larger story.
At the beginning of 1999, the Guggenheim commissioned me to do a piece for their space in Berlin, the Deutsche Guggenheim. The first image that came to me, soon after they called, was an image of a building being flooded out from the inside, with people running out of it, terrified--screaming, running for their lives and getting washed away.
The next clear image that came to me, six to nine months later, was an image of a rescue crew at the side of a body of water in the desert, at dawn--they'd been up all night, exhausted, drained. And when the dawn light is breaking, they realize that there is no one left to rescue. There is a woman who is standing off to the side, looking out past the camera, past this body of water for a loved one who is not going to come back.
The third image revolved around my father's death; it's a deathbed scene. There's a house on a hill looking over another body of water, and a boat being loaded down on the beach, with the contents of someone's house. The side of the house is cut away, and you can see the man inside, with his son and daughter-in-law at his side, tending to him. After they leave, he dies.
When I do these big projects, I go into my early-morning schedule, waking up at 4:30, coming into the studio at 5. For some reason, I had the radio on, KCRW, and I heard that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, and that was all. I thought that's horrible, but I didn't think it would turn out to be what it turned out to be. I didn't see any live images until late that evening. It was pretty spooky.
McKenzie: To make matters worse, we were doing "Black Tuesday," the new creation that [choreographer] Paul Taylor had done for us in the spring [named for the day in 1929 when the stock market collapsed]. It's about people down and out, there's the skyline of New York, there are pistol shots. I just had to keep reminding people that you have to do this as a professional, in the best of times and the worst of times--and this is the worst of times. You can't say to yourself: "But it's insensitive to the audience to put that song on or not do this section of a ballet"--that's called censorship. The truth is that this piece became all the more poignant.