‘Nine/Twelve Tapes’ Dramatizes The Raw Reactions, a Decade Later

nine_twelve The cast, left to right: Andres Munar, Lynne McCollough, Guy Stroman, Lori Prince and Erin Treadway.

Directed by Ryan Pointer, “nine/twelve tapes” is a fascinating reenactment of man-on-the-street interviews conducted by citizen journalist Collin Worster Daniels, mostly during the two days following September 11, 2001. Mr. Daniels had moved to New York shortly before the attacks, and was galvanized to capture the widespread disconnect among his fellow survivors. His tapes sat in a closet for nearly ten years before they were recently turned over to a friend of a friend, playwright Leegrid Stevens.

“I listened to these tapes and was amazed at the immediacy and rawness of the material,” said Mr. Stevens. “They are a time capsule – a bridge back to the thoughts and feelings of that time. They show a people desperately trying to make sense of a world turned upside down, trying to understand it and each other.” During the premiere of “nine/twelve tapes” earlier this month at the Dream Up Festival at the Theater for the New City, the interviews were acted out exactly as they first occurred, with a talented cast performing over the background noise of the original recordings.

New Yorkers from varied walks of life and economic backgrounds – a subway preacher, a hospital employee, a business executive, a fireman – reveal the emotions and experiences of that fateful day: The glorious weather, the frantic southbound traffic in the morning, the feeling of having to walk north while aching to walk south, and the horror of watching something as intimate as death play out in such a public forum.

The result is a hall of mirrors of varied reflections and distorted narratives – all describing the same traumatic event with strikingly similar feeling.

A hospital employee named Tanya (played by Lori Prince) describes her trek home:

What was so weird is that when I was on the Brooklyn Bridge going home, me and this guy (total strangers), we just grabbed each other and hugged each other because we just couldn’t believe it. And it was so weird, because now I’m constantly thinking about him. It’s like, I wonder how he’s doing. I feel like shit and everything like that, and I wonder how he’s doing.

Kirsten Denny (Erin Treadway) grapples with the possibility that her friend, whom she had not heard from since Tuesday morning, might have been a victim:

By Thursday morning, I thought, well, it’s been two days since we’ve heard from him. They would have known by now if he had been out on a cigarette break at the time of the attacks. So I just… I was sort of surprised that there weren’t any possibilities left that he would be alive. And then I just knew. I was just so desperate to find a way to make it not be true.

A preacher (Reiss Gaspard) proselytizes on the subway:

Where were you in January and February and March and April and May and June and July and August and September? Where were you in the first ten days of September? Y’all of a sudden flippin’! Everybody’s waving a flag. Everybody’s getting religion. It don’t work like that. It don’t work like that, yo!

A continuous thread runs throughout these interviews: “It was so surreal.” It’s a remarkable statement, given that the attacks snapped them and us out of the unimportant stuff in life, and into something most definitely real.

“nine/twelve tapes” on Sept. 14 at the Little Theatre (St. John’s University, 8000 Utopia Parkway, Queens). Visit the event page for “Making Meaning of 9/11 Ten Years After.”