THE BOOK OF GENESIS: Hamlet at the Educational Alliance and at the Jan Hus
In our 15 years, we’ve had some adventures. Some amazing, even inspiring. Until the end of our campaign (October 24), we’ll remember moments in our history. Laugh, cry, whatever works.
Our first production, Hamlet, was set in Washington 1963 and affectionately called “The Kennedy Hamlet.”
Our original home space was the Mazer Theater in the Lower East Side. As part of our agreement with the The Educational Alliance – the owners of the space – we had to make available at least one performance for some of the group that the Ed. Alliance supported in its main community center next to the theater. Most times we did not know what the groups were.
This one occasion the rather large group sat respectfully and watched intently. They murmured to each other once in a while but they seemed particularly interested. At the end they applauded wildly and began to leave the theater somewhat uplifted. I noted one women – about my age [then] – grabbing a few extra playbills. Me, new and being an artistic director of a non-profit engaged her in conversation.
“Did you enjoy the show?”
“Oh yeah, really good”
“Take extra playbills as souvenirs I see”
“Thanks… I want to show this to my friend, she’ll be shocked that is aw a Shakespeare show”
“Because I can’t read [she began to walk away] but NOW I wanna learn… thanks”
At our first anniversary, we did another production of Hamlet this time we were lucky enough to get David Canary from All My Children to guest star in the production as King Claudius. We thought we would sell every seat in the house. We scheduled the show for September 15 … 2001.
[pause for realization… remembrance… sadness]
After soul-searching we went on anyway. We did it because we had three artists who worked in the towers. Michael Fortunato, a founding member of the organization; Jason Kendall, a member of our new plays section who created our midnight theater slam (that’s for another story) and Courteney Lynn Wilds.
Michael, Jason, and Courteney all missed their trains that morning, making them late to work.
For those artists – those who did get to their day-jobs on time, we decided to go on.
Mr. Canary never had any other thought in his head about appearing that night. Someone of his stature could have begged-off and no one would have thought ill of him. But David Canary is a professional.
In our audience was a man named Bill deLong. Bill arrived sooty and disheveled. No one really noticed as between the events outside and the events inside we had enough to see.
We had a moment of silence for those who lost their lives but four days before when Bill popped up …
“Thank you” he said
“I just came from the World Trade Center… I’m a volunteer there…”
He went on to talk of how he’d been there for three days and this was his first break and what he had seen and what he had to do was devastating. He went on to say he just wanted to escape. To sit in a theater and listen to Shakespeare was helping him revive his soul. He found us.
He ended by saying “thank you for giving people like me a place to go after such an experience.”
That IS what artists do. We smile when no one else can, We cry on cue when all around them others are holding back tears. We tell inspiring stories to those who need uplifting, We open the door to wisdom and beauty. Sounds like another kind of institution doesn’t it? Well, actors were the original priests. Stories from the Bible were once called Mystery Plays.
David Canary was brilliant that night, he left the theater saying “I’m glad I was part of this.”
The rest is silence.