How do we teach our children about September 11, 2001? This question lies at the heart of my “Collective Memory” performance, which sought to engage a public audience in addressing this question.
For the performance at Bryant Park on the tenth anniversary of September 11, I created an old-fashioned typing pool with 10 typists. Dressed in Jackie O attire, the typists sat at a 70-foot-long table and beckoned park visitors to have a seat and answer the question, “What would you like the world to remember about 9-11?”
The typewriter served as an ice-breaker, working together with the costumes and props to break down barriers. The typists functioned as listeners. Time and again, they listened intently as people shared memories-some personal, some poetic, and others political-about this time. “My daughter took her first steps that night after I walked over the 59th Street bridge,” said Susan of Yonkers, NY. “The silver particles in the air and the silence,” said Ben Miller of New York City. “Gandhi was right. Non-violence,” said Svetlana of Brooklyn, NY.
The performance created a space in the middle of Manhattan where strangers could speak openly with one another about a painful common history. One of the typists, Amy Gottlieb, wrote about her experience in the “On Being” blog. “What I did not expect,” Gottlieb wrote, “was how privileged I felt being the recipient of a stranger’s words. Sit down and open your heart because I am here. My ancient and efficient Underwood will write it all down for you. The illusion of the past will carry your words into the future. What were you doing that day?” The artifacts of these performances, the typewritten cards, contain these memories and together paint a poignant picture of that time and our collective memory of it. They may also serve as a starting point for discussing a difficult topic with our children.