The Show Did Go On!
Broadway stars Nikki Renee Daniels, Meredith Patterson, and Karen Ziemba recall performing in the wake of 9/11.
Earlier in the week, Daniels had auditioned for a part in the hit Broadway musical Aida, but on September 11, she was in rehearsals in New York for a different show, which was set to open in Philadelphia. "I was fresh to the city and had just graduated," says Daniels, who is currently playing Clara in the Broadway-bound production of The Gershwins' Porgy & Bess at Cambridge's A.R.T. Theatre.
"I had gotten up around 8am to go to rehearsal -- and then everything was crazy. It was all happening five or six miles away from where we were. Phone calls were getting jammed and I kept wondering whether or not I should go to rehearsals. And then I saw all these people walking uptown. It was so quiet and one of the eeriest things I've seen in Manhattan. The phone lines stayed jammed for a while. I had to 'IM' my dad to let him know that everything was fine," she says.
On September 12, Daniels learned she had been cast in Aida and vividly recalls her first Broadway experience once she joined the hit musical. "We would have certain matinees were we would have 400 people, and then we would have random shows where we hardly had anyone there," says Daniels. "But, if there's any business where you do the show no matter what, it's theater. That's just the way it is."
Patterson, who had taken over the role of Peggy Sawyer in the revival of 42nd Street in mid-August, says it was initially a difficult time to be an actor. "I was starring on Broadway in my dream role, but on September 11th, nothing made sense," she says. "The last thing I was thinking about was performing. I remember the stage manager calling me the very next day and saying we were going back to the theater on Thursday to resume performances. Hearing this news made me a little angry to be honest. Who were we to be performing at a time like this? I just didn't feel right about it. I was also afraid, as we all were, that there were more attacks coming. No one was coming into New York City. Who were we going to perform for? I didn't feel right tap dancing and singing when we thought people were trapped downtown. I didn't feel like what I did for a living had any meaning or purpose."
However, returning to the stage, soon changed Patterson's outlook. "We started the show, and I remember standing stage right in the wings, watching the opening number with tears in my eyes," she says. "I made my first entrance, and I looked out into the audience, and saw about 300 people, looking weary. I immediately knew what my purpose was. I was going to do my best to take everyone -- including myself -- away from it all and just live in what I loved to do. I danced harder than I had remembered doing before. Throughout the show, the audience started to let go, laugh, and cheer. I think all of Broadway was creating the desperately needed escapism that New York City needed in that time of tragedy."
Ziemba, who had just finished her run in the musical Contact, says her feelings about her work were similar to Patterson's. "When 9/11happened, I remember thinking, "Is my livelihood important?'" she recalls. "Whenever a disaster of major proportions occurs, I seem to reassess my life and my work. And it almost seemed superfluous to be singing and acting on stage -- to be playing someone else, telling stories, pretending. But then, over the next few days, I began to realize that those of us in the theater community were exactly where we should be; continuing to entertain, share our talent and desire to tell a great story with an audience of people who have gathered together for a couple of hours to be transported into a world outside themselves, where they can laugh, cry, and perhaps be astonished."