PXP interviews teen playwright about upcoming 9/11 piece
By Liz Oakley12th Grade, Brearley High School This spring, my friend Helen Handelman is working on an interesting new “testimonial” play. A graduating senior at Manhattan’s The Brearley School, find out what she has to say about creating new theater as a high schooler! LO: What is testimonial theater? HH: Testimonial or documentary theater is a kind of theater that uses transcripts of interviews with real people or testimonies to form a narrative of sorts to convey important ideas about a historical event. LO: Tell me about the play you’re working on. HH: I'm working to create a theatrical piece from interviews with teachers and students in my school community about September 11th and the tenth anniversary of 9/11 this past September. LO: What inspired you to do this project? HH: Well, last May I co-directed a staged reading of The Laramie Project with my close friend, Liz Oakley (you!) and Laramie is a testimonial play about the effects of the murder of Matthew Shepherd on the town of Laramie, Wyoming. Working on this staged reading sparked my passion for testimonial theater and for communicating truth through theater. Having grown up in NYC, I have always been troubled and confused about 9/11. It was on my mind a lot this past fall when the anniversary rolled around, and I realized that I wanted to try to understand it in some way. LO: What are your goals for the piece? HH: I'm hoping to have at least 10 or 15 interviews […]. I will then present excerpts of the material I've gathered in the form of a one-woman show—this part of the project is inspired by actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith—transforming into each interviewee as they each answered my questions. LO: What have been some challenges and surprises so far? HH: I knew that transcribing was going to take a long time, but I didn't realize how difficult it would be to listen to and record basically each breath taken and each vocal change (in terms of pitch and volume). I feel like I have learned a lot about 9/11 and about the city just from the 7 interviews I've done so far. I've been lucky in that each person I've talked to has been honest and clear with me about her ideas, and each person's willingness to share their stories and thoughts with me has only increased my drive to work on this project.