It has been 10 years since Linda MacCluggage sat down to write “nine/eleven” as her emotional response to the tragedy that took place 11 years ago. She set it aside after the first public reading of the performance at an artist’s symposium in 2002, unwilling — or incapable — of looking at it again.
But a trip to the 9/11 Memorial site in August nudged her to dig the script out of its resting place.
MacCluggage says the recent visit to the site seemed noisy in comparison to her first, with people pushing strollers and taking photos of the memorial.
It was a drastically different experience from her first visit soon after the terrorist attacks. Then, there was just dust and rubble where the finished memorial now stands.
“Boy, it was such a change,” she said in a recent phone interview.
In 2001, MacCluggage was still a New London, Conn., resident (she and her husband, Reid, moved in 2002 to Englewood, eventually settling in Sarasota). Just two weeks following the attacks, she went to ground zero to see the devastation, “when the beams were still standing — when it was still smoldering,” she says.
She could smell the fires that had burned, and dust was still in the air.
“You looked out on it, and it looked like the end of the world,” she says, “It just stopped your heart. I had never seen anything like that in my life.”
To MacCluggage, standing there in silence and just witnessing the scene was fascinating. No one made a sound.
“It was like we were in church or,” she pauses, “or at a funeral.”
MacCluggage has always been a writer but says she doesn’t consider herself, by any means, an accomplished playwright.
She earned a bachelor of arts from Connecticut College and from there fell into a career as a features writer at a Connecticut newspaper. She has also been directing and acting for the past 20 years.
“We all had to find an outlet for our response, and, to me, it was to write something,” she says.
Following the attacks, she went online and found first-person accounts of people who had gone to their computers to write about the trauma.
“We’ve never had that kind of disaster in this technological age, where you could just post something like that and anyone in the world could read it,” she says.
She took these moving accounts of survivors and family members, combined them with news sources and literature and created a play.
“We’ve all seen the videos of the buildings collapsing, and the fire, and dust, and people running, people jumping out of windows, and all of it is overwhelming and horrific,” she says, “We’re so assaulted with those images, it’s hard to sort out what your emotional response to (the images) is.”
According to MacCluggage, the documentary-style reading of the play brings it down to a human level on which people are talking and listening — it resonates more.
She dedicates the play to Juliana McCourt. McCourt was a 4-year-old victim in the attacks, also from New London, Conn., but MacCluggage didn’t know her personally. Juliana and her mother were on the way to Disney Land but their route via United Airlines Flight 175 took a different direction and was the second plane to hit the south tower at 9:03 a.m.
“I just had this image of this little 4-year-old girl … just sitting in the seat with her seatbelt and her little legs hanging over the seat the way they do when they are 4 years old,” she says. That image stayed with MacCluggage, haunting her through the process of writing.
MacCluggage compares the image to the familiar little girl wearing the red coat in “Schnidler’s List”— some of the only color in the three-hour, black-and-white film. In the movie, the little girl makes the documented brutality of 6 million Jews palpable for Schindler.
“When these things happen, the (innocent children) are the images that we grasp onto to try and get our minds wrapped around it,” she says.
Juliana’s story isn’t present in “nine-eleven,” but her mind’s image of the little girl helped prompt the writing of the script.
During her most recent trip to the memorial she found Juliana’s name engraved among the 3,000 other victims at the 9/11 Memorial south pool.
Visiting the memorial gave MacCluggage a new sense of obligation. She remembered a quote from Elie Wiesel that she used in the script about the importance of remembering and “driving back sands that cover the surface of things.”
It is the sands that cover things for Wiesel, but, to MacCluggage, it has been the removal of all the dust that has changed lower Manhattan’s landscape.
“You know, I think people felt that dust would always be there, because it was ubiquitous and it was everywhere and it was everything. The dust was composed of everything,” she says, “And it is gone. It is gone now.”
And, so, MacCluggage has removed the dust from her script. And on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, a cast of four will give a free performance of her documentary play at The Players Theatre to Sarasota County Fire Department employees and to the public.
“I hope people will just come and think,” she says. “It’s a way to examine something in an artistic way, and it respects, honors and remembers.”
IF YOU GO
Join The Players and Sarasota County Fire Department for the 35-minute, documentary style one-act play for on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. Sarasota County Fire Chief Mike Tobias will be speaking following the play, and there will also be a conversation and story-sharing session following the performance.
When: 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 11
Where: The Players Theater, 838 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
Cost: Free with suggested donation
More info: Call 365-2494
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