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The Eastern Wall

It’s another Monday where I have to be up long before the sun rises, to get to the Equity building as soon as it opens, because the window to sign up for the specific audition time that I need is ludicrously tiny. The building mercifully opens at six a.m. these days (time was when you had to do your early morning waiting out on the sidewalk, in the cold and the dark and the rain), but the audition floor itself doesn’t open until eight. For two hours, we early birds wait in a holding lounge on the building’s fourth floor (called the “sky lobby,” cuz we’re fancy). We wait. In this grey room with grey chairs and grey carpeting on the walls, beneath dull fluorescent lamps, we wait.

Dominating one whole wall of this room is a gigantic black and white photograph. It’s an enormous grouping of actors in what appears to be a chorus line, several rows deep. Some are in their costumes (it’s kinda hard to miss Beauty and the Beast), so it’s clearly a gathering of a number of different shows. It’s a mix of celebrities – Brooke Shields dominates the bottom right foreground, and B.D. Wong, Jon Bon Jovi, Lea Delaria, Alan Alda, and a host of others can be recognized – and regular working chorus performers. Everybody’s striking a pose, hoisting their fingers aloft in a V-for-Victory gesture, that familiar curtain-call look of determination and triumph on their faces. It’s obviously from a benefit of some sort, one of many Broadway stages have hosted down through the years, a photographic memory of which serves as a bit of early-morning inspiration. The exact details of the benefit are unclear and unknown.

That is, of course, until you learn the date of the photograph.

September 28, 2001.

It’s not precisely from a benefit, and it didn’t take on a Broadway stage (which is clear from the sheer size of the photograph – that “chorus line” is at least a dozen rows deep). It was from a combination rally and commercial shoot in Times Square, sponsored by the Broadway League, and was intended to bring tourism back to Broadway in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks. You can find a contemporary account of the event archived here; suffice it to say that there’s a lot more to those looks of pride and defiance in all of those performers’ faces, once you remember what we’d all just been through.

And yet, for all our declarations that we’ll never forget, there’s that photograph on the wall, effectively a giant mass of headshots, serving to decorate the room. And as I type this, I am literally the only person who notices it.

And for the younger performers around me, those events aren’t still raw and immediate, but dimly remembered events from childhood. And if I’m still doing open calls in ten years, those younger performers will have had to have learn about that tragedy from their high school and college textbooks, which will be highly unlikely to stress Broadway League events as part of the historical timeline. They’ll be sitting with their backs to that picture with no context for understanding it at all.

And that, of course, assumes that this specific picture is still on the wall, and that it hasn’t been replaced by an inspirational photo from some event where Broadway performers came together to attempt to avert climate catastrophe, or support Robert Mueller, or help the victims of some unimaginable disaster yet to come.

Damn. I really need to stop waking up at 4:30 in the damn morning.

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