Gethsemane Herron ‘19 has Short Piece in The Fire This Time Festival
September 25, 2017
Current student Gethsemane Herron '19 will see her short piece The Falling Man produced in the 9th annual The Fire This Time Festival. The festival, which includes a fully produced 10-minute play program, full-length play readings by TFTT season 8 playwrights and other events, will run from January 15-28, 2018, at the Kraine Theater. TFTT “explores the possibilities in black theater and offers early-career playwrights of African and African American descent the opportunity to write and produce material that reflects diverse perspectives as 21st century theater artists”
The Falling Man was inspired by the famous Richard Drew's shot of a man falling from the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 9:41am during the September 11th attacks in New York City. We asked Herron to tell us about her piece.
Tell us about the piece that you wrote, The Falling Man. Why did you choose this photo to inspire it?
The Falling Man is inspired by the photograph The Falling Man by Richard Drew, capturing the last moments of a 9/11 jumper as his body fell vertically between the Twin Towers. It is equally inspired by the accompanying Esquire article and documentary, also called The Falling Man by Tom Junod. As someone who was on Capital Hill during 9/11, it has had a huge impact on my life- specifically, my relationship with mortality and realizing how much my mother loved me. I was 10 and hungry and she was willing to walk into the fire with me in tow if that meant finding food. So, the realtionships between parents and children in the face of tragedy fascinate me.
Particularly, I've been obsessed with the jumpers and how very alive they were during those last 10 seconds of their lives. Some held hands as they fell. Some held cellphones, determined to have their loved one's voices be the last thing they heard before dying. One lady tried to protect her modesty by trying to stop her skirt from flying up as she plummeted.
It made me think what do we bring with us -- lessons, modesty, love -- right before we die? What do we reveal about ourselves? What matters in these last moments, what do we protect? Who do we think about and who do we call? And what does it mean to be working class in America, dying in a building that served as an icon of American economic might? I don't think we can talk about the WTC and not speak of that terrorist act as an attack on American capitalism.
I also love the moral ambiguity of the jumpers; that for some, they committed this ultimate sin of suicide. Or the sin of 'giving up.' Others argue that they were murdered and the choosing to jump was an act of bodily autonomy. Most jumpers were trapped above the point of impact, and unless you were lucky enough to be in the South Tower, where one stairway remained intact, there was no chance of escape. There was no chance of rescue. Death was imminent and one had the choice to burn alive or jump. I wanted to clear the names of the jumpers, who I feel have been harshly judged.
Additionally, I wanted to explore what I call "trauma poaching"; this idea that in trying to remember, to capture these great moments in history, we ignore the feelings of the bereaved--who are often women. I respect the press and believe them necessary, but so many people's pain became tabloid fodder. I think that's problematic.
Finally, this play is a love song to Black and Brown men. I wanted to give this Brown man voice during his last moments. I wanted to make him whole, for him to experience love, and bitterness and humor before this unjust death. As the world focused on identifying who he is, what was his name, I wanted the world to look at his choice. Instead of focusing on identifying him, I wanted to bring the focus to what he was saying. I don't think we focus enough on what Brown men, Brown people are saying and feeling.
The Fire This Time is a Festival that provides a platform for "talented early-career playwrights of African and African American descent." What does it mean for you to be an African American Playwright?
I have no idea! All I know is that writing is what I know and love best and I hope that I can use my writing to be of service to people of the African diaspora, to my Latinidad, Native, South and East Asian people. We're all in this together. Ultimately, I write for women of color and my plays will always focus on exploring what women of color go through--their morning, their triumphs, to release, and their joy.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for the new generation of playwrights?
I try not to think about that; rather, I think of the fact that this is the easiest it's ever been. One of my heroes is Donald Glover and I remember an interview he did saying that this field is more acessible than it ever was before. This has been echoed by Lynn (Nottage) in our conversations. So, I just want to make Lynn and all my predecessors--Suzan-Lori, Dominique, Katori, Adrienne, Dael, Chisa, Kia, Kara--they worked harder than I ever had to, and I want to honor them. I want to make them proud.
Everything else--lack of money or time--I just try to endure.
What's coming up next? What are the themes that are inspiring your new pieces?
Right now, I'm writing a piece about Black and Jewish women and their relationship with motherhood. What does it mean to have the ability to give life when so many of your people have been slaughtered in living memory? Do you do a disservice by not having kids? Are you reduced to your womb if you do? Can motherhood--the most generous, selfless act a person can undertake, I think--can that ever be characterized as a reduction? That piece will premiere at Columbia on February 12th. I hope to see you there! Also, come to the Fire This Time Festival!
Gethsemane Herron-Coward is a poet-turned-playwright from Washington, D.C. She is a 2016 Semi-Finalist for Rising Circle Theater Collective’s INKtank, a 2016 Finalist for the Jane Chambers Playwriting Award and a 2017 Finalist for SPACE on Ryder Farm. She is a member of the Dramatists Guild.