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Talk With Teens Who Star in Play 'With Their Eyes'

Aired September 11, 2002 - 13:39   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: But I mentioned ground zero, and one story that captured our attention was the story of what happened to so many students in the city whose lives were disrupted by 9/11 of last year. Stuyvesant High School, which is a magnet school, which accepts just 800 of the 20,000 kids that apply there every year, and it is just sits four blocks from ground zero. Student and teachers there could see the Twin Towers that morning. They evacuated the school after the first tower collapsed, and in the last year, they turned their experiences into a play and now a book called "With Their Eyes."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like the air on the outside felt, like something you really might smell or fear at a barbecue, but it didn't; it hurt your windpipe, like I feels things, like, collecting on my esophagus, on my lungs, and I just -- I don't think that something my body is ever going to forget.

I stayed asleep for as long as I could, and then when I finally wake up, I do anything to occupy the time.


ZAHN: Then a sophomore in high school, playing the part of Max Millens, who is a senior at Stuyvesant. And Tim joins us now, along with another student in the play, Catherine Choy, and their teacher, Annie Tom. It's good to see all of you. Thank you very much for coming in.


ZAHN: Before we talk about your individual experiences, tell me a little bit about what it was to inhabit this character, this senior whose life was similarly disrupted like yours that day?

TIM DRINAN, STUYVESANT STUDENT: It was a really interesting experience, because although, we were all in school together, he also happens to live in the neighborhood. So he didn't get to go back to his house for a very long time, so his response was even more intense, more passionate, more extreme than perhaps any of ours.

ZAHN: You seemed pretty angry in that little excerpt we saw.

DRINAN: He did seem angry. He has a lot of cynicism about the commercialism that has arisen since then that exploits September 11th. And It was interesting to get into his head to see where we is coming from and his anger after September 11th. Other people are feeling hopeful and even patriotic.

ZAHN: Catherine, you play three different characters in this play.

CHOY: Yes, I do. And I know you might have had a chance to meet a couple of the students that these characters were based on.

ZAHN: Just quickly, give us a thumbnail sketch of who these kids were.

CHOY: Well, I interviewed a one, Elia Feltropf (ph), and it was difficult because I chose two male characters, and he also had a slightly Ukrainian accent, so I had to imitate that as well. I interviewed Owen Cornwell (ph), the speech team captain, someone on the speech, and Mr. English (ph), the history department head, and I interviewed those.

ZAHN: And how similar were their experiences in dealing with the horror of what basically unfolded four blocks with away?

CHOY: I think they really captured many of the feelings of the Stuyvesant community, and even as, like, the nation abroad, of the feelings that we are feeling, like of being confused, being lost, as well, also passing by the twins that were there and are not there anymore. I know Miss Thierry (ph) talks about riding the train every morning because she lives in the Bronx, and she had this fear, if the train was rattling loud or if there were noises or on the intercom, you hear voices and, you know, for a split second, oh no, you would be worried, this is a bomb on the train? The fears are accumulating. And we can relate to those a lot. Like a lot of times, when we were reading each other's monologues, we can see where our feelings are within the monologues as well.

ZAHN: How have your feelings changed in the year that has past? Were you afraid you were going to lose your life the day you were evacuated from school, and you were told you had to get out, and you were simply a block or two away when one of the towers collapsed.

CHOY: I wasn't really afraid of dying. I was just thinking about those people in the tower. I was just like, oh, my God, they're there. They're like, what's going on? I was of course, I was worried for my own safety, because we were rushing out. There was a worker with a mask that came on, and he was just windmilling his arm an saying "go, go, go," and we were just running. And I just think that right now, it's not -- I am not really worried. I mean, I am safe because my family, my friends have been supportive.

ZAHN: How vivid is all this in your mind, Tim, a year later, even without being involved with this play?

DRINAN: It is extremely vivid. We were just talking on our way here with the moments of silence. You remember the towers. We remember when we saw the footage. I remember looking out the window from my homeroom and seeing, seeing the dark black hole and the flames leap up and the smoke come out. And one of the worst things I think burned into memory is the vision of the people with their arms out diving forward out of the upper stories and just disappearing into the smoke, and it's just like the fires themselves burned into my eyes.

ZAHN: What both of you students have just described certainly I think shows us just how raw the material is in this play. How unsettling is it for an audience to come to watch pretty much a collection, a collection about individual students and how their lives changed on 09/11 last year.

ANNIE TOM, STUYVESANT TEACHER: Well, one of the things that we tried very hard to do with this play. These 10 students interviewed 23 members of the Stuyvesant community, students, faculty and staff, and not just about the experiences on September 11th, but what happened in the months afterward. The interviews were done in December. So a lot of the stories are hopeful. A lot of the stories are -- they're moments that are funny.

You know, this is not a play just about, here are the things we saw, and this is how we hurt, but here are the things we saw, here are our individual experiences, and here is how we are making sense of them, here is how we are going on.

ZAHN: Don't you think that is pretty much a mirror of what many Americans are going through today?

TOM: Absolutely. I think it's it's we've all been doing this year. All some of us, you know, in great proximity to ground zero, and all of us around the country, I think we've all been trying to make meaning of this experience.

ZAHN: Just a quick closing thought from both of you what it was like to see some of what unfolds in your neighborhood today and to see some of it play out on television.

CHOY: I don't really like the rehashing. I mean, I like the hopeful stories that we here, like, but I don't like the visual aspect of showing the towers actually again collapsing and the smoke, and the constant visual effects of that, but I would rather hear hopeful stories an how we can change, or how we have been reacting to it or rehabilitating from our fears or some things like that.

DRINAN: I love to see to play out there, because although we had extreme and historic circumstances, we were able to turn that into a great play, which has universal conflicts that everyone everywhere should be able to relate to. I think that's a fantastic thing.

ZAHN: So much of what you have talked about here with us this afternoon, the rest of America is wrestling with. We talked about the great pain, how people felt today, but at the same time, there were also bursts of joy as well and recognition of the lives lost, and I think some of the ceremonies showed the great dignity of those brave souls that lost their lives that day.

Thank you all for joining us. Maybe we'll see you on Broadway one of these days. Catherine, Tim, good luck to all you. Thanks again for spending part of your afternoon with us.




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