On September 11, 2001, Thomas F. Flynn heard the plane from his Greenwich Village apartment. As a writer and producer for “The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather,” he went where stories took him. So Flynn jumped on his bike and headed to the World Trade Center. That day, he witnessed people jumping to their deaths. When the towers fell, Flynn became trapped in an underground parking garage.
His experience is the basis of “Bikeman: The 9/11 Theatrical Experience.” Directed by William Brown, the one-hour production allows the audience to see and hear the event through Flynn’s eyes.
The text is a mixture of emotions and facts. “It’s not graphic but it doesn’t shy away from the horrors of the day,” Brown says.
Brown ran a writer’s group at The Player’s Club and knew Flynn casually. “He said he kept having a reoccurring obsession with writing an epic poem in a literary format of Dante’s Inferno. Because when he was trapped in the underground parking garage, he kept thinking of that,” Brown says.
Flynn brought in a few stanzas for the group to hear aloud. “There were about 25 people in the room that night. And at the end of the read, the whole room just sat in stunned silence for probably 30 seconds. And then, everyone started applauding,” Brown says.
The director subsequently chose Flynn’s work for the group’s annual performance. “I think it is one of the most exceptional texts I’ve ever been exposed to. Because you are talking about somebody who has 40 years of journalistic experience, day after day after day writing for “The CBS Evening News,” writing for “60 Minutes.” And he had never really written poetry before. It is really an inspired text.”
How do you bring an epic poem, told through a single voice, to life? Brown is using a diverse cast of New Yorkers, each taking the voice of Bikeman. “This singular voice would be told across this sort of milieu of actors that are representative of New York, of people that day. And so, we have this executive. And we have this EMT worker, and we have various people, college students who were there that day… It’s told through modern poetic language. And so it creates this really interesting emotional accessibility to the material.”
The last time Brown staged the play, it was at the 10th anniversary event of 9/11. Two hundred people showed up to the one-night performance. “At the end of the night, this older woman, probably in her 70s, came up to me, shook my hand and thanked me. And said, ‘You have made the unapproachable approachable.'”
Brown wanted to continue work on the project. His original intent was to perform the play Off-Broadway, but financing was a problem. He was told he would need between $300,000-$400,000.
But several friends in the Los Angeles entertainment industry suggested Kickstarter as a way of funding a limited-run production. Brown handily met his $40,000 goal. His production opened on March 19 at the Léman Manhattan Broad Street Ballroom, close to Ground Zero. It will play for a limited two-week run.
Dan Rather taped a video forward for the piece. Brown has composed music to bring people into the mood and setting for the show. There is no graphic imagery and no video of the falling towers. Eight actors will bring Flynn’s experiences to life.
“When people leave, they actually have a sense of what it was like to be there on that day, at that place,” Brown says.
“I am hopeful that the 9/11 Memorial Museum may be interested in taking it in. “I also think there is some interesting opportunity around outreach. ” People from Los Angeles and even Berlin, Germany, are interested in producing the show.
Paula Grant-Berry, whose husband died at the World Trade Center, is supportive of the piece. Berry was on the selection jury for the World Trade Center Memorial. “She is incredibly supportive of this piece,” he says.
Bikeman: The 9/11 Theatrical Experience will run from March 19 – 28 at the Broad Street Ballroom, 41 Broad Street, NYC. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Show starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are from $25-$49.