In the coming days, many across the nation will honor in reverence and meditation the 20th anniversary of that tragic morning, September 11, 2001. It is a humbling realization that many on our campus were born after that day, and almost all were young children. The memory of 9/11 is part of our birthright as citizens of the world; we bear the obligation—the honor—to have its stories recounted to us by the generations who came before and attempt to understand the magnitude of its influence on the culture that responded to it. Jeff Barker, former theater professors at Northwestern, is among those telling stories of that harrowing day in his upcoming theater production September Bears. In his production, he weaves a story of heartbreak and beauty sure to honor those we lost and inspire those who remain.
September Bears will be showing twice on the weekend of the 20th anniversary, once on Sunday, September 12 at 4:00 p.m., and again the next day, Monday, September 13 at 7:00 p.m. Both performances will take place at Trinity Reformed Church in Orange City, and admission is free.
September Bears is about a small RCA church on Long Island and their reaction to the attacks on 9/11. The church in the story is RCA, which Northwestern is affiliated with, but of course the time and place differ from history. It follows the attempts of people to heal in times of great distress, so audiences today may notice, like Barker said, “a strong connection to [your] home church, our town, and our college.”
The story of September Bears is based on true events that Barker learned of from a friend, Mary Clark, who was a member of the church about which the story is told.
The methods by which the characters bring restoration in response to the attacks are inspiring and include creating a movement known as ‘Hugs Across America,” an organization still active today, which bring teddy bears to young people after disasters. These teddy bears are from where the show derives its title.
Though college students and those too young to remember the events of 9/11 are encouraged to watch the performance, Barker quoted Clark when asked about a target audience, saying, “You need to remember Jeff that this was the World Trade Center. This event impacted the whole world.” The events that took place that day are too large to reserve just for those who have not heard them before, or just those who remember them. They are for us all to hear, understand and cry for together.
Barker also specifically mentioned the surprising inclusion of much Native American Indian connections within the script. There are many Native American Indian names for locations in Manhattan referenced in the play, and Apache tribe members took part in the distribution of teddy bears with the ‘Hugs Across America’ organization.
Barker also expressed his appreciation for the input and support of an Algonquin author and teacher Evan Pritchard, a man whose relationship with Barker was started and built upon the inclusion of references to Native America in September Bears. Pritchard said of September Bears, “I really love that play. Keep it going forever.” This is what inspires Barker to continue producing the show and fuels his hopes that it is continued for years to come.
September Bears is being produced by Eastcheap Theatre Collection, a small private theater created by Jeff and Karen Barker, and friends of the Barkers, around 35 years ago. Through opportunities like September Bears and others, the production has given the Barkers the ability to pursue artistic aspirations of theirs outside of the context of the classroom while they taught for many years here at Northwestern.
Since its inception in 2002, September Bears has traveled far and has been performed by other colleges, high schools and churches to honor the events of 9/11. Northwestern’s touring company performed it across the country at Lamb’s Theatre and St. Paul’s Chapel, described by Barker as, “In the shadow of the site.”