Arun Venugopal is a reporter and the creator of Micropolis, WNYC’s multi-platform series examining race, sexuality, religion, street life and other issues that define New York City. He has been with the station since 2005, and has covered a wide range of stories, including the death of Sean Bell, the controversy over the Park 51 mosque and community center and Occupy Wall Street .
Group Linked to Park51 Cancels Play With September 11 Survivors
Wednesday, March 02, 2011
An organization linked to Park 51, the controversial Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero, suddenly cancelled a Wednesday night performance of a play featuring September 11 family members.
The play, "Performing Tribute" — which has been produced without incident over the past three years — was going to be produced by the American Society for Muslim Advancement, headed by the face of the Park51 project, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan. The couple split from the project in January.
Some 9/11 family members expressed outrage at the connection.
"We really, as family members, did not want September exploited for the purposes of the Cordoba Initiative and Park 51 and the building of this mosque. We feel very strongly about that," said Rosaleen Tallon, whose brother, firefighter Sean Patrick Tallon, died on September 11 and who opposed ASMA's involvement with the production.
The theater piece was created by Donna Kaz, who lived in Battery Park City during the September 11 attacks, and lost a cousin. She first produced the play in 2008, using survivors — family members, first responders and others — rather than professionals.
"They’re not actors — it’s scary for some of them," said Kaz. "They all believe it’s important to share their stories. It’s healing for them to let the world know about their loved ones. It’s cathartic."
The play has been embraced by September 11 family members, but some of them organized in opposition to the Wednesday performance.
An email distributed to family members and members of the media said September 11 family members were "shocked and appalled that a play ... which is closely identified and aligned with the 'September 11th Families' Association Tribute WTC Visitor Center' is now being promoted and presented by Daisy Kahn [sic]."
"Our family members will not allow the memory of the lives and deaths of their loved ones to be used as a tool for the Cordoba Initiative," read the email. "To use this play to imply a 'dialogue with 9/11 families' as a basis for obtaining funding from the LMDC and other sources across the country for an Islamic center at GZ, is a disingenuous travesty."
Tallon and another family member, Sally Regenhard, said an effort was made to secure a large number of the free tickets to the show. Regenhard said those in attendance intended to use any discussion period to "convey that it was totally inappropriate" for ASMA to be associated with the play.
According to Kaz, the theater, within the Interchurch Center where ASMA's offices are also located, holds about 100 people. Khan said she noticed a surge in ticket interest earlier this week. By early Wednesday, she said, when the demand for tickets had exceeded the number of seats, a decision was made to cancel the performance.
"Our building is very tough about security," she said. "We don’t think the venue can accommodate the kind of outpouring of people we might have."
Khan said she still intends to help mount a production of "Performing Tribute" once a larger venue is located. But Tallon said the issue isn't going away.
"We've been calling family members and friends to bombard them, so that we could fill that space," Tallon said. "If it's going to be open to the public, of course, it will be filled. And if we can't get in, we will be outside. Because they are not going to exploit September for their nefarious purposes."