Margaret Eby
September 11, 2014 9:37 am

When she was 12 years old, Sarah Van Auken’s father, Kenneth Van Auken, an employee at the investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald, was killed during the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Now 25, Van Auken has written a one-woman play about the experience she had growing up with the trauma of 9/11 and the aftermath, as well as her mother’s fight to create the 9/11 commission. The play debuted in Philadelphia, but premieres today in New York, to coincide with the anniversary of 9/11. Its title is “This Is Not About 9/11.”

“The pain that people feel, specifically the pain that family members feel on the anniversaries, myself included, is very real and very valid. It is not to be taken lightly,” Van Auken told Hello Giggles. “That being said, I’d like to simply shift the conversation.”

Van Auken said that the point of the play is to examine the way that we talk about 9/11, and the way the event has been portrayed by politicians and the media.

“I want to highlight the fact that it isn’t about 9/11, it’s about us,” she said. “We are all a part of what happened because it happened to all of us. What I’d like to encourage audiences to do is to involve and attune themselves to what’s happening in the post-9/11 world.”

It’s been a long journey of grieving for Van Auken, who like so many relatives of 9/11 victims, has had to relive those terrifying moments of loss in a public forum each year on the anniversary of the day that changed our country.

Transforming her experiences into a show helped her process her experiences, and also consolidate the message that she wanted to share about it.

“Turning my experience into a show was therapeutic. It was also quite challenging in that I wanted to stay away from being self-indulgent,” Van Auken said. “I really had to figure out how to tell a story, and it took a bunch of edits and rehearsals to get the script to a performance-ready place.”

In a review of the play, the Philly Declaration’s Dustin Slaughter describes it as a “performance mixed with rage, incredulity, and strength, as she refuses to pander to the veneer of sentimentality initially forced on her by the faceless, booming voice of the interviewer, who may be more interested in collecting her grief than in actually listening to what she has to say.”

Van Auken addresses the issue of how those mourning the loss of their loved ones unwittingly served as a platform for politics, and what it was like to become a public symbol of grief while enduring personal loss.

If there’s one thing that she hopes the audience will take away from her show, Van Auken said, it’s that the attacks on that day changed the way that everyone operates.

She hopes it “encourages people to think about how the world has changed, not just in the larger ways, but in the subtler ways, as well—and then, formulating a point of view about said changes,” Van Auken said. “Educating one’s self about what’s happening in the world as a result of 9/11 is another way to pay tribute to those who died that day. Perhaps then it’s possible to live in a place of awareness instead of fear, or worse, apathy. ”

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