GONE! The stage was gone, the lights were gone, the generators were gone, sound was gone, the buildings were gone, and, worst of all, so many people were gone!
It was the kind of job that could ruin you a lot easier than it could make you, but I knew I could pull it off. My name is Mark Van Tassel and I work for Prism Theatrical Lighting. We were working for Zargunda productions and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. They were putting on a production of 11 different world famous dance acts in the courtyard of the World Trade Center. The problem was to come up with a rig that would accommodate 11 LDs all with the same lights, make them all look unique, and set the whole thing up and get it running in 12 hours. We accomplished this by coming up with a rig that was half rock and roll, half theatrical, and to make all the shows look different we added intelligent lights.
RSA provided the sound and CSS provided the stage, which was set up with its back to Tower One. For the upstage we used 40' of Thomas pre-rig truss with 60kW of new style PAR-64s with medium bulbs and four Martin Professional 918s. On each side we used two Thomas six-light bars with medium 1kW bulbs, mounted vertically, one upstage, one down. For shin busters and head spots we used six ETC Source Fours with 26º lenses, three upstage, three down. For gobos and additional color that could be directed anywhere on the stage we added three Martin MAC 500s, one upstage, one mid, one down. The downstage truss was the same as the upstage but on the upstage top rail I evenly spaced nine Altman Shakespeares with 30º lenses and for additional color washes, six Martin MAC 600s. On pipes hung over the front-of-house mix position we had 12 more Source Fours with 10º lenses. For dimming, we had an ETC 96x2kW rack. For conventional light control, we had a 96-channel ETC Express with one backup and for moving light control, an Avolites Azure with two backups. We also had a Reel EFX DF-50 and two smoke machines.
The shows were going great! The LDs were happy. Bob Bursey, the LD for Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, for example, let me take pictures of the show for publication and made full use of what I could do for him with the intelligent lights.
The 10th of September brought with it the only enemy a master electrician doing an outdoor show would have to deal with (or so I thought): rain! I kept the moving lights bagged and we fought the rain all day but in the end the evening performance and tech for the September 11th show were canceled. They made the call for 8am to make up for the time we lost. I told them I would come in at 10am so the stagehands would have time to do what they had to do and my lights would have time to dry. I didn't know it at the time but those two hours may have saved my life.
The morning of the 11th was beautiful, not a cloud in the sky. I was getting ready for work when I heard on the Howard Stern show that a drunk had flown his plane into one of the towers. I thought it was a joke but I grabbed my stuff and ran outside anyway. I live in Weehawken, NJ, right across the river from the towers. I had a perfect view and used to brag about it all the time. To my surprise there was smoke coming from Tower One. I figured they would get it under control but there would be lots of confusion so I had better get there quick and pack up front of house. I hopped on my motorcycle and started down the road to the tunnel when I saw a big plane flying low across the river. It flew right into the other tower and there was a huge explosion. I stopped where I was and just watched. You could see gaping holes in the towers with flames coming out of them. I also saw, which I unfortunately found out later to be true, what looked like people jumping from the top floors. It made me sick. I don't know how long I stood there but eventually I continued on. The police stopped me before I made it to the tunnel and I was sent home. The city was closed.
I went home and started shooting some video of the towers burning when it dawned on me that all my friends had to be there at 8am. I ran inside and started calling everyone but all I got were busy signals. Then I heard on the TV that one of the towers was collapsing. Running outside I saw the last of the tower crumble and a large cloud of smoke rise up and eat the lower half of the city. All I could think about were my friends. Bret Loughery the head carpenter/crew chief was my best friend and there was Mike Lamb the head electrician, Clint the generator tech, Matt the front-of-house engineer from RSA, Tony and Dick from production, and all the rest. I was sure they must all be dead. I sat outside watching the destruction in disbelief when right before my eyes the second tower crumbled. And just like that, something that big, that you see every day, was gone. Gone! The stage was gone, the lights were gone, the generators were gone, sound was gone, the buildings were gone and worst of all, so many people were gone.
The next day, to my relief, I found out my friends had all made it out alive and I send my prayers to anyone else looking for their friends.