A crowd of nearly 50 performance artists as well as students and other community members gathered last night for a theater-oriented commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the fire at the Station nightclub.
The club burned down in 2003, killing 100 and injuring an additional 200, according to the Station Fire Memorial Foundation website. The event, held at First Baptist Church, featured 37 performance art pieces, three speakers and an original rock song by local artist David Tessier.
“The Station nightclub fire is distinctive in national and Rhode Island history both in terms of the quantity of lives it affected and the amount of suffering that remains,” said Erik Ehn, professor of theater arts and performance studies. “The aim of having a commemorative event is to voice support for the people (affected by the fire).”
The commemoration was one of many held this week in remembrance of the fire, which was caused by a pyrotechnic accident during a Great White concert.
While most people who attended the event did not include those directly affected by the fire, it served as a space where members of the local community could commemorate the victims of the fire and remind themselves of the suffering that occured, said Connie Crawford, adjunct lecturer in theater arts and performance studies, who coordinated the event with Ehn.
“This is what I do. I’m not a doctor, and I can’t help take care of people,” Crawford said. “This event is my way of helping to commemorate this terrible thing that happened and to hold a space for remembrance.”
During the first part of the night, three performance art sessions were interspersed with three speeches. Each session consisted of five performance pieces put on for event attendees, who were permitted to walk around and listen to each. John Barylick, an attorney for victims of the fire, Jonathan Saltzman, a Boston Globe reporter who was at the scene the night of the fire, and Rev. Janet Cooper Nelson, University chaplain, gave speeches between the performance sessions.
The performance pieces were designed to be “imaginative and spiritually deep memorials” rather than stories about the fire itself, Ehn said, while the speakers provided stories about the fire and its aftermath. They spoke about the effect the fire had on their lives and the lives of others.
Barylick shared a revelation he had while providing legal council to family members of those who died as well as survivors of the fire. As he spoke to one of the most badly burned survivors about how glad he was his doctor saved his life, Barylick said he realized there was power in the fact that the victim was proud to be alive.
“If this man can rejoice in life, shame on us for ever failing to do so,” Barylick said. “May we all be able to put our own lives in perspective.”
Following the initial performances and speeches, all event attendees went outside for a final round of performance pieces. The 37 pieces — all of which were designed to be five and a half minutes in length — were performed simultaneously from 11:07 p.m. to 11:13:30 p.m., “the exact amount of time it took for the fire to burn down the Station nightclub,” Crawford said.
The event concluded with the performance of an original song by Tessier, which was incorporated to “pay tribute to the rock and roll everyone at the Station was there to see,” Crawford said.
Ehn said he first had the idea to stage a memorial after putting together a similar event last year to commemorate the Virginia Tech shootings. “People had been encouraged by the space art can make for remembrance,” he said.
“I heard about the meetings for this event early last semester, and I stuck around after attending one,” said Phoebe Nir ’14, one of the students who served on the planning committee and helped coordinate catering. “This has been a worthy project.”
By opening the event to the public, Ehn said he hopes the project created a site for public witness to the tragedy for Rhode Island residents, whom he said he views as strong and resilient.
“I have only been living in Rhode Island four years, and the wonders and strengths of the state keep unfolding for me,” he said.