Theatres across the United States were closed yesterday in the wake of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, and plans for visiting American productions were also thrown into question here in London, most notably a transatlantic festival of new writing at the Battersea Arts Centre. Stage One, a two-week programme of workshops, readings and plays celebrating new writers from London and New York, officially opened yesterday, 11 September, at the south London theatre.

In Manhattan, where the World Trade Center was destroyed by two terrorist planes, Broadway and off-Broadway theatres closed for at least last night and this afternoon with no firm plans as to when they would reopen. Producers said they would wait to take their direction from New York mayor Rudy Guiliani, but news reports estimated that rescue efforts and the state of emergency might continue in the city for many more days.

In Washington DC, where a third plane crashed into the Pentagon building, the seat of the American military, much of the capital was also evacuated and theatres shuttered. Across the country, many other city centres were emptied, plays and other events cancelled and venues closed as a precautionary step.

In London, a company of New York-based artists flown in for Stage One were in rehearsals all day, only to emerge to the horrific news from home. Spokeswoman Alex Gammie told all were “completely shocked” and spent the evening of the festival launch party desperately trying to get in touch with friends and family.

Several other American participants of Stage One have yet to arrive in London and, with all flights to and from the United States now cancelled, it is uncertain whether they will be able to. Those absent include playwrights Winter Miller and Kelly Stuart and Jim O Quin, editor of American Theatre Magazine, based in New York.

Also not yet arrived are five actors, one director and producer Lyndsay Bowan, co-founder of the 24-Hour Plays, a highlight of the Stage One schedule. In the 24-hour Plays, six writers each write a 10-minute script overnight, which is cast and rehearsed the next day and performed the same evening. The London premiere of the event, scheduled for this Saturday 15 September, was meant to be led by Bowan.

Despite the shock of the US events, Stage One’s Gammie promised that “the show will go on” in London, with American and British organisers pulling together to fill the gaps in the casts and schedules. Nevertheless, on stage and off, “it (the terrorist attacks) will certainly be at the forefront of everyone’s minds”.

- by Terri Paddock