The Cahill Archives
THE KATRINA CHRONICLES
Michael P. Cahill
August 26, 2010
I lived through Katrina; I don’t feel I need to commemorate it too.
At the time, I remember thinking that the months of September and October of 2005 had been erased from our lives – but unlike the unconscious man who exists through a coma insensate we were able to suffer the pain while suspended in our limbo.
Like many soldiers who survive combat or immigrants who fled difficult conditions, it is not something I prefer to focus upon. I know what it was like – if you were there, you know what it was like. We don’t need to discuss it. You don’t need to know my little tale of woe and I don’t need to hear yours.
If you were there, I will always cut you an awful lot of slack. Especially when there are those who weren’t there who are the most vociferous in banging the Katrina drum. To be sure, it is a drum that often must be banged and thanks to those that do, but, like those who brandish combat medals when they have never been overseas or even in the service my suspicions are piqued.
It is beside my point here, but, really, when you have theorists who opine that the government sought to eradicate our Black population by exploding levees to flood Lakeview; or celebrities who reminisce about the “Lower Ninth” as if they frequently partied there on they way from the Left Bank of Paris to Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, your antennae are forced to go up.
No, by “there,” I mean here. I mean those who, God help them, rode out the storm in the New Orleans area or who fled in the Evacuation to hundreds of communities around the nation and the world – what was truly a Diaspora in the vein of the Hebrews’ Exodus or the Cherokees’ Trail Of Tears or the Irish Emigration in the wake of The Hunger.
Those of us who were “there” lived through something that will rank on the world stage with the Great Fire of London of 1666, or the Burning of Atlanta in 1864, or the San Francisco Earthquake/Fire of 1906. (As with San Francisco where the earthquake gets the publicity but the fire caused most of the damage, so are we with a storm from which most of the damage came from the resultant flood.)
There were times, surely, in my homes away from Home that I wished I could have stayed on the scene, while, to be sure, many who stayed wished they could have been where I was. It was, among many other feelings, a helpless time.
So, I tried to do what I could where I was. Telephones, particularly cell phones, were useless. While there was texting, communications were tenuous. Social networking was in its infancy. Some, like Justin Scalise, had attempted to begin some sort of theatrical e-mailing lists but StageClick.com was just a gleam in Marc Fouchi’s eye.
So, a couple of days after the storm and continuing for several weeks, I began sending out New Orleans Theater Community Updates with all the information I could glean upon Our Crowd. It grew to be quite a resource and was commented upon in national publications.
As with being an Actor, being an Historian carries with it certain responsibilities. Though not one who relishes commemorating one of the worst times in all our lives, it is now time – five years after the fact – to revisit those “thrilling days of yesteryear.”
So I will re-issue those reports from 2005 here on the vaunted Cahill Archives feature of StageClick. On the actual date – August 29 – I intend to post excerpts from my biography Just Who Is Stocker Fontelieu? The Life And Times Of A Gentleman Of The Theatre, which contains extensive passages of the effect of the hurricane upon our city and community. That book was in the works at the time and, thankfully, I brought it with me on the Evacuation.
Then, in roughly “real time” installments – five years later – I intend to post those updates. I know I have access to at least the first four from that first week. Altogether, somewhere, I believe I have all but perhaps one of the dozen or more updates.
In retrospect, they provide a true glimpse into the actions, fears, rumors, concerns, and zeitgeist of those days reported from dozens of sources. It was aimed at a theater-connected audience but we are people too. If you prick us, do we not bleed; if you flood our homes, do we not call insurance adjusters?
I announce this today because today is the fifth anniversary of the day we knew we might be in trouble. Friday August 26, 2005. Janet Shea & I were appearing in a fine production of Martin McDonagh’s The Cripple Of Inishmaan at NOCCA. It was the inaugural production of the celebrated The NOLA Project and also featured Stella Adler devotees producer Andrew Larimer, Pete "Mosh Pit" McElligott, Alex Martinez Wallace, Sean Glazebrook, Will Connolly, Kathlyn Tarwater, and professor Angela Vitale, with stage manager Whitney Thompson. (Director James Tripp had already left town.)
I had cautioned Andrew that, despite the great quality of the show, it might be terribly difficult to draw people to an Irish play in the middle of August in New Orleans. It was still, I said, a great achievement. “It never occurred to me that people wouldn’t come,” he replied. He was right. I think we were breaking even (on a production that imported virtually its entire cast from New York) that Friday night and looked forward to sell-outs on Saturday and Sunday.
Friday night, when I encountered Andrew, who hadn’t a care in the world other than being annoyed by Alex Pomes with box office questions as he was about to go onstage, I asked what he thought about the storm.
“What storm?” he asked.
Some of the others did have cares. Sean, a San Franciscan, seemed troubled about what all this storm talk meant. Janet & I eased his fears. We’d been through it a hundred times. The storm would come and go and we’d have to stay inside for a couple of days…or, at worst, we’d have to evacuate, be terribly inconvenienced for a couple of days, and come back very cranky.
There were other concerns. First the Sunday matinee was cancelled. Later, we learned NOCCA also scrubbed the Saturday evening performance and The NOLA Projecters had to scramble to get out of town. (Though not before Angie Vitale rescued her character shoes from backstage.)
So, on Saturday night, my Mother, instead of watching me act onstage, was in the midst of a 19 hour drive with me, Janet, and a dog and two cats, evacuating from her house of 37 years. She would never see that house again, nor ever step foot in Louisiana - until her death more than 3 years later.
Janet, outwardly, held up well during our exile until the night a couple of weeks in when she suddenly began sobbing uncontrollably. What was wrong?
Finally, she confessed:
“I told Sean Glazebrook there was nothing to worry about.”