Creating a Safe Space in Theater


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The notion of creating a safe space for an audience to experience a work of theater tends to provoke the tough-guy purists, because it sounds like coddling. Shouldn’t the stage be a place of daring, unhampered by any content revelations that might spoil the surprise?

Setting the Tone

Presumably, anyone who arrives at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn to see “Grenfell: in the words of survivors,” a tense and enthralling documentary play about a 2017 residential fire in West London that killed 72 people, is aware of the potentially upsetting subject matter. But before the storytelling even starts, the actors in this National Theater production set about making a safe space with a preamble whose clear language and kind tone are not the least bit soppy.

Humanity and Recollections

Our humanity tended to, the characters begin their recollections — nothing traumatic, not yet, just simple, sun-dappled memories. Because before Grenfell Tower, a 24-story public housing block, became a cautionary tale about the dangers of government penny-pinching and corporate corner-cutting, it was people’s home.

Thinking back on the apartments that had been their sanctuaries, they miss the freedom of life above the tree line, the view of the fireworks on New Year’s Eve, the quiet when they’d shut their door and leave the noise of the city outside. They miss the community of good neighbors.

“When I got my flat in Grenfell Tower,” Edward Daffarn (Michael Shaeffer) recalls, “my heart told me it was going to be OK. I was really, really happy.”

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