by Laura Beitman Hoover
When Kyle Dandridge prepared for a recent role as a child soldier in Africa, he watched historic movies, looked at photographs, practiced his accent and even did push-ups to get his blood pumping before going on stage.

Dandridge, a CHA grad and now the assistant coach for the school’s varsity cross-country team, has also performed in 13 shows and short films since 2005. (Photo by Laura Beitman Hoover)

But for his latest characters, including a firefighter and a 9-year-old boy reacting to the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, the actor said he approached his work differently.

“With this, you know people who passed. You heard accounts of friends running for their lives,” said Dandridge. “I didn’t have to seek it out. It’s a fresh wound. It’s kind of hard to forget.”

Dandridge, 33, a Chestnut Hill resident who has been acting steadily since 2005, will perform in the upcoming production of “E-mail: 9/12,” which is based on one woman’s communication to friends and family across the world after that fateful day. The stage play by New Jersey playwright Midge Guerrera will be performed Saturday, Sept. 24, at the Christ Church Neighborhood House Theatre. The show will be the debut performance for the newly created AND Company Theatre in Philadelphia.

“I felt connected to this event, as we all did,” the show’s director, Andre Brown, said. “Ten years ago I was in college. I was able to see the smoke from North Jersey. It’s etched into all of our memories. I knew this was a story that needed to be retold.”

The company is a dream come true for Brown, a 2002 Seton Hall graduate and a member of the Equity Actors’ Guild. Brown, who grew up in Sommerset, N.J., said Guerrera had been a mentor. The show, originally written as a one-woman show, has been reinterpreted for a cast of six. Each character will be featured equally.

“All of us have important stories. Everybody matters,” Brown said. “Its almost as if [Sept. 11] was a call to the human spirit and all that separates us. We all count. We are all part of the human family.”

Guerrera, who was taking the train to Newark, N.J.. on the morning of Sept. 11, said she e-mailed everybody in her address book the following day and received an avalanche of e-mails in return. Despite technology’s ability to separate, this time the medium created an unmatched personal connection. She put the e-mails aside and returned to them a year later. Last summer, she interviewed first responders and incorporated more changes into the work.

“I’m hoping [the play is] a catalyst for discussion and helps people talk about where we’ve been and where we need to be,” she said. “We still have lots of bias. We don’t always treat each other well.”

Four New York and New Jersey theatre companies picked up the play this month as well as a senior center in Arizona. Guerrera purposely left “donut holes” in the script so towns could include local stories. She plans to attend each of the performances for feedback and to further edit the play

Dandridge, a 1997 graduate of Chestnut Hill Academy and now the assistant coach for the school’s varsity cross-country team, has performed in 13 shows and short films since 2005 including “Mud, River, Stone” at The Stagecrafters Theater, “The Taming of the Shrew” at Allens Lane Theater and “To Kill a Mockingbird” at East Falls’ Old Academy Playhouse. The history buff and athlete caught the acting bug early, doing voices and characters for his family and friends.

“I like the challenge of exploring someone you’ll never get to be,” he said. “You take what’s inside of you, transfer that to someone else and try to be convincing. If people believe you, you’ve done your job.”

Doing a play about such an intense current event was tough, he said. “You have your own personal emotions, but you have to focus on each character and deliver,” he said.

Despite intense media coverage of 9/11 and its 10-year anniversary, Dandridge said he hopes people feel that it’s not only acceptable but healing to portray 9/11 in the arts.

“You’re going to see more and more artistic impressions of that day as we go on. People are still dealing with it,” he said, “but I don’t get tired of hearing stories of heroism.”

“Email: 9/12” will be shown Saturday, Sept. 24, at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Christ Church Neighborhood House Theatre, 20 N. American St. Tickets are $25. For tickets and for more information on AND Company Theater’s season, call 609-891-7555 or visit www.andcompanytheatre.org.

Laura Beitman Hoover is a freelance writer living in Chestnut Hill.