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9/11 play full of 'empowering' stories

Their 9/11 stories speak for themselves -- no need for actors or re-enactments.

"We are the real people and the audience can get a personal connection to the 9/11 story and what happens afterwards," said Jerry Bogacz, who escaped from the 82nd floor in the north tower, but lost three friends in the attacks.

He is one of five people appearing in "Performing Tribute 9/11," a play in which those involved are on stage to describe what happened to them nearly 10 years ago. Bogacz, who has no acting experience, said telling his story allows him to reckon with the life-changing day and "acknowledge that many people didn't make it."

"I think people need to keep in mind that there were a range of experiences, and that it's not just about the towers collapsing," he said.

Playwright Donna Kaz said the "intimacy" of a theater setting brings a life-size reality to the 9/11 experiences of the performers, who are all volunteer docents at the Tribute WTC Visitor Center. They give Ground Zero tours, recounting their personal experiences.

Kaz, who also is a volunteer, said when she "heard the incredible and empowering stories" of docents like Bogacz, she began to tape-record them.

"I wove their stories together -- telling what they were experiencing at the time and 10 years later," she said.

The performers include an FDNY widow, a first responder, an evacuated neighborhood resident and people who escaped the burning towers.

The stage setting has five performers each sitting in a chair alongside a piece of steel from the World Trade Center.

Kaz said the performers "alternate telling their stories. It's a cathartic experience," she said, adding the play heals its performers who realize their stories will not be forgotten.

"People went through a tremendous amount of stress and grief -- but silence is not the way to go with it. Sharing the experience is," she said.

"It's important to tell my story because it is the truth," said Anne Van Hine, 57, who lost firefighter husband Bruce Van Hine, 47, in the south tower. He was with Squad 41 Company in the Bronx.

After the play, the audience asks the performers questions -- an illuminating moment, said Van Hine. "I think it's because they have never heard a firefighter's widow before," said Van Hine, 57, whose two daughters where 14 and 17 when their father died.

Being in the play has given Van Hine a new perspective. At first, "I was looking at the rebuilding of Ground Zero from an FDNY widow's point of view. But this experience has taught me that there are other stories that I didn't hear."

The play is being performed Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Theater at St. Clement's on 46th Street; on Sept. 8, 7 p.m., at All Souls Church on Lexington Avenue; and Sept. 17th at 7 p.m. at Jan Hus Presbyterian Church on 74th Street. Admission is free.

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