UMaine graduate Collin Worster was living in New York City at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The following day – Sept. 12 – Worster took to the city streets with a tape recorder to document New Yorkers’ reactions. Those tapes were used 10 years later as the basis for the play “nine/twelve tapes,” which premiered in August 2011. Worster is now a musician in New York who performs under the stage name Collin Daniels.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Biddeford in 1970 and grew up in Berwick. In 1985, my family moved to Wells.
Where do you live now and what do you do?
I live in Greenwich Village where I’m a musician — a guitarist and solo singer-songwriter. I’ve also been a theater actor, playwright and director.
What years were you at UMaine?
Undergraduate and then grad student, 1989–97.
What academic degree(s) do you have?
Bachelor’s in political science and a master’s in theater, both from UMaine. I also received an M.F.A. in acting from Ohio University.
What led you to choose UMaine?
My parents both graduated from UMaine. They actually met each other and began dating there, so I heard them speak fondly of it when I was growing up. When I finally visited as a teenager, I fell in love with the campus. Once I began attending classes, I fell in love with all the rest of it– the professors, the classes and the entire community. I also had a four-year partial scholarship from the Maine Scholar Days program, so that was a factor.
Do you have any favorite professors or classes, and what lessons did you take from them that resonate today?
Oh, I had many. Sociology professor Steven Cohn in the Honors College (which I took several courses in, but chose not to complete), John Diamond in communication and journalism, Ken Hayes in political science, and Welch Everman and Virginia Nees-Hatlen in English. My favorite classes were probably Everman’s Writing Fiction class, Diamond’s Writing for Electronic Media, Nees-Hatlen’s Introduction to Women’s Studies (I was the only male student in my class), and Introduction to Play Production, which I took as an undergraduate, and then taught for four semesters as a graduate student. John saw that I wasn’t just a traditional journalism — or otherwise academic — student. He saw the talent in my creative work, and really
encouraged me to do more in that vein. Virginia was just one of those rare people I feel so lucky to have crossed paths with — brilliant, supportive and kind. She helped me be even more successful in all her classes, and took lots of personal time to speak with any student like me who wanted advice or to pick her brain. She also agreed to be on my thesis defense committee. I think all my favorite professors and classes taught me to always challenge myself, to open my mind up to new ideas and ways of thinking, and to use my creativity more and more.
Were there any classes you took that almost did you in? Is there a lesson to be learned from your experience?
I think I was one or two classes shy of having a double major in history when I enrolled in the senior seminar for history majors, but I just couldn’t keep up with the reading. A few years ago, I discovered I’ve had ADHD my whole life, which explains why reading was so challenging for me, even though I was pretty much a straight-A student all the way through my education.
Most memorable moment at UMaine?
That’s probably a tie between winning the election for student government president in 1993 and seeing the first play I ever wrote performed at the Pavilion Theater.
Favorite places or spots on campus?
The Mall and Memorial Union will always hold happy memories for me, as well as East Annex where WMEB 91.9FM was based (my friends and I had a radio show for two years). And, of course, Pavilion Theater.
How did your studies at UMaine prepare you for your career now?
As a creative person and artist, I feel I got two things at UMaine that have been very beneficial. First, I got opportunities in writing, journalism and theater classes to begin doing creative work in a supportive environment. Second, in my more academic classes, such as history, literature, political science and Honors College, I got a really fantastic, well-rounded liberal arts education that has not only served me well in every traditional job I’ve worked at, but it also laid the groundwork for my songwriting, musical performance, acting, writing and directing. Those classes and professors kept challenging me to continue learning about my world, to explore new ideas and concepts, and to express them in my creative work.
What was your career path like after graduation and how has it changed over the years?
My career path has taken almost as many twists and turns as my choice of major did while I was at UMaine. When I graduated in 1995 with my bachelor’s degree, I had just completed UMaine’s Congressional Internship Program, working for then-U.S. Sen.William Cohen in Washington, D.C. Four weeks into my internship, they offered me a full-time, regular job, which could have been a great kick-start to a long career in politics and government. It was really tempting, but I knew in my heart I wanted a life where there was plenty of room for creative and artistic self-expression. So I went to get my master’s in theater and my M.F.A. in acting because I was very passionate about theater, film and television, and thought my focus would lie there. The road turned again later to music, which is what I primarily do today.
What were you doing in New York City in 2001?
While I was at Ohio University, I had an internship at the Cincinnati Playhouse. When that ended, myself and seven other M.F.A.classmates comprised the cast of the regional premiere of “The Laramie Project.” The play was created by the Tectonic Theater Project in New York City based on interviews done in the town of Laramie, Wyo., following the death of gay student Matthew Shepard. Performing in our production of the play was the most powerful and moving experience of my entire theatrical career to that point. After we graduated in June 2001, all eight of us moved to New York City to begin our careers as professional actors.
How did the nine/twelve tapes project start and evolve over the years?
When 9-11 happened, I had only been living in New York City about three months. Many, if not most, NYC residents shared a similar feeling of helplessness after the attacks. We wanted desperately to do something to help, but could not see a way to do so. So I had the idea to interview people and record their impressions and reactions, similar to the way the folks in the Tectonic Theater Project had done with “The Laramie Project.” The night of Sept. 12, there was a candlelight vigil in my Brooklyn neighborhood so I got my mini-tape recorder out and just began interviewing people. I interviewed anyone who would be willing to talk to me and have his or her words recorded. I discovered quickly that so many New Yorkers, who did not necessarily know anyone killed in the towers personally, were nonetheless very traumatized. They still had a deep, heartfelt need to verbally express what they were feeling, but they were not doing so. Soon after I began doing interviews, my Ohio University friends living in New York joined the effort and began discussing the groundwork for creating a script from the interviews and a subsequent full production thereafter.
The original project team began meeting once a week to work on the play, but in February 2002 I made the decision to move back to Cincinnati. I kept the tapes and all the other materials, still hoping to create a play from them someday. On the first anniversary of the attacks, I did a stage a reading of many of the interviews at the arts center where I was teaching in Cincinnati. In spring 2004, I moved back to New York City and started a rock band that became my primary focus for many years afterward. We made several records and touring the country regularly.
Six years later, my former Ohio U. classmate, Shannon Michael Wamser, who co-founded the theater company Stages on the Sound, asked if his company’s creative team could borrow all the materials collected in 2001 to create a play for the 10th anniversary of 9-11. My one creative contribution, both for the play and to commemorate the anniversary, was to write a song called “3,000 Angels.” It was performed at the beginning of the play, right before the lights go down and the actors take their places on stage. I attended four of the five performances of the play in its first run in New York, as part of the Dream Up Festival at Theater for the New City. My vision for this play was finally realized, and brilliantly so.
What are your current projects?
After forming and performing in two bands — Victor Bravo (with UMaine alums Dan Collins and Kelly Worster, who is my sister) and Atomic Shotgun — now I’m pretty focused on my solo work. I released an all-acoustic record in 2010 and will soon do the full release for “Just Keep Goin’,” an eight-song solo record I did with a full back-up band that I’m very proud of. This summer I played solo shows in Minneapolis, Boston and New York City. Anyone can listen to and download the pre-release version of “Just Keep Goin’” and keep up with my show dates and cities online at www.collindaniels.com.
Image Description: Collin Worster