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'Katrina' is Personal


Sarah Water's House in New OrleansAt the end of October, the Freed Center for the Performing Arts presents "Katrina: the K Word," a play focusing on the true stories of individuals affected by Hurricane Katrina. Though the actors have spent weeks researching and trying to imagine the horror of Katrina in order to emotionally pull off their role, the music director of the play doesn't have to pretend; her connection to Katrina is real, raw and painful.

Sarah Waters, visiting assistant professor of music at ONU, is a percussionist and the play's music director. She was forced to evacuate her New Orleans home two days before Hurricane Katrina hit, and she has never returned.

When approached by Nils Riess, chair of the department of communications arts, and asked to be involved with "Katrina: the K Word," Sarah immediately rejected the offer. "I didn't want anything to do with it. I didn't want to face that pain and uncertainty again," she says. But after thinking about it further, she agreed to the position only because it would allow her to share her grievous experience through what she knows best: music.

In New Orleans on Aug. 27, 2005, the Waters family packed their two kids, two cats, computer hard drive and one suitcase of clothes into the family car. Because of the city's evacuation warning, they planned to drive to Jackson, Miss. for a couple of days until the coming storm passed over.

On Aug. 29, Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and brought its devastation full force. The Waters family desperately drove northward in search of electricity so they could administer a regular breathing treatment to their young son. Eventually they reached Memphis and then Nashville, where they were finally able to find usable electricity.

After fully realizing the seriousness of Katrina, the Waters continued north to Lima, Ohio, to stay with Sarah's parents. Weeks and months later, they were still living out of Sarah's childhood bedroom. They knew that New Orleans was rampant with crime and prone to more flooding, so they abandoned hope of returning and began searching for college jobs in the area. Both hold doctorate degrees and were hopeful for teaching positions.

Ohio Northern University, where Sarah received her Bachelor of Music degree, was the response to the Waters' hopes. Sarah was signed on as a visiting assistant professor of music and her husband, Robert, became a visiting assistant professor of history. They were both contracted for only a quarter; however, the single quarter has become more than four years.

Although the Waters have begun to rebuild their life in Ohio, the pain from Katrina is still present. Sarah says," I would rather people stop reminding me about it. It's not like we moved; we all just left. There was no saying good-bye."

The play is a difficult, personal reminder to her, but she was willing to dedicate her time and talent to the production so the play's audience will be reminded of the tragedy. "If we forget the disaster, it's going to happen again." Sarah considers Katrina as a "huge failing where we turned our backs and closed our eyes on the problem," and where the country's "response was not appropriate to the disaster."

The director of the play, John Grimsley, stayed through Hurricane Katrina and rescued people on boats. His experiences, combined with Sarah's, provide a deeply emotional background for "Katrina: the K Word."

Jamienne Scott
Junior communication arts major from Columbus Grove, Ohio