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Powerful firsthand accounts drive Northeastern graduate’s Boston Marathon play

Photo by Paul Marotta

Northeastern graduate Joey Frangieh’s new production, Finish Line: A Documentary Play About the 2013 Boston Marathon, brings to the stage the stories of real people—using only their own words, verbatim—who were affected by the Boston Marathon bombings and responded with heroism, selflessness, and love. Frangieh directed and co-created the play, in which actors portray 14 people based on the powerful firsthand accounts they provided in extensive interviews about their experiences.

Joey Frangieh, AMD’12 Photo: Nile Scott Shots

Frangieh, AMD’12, spent two-and-a-half years on the project. In the fall, he returned to Northeastern to workshop the play under the leadership of Department of Theatre chair Scott Edmiston. It was one of seven workshops held for Finish Line. “I’ve been a huge fan of Scott artistically for many years,” Frangieh said. “He gathered a passionate group of talented young artists. He and the students put a lot of heart and effort into putting together a powerful workshop. That really helped shape the final product.”

The play had its world premiere last week and runs through Sunday, March 26, at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre in Boston. We asked Frangieh to discuss the play as well as how his Northeastern experience prepared him for his career in theater. After graduating, he founded the Boston Theater Company, a nonprofit presenting the play in association with the Boch Center.

Next month, Frangieh will run the Boston Marathon for the first time. He says part of his inspiration comes from having met people throughout this process who were injured in the bombings but came back stronger and ran the marathon the following year.

How would you describe the play?

It’s a documentary play. All of the words have been spoken by real people. No one on the creative team wrote any of the lines. We sat down with people who were injured, who were at the finish line, who were at the hospital, who were thousands of miles away but knew someone there. We used their exact words. The goal has been to honor and remember those who were lost and to celebrate the heroes who rose that day. It was a terrible day. Lives were lost, and many people were injured. But our community came together.

Our play doesn’t focus on the terrorists. We don’t say their names. There are no explosion noises; we use silence. This play isn’t about the bombings. It’s about the people affected, the heroes, and the healing community.

The play premiered last week. What struck you most about opening night?

Opening night is always the best night. It’s the most inspiring night for me. It signifies that my work is done and that I’m giving the show over to the cast, crew, and the entire team running the ship. I always open the playbill and read through the names of the people who’ve come together to create this one show. Theater is a collaborative form. What I think was a bit different about Finish Line was how massive the team was. We interviewed 94 people. We had 35 people do those interviews. We did seven workshops for the show. The list goes on and on. Seeing the more than 500 names of people who created this one unified story was really impactful. A community has come together to create this story about a community. I don’t know if I’ll ever get that experience again.

I was also very moved by speaking to the survivors who came out to the Shubert Theatre to see their stories come alive on stage. That was really special.

Northeastern students workshop Finish Linelast year at Ryder Hall. Photo courtesy of the Department of Theatre

You co-created and directed this play. What was the most challenging part of this journey for you?

The most difficult thing by far was getting it down to 90 minutes. We had 94 transcripts of interviews, all of which were powerful and impactful stories. But to get the show down to 90 minutes, we focused on 14 fully fleshed out stories. We knew that to tell each story, we needed to tell it fully and in great detail. Telling any more than 14 stories felt like we’d be doing a disservice to them.

How did your Northeastern experience prepare you for your career?

I really enjoyed my time at Northeastern. The Department of Theatre and the university gave me a vast, broad educational experience. I was able to try many different things in the theater art form. I took courses in lighting design, costume design, directing, and acting. When I arrived at Northeastern I wasn’t really interested in learning about all the different roles, but the department encouraged me to do so and it’s one of the best experiences I could’ve had to enter this field. It made me so much more prepared. Take costume design, for example. Taking that course has helped me communicate much better with costume designers and see a show through their eyes.

There’s also something in the fabric of Northeastern about being an entrepreneur. I never thought about starting my own company, but six months after graduation I decided to take the plunge. Many of my friends on campus were not artists; I had friends in business, architecture, communication studies, languages. After graduation when I saw some of these people starting their own businesses and carving out their own paths, it inspired me to do the same.