CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — Susan Russell is currently an associate professor at the School of Theatre at Penn State, but 20 years ago she was living in midtown Manhattan and performing on Broadway.

“I was in Phantom of the Opera, it was my biggest dream,” beamed Russell.

On September 11, 2001, Russell says she was sound asleep until her phone rang. On the other end of the line was a dear friend who told her to turn on the television. She did so just in time, to see the second plane hit the twin towers.

“The effect of that on me was shattering because I was watching something on a television that was happening two miles from my home but it didn’t make sense because it looked like a movie,” said Russell.

Throwing on some clothes Russell dashed out the door to see things for herself. As she hit 8’th Avenue and turned south, smoke, distress and confusion surrounded her.

“I heard sirens flying by, firetrucks, police officers, flying by. We did not know what had happened but we knew something had happened,” said Russell.

But in the midst of it all, Russell says something else caught her eye; people were already helping one another.

“New Yorkers have been called cold, we’ve been called detached, we’ve been called ‘ya just got to get to your next gig!’ But at that time we were all we had, especially when they closed the bridges, we were truly an island. So you would see New Yorkers stop and assist people they did not know in the best way they knew how like can I get you some water are you okay? What can I do? And that’s what’s amazing about humans, because in our worst moments…we usually become our best human beings,” said Russell.

Russell too would serve her city, by returning to work just 2 days later, after the mayor charged the actor’s unions, musician’s unions, and the stagecraft unions with going back to work.

“Saying so as the lights of broadway stay dark so will New York City look dark to the world,” said Russell.

According to Russell, that night’s performance changed her life forever as the crew ended with singing God Bless America. Within a year she’d leave the big stage to pursue what she calls her true calling.

“I teach peace through theatre study,” smiled Russell.

She also teaches about the power that lies within sharing one’s story.

“100% of the time, the beauty of storytelling is that if you tell someone a story, they will tell one back to you. You know it’s a facet of a diamond. You are this diamond constantly turning, and every facet is a story of you and the act of sharing that diamond is what brings light to the world,” said Russell.

This is why Russell says she will continue to share her story forever and encourages others to do the same; because out of darkness comes light, and out of fear, hope, but it all begins with…

“Once upon a time,” said Russell.

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