“the great sweeps of what it means to be human”

Art is central to Alexa’s story in Stranded on Earth. What is sacrificed for art and, conversely, what art is often sacrificed for; the creation of art and it’s sustaining properties for us during our lightest and darkest times; its ability to speak for our often inarticulate natures and to fuse those disparate strands which sometimes barely coexist.

The topic of art and artists of several disciplines has come up frequently in the rehearsals for Stranded on Earth. The list includes Christo, Jackson Pollock, Miles Davis, the cave painters in Chauvet, Johannes Vermeer, opera, and the singular, haunting sound of a cello. And throughout the course of these discussions we (actress, director, stage manager and dramaturg) often touched on what various works of art, be they paintings, songs, stories, poems, sculptures or plays, meant to us on very personal and primal levels, how certain works of art are intrinsically bound, for us, to certain places or events or people.

An example – Marc Chagall’s painting The Birthday (below) is one of my absolute favorite paintings and has been for a very long time. A big part of my affection for the work is that it somehow identifies my feelings for the woman in my life in a way the words just can’t or won’t. It speaks to me on some instinctual level and just makes complete and absolute sense. I cannot explain it although I’ve tried many times.

Chagall painting

Another example – a fair portion of my music collection is dedicated to the music of John Coltrane as his work, like Chagall’s, speaks to me in some nonverbal way. On the morning of September 11, 2001, after the Twin Towers in New York fell (and after I’d watched all the news I could handle), I needed to hear some music. So, I decided to play Coltrane’s A Love Supreme – VERY LOUDLY – while washing a sink full of dishes. It seemed to do the trick. Flash forward a few days later and I was on the phone with my best friend, who lives in San Diego. Eventually, the conversation turned to the attacks in New York. It turns out that he had the exact same reaction as I did and played the exact same Coltrane cd while doing the dishes as well. We were separated by an entire country across several time zones and yet we went through almost the exact same process. To this day, the sound of A Love Supreme immediately brings up my very complicated feelings on that day as well as this strangely shared moment with my best friend. And even retelling this story – as I have a number of times – doesn’t diminish the power of that moment and its slight spookiness as my friend and I recounted our stories to one another.

A Love Supreme

You, no doubt, have similar stories and examples of art speaking for you in ways that words sometimes cannot, of artists channeling, as Alexa says, “the great sweeps of what it means to be human.” What are those works that tell your story, that provide the eloquence necessary to mark our time on earth?

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