Mind Theater

Station Eleven: The World's a Stage

February 07, 2022 Ayo Akingbade Episode 60
Mind Theater
Station Eleven: The World's a Stage
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Show Notes Transcript
  1. It’s impossible to deny the influence of Shakespeare over contemporary drama. The mere mention of his name is enough to conjure up emotions and feelings that reflect not just on his own life and works but the many souls he touched. Penning 39 plays and a hundred and fifty some sonnets from 1585 to 1613, The Bard of Avon’s contributions to the English language and storytelling are as expansive as they are timeless, and his lasting impact over our lives has shaped the very art we consume today. Art that can’t help but call upon his classical brilliance to shed light on contemporary truths, and I think one of the best recent works at doing this has been Station Eleven, presenting a setting in which Shakespeare looms over the characters of this post-pandemic world like both a God and a friend.
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  3. Set 20 years after the Georgian Flu, a global pandemic that wipes out 99 percent of the world’s population, the central narrative of Station Eleven revolves around a troupe of actors known as the Traveling Symphony. This group makes their living performing Shakespearan plays to survivors in settlements around the Great Lakes in a continuous yearly cycle they refer to as The Wheel. It’s this act of bringing back Shakespeare that allows the performers to effectively reach back in time, after all many of the players have their pre-pandemic roots in theater. Former actors who know nothing but the stage. As their old world has faded, it's within these plays performed under an entirely new context that the actors are able to draw on their past experiences, relive the moments that made them fall in love with performing in this first place. And while the costume and set design may be unable to fully encapsulate the visual aesthetic of a highly produced King Lear or The Tempest, the emotional content of their performances remain the same. Shakespeare in this way is able to serve as an anchor to the old world, on a broad and general scale. For actors like Kirsten reciting Hamlet’s tragedy evokes memories of her own, performing as the character allows her to remember the old world and all that encapsulated her pre-pandemic state of benign, both the triumphs and the trauma. This ability to reach forward and backwards speaks to the transitive property of Shakespearean works. They comment so heavily on our human condition. On our relationship to power, and nature, to conflict and loss that no matter how much the outward world is transformed, even by a pandemic’s who’s lasting trauma blankets several generations, He’s able to relate to us. As an artist not “of an age, but for all time.” 
  4. To create art is to wrestle with a balance, there’s the challenge to create something that speaks to the present moment but also something that lasts. Art can only be impactful if there are people who found that art profound enough or important enough to be worth remembering. But why continue to remember Shakespeare? In fact, why continue to remember anything?
  5. This is the question the Prophet, the main antagonist of Station Eleven, is so concerned with asking. For him so much of the old world is laden with trauma, with his own first hand experiences that spoke to humankind as uncompassionate, as ruthless, as vile, or even cruel. He saw how select members, already likening themselves as leaders to usher in this new world, abandoned others, as the pandemic reared its ugly head. More concerned with preserving the greatness of humanity’s past than nurturing its future generations. And so for The Prophet while Shakespeare may help him remember, it's those memories he finds so dangerous. They represent a world of suffering and destruction that brought us here, a world that must be destroyed else the cycle will begin anew.
  6. [There’s no before]
  7. When Shakespeare fails us, when it’s no longer able to fully encapsulate our feelings or our plight or the manner of our existence we turn to new players, to new bards to spin us tales again. The title Station Eleven refers to a comic book within the universe of the show, and the book the show’s based on. This comic is a transcendental experience for many characters within the story. It’s quotes and scenes become an almost secret language that few understand but those who’ve read it have been deeply affected by. And just as Shakespeare had spoken to an older generation’s sensibilities, Station Eleven is able to speak to new ones, both transitional generations like Kirsten and The Prophet who see themselves in it’s panels, and post-pans, the first generation born without trauma. The comic serves as a new anchor to a new world. And while Shakespeare’s potency may be lost on some, the comic he’s inspired allows his legacy to live on.
  8. What Station Eleven makes expressively clear is the role art serves as this lifeblood to humanity. This everlasting song that draws upon its own great history to construct something eternal. To create is to add your voice to the chorus, and when it really resonates others will continue to carry on your song long after you’re gone. “They say a person dies twice, once when they stop breathing, and a second time when their name is uttered for the final time.” While Shakespeare’s name may fade from this world his art will be reverberated by those who choose to remember, through his works and the works that he inspired. Through the Bard and his influence we can’t help but realize just how cyclical art is. We’re all drawing from the same well of artists who came before, and while our circumstances may change as personal ugliness or trauma becomes revealed, art will always serve as the gateway to unlocking the memory of old worlds that aren’t so different from our own. The show must go on. For all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts…….(fades out)
  9. Mind Theater is produced and written by me, Ayo Akingbade. For updates on the show as well as upcoming episodes follow mindthearpod on twitter, instagram, and tiktok. If you wanna show monetary support the kofi link is in the show notes. Thanks for listening, ill catch ya next time.