Going to the MoMA and Broadway was a great first impression of New York City! Both were very new experiences for me–I don’t have any background studying modern art, and I’ve never had much exposure to musical theater. But I ended up loving both of them! Come From Away was heartwarming and moving but also unexpectedly funny, and I was in awe of how the cast was able to effortlessly transition between characters. Each actor played several different parts with only a jacket or hat to differentiate them, but they were so good at doing different accents and mannerisms that it was never difficult to follow. It was also fun to see fairly elderly actors, who didn’t fit my mental image of a Broadway star going into the performance. It was amazing how great at singing and dancing a few of the older actors were, and it made the show feel very real and representative of lots of different groups of people.
Before seeing the show, we went to MoMA, and I really enjoyed just wandering around all the different floors. I enjoyed the wide variety of work; some paintings were really challenging to look at and try to analyze, and others I enjoyed just aesthetically for their beautiful colors and shapes. It was also incredible to see in person many famous paintings that I’ve known about forever and seen pictures of online. In particular, it was interesting to see how big some pieces, like Matisse’s Dance (I), were in real life. I also noticed that the colors in Van Gogh’s Starry Night, such as the green of the tree, were brighter, or somehow more saturated, than they appear on a screen. The experience of encountering so many works of art that I was already familiar with in a new way was amazing. Additionally, it was surreal to see paintings by some of my favorite artists, like Gustav Klimt and Helen Frankenthaler, and feel a bit of a connection to them in that moment. Attached below are some pictures I took of some of my favorite works of art from the MoMA, including the Klimt and Frankenthaler. I love these artworks for their use of texture, color, their use of shapes and brush lines and shadows, their wide variety of materials, and their emotional evocativeness and resonance. Having been artistically inspired by these and many more pieces, I can’t wait to paint and draw and collage and create my own art!
Our trip to New York City was a lot of firsts for me! It was my first time going to the MoMA, my first time ever seeing a Broadway play, and my first outing with the collective.
At the MoMA, I got to visit their collection of Calder sculptures. I had seen photographs, but never been near one in person, and they made a lot more sense up close. I was struck by one, a large red canvas with a series of curved metal sticks suspended in front of it on a mobile. As the air moved, they spun around each other in complex patterns. If you stood back a bit, it looked like an abstract painting of black and white lines on a red background, except the lines were constantly moving — it was never the same painting twice.
Being in New York felt a little like that. It was almost overwhelming to be around that many people again — on the train, on the street, in line for the subway, I kept looking around, greedily drinking in faces and bits of overheard conversation. It was a painting that changed every time you looked, and I felt very lucky to get to observe and be in it with my fellow Edwards members.
When we got to the theater and the lights went down, though, the whole crowd seemed to come together. “Come From Away” was moving (I only cried once) and surprisingly funny! I was amazed at the number of accents each actor seemed to be able to do — it took me a while to realize they weren’t all different people. The split-second costume changes (often onstage, often in the middle of singing or dancing) were very impressive. The set and lighting design were also really striking — they were able to portray so many different settings (a cafe, airplanes, buses, a school, different houses, multiple different countries) convincingly, all with just a backdrop and a handful of tables and chairs. I’m just starting to dip my toe into theater at Princeton with acting and graphic design for “Much Ado,” but this made me really want to get more involved in theater design. It’s always a mark of good art that it makes you want to make more art! I’m looking forward to future expeditions with Edwards.
I could write a whole essay about MOMA. I will just say that I found it a great achievement of the human mind. It is one of the most admirable human accomplishments that civilization reached the point of creating abstract art, that we managed not only to cultivate aesthetics but also to endow aesthetics with philosophical meanings. I spent fifteen minutes looking at and trying to interact with Boccioni’s Unique Forms of Continuity in Space; if I had time (ah, the tyranny of busyness!), I would have spent much more. My interpretation of that objection would be, in summary, this: “ambiguous, unfamiliar curves trying to capture a common yet elusive phenomenon: motion.” The very fact that someone thought of doing art with such philosophical motivations is itself art.
The NYC trip concluded with something less philosophical but equally impressive: a Broadway Performance (Come From Away), which was so pleasantly light, well-structured, and charming that—I dare to say it—I am happy that I saw it. It gave an insight into the simplicity of being a good person, of living with, for, and because of others.
Spending a Saturday off-campus revealed to me that there is a certain warmth in art, humans, and life that I tend to forget. Here at Princeton I spend so much time striving to become a scholar, a thinker, sharpening the pencil of my thought so that it can be crystal-clear and impenetrable. But there is a hidden aggressiveness/ defensiveness in that attitude: we operate under the assumption that thought needs to be clear and rigorous to endure possible objections and attacks by enemy parties.
But what if we tried to be clear and rigorous not for the sake of defending ourselves, but with the aim of moving others and making them understand, feel, experience new things? That is my vision for truly humane humanities: being a scholar that retains the spirit of an artist.
Come From Away captured me on an emotional rollercoaster that I am better off for experiencing. I went into the show skeptical of a musical surrounding the plot of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Honestly, who could imagine that such a theatrical piece would have me laughing, crying, and clapping along to the music? And yet, that’s exactly what happened!
Our trip fell shortly after the 20th anniversary of 9/11, bringing a somber remembrance to a moment in time that forever changed the world. The structure of the play continually reminds us of this power as the lyrical and frantic melody of the dialogue charts the day and time, down to the minute, after the attack. While the main characters were not impacted in the same way as the plane survivors we historically focus on, the complexity of their distance from New York and the intimate effects of this tragedy on their lives highlights the gravity of such an event.
Throughout the play, we see beautiful moments of humanity in its tragedy, anger, terror, and despair but most importantly in its unity, love, peace, and joy in unexpected moments. These themes particularly resonated with my experiences throughout the pandemic. Covid-19 has been a global trauma and while not every family experiences its effects the same way, all our lives are intimately changed forever creating a lasting connection across countries and cultures. In these moments of panic and uncertainty, we can relate to others more than ever before. And in these moments we may question whether the joy we find in small moments is selfishly treasured. But when we see the plot of this show unfold, can we still say that it’s selfish to find love when you think the world is unloveable? Or to make a joke when you think you might never laugh again? Or to sing drunk and witty tunes when the melody of the world is a dissonant chord of tragedy? I think for those of us who can only understand 9/11 from anecdotes and history books, especially after 20 years, the musical challenges any desensitivity we might have built and forces us to feel: to join in this moment even when we “come from away”.
For me, Come From Away offers a message of hope in devastation, a message so utterly human it creates connections and lasting love that continues to surprise us with resilience beyond words.