Every semester, we pick book(s) to complement the shows in our season – it’s a cross-genre take on comparative literature.

This spring, we’re focusing on one text: Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. This novel brings together several narratives: in one near-future, a young girl is starring in a production of Shakespeare’s King Lear when the world comes to a halt with the sudden onset of a global pandemic. Twenty years later, in the ruins of civilization, that child is now part of a traveling theatre company – the Traveling Symphony – that performs Shakespeare and carries news to survivors, moving from settlement to settlement via horse-drawn wagons.

This spring, starting with the Classical Theatre of Harlem’s Twelfth Night, and ending with Philip Glass & Improbable’s Tao of Glass, NYU Skirball’s season also asks us to think about what live performance means to us now, in the wake of our own global pandemic(s), with its lingering effects on our ability to gather together, to make and share art. What has changed? What hasn’t changed? What can we change?

What was lost in the collapse: almost everything, almost everyone, but there is still such beauty. Twilight in the altered world, a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a parking lot in the mysteriously named town of St. Deborah by the Water, Lake Michigan shining half a mile away. Kirsten as Titania, a crown of flowers on her close-cropped hair, the jagged scar on her cheekbone half-erased by candlelight. The audience is silent.

Lines of a play written in 1594, the year London’s theatres reopened after two seasons of plague. … Plague closed the theatres again and again, death flickering over the landscape. And now in a twilight once more lit by candles, the age of electricity having come and gone, Titania turns to face her fairy king.

All three caravans of the Traveling Symphony are labeled as such, THE TRAVELING SYMPHONY lettered in white on both sides, but the lead caravan carries an additional line of text: Because survival is insufficient. 

– from Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Pick up a copy of the book, start reading, and join us later in the spring for opportunities to discuss the text.

Get Into It

Esquire | 2021

Interview: Emily St. John Mandel is Nobody's Prophet

““It’s a story where civilization collapses, but our humanity persists—maybe there’s something there that people wanted to absorb.”

The New York Times | 2014

Review: Shakespeare for Survivors

Survival may indeed be insufficient, but does it follow that our love of art can save us?

Emily St. John Mandel & Isaac Fitzgerald in conversation at the Strand (2014)