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September 22, 2021 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily

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Anna, an orphan in 15th-century


woodcutter’s son, his cleft palate
proof of a demon’s presence; Zeno,
an old man in modern-day Lakeport,

Generation-Z teenager raised in
that same town; Konstance, a girl
aboard a spaceship in some distant
future with only a tangle of conscious
wires to keep her company; Aethon,
a fictional man whose story connects
everyone else through time and
space. These are the characters
around which Anthony Doerr’s
“Cloud Cuckoo Land” revolves.

“Cloud Cuckoo Land” is a deeply

ambitious book. Six stories spread
across four ages, three nations and
two worlds. It is part contemporary,
part historical, part science fiction,
part myth. For most authors,
attempting a feat like this would
result in a jumbled mess of plot lines
and a desperate need to simplify.

But Anthony Doerr is not most

authors. The Pulitzer Prize winner
for “All the Light We Cannot See” has
a truly extraordinary ability to weave
together different lives, deftly pulling
the strings to cause them to crash
into one another before spiraling
away again.

In chapters of only a few pages, full

of prose that beautifully contrasts the
stark humanness in each scene, Doerr
manages to explore six multifaceted
individuals — their ambitions, their
families, their struggles and their
fears — without losing sight of the
common thread around which all
of their lives pivot: a story from a
different time, one that promises
more than what their lives have given
them. They each come to find solace
in the fable of Aethon, the “dimwit”
sheepherder who longed to become a
bird so he could fly to Cloud Cuckoo
Land, a magical city in the sky.

For a story so grand in scope,

the book still feels intimate and
personal. It takes a great gift to make
an audience sympathize with every
character — to worry for them, care
for them and forgive them — and it’s
a gift Doerr thankfully possesses.
There is no character whose chapters
I had to slog through (a common
occurrence in multi-narrative books),
none that I grew disinterested in or
lost my patience with.

Each time the narrative shifted

back to a character who hadn’t been
heard from in a while, it felt like
catching a new episode of a well-liked
TV show: short, sweet, and then you
change the channel and forget about
it until next week. Though there
were moments when it was difficult
to switch focus from one character’s
narrative to another, and I was
tempted to skip ahead so I could
continue one story, I’m glad I didn’t.
Doerr knows what he’s doing. Trust
the process.

In a characteristic fashion, Doerr

centralizes the conflict between
sets of characters. There’s Seymour,
who attempts to bomb a library in
which Zeno is directing a children’s
play, and then there’s Omeir, who’s
drafted to help bring down the city
walls behind which Anna lives.
Sworn enemies, who are bound to
one another by pain instead of love,
can nonetheless find the humanity in
each other.

Despite the complexity — Greek

mythology, wars fought half a
millennia apart and some spaceships
thrown in for good measure — this is
fundamentally a story of seeing one
another and acknowledging whatever
it is that makes us so intrinsically
similar across all barriers.

We meet Konstance as she’s

bent over the scraps of paper she
salvages from her food bags, stitching
together the history of humanity in
the limited hours of light she’s given
each day; the makeshift pen and ink
with which she writes is a lifeline to
a world outside her sterile room. A
millennium before, Anna learns in
secret how to read, sneaking candles
into the closet-sized room she shares
with her sister so she can pore over
the Odyssey every night, desperate
for an escape from her miserably
boring life. In another time, Zeno
fights for democracy in Korea while
Omeir fights for his family’s honor
and his kingdom in Constantinople.
Each is an entirely distinct path that
somehow mirrors all the others.
Each person is searching for Cloud
Cuckoo Land.

Upon closing the book, it’s

impossible not to wonder how those
who come next will perceive us.
Which of our stories will last, which
will vanish and which will only ever
be remembered by an unlikely few,
our words still forming invisible
bonds between strangers long after
we’re gone?

This review is a companion piece to Katrina

Stebbins’s “Stage meets screen in ‘Come From
Away,’ a deeply empathetic retelling of lesser-
known stories of 9/11.”

There’s something special about the space

that theaters inhabit, especially when they’re
empty. The ghost light filters throughout
the empty orchestra and mezzanine, the
world-weary seats filled with the specters of
past guests, people who once filled them in
anticipation of being transported elsewhere
for the next two hours. The stage stands bare,
the curtains framing the proscenium like
velvet bangs, the interior an empty picture
full of potential: The potential for stage crews
to push massive, scene-stealing set pieces out
of the wings, the potential for the actors to
egress from backstage into the world they
exist in for a few hours a day, the potential to
be someone else and the potential to entertain,
inform and change the lives of those viewing
the experience.

The air singes with electric possibilities,

the entire theater impatient for actors to once
again fill the stages and audiences to fill the
seats. There is a magic in theater that has
been desperately missing from our lives since
Broadway and theaters nationwide closed
down due to the pandemic; the show simply
could not continue to go on when we most
needed it.

I spent all four years in high school inside the

walls of our theater. I had class there daily with
people who became family, and I probably spent
more time with them than at my actual house
with my actual family. Coming to the University
of Michigan, I was quick to get familiar with
the various student theater groups, because,
although I am now a film major, I could never
let go of the stage entirely.

Whenever I was home in New Jersey

for the holidays, I tried to make at least one
pilgrimage to Manhattan to see whatever
show I could get tickets for. I was devastated
when theaters closed for the pandemic, and I
have been anxiously awaiting the day I will be
able to sit down for a live show again. Whether
it be straight plays, Shakespeare or musicals,
theater has always been the constant in my life,
the binding rock through fits of depression,
anxiety, heartbreak and whatever other extra
hardships life threw my way. I met some of my

best friends through acting and cannot even
begin to count the number of shows that have
had a profound impact on my life.

Not having theater around in its traditional

form for over a year hurt. So when I saw that
“Come From Away” was finally available on
Apple TV+, I clicked play immediately.

“Come From Away” is the story of the

townsfolk of Gander, Newfoundland, and
how they came together in the aftermath of
9/11 — when airspace was closed over America
— to house up to 7,000 diverted travelers who
could not get home. The show has long been a
personal favorite of mine; the music is folksy
and engaging, the lyrics are often profound
and help a slim, well-paced book tell the story
of the hundreds of real-life people portrayed
by 12 actors.

The simple wooden set works in tandem

beautifully with the light design, giving a
seemingly empty space incredible depth
and versatility. In person, everything comes
together under the direction of Christopher
Ashley (“The Rocky Horror Show”), in both
the theatrical and filmed production, to
form a riveting and emotionally charged
one-act show. Thankfully, Ashley keeps
his keen directorial eye and transfers the
in-person experience seamlessly into the

Rather than being a film adaptation of

a show, a pro-shot is quite literally a filmed
version of a stage production. The camera
movements and edits are there to help

enhance the experience, often helping to
focus the massive framing and blocking of live
shows for smaller screens.

Pro-shots are far from a new concept — they

have existed within the Broadway community
for years — but it was only recently that people
woke up to the larger general demand for them
and began to view them as a possible solution
to the class problems plaguing theater. When a
ticket costs upwards of $300 dollars for a single
seat, maybe less if you’d settle for one in the
nosebleeds, it becomes hard for everyone who
isn’t from an upper-middle-class family to see
shows. Productions as powerful and essential
as “Come From Away” have a greater impact
when more people have access to them; thus, it
is a great boon for everyone that the pro-shot is
available for wider consumption.

Part of the reason that “Come From Away”

is vital viewing for everyone is because it is
not your typical 9/11 fare. The show is never
saturated with American exceptionalism,
calls to arms for our troops or the war that
ensued after the attack; rather, it focuses
on how the death and destruction affected
everyone around the world. A majority of the
characters in the show are not even American
citizens, and those who are usually don’t let
that define them.

Married writing duo Irene Sankoff and

David Hein focus the piece on empathy and
compassion, on a community coming together
to help complete strangers during a time of
pure fear and tragedy. We follow all these

Newfoundlanders, their kettles always on and
their beds always set for visitors because they
put helping others ahead of their own daily
lives and routines.

Gander has an interesting history as

a refugee-hub: As Newfoundland’s only
international airport, and a place where flights
from all over often stop to refuel, flights during
the Cold War Era frequently emptied, only
leaving the flight crew as everyone else asked
for political asylum. Other events throughout
history, such as Y2K, have unknowingly acted
to prepare Gander’s citizens and its airport for
the events that unfolded on Sept. 11.

Since then, Gander has not experienced a

refugee event of similar scale, but I imagine
that doesn’t change the fact that the townsfolk
are always ready and waiting to welcome more
“come from aways,” should the opportunity
ever present itself. It makes one sit and think:
“Would we do that?” While individual
answers may vary, I believe that, after
watching America over the past two years of
the pandemic, the answer is no, we would not.

That’s the true power of “Come From

Away” and why its release, not only in time for
the 20th anniversary of 9/11 but also during
a pandemic, is so powerful. The show lives
and breathes friendliness and empathy, but
is not afraid to delve into the darker parts of
the rebuilding process, including the rampant
Islamophobia and trauma that we as a nation
still struggle with today.

And that’s the key word here: trauma.
We have all been subjected to a year and

a half of unmitigated trauma at the hands of
COVID-19. Our first responders have worked
tirelessly since the beginning of 2020 and are
far beyond running on fumes as emergency
rooms continue to fill and overflow. It is so
ridiculously easy to look at the news — to
look at all the states banning mask mandates
and all the people ignoring rules or falsifying
vaccine cards — and be overwhelmed by the

Just like in the aftermath of 9/11, many

people quickly moved back from “us” to
“me,” but that doesn’t minimize the good that
people are still doing. Acts of pure compassion
and goodness still resonate like beacons of
radiant warmth and remind us that for all
the bad, there will always be good to balance
it out. “Come From Away” floats above it
all as a lifeboat of affection and community,
highlighting the stories of those who helped

during the unimaginable.

The best theater sits you down in that

slightly uncomfortable velvet chair, whose
armrests dig into your arms just a little,

reaffirms your humanity. It may not have
been live, but simply seeing people back on
stage, performing in a room full of vaccinated
and masked patrons, made me cry. Some
deep unknown sadness voiced itself as the
Newfoundlanders went through their own
“Blankets and Bedding” for the sake of the
plane people, and I cried.

I cried for theater and how much I missed

it. I cried for the majesty of seeing live
performances again, of imagining myself one
day soon in the audience supporting an art
form I love and desperately miss. I cried for the
beautiful story and the beautiful book and the
beautiful songs and the beautiful actors finally
getting to do what they love once again.

I cried for the terrors that I know everyone

went through on and because of 9/11, when I
was barely even two, and my family had just
moved back to the United States. I cried for
the terrors and atrocities and traumas that we
are going through now, the seemingly never-
ending variants always looming overhead,
blocking the exit. I cried because deep down, I
know we will get through this. Someday.

But so many people have been and will

be lost and the world will feel emptier and
irrevocably different until it is all we know as

I cried because this pandemic will always

be a part of our lives, a foundational piece in
the puzzle of who we are decades from now
when it seems like a funny memory but hurts
like an open wound.

I cried because it will be only then, years

and years from now when hundreds of
thousands more tragedies have occurred, that
we will finally be able to sit down and fully
accept everything that happened because it is
too distant to change.

I cried because in the face of all this death,

all this selfishness and tragedy, people find it
within themselves to be vulnerable, to love
and care and extend a helping hand even to
those who would not do the same.

These are the people shows will be made

about, not the ones who defined how we acted
but how we want to believe we acted. Because
if there is that much good in some of us, there
has to be hope for the rest of us too.

The Michigan Daily — michigandaily.com

The beautiful chaos of
‘Cloud Cuckoo Land’

Daily Arts Writer

‘Come From Away’ understands we cannot move on from tragedy


Digital Culture Beat Editor

In March of 2020, Canadian metal band

Spiritbox was raring to record. They had just gotten
back from their first tour and were sitting on a pile
of material.

COVID-19 derailed that plan indefinitely. At one

point, the band thought, “We might have to just do
this record over Zoom.” Now, that material is an
album titled Eternal Blue that will finally release
Sept. 17. Completing the album took nearly a year
and an excursion to the Californian desert.

Spiritbox is made up of Mike Stringer,

frontwoman (and Stringer’s wife) Courtney
LaPlante, drummer Zev Rose and bassist Bill
Crook. The band began in 2016 and has amassed a
following that places them alongside metal acts like
Underoath and Slipknot.

Here’s more from Stringer about the album’s

creative process, Spiritbox’s upcoming tours and
Stringer’s guitar style. The following conversation
between the artist and The Daily has been edited
for clarity.

Anish Tamhaney: Mike, how are you doing?
Mike Stringer: Doing well, man. Gearing up to

leave in a couple days and getting the new set ready.
It’s just kind of funny, being home for a very brief
period of time and then having to go right back out

AT: So, Spiritbox’s debut album, Eternal Blue,

is dropping in a few weeks, and I’m curious about
your process for creating the album. Do you have a
specific memory in the process of writing that album
that really sticks out to you, or you cherish a lot?

MS: While everything else in the world was

changing, we had to keep redesigning in our heads
what the recording was going to look like. It even
went to the point where we were like, well, ‘We
might have to just do this record over Zoom.’ Just
remotely. Now, the plus side of that is, it allowed us to
write more, create a lot more music and have a big pot
to pull from, so to speak. But the moments that I will
cherish the most are actually just going out and doing
it, back in this last February 2021. We went to Joshua
Tree. And we got a random house on a 20-acre
property in the middle of the desert. The average
coffee run took about 45 minutes because that’s how
far out we were. Just living that, day in, day out for 30
days, coming out with the album, having a finished
product at the end of it was definitely something I’ll
never forget. But what a lead-up. Oh my god, that
was a long time of just sitting around just waiting
and hoping that we could get in to record it soon. So,
frustration, but also very fulfilling at the end.

AT: Going back to what you said about thinking

about doing the album on Zoom, one thing I’ve heard
you guys talk about is that years ago, when you were
a smaller band, you were used to recording things
in different rooms, maybe even across the country
and then mixing them together later. Do you think
that those early days prepared you for writing and
recording an album during the pandemic?

MS: Big time. Everything up until Eternal Blue

and the two singles we’ve done previously, “Blessed
Be” and “Rule of Nines,” the first two EPs were
done in my parents’ basement. We would hire an
engineer to record my guitar and I would record
bass as well. Then I would record Courtney’s
vocals. We would send all those files off to Dan
(Braunstein), who actually mixed and produced
Eternal Blue as well. We’ve been working with him
since day one. That do-it-yourself mentality — if
that’s all you know, then you just become used to
it. Going into a studio and physically recording it is
such a treat, and it’s such a step up. Once we started
doing that, with the first two singles “Blessed Be”
and “Rule of Nines,” I was like, ‘I could never go
back. I don’t want to do this in my parents’ basement

anymore.’ With Eternal Blue, we did a lot of writing
sessions over Zoom, with some stuff that actually
made the album. Dan took control of my computer,
I tracked it on and we just saved it. When we were
thinking about having to do it all over Zoom, it was a
bummer just because of the sheer amount of songs.
“Holy Roller” and “Constance” were actually done
over Zoom. So it’s not, ‘Oh, I don’t know, if we could
pull this off.’ It was just more so like, ‘I know we can
pull this off. But, I really don’t want to have to do an
entire album, sitting in my apartment and hoping
that the internet connection holds up the entire
time.’ I definitely think acting in that way for so long
really prepared us.

AT: I’m actually a guitarist myself, and one of

the things that I appreciate about your playing, in
particular, is that you always save room for cleaner
tones. There’s always a variety rather than just
distortion all the time. I’m curious to know, how
does that fit into your writing process? How did
striking that balance play a role in Eternal Blue?

MS: The album is very different from a lot of

our stuff that we’ve done. It has the widest variety
of styles that we’ve done … Learning the balance …
beforehand was a big back and forth because we

actually weren’t including Courtney on the writing
process. I would make an entire song and show it to
her. And then I’d be like, ‘You have to figure this out
because I’ve spent a couple weeks on this, so I’m not
going back and changing stuff.’ Moving forward
for every song on Eternal Blue, whenever I would
write something, Courtney would immediately get
on the mic, and she would start humming a melody
or whatever. In that way, we could figure out
immediately if this was the right key or comfortable
in her range. She ultimately is the most important
part of this band — she’s the voice of it. So, with the
clean and ambient elements, I feel like there’s a lot
more of a balance on Eternal Blue because I was
able to hear and see what Courtney was going to
do on each part … It’s all about serving the part, it’s

all about serving the song … I’ve kind of taken an
approach of stepping back a little bit and just having
the guitar sit where it needs to. I’ve been learning
how to do that, and I still have a little ways to go. But
I think this effort, at least, is a lot more glued and
cohesive around the board.

AT: What you’re describing is more of a

conversation than just you presenting a finished part.
Do you see that maybe extending to your drummer
Zev Rose and your bassist Bill Crook in the future,
where you’re all having a more open conversation?

MS: I’ve always written and recorded the bass.

I don’t know if that will change. Zev actually did
collaborate with me on this album, and I’m really
happy that he did. He’s an incredible drummer, and
I can only do so much … Zev and I would go back and
forth, where I would present him something and
then he would go on the e-kit and actually perform
the parts and add some extra flair. That made it so
much better because you can only program drums
so much. The moment that you can actually take
the performance of someone’s hands and put it in
there, it’s a whole ’nother ball game …

Spiritbox’s Mike Stringer on recording an album during
the pandemic, his guitar style and heading back on tour


Daily Arts Writer

Design by Grace Aretakis

Wednesday, September 22, 2021 — 5

Read more at MichiganDaily.com

This image is from the official website for “Come From Away,” distributed by Apple TV+.

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