"Entering the World of the Hat" Artistic Phenomenology in Sondheim and Lapine's Sunday in the Park with George

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Alexandra Mitchell

Abstract

        How do artists think? How does an artist explain how they see the world to non-artistic people? And how do we as theatre makers inspire the next generation? A look at phenomenology in the musical Sunday in the Park with George provides some answers. George Seurat, the historical figure and central character of the musical, was an impressionist painter; he attempted to convey how an individual cognitively and uniquely experienced a typical place or moment. Painters like Seurat experimented with color and light to portray their “impression” of their subject, rather than the subject itself. Phenomenology has often been compared to Impressionism, as it explores the idea of cognitively looking at the essence of the ordinary in order to see frontality—presence and non-presence—of an object. Artists are said to see phenomenologically as they study the totality of a seemingly normal scene that others may not notice. Reading Sunday in the Park with George with a phenomenological lens demonstrates not only how George takes the time to see all sides of his subjects, but also how a play can teach its audience think like artists. This paper will explore the phenomenology of Sunday in the Park with George— particularly through music, design, and character development— in order to conclude how theatre can make new artists of its audience by teaching them to think and see like artists, paving the future of theatre.

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Theatre