Author and Broadway performer Alexandra Silber talked with One Detroit’s Christy McDonald about what it’s like to live in “the city that never sleeps” during the COVID-19 pandemic, how the arts affects performers and observers, and the healing power of music.

Be sure to check out Alexandra’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s Detroit Performs:

Enjoy this never before seen clip of Alexandra performing “Lost in the Stars” by Kurt Weill, and arranged by Andy Einhorn:


Christy McDonald Real special guest joining me now is Alexandra Silber. She is a Grammy nominated artist. She is a musical theater veteran of Broadway and the West End. She’s an amazing author as well. And she’s a Detroit girl. Alexandra, how are you?

Alexandra Silber, Author and Broadway Actress Oh, I’m so well under the circumstances, thriving.

Christy McDonald Yeah. Tell us about… you’re in New York right now. Give us an idea of gosh… of everyday life for you right now.

Alexandra Silber, Author and Broadway Actress Yeah. I mean, it’s unprecedented, incredibly strange times. And, you know, it definitely feeling that being in the presence of the American epicenter at the moment, You know, who knows what the next couple of weeks will bring for the rest of our brave country. But, yeah, you know, I think this concept of New York as the city that never sleeps… is this is a city in a state right now of imposed Sabbath and rest and of course, people dealing with that in a myriad of different ways. So many people come to the Big Apple for its energy and vitality. And, you know, even just trying to get a little fresh air last Saturday night, you know, the the quietest streets I think I’ve ever seen in my life. And people being very respectful of social distancing. And I think really taking on the notion that staying home saves lives.

Christy McDonald You know, as an artist, though, as someone who performs and gives a gift that other people take in and that moves them. This has gotta be a hard moment as well. I feel like even online, we’re trying to find our moments of beauty and of joy. And as a performer, how are you dealing with that?

Alexandra Silber, Author and Broadway Actress Well, you know, I think the thing first of all, of course, like the closing down of the theatrical community is across the country. But, you know, led by Broadway, of course, here in New York, was was a devastating reality check, I think, for the seriousness of this pandemic. And, you know, one of the things that you’re absolutely sort of circling here is that performance by its very nature, it’s its virtue and its service is that it occurs live and that it occurs in a community setting. And that is a tradition that goes back to ancient Greece that, you know, you gather the community together to have a communal, cathartic experience. And right now, we are barred from that and we’re having a community experience, but it’s in isolation. And I think it’s it’s very, very unusual and very painful to not be able to share it, touch each other, hold each other and experience things in real time together. And I think it might. To answer your question, my role in that as a performer is to say I am a performer, but I’m also a multi-faceted artist that can create and provide art in other ways and serve in other ways. Use my language, raise my voice, use storytelling in ways that doesn’t necessarily occur alive. And there are virtues in those art forms and services, too.

Christy McDonald You know, you come back to Detroit and you’ve done groups with kids and you’ve and you’ve helped them as they’ve found their storytelling voice through music and through art. And, you know, when when kids dream of doing what you’re doing and knowing that you came from Detroit and and kind of what your path has been, what do you tell young performers who have that in them and are told, oh, maybe sensible jobs or a different path? What do you say?

Alexandra Silber, Author and Broadway Actress You know, I look, I don’t begrudge any I don’t begrudge any parent or any adult that that looks to youth with the lens of their own experience. And I genuinely think that when people say be sensible, be realistic, that they are trying to do and offer what is best for those young people based on their experience. I will just say that I’m I feel blessed to say that that is not my experience. And I would love to just offer an alternative voice to that and simply say that every person on this earth is endowed with gifts and endowed with a life force and a fire that hopefully inspires the question, why am I here and how may I serve? And when you think about using your gifts in terms of service, I think it changes the perspective of how you operate in the world. And for me, while it is a wonderful feeling to perform, I really do often think about the people whose catharsis I’m facilitating, the people that I’m moving, the people that I am able to allow to think about their emotional lives with a bit of distance. The the emotions I might be able to shift. And of course, illuminating the stories of the people that I’m portraying sometimes who never got a chance to speak for themselves. And I think that when it comes to speaking to young people, it’s important to recognize that using your gifts in the most…for the highest purpose possible is always going to lead you to right action. And I think to encapsulate that, I would say very often in society we’re told to pursue success. And a lot of we have a lot of conventional concepts of what success is. It’s fiscal. It looks like this. The house looks like that. The clothes look like that. But truly, if I could offer anything from my experience, it’s that success is not about what you do. It’s about how you feel about what you do and to pursue excellence. Often lands you in the middle of that kind of successful feeling.

Christy McDonald So then how do you pick what your projects are? I mean, you’ve done everything from work to I mean, you’re. You’re a writer. You’ve written two books and you’ve performed on the Grammy. So then how does the path how do you pick that path? Because you’ve obviously been really deliberate about what you choose to pursue and then how it impacts you.

Alexandra Silber, Author and Broadway Actress Sure. You know, I think I again, like I try to I try to move forward with obviously pursuing opportunities as they present themselves to me. But I think also trying to reflect upon does this opportunity reflect my values? Right. And I will say, too, that I don’t always knock it out of the park. You know, I don’t I’m not always perfect about.

Christy McDonald Is that hard as a performer to admit that, though, because oh, my gosh.

Alexandra Silber, Author and Broadway Actress Yeah, of course. You know, I. But I don’t know what’s perfect. You know, I’m not sitting on a mountain with ultimate wisdom. I’m learning just like everybody else. And, you know, I’ve taken jobs out of fear. I’ve taken jobs for health insurance. I’ve just like anybody. And I just have to say, though, that the wisdom that has trickled down from the choices that I’ve made that felt pure and in line with my values and the choices that upon reflection, definitely were fear based feel different. And I know the difference. And I can use that information to go forward. And I think that is about as good as anybody can do.

Christy McDonald Now, we know that you’re not going to sing in your apartment right now for neighbors, but for all sorts of reasons. But you passed along a song to us that we’re going to be able to, you know, put on the air. And I guess, how would you describe it to us and kind of your next you know, your next projects are once we all get through this, which we will. Well, it is hard to realize.

Alexandra Silber, Author and Broadway Actress Absolutely. So I have selected a song that I really think reflects this time. It’s called Lost in the Stars. It’s the title song from the musical Lost in the Stars by Kurt Vile. And it’s based on Cry the Beloved Country, the novel about South African apartheid. The song is sung by an African priest when he is at his absolute lowest moment. He’s reflecting on his faith. He’s reflecting on his place in the universe. And he’s just looking up at the stars and wondering what comes next. And in his exploration and in his doubt, finds a kernel of faith. And I just feel like the song really reflects where we are right now and hopefully in a dark in dark moments for anyone. We’ll provide a little bit of light.

Christy McDonald I want to ask you about your first book that you wrote called white-hot Greek Raid was coming out of the death of your dad to cancer when you were 18 years old. A lot of people are comparing the feelings that people have right now to grief.

Alexandra Silber, Author and Broadway Actress Absolutely.

Christy McDonald There just grief and grieving. Things that we might have wanted to do or can’t. How would you compare and, you know, writing so articulately when you were younger about that experience in your life, about where we’re kind of facing things now?

Alexandra Silber, Author and Broadway Actress You know, I have to say, one of the things that has been staggering about this experience is absolutely identifying that we are experiencing a sociological collective grieving experience. And it’s really… Shaking us because it’s like being at this massive family funeral where you might be able to mitigate your own emotional response to the grieving that we’re having. But then there’s Aunt Franny and there’s Uncle Henry and there each having their own experience and you don’t quite know how to mitigate responding to their rage or denial or aggressive optimism. I think ultimately, if I’ve learned anything that by tabling and refusing to experience the reality of grief, grief doesn’t go anywhere. It waits in the hall and it does push ups and get stronger while it waits. And I think what I would say is be gentle and be kind with yourself and gracious with others. Not everybody is gonna have the same set of skills, the same capacity to weather adversity that we that each individual may or may not have. I feel armed to bear this on an individual level and I feel armed to bear it and hold space for other people because of the experiences that I’ve had as a very young person. But not everybody has those. And I feel like I can be generous with others in that way. But not everybody else has those. And I just I think I would offer allow yourself to feel what you’re feeling. Don’t judge it and be gracious with other people as they go through their own experience as well.

Christy McDonald It’s a beautiful way to say it. And again, because everyone is coping with it in a different way, we’re all impacted in different way and it doesn’t make it any less than within what other people are feeling. And I’m so glad that you’re able to. That we’re going to be able to share your voice and again I think that there is something about music that soothes. Right now, even if it takes you back to a different time or you hear something different, there’s something about the art. So I think that we all need to remember that whether it’s looking at your favorite painting or hearing your favorite song or belting out the musical theater number from high school, exactly that…there’s something internal there.

Alexandra Silber, Author and Broadway Actress Absolutely. I think something about the arts is that it allows us to be able to express ourselves beyond our average capacity of daily life. And it’s why the arts haven’t gone anywhere. They’re a huge part of serving. You know, one of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot is right now the cut. I feel like our society is talking about survival in a very real and literal way. I think one of the things that the arts does so beautifully is it reminds us that we have a reason to live. On the other side of survival and that life is worth living and that it’s beautiful and worth fighting for.

Christy McDonald Well, let’s leave it right there. Alexander, so much for being you. I want you to be well. We can’t wait to see what projects are going to be doing in the next couple of months when we all keep moving forward. And it will be good to see it.

Alexandra Silber, Author and Broadway Actress Indeed. And all my love to my hometown of Detroit.