Sandbox Theatre revisits that time we sent music into space in hopes of contacting aliens

Sandbox Theatre's 'The Golden Record Project'

Sandbox Theatre's 'The Golden Record Project' Matthew Glover

With the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 coming up in July, the world's eyes are turning back to those clean-cut astronauts, their anxious wives, and the long rows of chain-smoking scientists in Mission Control.

Sandbox Theatre

Sandbox Theatre, though, is taking the occasion to explore a more modestly scaled but farther-sighted project of the space program: the Voyager Golden Records launched from Earth in 1977.

The Golden Records were discs packed into the two Voyager spacecraft as messages to any extraterrestrials who might one day encounter the ships. Packaged with instructions on how to play them, the Golden Records included sounds and images selected to represent our world.

Like the Voyager Golden Record endeavor itself, The Golden Record Project is highly collaborative. Project lead Kristina Fjellman and her team have turned Sandbox's storefront space into "The Standish-Ericsson Golden Record Preservation Society of the Twin Cities and Greater Metro Area Museum."

The Golden Records are often described as time capsules, and the Sandbox artists have embraced that idea in this installation and performance. The Golden Record Project is a gently melancholy tribute to an attempt, amidst the malaise of the post-Watergate era, to draft a message of hope, welcome, and understated pride from an ostensibly united human race.

The face of the project was Carl Sagan, whose TV series Cosmos spurred a generation to dream of the stars. The creative director was Ann Druyan, who would marry Sagan in 1981. While The Golden Record Project includes affectionate tributes to Sagan (including a wall-mounted pair of his favored French Shriner loafers), but the performance at the heart of the show focuses on Druyan.

McKenna Kelly-Eiding plays Druyan, who occupies a shagadelic living room on one side of a hanging sheet — along with half of the 12-member audience. The other half of the audience get to hang out with Ajuawak Kapashesit, playing an alien of unknown provenance who intercepts a Golden Record.

With both actors audible and visible, whether in full view or shadow, to the entire audience, the sender and the receiver muse on the significance of the transmission. Druyan describes its contents, which range from a Peruvian folk song to a Chuck Berry rocker to (as a pair of fictional interns observe in a video) an arguably excessive amount of classical music.

The extraterrestrial, meanwhile, tries to make sense of the record's images: people eating and drinking, children surrounding a globe model. Punctuated by vintage video and by museum guide Elizabeth Horab's instructive narration, the performance suggests that the pair are, in a sense, meeting across space and time.

The Golden Record Project is a richly imagined and touchingly intimate journey back to an oasis of idealism in a dour decade from a war-torn century. While the extraterrestrial side of the show falls a little flat (there's a reason Stanley Kubrick didn't try to show us the aliens in 2001), all in all this is a fantastic voyage well worth taking.