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30 October 2007

An Age of Disposable Culture

Chambermade // Vic // 18.09.07

Evelyn Krape & Dimity Shepherd Image: Evelyn Krape & Dimity Shepherd  

Polish-born, English sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has spent a considerable part of his academic career promoting the idea of ‘liquidity’ in an age of disposable culture. He suggests that as consumers we ask for instant gratification, and, as a consequence, we accept accelerated social change. Anything that fails to satisfy us immediately is quickly dismissed. This need for speedy minimalism is effectively demonstrated in the sound bytes or visual grabs of those tacky current affairs shows found on commercial television. These programs play out our desire for instantaneous ‘factual’ hits. ‘Liquidity’ is, of course, a metaphor for the unquenchable need for speed, and television current affairs shows are tangible examples of how debased that need has become in as much as the desire for analysis has been replaced with image-driven shallowness.

The ‘success’ of fad diets, the lives of megastars, personal tragedies or supermarket shopping tips have become staple topics for these tabloid shows purporting to be about current affairs. Some of us cringe at the silliness of these segments, but there are others who find them an indispensable aid for ‘serious enlightenment’.

The dissolving and re-configuration of image over substance plays a significant part in ChamberMade’s Crossing Live, with the subtitle of a morality play for the commercial half hour. I have found some of ChamberMade’s productions to be a bit ‘hit and miss’: some works have appeared rather embryonic, while others have been so multimedia driven that the drama was left in the wings. But I am glad to report that Crossing Live, with music by Bryony Marks to a libretto by Matthew Saville, has merit – hopefully it will be taken up elsewhere. The audience is taken on a journey through one night’s show. We see the people’s egos, trashy stories, and the show’s carping need for sensationalism through the use, or rather ‘misuse’, of personal tragedy.

Marks’s music infiltrates the production rather than overwhelming it. Most of the attention is centred on the show’s anchorwoman – a Sandra Sully type on-air personality. Marks asks a lot of the anchor-cum-soprano. Cohesion, I suspect, would be the biggest issue for the soprano for she is required to flip quickly from her ‘on-air voice’ to various levels of a berserk state during the advertisement breaks. Soprano Dimity Shepherd shaped her performance so that each outburst seemed perfectly in synchronisation with the dramatic intentions, and was wonderfully collected when uttering the challenging front-of-camera pitched dialogue. Shepherd was the only on-stage musician (well, this is not entirely accurate since the ensemble to the side had small stage directions). Actors filled the other roles, but there was never a discernible divide between the spoken and sung dialogue. Dramatically, all components of the production were seamless, and full credit must be thrown to the director, Ariette Taylor and music director Brett Kelly.

My only gripe was that the show, at around sixty minutes, was a tad too long. Perhaps I am one of Zygmunt Bauman’s specimens that hanker for sped-up reality. Oh dear, I hope not!

Performance Details

Further Links

Joel Crotty is deputy head, School of Music-Conservatorium, Monash University. His research interests are Australian and Romanian music, and he was on the AMC board between 1997-2003.


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