Hayden Orpheum: Week 203

Hayden-Orpheum-Exterior

Barret once read that the more you remember a memory, the more it changes. This suggests that the truest memories are the ones that you’ve mostly forgotten about until they randomly pop up out of nowhere.

If that’s true, there’s a recurring memory I’ve had for so long that it’s bound to be completely fictional by now. It’s short, like a movie trailer, and takes place on a rainy day in the city.

If pressed to describe the scenery I would say gentrified LA. If pressed further, I would say the setting has the ambiance of the educational video series I watched in my high school Spanish class. The film quality of Destinos had that soft early-90s blur that I think is very appropriate for my childhood memories.

Hayden-Orpheum-Small-Theatre

The only notable thing that happens in this recollection is that I take cover from the weather at a movie theater. I go in the door, take my seat, the screen starts to glow and that’s it. The end. There’s no other interaction that might give this memory some significant meaning, but the weird thing is though- any time it rains in the city, in any city, it reminds of this memory and that makes me happy.

Which is why, when everyone at work was bummed about the rainy weather, I was looking forward to meeting my friends at the Hayden Orpheum. It’s a beautiful art deco cinema on the North Shore that was dates back to 1935.

The glow of neon in the misty rain, the smell of butter popcorn, the swish of velvet curtains parting- I was halfway around the world but I somehow I was back home just in time for our movie to begin.

Hayden-Orpheum-Main-Theatre

How to get to the Hayden Orpheum: 380 Military Road, Cremorne NSW 2090

Tabac Rouge: Week 202

Tabac Rouge at the Sydney Theatre Company

She laughs and babbles like a madwoman. Then she leans her head so far backwards that when she puts on a jacket all you see is a decapitated body in repose. This is the physical embodiment of Thierrée’s opium addiction.

Not that James Thierrée really has an opium addiction, but his character in Tabac Rouge does and when it hits him, he jolts back in his armchair and drifts across the stage. A cloud of smoke and a spry contortionist trail along in his wake.

Tabac Rouge did not have an intermission, so at the end of the show it took me and Barret a couple of minutes to digest just what exactly we had seen.

What had we seen?

Tabac Rouge at the Sydney Theatre Company

The centerpiece of the show was a grimy, massive mirrored wall. On the reverse side was a labyrinth of pipes. At the end of the performance the mirror fell into separate pieces that spun like a shattered disco dream.

There was a small troupe of dancers whose movements alternated between mechanical precision, epileptic seizures, and rolling waves.

Then it all ended with the floor swallowing up everyone on the stage.

Barret and I had our own ideas about what it all meant, but all the reviews I read seemed to lead in another direction. The only thing we could agree on was that Tabac Rouge was truly out-of-this-world.

Tabac Rouge at the Sydney Theatre Company

About: Tabac Rouge

How to get to the Sydney Theatre Company: 22 Hickson Road, Walsh Bay

Atomic Bomb: Week 201

Atomic Bomb

William Onyeabor is a Nigerian synth pioneer that was, “responsible for some of the most searing Afro-funk and space-age jams you’re ever likely to hear.” The majority of his music was released in the early eighties and shortly thereafter he turned born-again Christian and refused to speak about himself or his music.

Almost thirty years later, a group of musicians from the US are keeping the groove alive with a Sydney showing of Atomic Bomb at the Enmore Theatre. The core group is composed of Sinkane, Money Mark, Luke Jenner, Pat Mahoney, and Pharoah Sanders whose shirt glowed under the stage lights like a purple velvet oil slick. Sanders, a Grammy winning jazz saxophonist, is pushing seventy-five but not afraid to drop low when caught in the grips of a good beat.

Enmore-Theatre-Atomic-Bomb-3

Then there were the special guests, the Mahotella Queens. The South African vocal group entered the stage wearing bright red shirts, white skirts and a large red hat with their country’s flag. Two of the singers were members of the original lineup from the 1960s while Amanda Nkosi was the newest member. She was the only one young enough to do a high kick, but that just meant she’s spent less time on this planet perfecting her swagger- and the Mahotella Queens had some serious swagger and some serious voices.

As this was an Australian show, Gotye was on board as a guest singer and he killed it! His vocals were rich and there was something about his lanky, mellow demeanor that just fit the vibe of the music.

<Gotye>

Since I came to know you baybyyyyyy,

I’ve been telling you how sweet you are.

I’ve been telling you how good you are.

Now I want you try to tell me how I look.

Tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me, tell me. 

Please tell me how I look.

<Mahotella Queens>

You loooooooooook so good.

Fantastic man!

Towards the end of the show Sinkane, wearing a slim-cut two piece suit and wide brim hat, came out from behind his keyboards and got the entire audience to get low. It was not an easy position to maintain and just before my thighs burst, we all rose back up together and jumped up and down to the music and to relief. Hanging above the stage was a projection screen with a recording of a woman dancing on roller skates.

William Onyeabor might not appreciate his music anymore, but it was pretty obvious to the crowd that the only downside to Atomic Bomb was the length of the show. We wanted a million more encores.

About: William Onyeabor

About: Atomic Bomb

How to get to the Enmore Theatre: 130 Enmore Road, Enmore

Darling Quarter Night Owls: Week 200

Film still from Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Darling Quarter Night Owls, Sydney

There are no shortages of outdoor film screenings in Sydney during the summer. They run the gamut from contemporary blockbusters to classics and you probably couldn’t throw a stone without hitting someone stuffing their mouth with popcorn. (Actually, make that ice cream- Aussies love to eat ice cream at the cinema.)

Most screenings are ticketed, but I found one called the Darling Quarter Night Owls that is completely free. Each late afternoon showing begins with a short film and is then followed by a children’s movie. Around 8pm, when the sun has set ans the kids turned in, there is a classic film. The one I was most interested in was Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

While I enjoy a free film as much as the next person, the location next to a busy sidewalk meant it was hard to hear the audio. Also, since the movie wasn’t being projected, the blindingly bright LED screen that worked well during the late afternoon was a bit much in the evening. I could have comfortably worn a pair of sunglasses. My friend Jess must have felt the same way because she closed her eyes and fell asleep halfway through.

The movie variety for the entire program was good, but I think this is one film festival that’s best left to the kids.

About: The Darling Quarter Night Owls

Australian National Maritime Museum: Week 199

Stern of the HMB Endeavour: Sydney, Australia

Barret and I have been working on a graphic novel together and when I decided a few chapters would take place on a ship, I realized that I don’t know very much at all about life at sea. It also didn’t help that the kind of visual information I needed was very specific and very elusive.

At Barret’s suggestion I made a research appointment at the library of the Australian National Maritime Museum and mentioned to the librarian in advance that I was researching diagrams for a 300-tonne merchant ship from the 1820s. While she did not find info on that specific kind of ship, she had pulled a lot of great material for me. I was very happy with the information, but I was still having a hard time visualizing what that kind of ship looked like.

How did people move through it? How was it set up? What was the scale of the interior? If I wasn’t sure about these answers, how could I write the storyline and how would Barret be able to illustrate it?

While a library is a great place to start a project, sometimes the only way to nut things out is to get into the field. That’s why I went back a few days later to visit the tall ships at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Crew's hammocks aboard the HMB Endeavour: Sydney, Australia

The one I was most interested in, the HMB Endeavour, is also one of the most historically accurate maritime vessels. It is set up as if the crew had just anchored and gone ashore. While the ship predates the period I was researching by about 50 years, there was still a lot to gain from walking the deck and through the confined quarters.

One of the things that struck me was just how much rope was needed to operate the ship. It draped around every protrusion on the deck and I imagine it presented quite a tricky work environment- especially in bad weather. Being from the digital age, it was quite easy to romanticize this kind of travel when viewing the ship in the calm waters of Darling Harbour.

Crew's toilet aboard the HMB Endeavour: Sydney, Australia

However, once you look a little bit closer you notice things like the crew’s toilet. I’m not sure if there was another located within the ship, but the one at the bow of the deck was a wooden platform with a hole. Aside from absolutely no privacy, a shared tasseled rope served in place of toilet paper.

Then, with the help of the stationed tour guides, you come to realize the things that would be impossible to accurately recreate: the sweaty stench of a 56-strong crew, the rudimentary healthcare, and the disappointing taste of stale food and stale water.

The crew of the HMAS Vampire, an Australian destroyer ship commissioned in 1959, might not have contended with the same issues as the crew of the Endeavour, but it feels a bit different to romanticize about laminate tables and commissaries stocked with Crunchie Nuggets and Dunhill cigarettes.

Mural inside the dining room of the HMAS Vampire: Sydney, Australia

Officer's dining room aboard the HMAS Vampire: Sydney, Australia

The surfaced HMAS Onslow inside the Darling Harbour: Sydney, Australia

When it came to the HMAS Onslow, a submarine commissioned in 1969, the first thing a visitor noticed when stepping aboard was the lack of space. Bunk beds lined the hall and the lowest bed looked more suited to store shoes than a sleeping man.

Officer's quarters on the HMAS Onslow: Sydney, Australia

The quarters of the ranking officers were not much to get excited over, unless of course you were sleeping on one of the aforementioned bunk beds. The one thought that kept crossing my mind was how much work it would have taken to draft the construction plans- every square inch of space had to be accounted for.

The Captain's bathroom on the James Craig: Sydney, Australia

The other thought that crossed my mind was that I’d much rather deal with rats and damp bedding than with the claustrophobic nature of a submarine. Especially if I could have a bathroom like those of a Captain’s wife (circa 1874).

Operation room of the HMAS Vampire: Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney

After viewing the utilitarian style of 1768 and the 1960s, it’s easy to see why the HMB Endeavour captures people’s hearts- the creaking floorboards, the skylights, the excitement of traveling by the whim of nature. Paying passengers today can even sail aboard it to places like Tasmania.

You just don’t feel the exhilaration of being out at sea inside the Bat Cave of the HMAS Vampire. Seeing the inside of the operation room also made me glad that I am not writing a military thriller- you really need to have a background in the Navy to even begin to understand the complex operations on board a ship like that. I’ll stick to describing poop platforms and toilet paper tassels.

Operation Room of the HMAS Vampire: Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney

How to get to the Australian National Maritime Museum: Darling Harbour- 2 Murray Street, Sydney 2000

About: The HMB Endeavour

About: The HMAS Vampire

About: The HMAS Onslow

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