Anyone who has ever spent an extended period of time in a television news studio?either on the floor or in the control room?will know, and have come to secretly love, the musical qualities of its internal rhythms. Directions are relayed, like a song-in-the-round, through a network of headsets to floor managers, camera operators, lighting designers and others. The expletive-laden banter of camera operators harmonises with the technical-sounding directions of the control room to zoom in, tilt down and pan left. Talk of gels and wattage and tungsten lamps are melody to the bass line, grunted by the director to the vision mixer, to take one, take two, take three. And then there’s the extended solo of the news anchor: a half-hour aria with a diva-mentality to match.
ChamberMade’s Crossing Live, which unfolds in a kind of heightened real time over the course of a particularly disastrous taping of an invented television current affairs program, The Day Report, takes the inherent music of the television news studio and sets it to, well, music. Written by Matthew Saville, whose debut feature film, Noise, was an extended investigation into the intricacies of sound, with a score composed by his wife and creative partner Bryony Marks, Crossing Live is a visually and aurally rich production. Only an hour long, it packs a sensory punch lacking in works twice or even three times its length; indeed, with its video screens, layered soundscape and multiple planes of action, it replicates, not only the music of the studio, but also the sensory overload of television more generally. Despite some occasionally messy real time vision mixing on the evening of the preview (the only performance I could attend), Ariette Taylor’s production is mercilessly precise. Her orchestration of the various elements?Scott Zero’s professional-looking video graphics, Shaun Gurton’s open plane set, Brett Kelly’s excellent musicians?is commendably engaging.
As Paula Day, The Day Report’s busty anchor, Dimity Shepherd is at once both the fount and the target of much of the piece’s satire; the only thing shorter than this woman’s attention span seems to be her skirt. Logies, her hair, the ex-soap star-cum-pop idol she refers to disparagingly as a foetus?the last thing Paula thinks or speaks (or sings) about is the news, and when she does it’s only to come up with a way to get tears?which rate highly?out of an interviewee who has just lost his entirely family to a bushfire. She resolves not to bring up the dead kids, one of whom would have been celebrating his birthday today, she’s been told, until after they’ve returned from the break. We’ll be right back.
Mezzo-soprano Shepherd’s flurried oscillations between blonde bimbo, opera-singing diva, and prototypical anchorwoman?complete with toasty, rounded vowels and elevated but reassuring tone?are playfully executed. While Saville’s libretto is really more of a script?Shepherd is the only cast member who sings?and the part isn’t exactly what you’d call vocally challenging, Shepherd really makes it her own, playing to both the cameras and the audience with all the sexed-up pseudo-journalistic flair of the anchors on which the part has been so clearly based.
Perhaps too clearly based? Female current affairs anchors and the shows they front are hardly original targets for satire and criticism, and one might argue that Crossing Over merely rehashes what are, for all intents and purposes, already widely held views. Naomi Robson and Anna Coren are not widely considered to be real journalists (or even, for that matter, real people) and current affairs programming in this country?at least on the
commercial channels?is dead. The manner in which the satire has been expressed, however, coupled with the piece’s insights into the aural textures of the news studio, is really quite refreshing. If nothing else, it puts the soap back into opera. And vice versa.