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Did Lola hear a planet in distress?

What Lola Heard: Theatrical Sounds from Climate Change (Lola) played to a packed audience at the Sound Lounge at Sydney’s Seymour Centre on February 11 – just a few days after Penrith reached 47.3 degrees Celsius.

This was the hottest temperature recorded in Sydney since 1939.

Such a recent experience of extreme heat meant that the taped comments woven into Lola’s first musical set sizzled. The heat is so bad, you can’t think straight. Your body blows up: your feet and hands swell. The barometer says it is 45 degrees so, basically, you bake. The policy makers need to get out of their air-conditioned Macquarie Street offices and come out here … The quickest way to change someone’s mind is to make them experience it

Yes. The audience nodded. Yes.

Alister Spence. Photo: Stephen Webb
Alister Spence. Photo: Stephen Webb

The music composed and performed by Alexandra Spence (field recordings, tapes and amplified objects), Alister Spence (prepared piano and samples), and Mary Rapp (cello, double bass and voice) had a mesmerising and expansive effect.

Mary Rapp performs the What Lola Heard soundscape – an auditory journey into the realities of climate change instability. Photo: Stephen Webb
Mary Rapp performs the What Lola Heard soundscape – an auditory journey into the realities of climate change instability. Photo: Stephen Webb

Soft improvisation gave a haunting element to a conversation about Composed Theatre between Michelle St Anne, Artistic Director of The Living Room Theatre and Deputy Director of the Sydney Environment Institute (SEI), and David Roesner, Professor of Theatre Studies at LMU Munich and Co-Director of SEI.

A larger conversation
St Anne says her goal in creating theatrical works about climate instability is to communicate environmental research through new mediums, and to contribute to a larger conversation between artists, creatives, industry and academia about the plight of Earth and its peoples in the face of climate change.

She really hopes policy makers will come to see her work and get different insights into the data, and that academics will see a “new vibration” in their research.

In Lola’s second musical set, Spence, Spence and Rapp improvised around Lawrence English’s soundscape from Black Crows Invaded Our Country, which was created to explore the complex issue of human migration but, for me, opened channels to post-theatre conversations about the feelings of grief and futility that reading about climate change can engender.

There’s another Lola coming up in March – and this one’s called Lola Stayed Too Long (LSTL). It weaves together stories of the heatwave of January 2017 in a Sydney suburb with a tale from a fictionally named rural community in Western Norway where the snow is two months late.

Alexandra Spence. Photo: Stephen Webb
Alexandra Spence. Photo: Stephen Webb

LSTL’s maker, Alexandra Spence, said she’d felt acute anguish when she learned that an elderly neighbour of her mother had been dead for many weeks before she was discovered. Spence pondered what the woman’s death might have been like, and also asked herself, “What if it was mum?”

Spence’s questioning led her to create portraits and sound recordings that might “reconcile the personal with the epic. The fear, the guilt, the anxiety of an ageing mother with the unimaginable denial of a warming world.”

If you’re interested in the long-term survival of our planet, you might want to listen to Lola, Spence and St Anne. They’re thinking outside the square to help move people beyond helplessness and to take action.



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Volunteers’ News – May 2021

Did you manage to catch the Pink Supermoon on April 27? I did, it was large and bright but not pink from my view. For you sky watchers there will be a Super Full Blood (Red) Lunar Eclipse on May 26.