josh rosner

Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Rudd; Sorry; National Debate’

AUSTRALIANS: JUST TOO POLITE?

In Australian Culture and Society on February 9, 2011 at 5:40 am

There was recently an article in the Sydney Morning Herald titled ‘Booing John Malkovich‘, about his less-than-well-received performance in the Sydney Festival production of The Giacomo Variations. You can read the article here. It suggests that it is difficult and rare to evoke an emotional response to a performance from a Sydney audience. “Masters of the sitting ovation”, is one quote.

As a regular opera-goer – I attend three or four Opera Australia products each year, as well as Opera Queensland, WA Opera and I always try to see a production when traveling overseas – I can certainly attest to Australian audiences’ reticence to display an emotional response to a shared experience, whether it was enjoyed or loathed. I thought Opera Australia’s production of Tosca in 2010 was ridiculous, farcical and a waste of my money (compounded by the fact I fly to Sydney and stay overnight each time I see an opera) and I had no reservations speaking my mind to fellow patrons and booing at the end. Opera Australia’s La Traviata, by comparison – which I saw on the same day as Tosca – was one of the best opera productions I have ever seen. I did not stand as the curtain fell (I felt Opera Australia didn’t deserve it, even if the performance did) but I did clap enthusiastically. Last year I saw a Bell Shakespeare production of King Lear in Canberra (the tickets were a birthday present) and one of the actors actually, blatantly read his lines of a small queue card he did little to conceal. It ruined the production for me and soured me to Bell. I sent an email to Bell’s production office expressing my disappointment. I received no acknowledgement or response.

The opera, like most theatre experiences, does lend itself to the quiet tut-tut from audience members who perceive a clap was offered at the wrong time, or it went on to long, or a ‘bravo’ was yelled just a little too loud in that “I’m an aficionado” style. I have never – ever – seen one audience member verbally abuse another, although I have often heard “shhhh” come from somewhere around me.

Although this article is specifically about the seemingly conservative nature of Australian theater audiences (or is just a Sydney thing?), I think it speaks more broadly to who we are as Australians. I know some readers will find my next comment contentious or deliberately provocative, but, nonetheless, it is my honest assessment. On rare occasions, Australians have been moved to take to the streets in protest. Cronulla comes to mind (for all the wrong reasons) as well as the protests against war in Iraq (which I joined). But it is incredibly rare for Australians, en-masse and spontaneously, to take to the streets in protest to government policy. We could take a lesson from the French here. They don’t just march in an organised parade holding banners on high. When their government wrongs them (and lets face it, throughout history successive French governments have wronged its citizens) they speak in a language that is heard and understood. With violence. I am always amazed that no Australian prime minister has been assassinated. It isn’t because they were well protected. They aren’t. It’s because as Australians we allow our government to say “bend over”, and then we do. We take it, barely emitting a whimper. “Thank you, Sir. May I have another?”

Australia is a mature country, on the verge of independence from Britain. It is time we learned to stick up for ourselves. To stand up and take action, rather than being walked all over by those we vote for.

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