In this column, we deliver hot (and cold) takes on pop culture, judging whether a subject is overrated or underrated.
To quote Woody Allen, “the sun has been the bane of my existence”. And while I know I’ve immediately lost a lot of you by earnestly opening with a quote from Woody Allen, I’m sorry – he’s the only famous person who’s ever said something negative about the sun, so he’ll have to do.
The sun’s PR is overwhelmingly bright. It’s glowing. It beams. “The sun, the hearth of affection and life, pours burning love on the delighted earth.” That’s Rimbaud, at least according to the Google search for “good quotes about the sun” I just did to support my argument. People love the sun. As soon as summer hits, everyone’s like, “Let’s go outside!”, even though they’ve already been outside for nine months and not mentioned it at all.
No one needs surround sound cicadas.
But sometimes, the sun sucks. In summer, for example. There are the obvious reasons – global warming, drought, thirst – but more importantly, do I carry a jacket in case it gets cool? So I’ve gotta wear a t-shirt, but then also carry a jacket around for 11 hours in case it gets cool when the sun decides to end its shift? Great, thanks sun. In not-summer, I can just wear the jacket all day, you know? Nothing extraneous draped over my forearm or tucked under my armpit. Just completely hands-free and happy. I’m sure this is exactly what goes through Woody Allen’s mind during July (Northern Hemisphere, guys).
To get to the point, summer – because of the sun, I guess – is also the season when arts companies and promoters start to stage their events outdoors, to make use of our fine climate and beautiful natural environment. There are movies outdoors, theatre, and opera. The thinking is, “It’s summer. People want to be outside!” Just ’cause it’s summer, suddenly we have to disown roofs.
But entertainment wasn’t made for the outdoors. Sure, maybe it started that way, back when everything was in an “amphitheatre” or a “coliseum”. But then one day, an amateur architect, seated on an uncomfortable stone plinth during an early production of, say, Antigone and struggling to hear Sophocles’ words over the overhead squawks of, I dunno, pterodactyls, looked up, stroked his beard, pulled a stylus and a pouch of damp ash from his loincloth, and designed a roof. And we’ve been enjoying entertainment in the correct way ever since. Away from nature.
Whoever invented outdoor movie screenings was a true hater of cinema (or, alternatively, an avid supporter of silent movies, which are the only movies that are appropriate for the outdoors). Outdoor movies infuriate me.
“Oh, so you’re excited to see The Banshees of Inisherin, are you? Here, try to decipher it over the loud rustling of leaves in the wind, the deafening chirps of cicadas, the frightening honks of ibis. That should be fun!” Every movie I’ve watched at an outdoor cinema, I’ve had to rewatch again in the comfort of my own home like an amnesiac. Who has time to watch the same movie twice just to “get it”? There are also no reclining chairs in an outdoor cinema.
Outdoor opera is even worse. Firstly, it’s just a sad spectacle. All those people in fancy black tie having to traipse through mud and wet jacaranda leaves to get to their seats; there’s no dignity. Then, to make sufficient use of the outdoor locale, the production always has to throw in a ridiculously over-the-top set piece: a helicopter dropping Cio-Cio San into Madama Butterfly, fireworks to introduce Escamillo into Carmen. Is this opera or a James Cameron movie? (I ask that rhetorically because James Cameron movies are operas, don’t be elitist.)
Again, there are no ceilings in outdoor opera so there’s also no acoustics. I don’t actually know anything about acoustics, but it seems like a valid reason. The soprano’s vocal notes don’t bounce off anything back into your ears, they just travel onward into space, so you’re getting a half-arsed rendition. If opera didn’t need ceilings, why are there so many opera “houses” in the world? I guess we can just use those buildings for squatting. I’ve always wanted to sleep in a mezzanine theatre box.
Ceilings are also essential weather-wise – for most summer entertainment, but particularly for opera which seems to routinely conjure rain. No ceiling means rain falls right onto everyone’s heads – the performers’ heads, the audiences’ heads (not the orchestra’s heads; they’re in an underground pit, they have the right idea).
I fear that, somewhere along the way, this has turned into an argument about the underrated nature of ceilings as opposed to the overrated nature of outdoor entertainment. But really, it’s the same thing. When it comes to our cultural entertainment, it’s better inside. Or, to end on another useful quote, this time from the pretty-boy icon Evan Dando (via Smudge’s Tom Morgan, of course): “God bless the great indoors.” Always, but especially during summer.
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