ROSLYN OADES, director and co-creator of The Nightline, BLEACH* Festival
I’ve been gobsmacked by how intensely honest our Nightline callers are ...
A concierge leads you into a mysterious low-lit venue, full of tables for one. On each table is an old rotary-dial telephone and a simple switchboard – the type an operator would’ve once used. You take a seat, pick up your handset and listen in. This is The Nightline, an interactive audio experience about the city at night inspired by a collection of real-life late-night stories, confessions and private thoughts, compiled from more than 1000 anonymous voice messages. Eavesdrop on the voices of shift workers and insomniacs, revellers and restless souls. It’s an unsettling, immersive and strangely beautiful experience, and it’s coming to the Gold Coast from August 11–14 as part of this year’s BLEACH* Festival. We sat with the show’s director and co-creator Roslyn Oades to chat inspiration, accolades and strange callers …
While there are many people that follow yourself and your widely applauded works, some people reading this may not be entirely familiar with the concept of audio-theatre. So, for those just getting to know you (and for the Gold Coast folk that may be experiencing your magic for the first time at BLEACH* Festival) give us a one-liner to tell us who you are and what you do …
I’m a documentary theatremaker who is fascinated by the process of ‘recomposing from reality’, by which I mean collecting vast amounts of documentary audio and field recordings as source material and then crafting compelling theatrical listening experiences from this palette of raw materials.
We are so excited to see, or perhaps more accurately hear, The Nightline, which you co-created with Bob Scott. Can you give us a hint as to what the audience can expect from the performance?
The Nightline is an intimate, immersive audio-theatre experience, described by one reviewer as “An exquisite piece of storytelling… by turns eerie, delightful and deeply moving.” Audiences should come prepared to listen closely and be entranced by the open-hearted, humorous and courageous real-life voices of Australia’s nocturnal community, interwoven with a haunting composition by Bob Scott. Each audience member is seated at their own lamp-lit table with their own old rotary-dial phone and interactive switchboard – which allows them to curate their own listening journey by plugging between channels. It’s quite a unique experience and no two visitors hear the same stories, so there’s plenty to talk about after the show!
Our creative process involved setting up a dedicated voice message service and inviting Australia’s night owls – from all ages, occupations and backgrounds – to leave us a voice message between midnight and 6:00 am. To date, we’ve received well over 1000 real-life anonymous late-night voice messages from insomniacs, new parents, shift workers, pokie winners, lone truck drivers on the highway, care-givers, students on an all-nighter, the horny, the heartbroken, and even a few cheeky pranksters. The Nightline offers a rare opportunity to eavesdrop on the nocturnal lives of this invisible community.
What’s been the strangest call you’ve received?
I’ve been gobsmacked by how intensely honest our Nightline callers are (and we feel immensely honoured by this generosity). I think the fact that the voice messages are anonymous and left under the cover of darkness has something to do with this openness. The messages cover a broad range of experiences from a man holding his newborn baby to a woman calling in the night her mother died – so literally from birth to death. Perhaps one of the most unexpected voice messages of late was from a shift worker calling in from the wheatbelt in Western Australia at 3.53 am, while operating a harvester under the night sky! I’m endlessly intrigued by the diverse array of invisible night workers – the guardians of the night – who keep our communities running and safe while we sleep.
It’s a pretty unusual premise. Are you yourself a night owl? Is that where the idea from The Nightline came about?
Yes, I’m definitely a night owl and have had long spells of insomnia at various points. The seed idea for The Nightline is inspired by my experiences of being awake between midnight and 6:00 am and a curiosity to connect with others who are routinely awake while the world around them sleeps. I wanted to know why they were awake and what they were doing? The dominant themes of this work are around restlessness and connection – on a sleepless night, the voice of another night owl is the perfect companion.
Let’s take it back a bit, did you always have dreams of becoming a theatremaker, documentary artist, voice actor, writer, director and dramaturge (the list goes on…)? Or was there a lightbulb moment for you?
I was one of those kids who was always making things. Art and drama were by far my favourite subjects at school so I always felt drawn in that direction. I started off as a TV actor but, as an introvert, felt uncomfortable having such a visible presence. It was when I started scoring voice acting gigs in animation, commercials and audio-book narration that the theatrical potential of audio experiences was revealed to me. As an artist I’m fascinated by the uniqueness of individual vocal patterns and driven by curiosity to explore the mysteries of the environments I inhabit. I enjoy having my fingers in lots of different pies and harvesting bits and pieces from all the different jobs I do, be they at the commercial or arts end of the scale – I’m like a bower bird in that way.
You’ve earned some pretty amazing accolades, including (and not limited to) a Technical Achievement Award at the 2019 Green Room Awards, two Helpmann Awards, two Sydney Theatre Awards and an AWGIE Award. What’s been your proudest career achievement so far?
Mm, that’s a bit like being asked to choose your favourite child! I’m so proud of all of my signature projects and the teams of artists that brought them to life. I guess my sentimental favourite has to be I’m Your Man, an adrenaline-fueled headphone-verbatim performance set in the world of Australia’s professional boxing community. I’m Your Man was the first work I had commissioned by a State Festival, so it was a real breakthrough in terms of exposure and artistic confidence. The show premiered at Belvoir Theatre as part of Sydney Festival 2012 and was then picked up for a national tour. It was such a thrill to share that special big-hearted work with audiences around the country and I was blessed with an A-team of collaborators whom I adore. There was so much excitement and community goodwill around that project.
You work a lot with Bob Scott. What’s your number one advice for working creatively with another person?
My dream collaborators are talented artists I trust, who have different skills and experiences to me. Artists who are extremely honest and not afraid to tell me what they think; who I know will challenge and extend my ideas. Over the years I’ve gathered a small handful of human gems I return to time and again – and Bob Scott is definitely one of the artists at the very top of that list. He’s an incredible internationally acclaimed sound artist, very honest and adventurous, with excellent dramaturgical instincts. We’ve had a lot of fun co-creating The Nightline together. My top tips for collaborating with another artist is to think carefully about who is a good match for the project you want to make, and to really listen to what your collaborators offer even when it’s hard to hear. It’s such a gift to have a fresh set of artistic eyes and ears to workshop and realise your ideas with. When you find a great collaborator, hold onto them if you can. The opportunity to keep digging deeper across a body of works, and building on your shared language, is very rewarding.
What is it about your profession that brings you the most joy?
I love being in a room with a group of talented artists working on a brand-new project, with no idea what it’ll become. From a place of unknowing, to witnessing an idea morph and grow and surprise you and take on a life of its own is the best feeling. Especially, after the extensive Melbourne lockdowns, I’ve so enjoyed being back in the room sparking off other people.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt in your career so far?
Over a 20-year career as a full-time freelance artist I’ve learnt a lot about how to build a sustainable career and how important it is to look after your mental health. Being an artist requires a lot of courage and can be quite a precarious pathway. As artists we need to look after our own community and check in on each other. I draw a lot of strength from artistic companionship.
What’s next for Roslyn Oades? Do you have some exciting works in the pipeline?
Well as usual I have my fingers in a lot of pies. Bob and I are in the planning stage of a new immersive audio-installation work which I can’t say much about yet. We’re also far from finished with The Nightline, which we see as an ongoing creative audio project. In every city we take the work to, we collect a fresh batch of late-night voice messages and update the content, so each new presentation is an updated edition of the work. So far, we’ve created a Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and now a Gold Coast edition. Our dream is to take The Nightline to a few more Australian cities and then to some big international cities – the cities that never sleep, as they say… that would be so interesting! Incidentally, if anyone reading this is a night owl and would like to contribute their own anonymous late-night message to The Nightline collection we’d love to hear from you. Full details can be found on our project website.
Finally, what inspires you?
I’m very inspired by nature and environmental compositions at the moment. The last few years of stillness have grounded me in place more then ever. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the desert and have a strong desire to visit the centre. The European fairy tales I was told as a child were all about characters going into the wild woods and coming back changed. In Australia, the desert is our wilderness. I’m curious to know what I might learn and how my thinking might be changed by spending time there listening.
You can listen in to The Nightline nightly from Thursday August 11 to Sunday August 14. Just a short hop, skip and jump from BLEACH* Festival’s North Burleigh Hub, The Nightline is located at Burleigh RSL Sub-branch Hall in Miami. Keen to make a night of it? While you’re in the area, check out Volo: Dreams of Flight, a da Vinci-inspired virtual reality experience, go on an audio journey with Listening Booth or get a little creative with We built this City. Take a peek at the full jam-packed program of happenings here.