dream masons: the arts centre inside out

judith abell is seven again

Dream Masons

Dream Masons

Dream Masons

For the last month I’ve been walking under a jetty to get my morning coffee. I was oblivious to my underwater journey until Dream Masons exploded over the face of the Salamanca Arts Centre with a spectacular display of mechanical wizardry, bawdy hijinks and vaudeville-style theatre.

Dream Masons was commissioned as a celebration of the Salamanca Arts Centre, a place that has housed and supported Hobart’s creative community for thirty years in a jumble of linked sandstone warehouses. The buildings themselves are the stage for the work which is performed across the vertical surface of three buildings over four storeys. Twenty windows were utilised and the entire facade was fitted with scaffolding, rigging, ladders, a twenty metre long bridge, a boat on a rope, three balconies, a fridge and a toilet. And of course, my jetty.

The windows depict apartments within the building occupied by a mixed bag of tenants. The characters are easily recognised types played out in with vaudevillian overacting, repetition and an abundance of sight gags. We meet the hapless fisherman, the bawdy babe, the strong-man sailor, the henpecked husband, the prissy wife, the weeping spinster who is always washing and a boy in a Superman suit. Living at the top of the building, hoarding ice cubes like currency and screaming through a loud hailer is the cantankerous hunch-backed landlady. Each of these lives is highlighted through the changing focus across the facade as windows are illuminated in turn.

Gibberish aside, there is no dialogue and the plot is deceptively simple. Each of these characters goes about their lives until disaster hits. A great flood—possibly created by evil means—threatens their building and the group help each other to escape to the apartment of the unwelcoming landlord. The weeping spinster makes a dramatic escape across her clothesline to safety, but the boy is lost in the waters and eventually swallowed by a whale as big as the whole building. Saved by his snorkel, the boy spectacularly finds his way out through the whale spout and saves the day by releasing the waters.

The main players are backed by a cast of extras, a large band, giant banners to announce the main episodes of the story, a gospel choir and a busy backstage crew whom I imagine running madly between buildings throughout the work. They fill each window with back projections, creating the rising water and the huge whale which are highlights of the show.

While it is easy to take the show at its cheesy face value, anyone who has ever had anything to do with the Salamanca Arts Centre will know that Dream Masons is like taking the place and turning it inside out so that all the melodrama, personalities, politics, shoddy construction and leaking roofs are all revealed on the outside for one hour of madness. I’ve often thought the place was ripe for a multi-storey sit com, but this show goes ten steps further and I now wonder if the centre was also a hub for the protests against the Lake Pedder flooding which is hinted at as a parallel disaster in the show. I clapped and laughed like a seven year old, but also enjoyed Dream Masons as a regular of the Salamanca strip and I will miss those underwater coffees over the weeks to come.

31 March 2007