I love this idea though practically speaking I’m not sure how i could work it at mpow.

Or could I…

May have to think on it a bit more.



Theatre in the library is a quiet revelation

Reviewed by Susan Wyndham January 08, 2013

The Mitchell Library Reading Room in the State Library of NSW.The Mitchell Library Reading Room in the State Library of NSW.

Reviewer rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Reader rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars (2 votes)

Genre: Spoken Word

Putting on headphones and opening a book is a prosaic prelude to a surreal experience.

By Ant Hampton and Tim Etchells
Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW, January 7
Until January 25

We look like all the other readers in the Mitchell Library reading room: headphones on, noses in a book, jotting notes, gazing into space as we digest the words we see and hear. But we are not solitary researchers. My companion – a stranger until we sat down – and I are participants in The Quiet Volume, “a whispered, self-generated and ‘automatic’ performance” that explores the experience of reading.

It’s a simple event lasting 45 minutes. There is no audience.

Take a seat at a table, surrounded by the carved bookshelves, card catalogues and soaring ceilings of the century-old reading room. In front of you is an iPod, a pile of three novels and a notebook with a short text written by the British creators of the piece, Ant Hampton and Tim Etchells.

Put on the headphones and one of them begins to speak: “The first thing you notice is that for a place dedicated to silence, there’s not really much silence at all. It might be a place dedicated to collections of sounds.” He lists sounds you are, quite likely, hearing around you: footsteps, coughs, conversations, pages turning, fingers on keyboards, pens being dropped, your own breath. Your senses are already on alert.

The speaker directs us to open the notebook, where we read the words, “You find yourself reading after all.” From there he guides us to passages in the novels – Blindness by the Portuguese Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago, The Notebook, The Proof, The Third Lie by French-language writer Agota Kristof, and When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro.

We read about blindness, deafness, trauma. Sometimes we are left alone to enter the story; sometimes told to view the book upside down as if we cannot read, or swap notebooks with our neighbour. Occasionally, confusion sets in as the directions seem to go astray. We feel mild panic, flip pages, look at each other, laugh at our awkwardness.

Background noise of rustling paper, beating drums, a chorus of lamps switching on and off increases the tension. Other voices take over: a child, an older woman, whispering so we have to close our eyes and listen hard. Attention moves from the spoken to the written word and back. It’s amazing how dynamic – even dramatic – reading can be.

The Quiet Volume was commissioned and produced by Ciudades Paralelas, an international, site-specific performance festival curated by Stefan Kaegi and Lola Arias. Since 2009 it has been presented in beautiful libraries around the world in many languages, the English version produced by Katja Timmerberg.

The meaning is never explicit but you can’t help reflecting on the place of libraries and books in our fast-moving, digitally driven lives. There’s magic in the intimate, churchlike, slightly surreal atmosphere. You might feel compelled to search out the novels and keep reading.

The State Library of NSW sought out The Quiet Volume and offered it to the Sydney Festival. It’s a fine way to discover this institution – home to an extraordinary collection of Australiana – if you have not been before. Twenty dollars (the library’s break-even cost) might seem expensive for entry to a theatre without actors or sets, but with six places available for each hourly session, the first week is almost booked out.