Song, Car and Screen: Notes on Musical Theatre and Automobility

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


In his short story “Embargo”, part of collection “Objeto Quase” (1978) (translated in English as “The Lives of Things”) José Saramago depicts adventures of a man that has been abducted by his own car in somewhat Kafkian way. That car dismisses driver’s orders and directions driving on its own, from one gasoline station to the other in the times of gasoline crisis. A driver is driven around by his automobile until he dies in it, and only then he is freed from vehicle’s deadly embrace. Intriguing as it is, this story initiates a number of questions related to ideology of driving and mobility, back at the time when Saramago wrote it, but also at the present moment.
In his “Republic of Drivers: Cultural History of Automobility in America” (2008) Cotton Seiler discusses how and why driving the car becomes an essential part of contemporary American identity. Several recent pieces of musical theatre and film musical initiate questions similar to those discussed in this book. Film musical “La La Land” (2016, directed by Damien Chazelle) opens by the traffic jam scene on highway and its plot stays partly connected to automobility. “Hopscotch” (2015), “a mobile opera for 24 cars” by LA based company “The Industry” led by Yuval Sharon unfolds in limousines carrying audience members and performers around Los Angeles, stopping along the way to experience bits and pieces of dispersed musical theatre encounters that engulf urban horizons into operatic experience. Finally, Sharon’s “Twilight: Gods” (2020) adaptation of Richard Wagner’s opera “Götterdämmerung” was staged in garage of Detroit Opera House during COVID-19 pandemics. That performance offers operatic experience as drive-in opera whose listening spectators watch the performers while driving around the parking listening to the sound coming through the car radios.
In these recent ‘confrontations’ of singing and automobiles the car appears not only as the wheeled vehicle, but also as mobile stage, scenography, and the essential motor of the piece of musical theatre. Automobility is illuminated as ideology of mobile identity. I inspect and discuss automobility of these performances offering interpretations from somewhat inhospitable position of nondriver.
Period30 Jun 20213 Jul 2021
Event titleSong, Stage and Screen XV
Event typeConference
LocationSalzburg and Linz, AustriaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational