What's On

The Nervous Atmosphere

Zoë Barry

Presented in Season 2 2023

World Premiere
A Chamber Made work by Zoë Barry
Co-Presented by Arts House 

Wednesday 13 – Sunday 17 September 2023 
Wed – Sat, 7.30pm 
Sun, 5pm 

70 minutes 

Post-show Artist Talk 
Thu 14 September for all ticket holders 

Auslan Interpreted Performance 
Thu 14 September, 7.30pm

Relaxed Performance
Sunday 17 September, 5pm

Standard $35 
Reduced $20 
A small transaction fee will be charged per order. 

The Nervous Atmosphere plays with degrees of intensity in sound and light. The intensity sometimes manifests as sudden and loud sound, extremes of brightness and blackout, and strobe effects.  

More detailed access information is available here

Arts House
North Melbourne Town Hall
521 Queensberry St,
North Melbourne

Companion Card
Quiet Space Available
Visual Rating 50%
Wheelchair Accessible
Relaxed Performances

‘I was struck by lightning. Three times. This is what happened.’ – Zoë Barry  

The Nervous Atmosphere is a new solo performance by cellist, composer and theatre-maker Zoë Barry. A haunting and poetic reflection on her real-life experience of being struck by lightning three times, The Nervous Atmosphere explores the myriad strange symptoms, chaos and confusion provoked by this bizarre and terrifying experience. 

Told through text, live cello and striking design, this powerfully evocative work offers glimpses into the immense emotional and psychological schisms experienced throughout an overwhelming encounter with nature.  

A hypnotic meditation on the relationship between fear, consciousness, nature and vibration, The Nervous Atmosphere combines Zoë’s real-life experience and her fascination with late nineteenth century parascientific investigations; a time in history when science, medicine, spiritualism, and psychoanalysis were crossing over in curious ways.   

The Nervous Atmosphere conjures the awe, rupture and isolation we experience when faced with a situation so much larger than ourselves, then navigates a return pathway to a place of connection and grounding.  

Listen to the full recording of the Chamber Made Salon: Invisible Forces. Musician and theatre-maker Zoë Barry in conversation with Associate Professor Jonathan W Marshall about the themes and research that underpin The Nervous Atmosphere. Available here


About the artists

Zoë Barry is an award-winning cellist, composer, performance maker and educator. Her practice is devised and collaborative, drawing on composition, sound design, writing, performing and directing. Her work explores the politics of slowness, meaning-making, and amplifying quiet voices. Her sound collages combine field recordings, text and music, and can be heard in theatre, dance, film and gallery commissions. She has appeared at/had work presented at Edinburgh International Festival, Sydney Opera House, Auckland Festival, Sydney, Perth & Adelaide Festivals, Dark Mofo, MONA FOMA, Supersense Festival, Unsound Festival, Next Wave, Lincoln Centre NYC, Kennedy Centre Washington DC, National Centre for the Performing Arts, Beijing, and film festivals including Venice, Sundance and SXSW. Recent awards include Ruby Award: Best Festival Production for The Lighthouse, Green Room Award: Participatory Contemporary & Experimental Theatre for The Ballroom, and the Aria Music Teacher of the Year. Zoë creates immersive installation/theatre works for multigenerational audiences with Patch Theatre, and audio-led works for the digital space with The Threshold. Zoë is a member of The Letter String Quartet and Iranian trio Dafta Avaal, and a collaborating artist with Back To Back Theatre.

Ingrid Voorendt is a performance maker and director, collaborating on many new works of performance across theatre, dance and emerging forms. She trained as a dancer and her practice encompasses devising, directing, dramaturgy, choreography and writing. Since 2018 Ingrid has worked as an artistic associate with Back to Back Theatre, creating new works of performance, curating and facilitating community engagement programs, and directing performance-making processes within diverse communities.

Bosco Shaw works primarily as a Lighting and Set Designer. His interest is in work that involves bodies and movement, how light feeds and influences the performing space and collaborations that propose alternate light sources and means. In 2016 he co-founded ADDITIVE, a collaborative lighting design company. He is also the recipient of 3 Green Room awards for visual design.

Chamber Made Artistic Director Tamara Saulwick is an accomplished performance-maker, director and dramaturg with three decades of industry experience. At Chamber Made, Tamara conceives and directs new works, collaborates with lead artists from outside the company, curates programs and initiatives, and mentors emerging artists exploring cross-artform practice. She has worked as co-creator, co-director/dramaturg and director of the company’s last four works – My Self in That Moment (The Substation 2022), SYSTEM_ERROR (Arts House 2021), Dragon Ladies Don’t Weep, (Arts Centre Melbourne, Asia TOPA 2020), and Diaspora (The SUBSTATION, Melbourne International Arts Festival 2019).

Jed Palmer is an award-winning composer and sound designer, composing for film, tv, theatre, dance and galleries. He composed music for Upgrade (Dir Leigh Whannell), Animals (Dir. Sophie Hyde, Sundance 2019) I Used To Be Normal - A Boyband Fangirl Story (Dir. Jessica Leski, Hot Docs 2018, SFF 2018) Otherlife (MIFF 2017, SFF 2017, San Diego 2017) The Infinite Man (SXSW 2014) and Ukraine Is Not A Brothel (Venice Film Festival 2014, Winner AACTA Best Documentary). Music for television includes STAN’s Black Snow, ABC TV's Restoration Australia and SBS TV's Vietnam - War That Made Australia. Jed has composed scores for Sydney Theatre Company, Malthouse Theatre and Sisters Grimm, Restless Dance Theatre, Sandpit and Google Creative, and scored permanent exhibitions for Melbourne Museum. Jed has sound designed for feature films including Wasted On The Young (Toronto International Film Festival), Bring Back The Dead (Singapore) and The Boy Castaways (Adelaide Film Festival 2013).

Renate Henschke is a costume and production designer and maker, working across film, television, theatre, dance and events. Television credits include Game Of Thrones, Vikings, The Hunting (SBS), First Day (ABC), Fucking Adelaide (SBS). Film credits include Top End Wedding (Sundance 2019), Animals (Sundance 2019, MIFF, Sydney Film Festival), A Field Guide To Being a 12 Year Old Girl (winner Crystal bear Award, Berlin International Film Festival), Girl Asleep (Adelaide Film Festival, AFCA Best Film, AFF Audience Award), Pilgrimage, Sissy, and Frank. Theatre credits include Memorial (Brink Productions), The Club (STCSA/isthisyours?), Ghosts, Toast & The Things Unsaid (Sandpit, Google Creative), That Eye The Sky (STCSA), The Boy Who Loved Tiny Things.


Artist Statement

Between the Spring of 2008 and Autumn of 2009 I had three intense encounters with lightning.

The strikes were terrifying and hypnotising; a form of electromagnetic transference and disturbance. I was shocked into a new relationship with nature, electricity and vibration.

Before the lightning experiences took place, Dr Jonathan W. Marshall’s writings on the late 19th century French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot had sparked my interest in the invisible forces of mesmerism, the ether, and the effects of electricity on the body. In the aftermath of the lightning, rereading these parascientific explorations gave me language to describe my myriad strange symptoms. The connections with surrealism guided the composition of this work.

In reaction to the speed of the strikes, I have made this work very slowly, over years, with the contributions of many people. A commission from The Zephyr Quartet seeded some of the composition ideas, inspired by how the crown of my head felt after the strikes. Composing for my quartet, The Letter String Quartet, I explored sonic possibilities of slowness and repetition. I spent time with Dr Fariba Bogzaran, director of Lucid Art Foundation in California, finding ways to translate the dreamlike sense of the experience into poetry.

The work contains fragments of text from songs written by Jed Palmer, articles by Jonathan W. Marshall, quotes from Benjamin Franklin and English surrealist Gordon Onslow Ford, and personal correspondence.

The extreme generosity of nature, and the sublime beauty of the experience, continues to haunt and fascinate me; The Nervous Atmosphere is a remembering and a conjuring of this time and space. I made this work to make some sense of it all, to slow it down, to keep the vibration of that moment in time resonating, so we can experience it together.

It is highly charged, the nervous atmosphere.

- Zoë Barry


Composer, Writer & Performer: Zoë Barry
Director & Dramaturg: Ingrid Voorendt
Sound Dramaturg: Tamara Saulwick
Set & Lighting Designer: Bosco Shaw
Sound Designer: Jed Palmer
Costume Designer: Renate Henschke
Production Manager: Rylan Beckinsale
Cultural Interpreter: Jason Tamiru
Young Voice: Goldie Palmer

Supported by
The Nervous Atmosphere is supported by the City of Melbourne through Arts House and Chamber Made, The Australia Council for the Arts and Creative Victoria. Conceived in 2019 during residencies at Lucid Art Foundation, Northern California, and Historical Damsite, New Mexico, the work was further developed in May 2022 through Arts House CultureLAB.

Image Credit: Pia Johnson

Image Description: Zoe is standing against a black background wearing a black top. She has long, red, curly hair. She is holding her hands out beside her. She appears to be shaking her head and moving her hands as her hands and hair are blurred.