The Imaginarium is a theatrical show with a social purpose. Coming out of the creative mind of artist and producer Jaron Walker, The Imaginarium is an immersive theatre production hosted by The Sideshow dedicated to the theme of single-use plastic in line with the Plastic-Free July challenge.

The show featured six acts brought together by a narrator. Each act was an expressive performance that used storytelling as a means to awaken the public to the societal challenges and the personal struggles we face to reduce single-use plastic. 

The strength of the show was in the range of different performances which enabled to convey a multiplicity of messages about the use of plastic and plastic pollution.

For example, the act by acrobatic dancers Alice Muntz and David Carberry told the very relatable story about the difficulty of avoiding single-use plastic in our daily activities. Carberry played an everyday man who gets assaulted by a plastic monster played by Muntz. As a plastic monester, Muntz jumped on top of Carberry who was overwhelmed by the monster. He got fed plastic bags and wraps. This act reminded me of something a friend of mine who has been documenting his Plastic-Free July challenge noted about his journey. Going to the grocery shop and attempting to avoid plastic, he said, can be compared to the game The Floor is Lava. Everything in the shelves is wrapped in plastic – it is lava that cannot be touched. Going grocery shopping while consciously avoiding plastic is literally impossible.

Another act that made visible the personal struggles to avoid plastic was that by contact juggler Phil Humphreys. In his act, Humphrey was adding more and more contact balls to his juggling, but each new ball came wrapped in plastic. By the end of his act, he was surrounded by a pile of plastic. The more balls he was adding, the lesser happy he could be, despite of the great tricks that he was doing. Just like Muntz and Carberry’s acrobatic dance, Humphreys’ act made the audience aware of the oppressive and ubiquitous nature of single-use plastic.

The performance by Emily Claire and the Wild Grace Dance Troup and that by Rebekah Yeo zoomed away from personal struggles, and immersed the audience into oceans polluted by bottles, plastic bags, and other plastic objects. Both of these acts were very dramatic to watch. The Wild Grace Dance Troup used Tantric Ritual Dance to present the audience with happy oceanic creatures enjoying the beauty of the sea who gradually got impaired by plastic. The music, performed live by musicians from the Queensland Conservatorium, went from being harmonious and melodic at the beginning of the act, to screechy and cacophonic as the sea creatures got trapped in plastic. At the apex of the musical drama, the audience had to bear the view of the six dancers agonising and with plastic bags on their faces impeding them to breath. The act by Rebekah Yeo was likewise dramatic. She performed as a mermaid who, while enjoying the beauty of the sea, got trapped by a threatening monster wearing a gas mask representing sea pollution. The mermaid got pulled up on a metal structure and tied up using shibari techniques. The vision of Yeo tied up by a person wearing a gas mask was confronting to see and the beauty of her agonising body made her anguished expressions impossible to ignore.    

The intense expressions of struggles to reduce plastic pollution were certainly the primary theme of The Imaginarium. However, the show did leave us with a message of hope and encouragement that we can do our part to reduce single-use plastic. For example, Humphreys’s act ended with a message about reusable bags. He put all of his contact balls into a big reusable bag, bowed to us holding it tight, and left the stage. Similarly, after his fight with Muntz the plastic monster, Carberry picked up all the plastic from the floor left by her, and bowed to us with his hands in his pockets filled with plastic.  

The Imaginarium was a perfect combination of artistic entertainment and a sharp political message. The beauty of the performances kept the audience captivated while the actors and performers spoon-fed us with important messages about how we are destroying the planet and what we can contribute to stop that.

It is when art meets politics that the two shine at their best. Art for its own sake distracts us from important social issues that can only be solved if we put the energy and attention to address them. And politics without art fails to capture our imagination and to inspire us into action. The strength of The Imaginarium is in its skilful combination of aesthetics and politics, artistic skills and social purpose. This is commendable in its own rights, but even more so when considering that this production is a non-for-profit and the first one of an independent artist-run space like The Sideshow.