Play It Safe: A musical tribute to 50 years of audacious creative bravery at the Sydney Opera House

By Ruby Derrick | 13 November 2023
Tim Minchin and cast. Credit: Damian Bennett.

The latest campaign by the Monkeys, part of Accenture Song, for the Sydney Opera House’s 50th birthday 'Play It Safe’ aims to pay tribute to the landmark's audacious creative bravery, innovation and all it represents. 

It is a musical ode to mark 50 years of creativity and wonder at one of the world’s most celebrated cultural landmarks.   

Tara Ford, chief creative officer at The Monkeys, part of Accenture Song, said Play It Safe implies staying small, conservative and never moving outside of comfort zones. 

“The lyrics are the voice inside your head that tell you to stay quiet and small and be like everyone else. Hide your true self and your individuality,” said Ford. 

“The lyrics are an ode to conservatism and conformity but the meaning and the feeling is anything but when paired with the performances. It makes you feel quite the opposite.” 

Starting off quietly, it swings in the middle and ends as a riotous, rambunctious act of defiance, notes Ford. 

“Making a powerful statement about the importance of creative bravery and expression.” 

At the heart of the campaign is Australian singer Tim Minchin’s musical and creative flair. Play It Safe was written and composed by Minchin as an ironic salute to the bold, visionary experiment that became the Opera House. 

The bold and brave spirit of not "playing it safe" was executed in the agency’s every decision made in that exact spirit, Barbara Humphries, executive creative director at The Monkeys, , part of Accenture Song, told AdNews.  

“Both Kim Gehrig and Tim Minchin are the embodiment of it – everything they do is provocative in sheer originality and their own refusal to stick to the straight or easy path,” she said. 

Humphries said everyone involved approached this with a relentless energy for pushing this song and film, making it better at every point. 

“From our team to the cast and of course, Pip Smart at Revolver and Stephen O’Connor at Sydney Opera House,” she said. 

The Monkeys knew Minchin was the perfect talent for the project, because he himself hasn’t played it safe in his own work and career, says Ford.  

“He also understands Australia, the history, the culture and the conservatism. We knew we needed the piece to be entertaining and inspiring but also thoughtful and emotional. Tim hit that note perfectly,” she said. 

“Seeing him at the piano, telling the audience to keep it simple and not stick their neck out, you just know something is up.” 

He wrote the perfect ode to this audacious building in his satirical way, said Ford. 

“Who else could write the lyrics ‘Get a doctrine, get it locked in. Build a box and stay in it’.” 

The ‘Play It Safe’ campaign is a cultural moment in itself; a celebration of 50 years of the Sydney Opera House.  

Humphries said the exciting thing about celebrating 50 was the opportunity to look back as well as forward and prove just how central the house has been to Australia’s cultural story and Australia’s brave creative spirit. 

“We scoured the archives to find footage of the building's creation, visits from Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama, memorable performances from Joan Sutherland, Iggy Pop – mixed in with the next generation of artists and performers,” she said.  

But one thing that unites all of it – past present and future, is that bravery and defiance, believes Humphries.  

“The message in Tim’s song sums it up perfectly,” she said. 

Everyone working and collaborating together on the campaign wanted the same result, said Ford. The vision was clear, but it wasn’t the easiest of productions. 

“The Opera House is the most beautiful building to shoot in, but it is rather busy in there,” she said. 

The agency had to work around all the productions, performances and the artists and their schedules.  

“There also wasn’t the right amount of money to pull this project off in the way that would do it justice and we are very thankful to Tourism Australia for coming to the party and making it possible. 

“Praise goes to the wonderful producers Pip at Revolver and Penny at The Monkeys on this one.”

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