By Indyana Schneider
I’d like to introduce you to two buzzwords used by many twenty-first-century arts organisations: Learning & Participation (or L&P, if you’re into acronyms like me).
More and more organisations are introducing L&P programmes, which offer workshops, discussions, heavily discounted and free tickets, and employment opportunities, ultimately providing access to all, regardless of socio-economic circumstances and postcodes.
By this description, you’ll have noticed that L&P constitutes a huge part of OperaUpClose’s DNA. It’s our mission to show that opera is a vibrant, living art-form for everyone to enjoy and be inspired by. A few of you have asked us to elaborate on the work we do as part of our own L&P programme, so I’m going ahead and elaborating.
But before I do, I wouldn’t be doing my job as Development Manager if I didn’t mention how L&P fits into our economic model. L&P is vital to the sustainability of the arts, and in the long run will benefit organisations financially. More opportunities for more people to access opera will result in more future audiences. However, from a financial perspective this is certainly a longer-term investment. L&P work comes with significant costs and absolutely no income. So, this vital work that we do needs to be funded some other way, which is why we offer support schemes, corporate packages and more.
Right! Let’s discuss how we’re inspiring a new generation of opera makers and audiences.
We launched our L&P programme back in 2016 around our production of Ulla’s Odyssey, our first children’s opera for 7-10 year-olds. We partnered with Big Wheel Theatre in Education to deliver workshops introducing children to opera and the productions themes. Our programme was a huge success and received extremely positive feedback:
The workshop was amazing. It was great to learn about the setup and behind the scenes. It was jam-packed with great information and delivered in a fun way. It was good to know about the instruments and characters before the show – we understood and enjoyed it much more, thank you – Participant, age 7
As you know, our aim is to diversify the future of opera by engaging young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. We work with schools, Music Education Hubs, and theatre to develop and deliver operas and workshops for young people, and ensure that these are available to all. For instance, the research and development stage of our recent production of The Magic Flute involved working with 36 young people (18-25) from Soho Theatre’s Young Company. Because of this work, the contemporary issues of greatest concern to the young people (such as employment, homelessness, and intolerance) were embedded into the libretto and staging. We were also able to offer participants insights into roles in the arts beyond those of performers, and are continuing our association with a number of young people, providing mentoring and professional development opportunities. More feedback?
I didn’t think there was an opportunity for someone like me to have a career in opera. Taking part in this process
has opened my eyes to so many more opportunities, which I can’t wait to pursue – Participant in The Magic Flute
Research and Development.
A final strand of our L&P I’ll touch on today is the paid trainee placements we provide for emerging producers and directors. It is virtually impossible for so many aspiring arts professionals to gain a foothold in an industry still over-reliant on unpaid internships. You can see how this cycle of economic discrimination inevitably leads to a lack of diversity in arts professionals. We aim to address this by actively encouraging under-represented groups, those who have not considered a career in the arts, or those who have been discouraged by unpaid internships to apply for rare paid internships at wages appropriate to London living. 100% of participants from our trainee producer programme are now in paid employment in the arts – for instance, as producers at the Donmar Warehouse, RSC, and Royal Opera House. You can find our previous trainee directors at the National Theatre, RSC, and English National Opera. Many have gone on to direct for OperaUpClose, including our award-winning Associate Director Valentina Ceschi (The Magic Flute, Ulla's Odyssey, The Elixir of Love, Dido and Aeneas).
I don’t believe that opera is an acquired taste – it’s too diverse an art-form and stats prove that a significant proportion of people who see opera for the first time want to come back for more. On our tour of Ulla’s Odyssey, 92% of young, first-time opera attendees told us that they would now definitely see another opera.
I like to think of L&P work like the kind of free tasters at a market that leave you wanting more (at least 92% of the time). Free tasters that also happen to benefit the leaning, confidence, communication skills, and general well-being of all who bite.
Vitally, all should be given the opportunity to bite.