As well as directing the Young Artist show this year, I also lead the Opera for Thought outreach sessions at Opera Holland Park. I was the main facilitator for the six week project which works with local people living with dementia and their carers in collaboration with Westminster Arts. Running participation sessions and leading outreach work like this is a big part of what I do as a freelancer and hugely influences the work I make as a director too. For me, my question is always how can I make the art relate to the wider community and how can we make this project something for everyone to engage in. The opportunity to direct the Young Artist show and lead the concurrent outreach was a pleasure and I'd love to make more work that crosses over like this again. I have done similar work on a project I designed with Indomitable Productions called An Album of Memories.
We explored the opera Don Giovanni, learning about the narrative, characters and themes with singing and listening to music at the heart of every workshop. One or two of the Young Artist cast came in each week where we spoke to them about their journey as an artist, as well as of course having the pleasure of hearing them perform an aria or duet.
The sessions broke down like this:
Week one - Introduction to Don Giovanni with Vedat Dalgiran where we all learnt the famous lines of the Commandatore as he returns to drag the main character to hell.
Week two - Donna Anna
Week three - Women with Leporello. Darwin Prakash performed No.4 'Madamina' and the group used his adjectives and descriptive words throughout the aria to creat and draw new love conquests that Don Giovanni might have found.
Week four - Love and Marriage with Zerlina and Masetto. With Eleanor Sanderson Nash and Ricardo Panela the group formed the chorus in No.5 singing and performing the little scene in Giovinette che fate all'amore together.
Week five - Advice for Leporello. With Darwin Prakash back in the room we heard some of Leporello's other sections of music and text and looked overall at his character's journey. With a job he wants to quit, no satisfaction in his life and dodgy morals the group offered some advice and life lessons to the character of Leporello which we built and created into an art instillation which stayed up for the whole season at the Park.
Week six - Opera Holland Park. The group visited the Park this week to watch the Young Artists rehearse on stage with the chorus and attended a back stage tour with talks from the costume department. We also were able to perform our version of Don Ottavio's 'Dalla sua pace' on stage with the associate conductor Harry Ogg. The following week everyone returned to Opera Holland Park again for a picnic and to watch the matinee performance of Don Giovanni.
I have found myself being asked to answer lots of questions on the lead up to OHP this year and thought that it might be a nice place to put some of my replies... enjoy!
What age did you realise/decide you wanted a career in directing and what was it that ignited that spark?
have always loved theatre and remember being told by my teachers at school that I had an eye for movement and design. It was only recently that I realised that at some point in every director's life there is a courageous decision to be made; to make what we love into a career. It was only really then that I had the confidence to admit I wanted to focus on directing.
Was there any one person who inspired you/encouraged you to pursue what you are doing now?
No, not just one person, I am extremely lucky that there have always been lots of people who have encouraged and inspired me to pursue this as part of my career. My family, friends, teachers and mentors have always been supportive. The more advice you seek from other people doing what you want to do, the more likely you'll be to map out a way to achieve it. You are also able to check its actually what you want to do as well! Don't ever be afraid to ask someone for a coffee and get their advice- some of my best life decisions have come from just that.
Do you come from a musical family/background?
Yes, but not in the way you might expect. My dad worked in theatre and TV and he was also a old-school DJ, so I grew up with LPs and music from the Golden Era (the fifties through the seventies). My mum's family have always sung and love classical music, and I also had a grandmother in a G&S society back in the 1950s, so I suppose it was inevitable that I would find opera at the cross section of it all.
Do you have a particular directing style, or anyone’s style you particularly admire?
work in a way that is collaborative, inclusive, and cross-disciplinary with a focus on combining the skills and qualities of every artist in the room. I think it is absolutely vital to work this way. In terms of other directors and companies I respect artists like Katie Mitchell, Barry Kosky, Phelim McDermott, Annabel Arden, 1927 and Peter Sellars - they make the kind of cross disciplinary work that draws on and challenges all of opera's strengths.
How did you hear about/were selected for the OHP YA scheme?
t was the final night of Iris (directed by Olivia Fuchs and conducted by Stuart Stratford) and as the assistant director I had just finished giving notes to the chorus and was checking in with the principals. James Clutton called me outside and we spoke about the YA program and then he said he'd like me to direct it for 2017. It was a fantastic way to end such a beautiful show knowing that I'd be back at OHP the following year.
What part of the OHP YA scheme are you most looking forward to/nervous of?
I’m most excited to be working with some fantastic singers (and Harry Ogg the conductor) as part of the Young Artist scheme - you don't usually get to work like this where you're all still developing and able to share an experience like this together. I'm also keen to work with Oliver Platt as the director for the main show and Ashley Riches as the lead performer for both, but most of all I'm happy to be back at the Park and surrounded by the OHP family for another season.
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment to date/what are you most proud of?
We had to do this interview remotely because I am currently in Italy. I decided to learn Italian in preparation for Don Giovanni and I don't believe in doing things in half measures. So instead of just joining an Italian class in London and learning the opera, I'm spending six weeks in Bologna to immerse myself in the language, culture and importantly the food... although I'm in it right now I think it might be one of those things that I'll be proud that I did for a long time to come.
What opera would you most like to direct and why?
t's currently difficult to think of anything other than Mozart! As an artist I am particularly drawn to surrealism, I love stories that are absurd or magical, of which opera has lots to choose from. These genres also invite cross disciplinary work where you can aid the musical language with other visual art forms like movement, puppetry or multi-media. The other thing I usually look for is a relevance or connection to today, I always ask 'why should we be doing this production now?'
What is the best piece of advice you have received?
'Dare to be adequate'. In a world where we're all obsessed with working hard and glorifying being busy it's important to remember that there are other things to focus on too. Being ordinary in one thing may make room for you to be extraordinary in another. Also, when someone suggested I start meditating it completely altered the way I see the world and how I interact with people. Saying that, I also read Max Ehrmann’s Desiderata everyday so would recommend that too.
What three qualities should a director have?
This is very subjective of course, but for me three of the most important qualities are developing clear and universal communication skills, a curiosity to play with whatever form and media has the potential to exist in your rehearsal room, and to have strong empathy for other people and their stories - that is all drama is after all.
If you hadn’t followed directing what would you be doing now?
’m very lucky that directing isn't the only thing I do or love, it just forms part of my career. I love making and leading outreach/community projects and in the Autumn I plan to start a course to become a massage therapist too - it's always been something I've been interested in.
What is the oddest thing that has happened to you?
I'm not sure about odd, but I've done lots of unusual things for charity like when I shaved off my hair, did the tallest bungee jump in the UK and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.
Interview conducted by Opera Holland Park 2017
After giving myself a week to regain my balance in London, I'm finally coming to terms with the fact that I had the pleasure of spending the last month or so in one of the most beautiful countries in the world; Italy. It is rich in culture and architecture, and has a language as velvety as it's cream pastries - which food aside, was the main reason for my trip. I packed up my self-employed mind set and took my part-time rent job (working for a fantastic education Social Enterprise called Push) away to Bologna where I had found a family to help out in return for living rent free.
It was a great way to immerse myself in all the things I loved and wanted to try and test. I attended a language course which has given me a solid foundation in Italian and I still practice everyday to expand my vocab and improve my confidence. I sampled amazing food and sat in coffee shops mumbling recit to myself, getting strange looks from all the locals. I traveled lots and this time made it to Rome and Verona as well as becoming very familiar with the beautiful rustic, cobbled streets of Bologna. I even made it in to observe some rehearsals at an opera whilst I was away... I am very grateful to Teatro Comunale Bologna and Emma Dante who invited me in to observe rehearsals for La Voix Humaine and Cavalleria Rusticana and offered me some insight to their process and how they like to work.
To see my visual tour through this trip check out my Instagram page here.