I am very pleased to announce that after a busy freelance autumn and winter of 2018, as of next week I will be a little more static with a new job as the Staff Director at Scottish Opera. This is an organisation that I have got to know well over the last year and am so very pleased to now be part of in a more long term capacity.
The role involves directing small scale works, assisting mainstage productions and advocating for directors and assistant directors in the industry. The last is something I have been fighting for over the last two or three years, working towards more equality in the jobs we have as well as how they are recruited for.
Im always happy to talk more about this so do start a conversation with me if are keen.
More updates soon.
I am very happy to be returning to a project that I had so much fun with almost this time last year. It's a little version of the Magic Flute - a project devised by director Heather Fairbairn and composer Ana Seara with ENOA.
It's immersive, comic, musical storytelling and I have the pleasure of reviving the production over the next month with new teams in both Madrid and Lisbon.
What a blessing to return to a project. We don't get that opportunity very often - and to develop the show with Ana and the new teams is what I love doing; making a team, playing and exploring this story for a new audience.
I seem to be making a lot of children's work at the moment. The Clonter children's show, these Magic Flute revivals and the new opera commission which has an R&D in December. That project in December is one where I've called in a lot of collaborators I love and trust. I'm pleased to be working with Benjamin Williamson again as well as Mervyn Millar - more details regarding the specifics of this soon... I can't quite reveal this yet...
It's not that the children's shows are any less an opera - it's just that they are shorter in length, but still as intense and with debatable even more important morals.
The thing with children audiences audiences is that they are so honeys with you as a theatre maker. If its funny, they'll tell you, if they are moved they sit mouth wide, and if they are bored youll know about it. Its not that conventional opera audiences are necessarily any different per se but I generally find children more honest. I also think that I have an eye for this work, perhaps my silliness and sense of humour is satisfied in this genre and type of work.
After some time to reflect on Sweeney Todd with Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra I am overwhelmed with the pride I feel about this show that the cast, creative team and me created in such tricky conditions.
It was by no means an easy process:
We sacrificed ease of rehearsal schedules and time to allow us to have less time of singers that were based in London and just finished shows on the West End. This combined with our hard working and talented Northern based team meant that some people didn't meet their colleagues till the technical rehearsals! The small budget for set and costume meant we had to find people who could and wanted to work within these limitations without abusing their time or energy (it had to be for equal value to them). I commuted for six weeks from the south of France where I was working at Aix-en-Provence Festival with a director that I rate highly - this in turn meant that I was working in two high intensity rehearsal environments seven days a week plus the commute. We were performing in the beautiful town hall in Huddersfield and whilst architecturally the right time period for this show and despite the technician's tireless effort it's just not decked out to be a high end performance venue!
I could go on, but actually none of these things stick with me when I think about this show. What I remember is the commitment and enthusiasm each and every member of this cast brought with them despite full knowledge of the situation we were working in. The beautiful music and months of work by Ben and the SPO. And the people who supported the performance and me during this emotionally and physically exhausting time. I paid my sisters to come up as production assistants/photographers/make-up-and-hair-artists/bringers of joy and sugar etc and it was valuable for me to know I had two people on the ground making sure everyone was happy and calm whilst I was busy dealing with everything else.
That is obviously the role I'm used to taking - and as I move more and more into directing my own work on large scale productions I won't forget the value of this role of the assistant director - who seems to be everywhere, hearing everything and supporting the production in ways we can't always see and hear.
So this post is with enormous gratitude to my sisters, Charlotte and Jessica Haines, my parents who traveled all the way up to see it, the team behind the show at SPO who made it happen, everyone who made sure I had somewhere to sleep for rehearsals, the cast who released our production with energy and joy and my partner who put up with the combo of Sondheim and Strauss for a year.
Here's a video of our process with videography credits to Charlotte Haines: https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=7NRTynKXSLI
After a fantastic first week in the rehearsal room with Katie Mitchell and her highly skilled collaborators I am extremely pleased to announce that I have been offered a contract to remain out in Aix for the remainder of these rehearsals as one of the assistant directors.
I will be travelling back for Sweeney Todd rehearsals on the weekends but during the week I'll be out in the south of France working on this new production of Ariadne auf Naxos. I feel very grateful to have been offered this opportunity and am looking forward to the coming busy weeks.
After travelling across the UK for the past few weeks rehearsing Sweeney Todd it's time to venture further south as I'll be in rehearsals this week for an opera at Aix en Provence. I'm back in Katie Mitchell's rehearsal room for another production this year of Ariadne auf Naxos - a show I know well already, but I'm especially looking forward to diving further into the reality and psychology of some of these characters that appear larger than life and like caricatures. This is the approach I've taken with Sweeney Todd as well - and I'm much more interested in viewing these characters as real humans with difficulties and conflicts rather than the conventional 'bad' characters they are perceived as usually. Philip Zimbardo writes about his Lucifer Theory which looks at how society can be a 'bad' barrel corrupting the 'apples' within it - rather than any of the apples being born bad per se. I find it much more satisfying to create stories and characters without judgement or assumption but in this way that promotes discovery instead.
Antony McDonald’s production of Ariadne auf Naxos has had it’s Glasgow run and heads to Edinburgh next week. I’ve been kept busy with tech rehearsals, cover rehearsals, second cast rehearsals and accessible performances but have enjoyed working on this production at every point of the process.
It makes everyone’s job much easier when you have a fantastic team around you - not only of highly skilled and experienced singers, but stage managers and crew and the company at large that make a show successful. It’s has been a pleasure to call Glasgow my home for the past two months and I’m sure we won’t be apart for long. The food, people and Scottish culture and dancing have stolen my time and heart and I look forward to coming back.
After the tour to Edinburgh I’ll begin rehearsals for my production of Sweeney Todd with Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra which runs in Huddersfield on the 30th June and 1st July 2018. It will be a community project with a mixture of professional and non-professional singers, physical theatre and movement with set design by Jonny Dixon.
After that it’s a summer in Aix-de- Province with Katie Mitchell, returning to the beautiful Opera Holland Park with Ariadne, Garsington with a new opera for their education department and then to Italy to round it all off!
When you're in-situ you can't hide from it - every day is a lesson and every interaction is a chance to improve and keep learning (every person I suppose if you're pedantic and opportunist...).
Yesterday I was stopped in the street by a volunteer for UNHCR. It was four degrees outside and he, and about four other people, were stood in the centre of Berlin happy to catch eye contact and attempt their spiel for donations to the charity. They do an excellent job, but I always feel a little sorry for these volunteers, and especially in these conditions. I hate ignoring them or their cause and I certainly don't want to be rude.
Wide eyed, pleading grin, a step in my path and bingo! Eye contact.
I smiled. Here we go...
I took a deep breath and began searching for my greetings and polite initial conversation, moving to scanning for the vocabulary to construct the sentence I wanted to form: 'I'm sorry, but I'm not able to donate today. I know lots about your organisation and do lots of charitable work too - but you're doing an excellent job. You must be very cold.'
That was not, of course, what it sounded like really...
It's times like these when you realise what you really want to say - that the thought occurs that maybe you say too much generally. You use unnecessary words. Waste people's time and beat around the bush with metaphors and general frivolities and pleasantries. Oh well.
This man humored me. He was patient whilst I arranged the few words I found and responded to me slowly, smile still in place, before asking me if I'd like to speak in English or wanted to continue in German. That's what most people here have said. Lots of people in Berlin speak English of course, but if you ask them or tell them you're learning, they are usually happy to continue to speak to you (and quietly correct you under their breath).
This worked the same way in Italy last year. In my free time I'd walk around the streets in town and if I hadn't interacted with anyone for a while I'd just walk into a shop and unapologetically begin to make conversation with the owner. This tactic, my free classes, and au-pairing for an Italian family with two girls were my main routes into the language.
This year however, thanks to the Opera Awards Bursary I've been able to be much more methodological in this process. I still talk to as many people as I can (laced with german apologies of course) and I still have my note book of phrases which I memorize and add to everyday. This time however I've budgeted for individual German classes too and it has made such an enormous difference. 1:1 means it's super personal and moves at my pace - we set goals and meet almost every day to make the most of my time here. And sure, my language, and linguistic knowledge and vocabulary is improving, but most of all my confidence increases every time and that is the biggest challenge.
I was not the best of students at school and boycotted most of my language classes entirely (sorry Ms. Shail) but learning for a reason offers you more motivation and has a sense of immediacy when you're actually there in the country of the language that you're learning. Boom. It's like my delayed German exchange that I wasn't good enough for and the trips I couldn't afford to go on have all come back together in the form of the Opera Awards hurrah!
So far Berlin has treated me well. I've had meetings at The Deutsche Oper, I am sitting in rehearsals for a new show at The Deutsches Theater next week and this weekend I am helping out Norman Cooley for Acting for Opera Singers masterclasses too. I've also, of course, been preparing and learning Ariadne auf Naxos ahead of starting rehearsals at Scottish Opera (co-production with Opera Holland Park) in February - but learning this surrounded by it's language and Strauss' context in the early 20th Century is the perfect research setting. The foundations of a language which I can continue through my career and the space, time and context that otherwise wouldn't have been available to me have been provided through the Opera Awards (sure, and a bit of my hard work) but I am incredibly grateful to the sponsors and the board for enabling me as a recipient of the award. And I cannot thank them enough: und ich kann Ihnen nicht genug danken.
As we move into 2018, this month marks half a year since I moved out of my cosy house in London with some awesome creatives, sold a lot of my belongings, and decided to live out of a suitcase for a while.
My work began moving me in new directions (literally, rather than metaphorically speaking) and instead of feeling pinned to London with ever-increasing rent prices I decided that instead of resisting it I'd move with it - responding and going wherever it took me. "If I can't do it now, when can I do it?"
Since then I've lived in six different countries for short amounts of time (for a mixture of work and play - and let's be honest for me they are the same thing) without the guilt of also paying rent somewhere in the capital whilst I'm away. It's living on the move - a sort of willing-homelessness I suppose, which offers me freedom, languages, new people and space to work and create.
Sure... you have to be super organised and you're far away from the comfort of those you use as pacifiers or human night-lights - but when it works the rewards are huge - and if you're lucky the world hasn't changed all that much when you return either. (Saying that though I was in Italy last year when Brexit happened but you know what I mean.)
I've learnt that opera is a heavy duty industry - right now I'm working on four projects so that's two scores and two play texts within my 23kg of baggage allowance not including my note books which is tough. I'm a visual person and the thought of doing all of my preparations on a computer rather than with old fashioned pens and paper makes me a little sad but perhaps that's the only lighter option I really have. You learn to prioritise; how many highlighters you really need and how to fully utilise a kindle but it's all for the greater good.
My next project at Scottish Opera will allow me to stay put for a little longer than recently, but I'll still really be living out of a suitcase - but now I feel like I've worked out a better balance than six months ago. In the mean time it's taught me what material things I really need, what I just want for comfort and how to wear those all important final kilos on the plane with you.
And before I forget - I must say another thank you to The Opera Awards bursary who have sponsored me through my time in Germany... but a future post is dedicated to it so watch this space...