Tête à Tête is delighted to announce today its plans for its 2017 season, 20 years since the company was founded.
In an open letter to the global opera community, Artistic Director Bill Bankes-Jones reflects on an unforgettable 20 years of creating and pioneering inclusive, international and revolutionary opera, highlights the key findings from our Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival 10th anniversary report, and outlines our plans for the forthcoming season.
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– 10th anniversary festival in King’s Cross from 24 July – 13 August 2017, at both The Place and Kings Place
– New public website including exclusive interviews with leading opera figures, a new opera industry e-newsletter and tips and advice for putting on your own production in a dedicated ‘For Artists’ area
– The release of the Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival 10th anniversary report, which shows nearly a 50:50 split between male and female producers, and 22% BAME artists programmed last year
– The launch of MyNewOpera, a global platform for on-demand opera productions, featuring work of producers from all over the world
It’s both wonderful and jaw-dropping to be entering our 20th Anniversary year. Tête à Tête started because I had finished with ENO as a staff director, was trying to work out what to do, went to see Tom Morris at BAC and made up on the spot that I wanted to put on an immersive Fledermaus where the audience lose their chairs and become Prince Orlofsky’s guests at the party. And they did. And it was marvellous.
This set the bar for all our work since, really. What amazing adventures we have had over the past two decades, performing bold and brave experiments, creating opera really close up, establishing a really strong and intimate relationship with our audiences and revelling in the theatrically of the form.
It’s hard not to see Britten’s Canticles in 2002 as a big highlight, the co-production in Westminster Abbey that launched Streetwise Opera, working with 5 different homeless shelters. We were in absolutely virgin territory throughout those twelve weeks in the centres. In the end the performers – both homeless and professional alike – delivered something quite extraordinary. No-one who was there will ever forget it. Ditto Salad Days, which dusted down a slightly dog-eared musical from the 50s and with an original orchestration and very warm connection to the audience – who danced to the magic piano – we played to over 40,000 people over 4 years.
Simultaneously, of course, we were commissioning and performing short new operas at a great rate. 20 years ago, there really wasn’t any kind of fringe for new opera, just a lot of frustrated composers and a few enormous commissions – maybe two or three a year – in the big houses. We, meanwhile, produced and toured a series of very successful portmanteau shows; Shorts, Six-Pack, Family Matters & Blind Date. These completely redefined the possible for makers of new opera, and made an unprecedented opportunity for opera makers on the musical side to get into theatres at an early stage.
It wasn’t really until 2007 when we became curious to see if there was a demand from creators to get up and make shows themselves. We organised a speed dating evening that year, inviting around 100 composers, librettists, singers, instrumentalists, directors, designers and a host of others to come together for one evening, eventually managing – thanks to a rigorous schedule! – to create, produce, rehearse and stage a new thirty minute opera. And it wasn’t bad! Shortly after, we held the first Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith.
We ran there for 7 years, until 2014 when we relocated to King’s Cross. Amazingly, as a result, we’ve now hosted over 400 new shows, delivered more than 1,000 performances, and very concretely proved that, if you want to get going as a composer or opera maker, just get involved. We will help you.
Our recently commissioned 10th anniversary festival report with Nouvague threw up some really exciting findings; the producers we have commissioned have been split almost 50:50 between male and female, as well as new shows from transgender composers too. BAME artists are also well represented, with 22% of our composers in 2015 coming from minority backgrounds; that general sense of welcome for all is, we think, what sets us streets ahead of all the major companies in terms of exploring and creating new works.
Most importantly though, we’ve proved that the platform we’ve created can be a springboard to launch, develop and transform careers. 99% of our artists said they are now working full-time in the arts today, including 8% in management, marketing and administration roles. Of those, we are immensely proud to have two of our alumni now working at the world’s biggest opera houses, in Daniel Kramer at English National Opera and Oliver Mears at the Royal Opera House.
So there’s a lot to celebrate, and plenty to develop. Last summer, our partnership with King’s Cross really blossomed in Cubitt Sessions, where we performed a series of new shows outdoors for whoever wanted to stumble in and watch. And we attracted an audience the likes of which I’ve never seen for any kind of opera. The fact that there were no tickets – not even a door to go through – meant that any kind of person you could imagine was drawn in and devoured the works. Cubitt Sessions has become a wonderful extension of our Pop Up Opera programme; over 8 years, we’ve commissioned 36 tiny operas to be performed in streets, foyers, and any public spaces, reaching tens of thousands of people. We’re delighted that Cubitt Sessions will be back as a centre-piece of our 10th anniversary festival, which will take place in King’s Cross from 24 July – 13 August 2017, at both The Place and Kings Place.
Meanwhile, we are looking to service and stimulate the now-burgeoning small scale new opera sector with a brand new website, which will keep the discussion going, and open up our deep mentoring process so that composers, producers, tech whizzes, singers and also lovers of new opera can come together to congregate, discover, interact, and learn from each other.
This year we will also be launching MyNewOpera, a global platform featuring the work of producers from all over the world, ready to watch. We already have an archive of over 400 videos for our launch, with many more to be added before then. It turns out that the explosion of small-scale new opera and music theatre is a global trend, so high time it started to connect. And online, without barriers, this can start to happen worldwide.
So how does it feel looking back? Time to look ahead, and to celebrate. I hope and trust that Tête à Tête continues to create opportunities for a truly diverse and welcomed community of opera makers, and helps them to connect in a really welcoming and intimate way with the widest possible audience – worldwide!
Overall, we’ve shown that our mentoring programme can equip artists for the volatile digital climate, with renewed commitments this year to further integrate social media, video and technology into our work as a company.
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The 10th anniversary Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival will take place at King’s Cross from 24 July – 13 August 2017, at both The Place and Kings Place. Full details on productions and tickets will be announced in May.