Devoted and Disgruntled 2016 – Report

Friday, 15th April 2016

Devoted And Disgruntled

Devoted And Disgruntled: How Can We Change Opera For The Better?



9 – 10 April 2016
Lilian Baylis House, 165 Broadhurst Gardens, London NW6 3AX


A large cross-section of our operatic community gathered at “LBH” over the weekend of 9/10 April to air ideas, share frustrations, listen and contribute to a myriad of discussions created and determined by the group itself.


Using Open Space Technology, Devoted and Disgruntled allowed the group itself to determine the topics and flow of the discussion, and to take action on the urgent issues. Nothing was censored, and all participants were free to call sessions, attend whichever were of interest, or meet informally over a coffee. It was facilitated and archived by Improbable who now have an 11 year history of running great events like this: conferences which have helped change the way the arts community communicates with itself.


Read Bill Bankes-Jones’ blog below:

Last weekend, around 150 of us gathered together to talk about how we can change opera for the better. It’s impossible for me to write an objective summary, as I was pretty near the heart of the organisation of the event.

I know and love this process from many D&Ds about theatre, where Phelim McDermott, supported by his Improbable team, magisterially facilitates huge rooms full of discussions convened by the people present, on topics of their own choosing. This is “open space”. Everyone is made to feel welcome, to matter, to belong, to feel free to stay or leave, to do pretty much anything. It’s a huge tribute to Phelim that he manages to give us just enough framework to feel safe while at the same time each being utterly free.

Phelim, I and a few others have been wanting to offer this opportunity to the opera sector for years. We finally pulled it off at the Royal Opera House last year, in partnership with Improbable, ROH, Opera Europa, the National Opera Co-Ordinating committee, the Opera & Music Theatre Forum and my own company, Tête à Tête.

This year, we met up in the emotive space of LBH3, ENO’s largest rehearsal room in its West Hampstead complex, formerly the Decca Studios. Emotive, because this was pretty much exactly the point at which the inevitable grim consequences of the looming 15% cut in the ENO balance sheet were really starting to kick in. Though we had the usual wonderful mixture of artists and administrators of all disciplines and levels mixed up with fans and mavericks, the shadow of ENO cuts did lend the occasion a particular tinge. Full credit to the senior management and board member of ENO who turned up to this open ended discussion where anything could happen.

Everything that is discussed is written up by those who choose to do so, and particularly so with the opera D&Ds, it seems. You can read all the reports in detail here:

ENO is a huge part of my development – I was a staff director there for 5 years in the early 90s – and I’ve had my say on what’s happening right now elsewhere both publicly and directly to the CEO/board. So I had a strong sense of what to expect, and generally avoided sessions focussed on ENO’s current challenges. The reports seem to show that their content was predictable and outcomes almost certainly therapeutic, but not necessarily practical.

Meanwhile, I began by sewing a heart into a doll for Dreams and a Heart, a wonderful visionary art project and calmingly gentle way to start things off.

My next session, which I convened with OMTF manager Caroline Anderson, on #LoveOpera, was very heartening. In brief, this is a twitter storm planned for the first weekend of May, where everyone is invited to use the hashtag #loveopera to label anything they’re doing in the field of opera, thus showing the range of activity in the UK. You might be making a cake for your orchestra, rehearsing a dance, performing the last night of a production, translating a libretto, focussing lights, anything. A really helpful session as you’ll see form the report.

I then retreated to the back foot for Is There Room For More Conversation Between “Fringe” And Larger Opera Companies?, though as with every single session, gained enormously merely from sitting amongst the conversation. This very interesting question arose: Are we happy that ACE plans to oblige large clients to take a leadership rôle with smaller companies?, which itself became a separate session.

Refreshed by a good night’s sleep, Sunday began with further introductory remarks from Phelim and others, before a very buzzy session entitled Can we be friends? We did some great work here, as you’ll see from the report, and managed to come up with a whole string of ways in which opera could be changed for the better. After lunch, a session I convened again, on OMTF – a chance for the organisation (which I chair) to open itself to the many ideas for collaborations that had been flying around all weekend, but also to explain to our sector what we actually do.

Finally, Improvised Opera. The report, including videos, hopefully speaks for itself. It certainly felt both highly instructive and wonderfully cathartic to bring so many sessions of discussion to a close with actually getting up and making some opera then and there.

A really brilliant weekend, I feel refreshed, invigorated, purged and buzzing with ideas to put into action. These are already getting moving. I can’t recommend the process too much. Thank you everyone there, ENO, Improbable and most of all Phelim. More soon, please!


Bill Bankes-Jones, 13th April 2016


To find out more about the event and Devoted & Disgruntled click here.