Report by Lila Palmer, 10 June 2015

Large and small opera companies can share information, especially when programming is related. Large companies can benefit from mentoring small companies by getting foreknowledge of talent coming up and from start-up practices, which are responsive and fast moving. Small companies are more reactive and therefore it pays for large companies to keep tabs on them, which they can do most effectively by supporting them!

Small companies can benefit from mentorship, promotion and contacts with the higher tiers of the industry and can also function as a lab for R&D for larger companies, who can then partner to bring successful projects to a wider audience, generating more revenue for both companies.

Internally large companies inadequately promote their own programming, for example failing to push trainee and education projects to donors and patrons or not charging for them. This undercuts young talent trying to survive financially but it’s also a missed engagement/outreach opportunity. Often this seems to reflect a lack of trust in young talent. Companies have to learn to trust their young blood in all areas, not wait until individuality is ironed out to promote it.

National Opera Coordinating Committee should have a ‘development and mentorship’ subcommittee to work with smaller scrappier companies and spot talent for development to benefit the industry as a whole. Opera Music Theatre Forum and NOCC need to meet and exchange ideas about best practices. They can actually promote each other’s shows and communicate and increase audiences. Companies take the view that they’re fighting for audiences whereas the reality is that not every audience member wants to see every offering, but that interested audiences can be directed to where their interests lie increasing everyone’s uptake. Both NOCC and OMTF need to raise their profile to the wider industry so that opportunities for dialogue with ‘the players’ are increased and communication is facilitated. This isn’t just altruism.

Success Story:

Such practices have worked extremely well in Canada where the Toronto Opera Companies have effectively created a supper club/guild & facebook group where they share information about programming & scheduling dates, promote each other’s shows in programs and online. All have discovered that audiences have in fact increased, so this sort of cooperation is to everyone’s mutual benefit, even in a relatively small city like Toronto where traditionally it was believed there wasn’t enough audience to go around.

Audience Data

Another big issue for small/touring opera companies who hire theatres is the difficulty of collecting audience data if the theatres refuse to share booking and audience metric figures and email lists. Companies as large as Opera North and WNO for example, have trouble colleting data. There has been some attempt to remedy this through an initiative by the NOCC but conservatism has meant that moves to automatically share data between companies and theatres have been pushed back to ‘opt in’ clauses. But some recognition of the problem at least.


• Return to ‘opt out’ clause.

• If small/touring opera companies booking the same theatres club together and request that all small theatres supply all touring companies with audience metrics and mailing lists they have a greater chance of that being applied.

• A ‘kitemark’ for small theatres who really support the companies who come through them, which could go beyond the opera industry and requires partnership with touring theatre companies. But it would create a system in which theatres are galvanised to provide this information in order to get the best companies in and sell out theatres

• Can small companies and big companies share databases?

• Put a pop-up click-through link on all the NOCC/OMTF theatre websites when audiences try to book for a sold-out show, taking them to other performances at affiliated member venues. E.g. Traviata is sold out at ROH, but you can go see OperaUpClose’s version in Soho the same night, or ENO’s Carmen right down the street (or whatever).

Part II:

The failure of Narcissus: why opera companies need to self-reflect effectively Arts Council Self-Evaluation forms are not fit for purpose. Self-evaluation in arts organisations is considered a chore and a necessary bureaucratic exercise in maintaining or gaining funding, and isn’t viewed as an opportunity to learn crucial information to improve the practices, product and working conditions of the organisation. This attitude exists from the top down, and therefore SE is implemented in a shoddy way which diminishes its value, for example not preserving complete anonymity through submission structures or limiting the conversations to direct line managers, so that constructive criticism is either blocked at the immediate level or simply not made because of fear of not being hired.

This is a particularly problematic practice in young artist feedback practices, where vulnerable performers are asked to personally and directly feedback about particular programs they have taken part in to the very people who have the power to hire them in future or were the cause of whatever issue is under discussion for improvement.

Amongst administrators SE is often tied to immediate pressure for gain or loss of funding under extremely difficult conditions, and the desire to protect themselves, jobs, and other colleagues discourages openness about flaws in the system and leads to an internal code of omerta about working realities (see ENO). Evaluation is also only being undertaken by external bodies such as the Arts Council whose criteria are not necessarily those which align with best practice from a business or creative perspective, but the results of those evaluations tend to shape the public dialogue about the success of the company, companies become embattled and are therefore disinclined to invest resources in assessing independently for themselves how they can improve. Opera companies need to create their own metric of success, which will enable greater control of the public conversation and the criteria of evaluation, and reduce the frequency with which the media or the arts council pick an area of weakness in the industry and focus on it to the detriment of all the good work being done.


Is there a possibility of creating an industry code of best business and creative practice written by the opera companies facilitated by NOCC so that they can create a healthy form of self-assessment and a metric, which is relevant to them to measure success with, and thereby take charge of the conversation?

Part III

The Opera Establishment in a UK Context – ‘Clubbability and the code of Omerta’

A fear of the consequences of naming the issues or expressing a need for improvement is present amongst ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders seeking inside status’ in the industry. Individuals present who had knowledge/membership of both NOCC & OMTF were concerned that even discussing these bodies and their workings at D&D and in this discussion would be frowned upon. Whether conscious or not, the expression of this unease is clear evidence of a culture in which communication, constructive criticism and discussion of best practice is not always encouraged, and is considered ‘breaking ranks’, or indicative of not being ‘clubbable’. Of participants in the discussion, only 3/14 were aware of the existence of either of the NOCC & OMTF.



• This mentality needs to change and boards and opera companies need to seek to actively recruit those who want to discuss improvement and innovation, as other businesses do.

• Prospective arts administrators and performing artists also need to ‘vote with their feet’ and seek to work for companies doing this.



solutions, Criteria, Mentorship, collaboration, The Failure of Narcissus - Effective Self-Reflection, theatres, innovation, ownership, communication, Theatres, Innovation, mentorship, Success Stories, Small Opera, criteria, Opera Music Theatre Forum, Preserving Anonymity, Self Evaluation, Metric of Success, Touring Opera, Omertà, Exchange of Ideas, Symbiotic Relationship, Ownership, Feedback Practices, Clubbability, OMTF, Trust Youth, Arts council, Big Opera, Audience Data, Start-Up, NOCC, Responsiveness, National Opera Coordinating Committee, Communication, Solutions, arts council, Collaboration, Arts Council

Comments: 3

Caroline Forster Anderson, 12 June 2015

Hi, I’m Caroline from the Opera and Music Theatre Forum (OMTF)

This report, the overview Practical Outcomes for Fringe Opera? and Producers - Bridging the Fringe and Larger Scale Companies, all raise important issues about infrastructure which have been the subject of much debate over the years.

Some have raised more questions than answers in discussion but things change and it may well be time to revisit them. If any participants to this session would like to explore the issues raised in these reports further, let's arrange an informal, open discussion session, either following the event described below or on another occasion. Just mail me at [email protected]

A quick note to make here is that there is communication and co-operation between the big companies and the smaller scale sector, for example this D&D event itself, plus The Royal Opera House, Glyndebourne and ENO have all hosted events and conferences for OMTF which was established to promote the work of, advocate for, and provide a network of help, particularly to the smaller companies (


Many of the big companies will be sharing their skills and expertise at the Fundraising event we are running in London on July 31 - key contributors will be The Royal Opera House, Welsh National Opera, Glyndebourne and Scottish Opera. It takes place in London during the Tête a Tête Festival - more details on the front page of our website.

We are a membership organisation but we have open events available to all and we keep in touch with the whole sector via Twitter – so do follow us on @OMTF!

Bill Bankes-Jones, 15 June 2015

…and I'm Bill, the Chair of OMTF. I know that Caroline, our board and I would be really keen to hear more constructive criticism of OMTF, or better still see constructive critics join the organisation and take an active rôle in making it better.

We'd certainly welcome that rather than frowning on it. Let's keep the discussion going!

[email protected]

Caroline Forster Anderson, 19 June 2015

nOMTF is arranging an informal get-together in London to discuss some or all of these issues from 6pm on July 9 – do get in touch if you would like to join us!

Contact me at [email protected] Pub venue tbc