SWAP'ra will work in collaboration with opera companies to explore ways in which the industry could be more inclusive of female creatives, and more accessible to artists with caring responsibilities.
We want to shine a light on the fantastic work being produced, created and performed by so many incredible women in the opera industry; encouraging more women to strive for creative leadership roles including conducting, directing and artistic management, and encouraging the opera industry to widen opportunities for them. We want programmers to take the time to unearth the hidden treasures of female composers of the past and spotlight those of the present. We want the coming generations to be so unaware of the outdated gender biases that exist in these fields, that terms like ‘female composer’ and ‘female conductor’ cease to exist. To them, there will be only ‘composers’ and ‘conductors'.
A brief glance at our summaries of the female creatives represented in UK opera last year is enough to convince us that significant tangible change is necessary at this point to balance the under-representation of women in the top creative leadership jobs. As long as inequality exists, we must be proactive and take bold steps to level the field.
One simple way we can help this is to draw attention to the successful women already out there by improving visibility for those trying to establish themselves and in need of female role models, and to remind the industry that there are numerous incredible women out there, hungry for work.
- Our website and social media presence will focus weekly on different high achieving women and working parents within the opera industry through features, interviews and blogs
- We will curate regular chaired discussions and seminars on gender equality and carer accessibility in the opera industry to keep these conversations open and ongoing.
- We are receiving consultation from similar organisations such as Tonic Theatre and Parents In Performing Arts
- We are in discussions with Royal Opera House, English National Opera, Opera Holland Park, and several other companies about how we can work together to make the progress needed with regards to gender equality.
We have been collecting stories and data from UK opera parents over the past six months. One theme that recurred frequently, for women in particular, was the feeling that having children was something to keep a secret from the industry for fear of being judged to be compromised by the physical and logistical demands of motherhood. This is a preconception which we’d like to dismantle. We will celebrate the huge number of artist mothers who are successfully juggling both career and parenthood in order to dissolve the prejudice and highlight role models for women who want to have both.
There are a great many challenges involved in juggling a career in opera with family life which apply to both fathers and mothers, and indeed to anyone with caring responsibilities. A lot of these are practical issues which are a struggle for all working parents in any profession, but particularly in ours due to the unconventional working hours and scheduling practices. The most commonly reported challenge for the parents we spoke to was last-minute scheduling.
SWAP’ra has proposed a new scheduling format which we believe is a good compromise between what is already a very difficult task for production team, and what would be of enormous value to parents, and indeed beneficial to everyone involved if executed well. Please read below about this format in more detail.
We are delighted and impressed by the support and willingness of James Clutton, Director of Opera at Opera Holland Park, for agreeing to be the first to trial our proposed scheduling format this season for all productions at OHP.
We are well aware of the difficulties involved in advanced scheduling but believe that with cooperation from all sides, a workable compromise can be met which would make working practices more manageable for those with caring responsibilities, and indeed for everyone who has a life outside of any one production. To be clear, we are not asking for time off in order for parents to look after their children: we proposing a more structured system of scheduling in advance so that parents can put childcare in place, and indeed make other arrangements that are necessary for all artists. Many artists need to be able to subsidise their income by teaching in their ‘spare’ time. This can be very difficult to arrange around the current scheduling system, where the cast receives each week’s schedule on a Friday night, giving everyone just two days to make necessary arrangements. Medical appointments; singing lessons which are so essential, especially for young singers just staring out in the profession; auditions for the next gig which are vital for freelancers living from job to job... all these things are incredibly difficult to manage with the current scheduling system. There are more often than not days or half days when certain characters are not needed, when scenes which they are not in are being rehearsed. It's fantastic that directors take the time to schedule in a way that allows those artists to not be ‘blanket’ called, regardless of whether or not they will be used: we appreciate that hugely. With more advanced scheduling, however, we could make better use of that time and potentially save money on unnecessary childcare and peak time travel.
In this proposed set-up, it would be fair to insist that all Notice of Absence requests be submitted well ahead of rehearsals. Then from the outset, there will a clearer idea of when artists will and won’t be called and medical appointments/auditions/singing lessons/teaching work can be planned around this. It’s also worth noting that the advance schedule would still not be contractually binding, and that this system requires flexibility on all parts in order to work; but that every effort will be made in order to stick to the long term schedule unless absolutely necessary to change, and all notice of changes will be given as far in advance as possible.
We are thrilled that James Clutton has agreed to trial this format for us this season and hope that it will be a successful model which we can take to other companies to trial.