As a director, you get used to standing up in front of a room full of people to persuade them of your ideas, but the nerves leading up to the first outing of those ideas never disappear.
Wednesday afternoon. I’m nervous. I tend to make bad jokes when I’m nervous, but I’m ready to harness my butterflies for a room full of Opera North’s finest. My designer Madeleine Boyd and I are showing the company our aesthetic intentions for – a new opera based on the verses of Hilaire Belloc by the wonderful composer Errollyn Wallen. We spent 2010 writing it and will be going into rehearsals on Valentine’s Day.
A design team is invaluable to a director – it epitomises the collaborative nature of opera. Mads is my designer, a source of inspiration, a grounding-point, the voice of realism (and on occasion doom) and in the case of model showings – my co-presenter (dealing with our visual aids: pictures of our model alongside her incredibly beautiful costume drawings). We have been developing our concept for Cautionary Tales for some time, creating a show-and-tell world in which a troop of Circus-inspired Cautioners tell us five macabre tales about the misdemeanours of naughty children and their rather unfortunate consequences.
Madeleine has done a model box showing at Opera North before, for Turn of the Screw, but for me – it’s a new audience. I keep wondering whether they will like what we have been imagining.
What we want to do with this piece is a new configuration for the Howard Assembly Room. We are creating a long thrust stage – a “Big Top” like performance ring that encourages our audience to have a more intimate experience. Our design responds to the architecture of the space (in and of itself extraordinary – akin to a grand examination hall in Hogwarts no less!), but throws up various challenges. Model box showings exist not only to inspire but also to allow practical challenges to be aired and brainstormed. One of the challenges to arise concerned visibility. It made me wonder: would you lean forward at the opera?
I think it is our responsibility as artists to make our audiences want to lean forward: to involve you, include you, make you want to see it all! Especially for a children’s chamber opera, aimed at a generation who are used to sitting back for their entertainment dose of television, computer, video games et al. Live performance is different – it’s reciprocal – we need audience input and feedback.
I shan’t bore you with the details of our showing, but suffice it to say – I took away some immensely useful things to know at this stage of the project. Firstly, I discovered that my nerves abate once a two-way conversation starts. And I left with a directorial hope to take into rehearsals: to make Cautionary Tales an operatic experience that keeps our audience on the edge of their seats!
Cautionary Tales is performed in the Howard Assembly Room on Thursday 10 March and Saturday 12 March. For more information and to book tickets click here.