Song of Endurance: Opera Queensland with Patrick Nolan
How are arts companies enduring their prolonged closures and performances restrictions? We asked Patrick Nolan to fill us in.
Patrick Nolan is the artistic director and CEO of Opera Queensland, and he told us of the current challenges for the company and their plans for reemergence.
The Creative Issue: What has it been like to direct Opera Queensland through these uncharted waters?
Patrick Nolan: It’s been enormously stressful, really, on all manner of levels. Everything that we usually do, creating productions for audiences across the state, has been made impossible. Like everyone else in the world, we started this year thinking that we had a very clear plan on what was going to unfold, and we got a few months in and then everything got turned on its head. So, as an arts organisation, a lot of what we do is about meeting people, welcoming people into the theatre, into a very live, intimate space, which is obviously the opposite to how COVID wants us to behave.
So, we’re had to find other ways to tell stories and connect with our audiences, and also to create employment for our artists. That’s been a really big issue for a lot of our artists, that employment has been taken away from them. So, that’s been a really big focus for us, is how do we support our artists and give them work.
TCI: How successful has your An Aria A Day online series been, and do you have plans for more online performances?
PN: Yeah, An Aria A Day has been phenomenally successful. When we set out to do An Aria A Day, the thinking behind it was, well, we’re not allowed to be in the theatres, so how can we still bring our audiences some of the music that they love and connect to. This is obviously a very simple way. We just said to our artists, just sing us a song that you love, from wherever you are.
The responses from our audiences have been really overwhelming. We really didn’t anticipate how much people would connect with An Aria A Day. We get emails and messages from people all over the world, which we didn’t anticipate at all. So, now, we’re obviously thinking a lot more carefully about the way our online program is. How we’re going to create opportunities to put our work online, so that we can fill that connection with those audiences, wherever they may be.
TCI: Do you have a COVID-Safe plan in place to welcome back audiences, and what advice would you give to other performing arts organisations looking to open up?
PN: The challenge for all arts organisations at the moment is that we have to work very carefully and closely with the Health Department. First and foremost, our patrons health and safety is our top priority. So, it about us working closely with Queensland Health to understand what actions to take in terms of returning to the venue, and how to do that in ways that people feel supported and safe in the community. So, as soon as we can do that, we’re ready to go. That’s what we do, that’s our business. We’ve got shows we’re ready to share, that have been put off. It’s going to be a step by step process. There’s so many unknowns with this virus that we really just have to take it day by day.
TCI: How excited are you to open the doors and present your Studio Recital series, starting later in July?
PN: We’re very excited! We can’t Wait! The Recital Series is something we kicked off last year. In some ways, it has a lot of parallels to An Aria A Day. It’s all about the singers being close to the performers. It’s in our studio, which is a very intimate space. Obviously, in the context of social distancing, people won’t be sitting as close as perhaps they would’ve, but it’s still in a room which is suited to much more nuanced performances. It really gives the audience the opportunity to see the singer up close.
We started last year, and they sold out very fast. I think people enjoyed seeing the singer in that way, with just a piano, it’s a very different experience. It’s a more relaxed environment. It’s more about the story of the song, rather than fancy costumes and big sets like we do in the theatre. So, we’re very excited.
TCI: What else can audiences look forward to from Opera Queensland in the near future?
PN: We were due to do a big regional production of Tosca, that we performed at QPAC last year. Unfortunately, the pandemic cancelled that. We’re currently working with all our regional choruses who are a really important part of that tour, in the seven centres. So Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, Gladstone, Rockhampton, Toowoomba and the Gold Coast. All of those places have these regional choruses. We’re going to teach them one of the songs from Tosca, that we would’ve all sung together, and record it. We’re going to create this big online version of the song with all 200 hundred participants, so adults and children, who would’ve sung that song. So, that’s a celebration and an acknowledgement of what would’ve been.
We’re also putting together an ensemble of singers who will work in the smaller regional centres around Queensland. We’re putting a program together for 2021, when we will return to the theatre. We have lots of ideas, but I can’t share that with you, it’s top secret right now! We’re getting ready to launch it in October or November this year.