Opera America recently awarded a series of grants to opera companies for audience development. Most of these grants went to mainstream opera companies; usually “the big guy in town”. $35000 though went to Toronto’s Tapestry Opera. Yesterday I met with artistic director Michael Mori to find out what it was all about.
The grant is actually not just for Tapestry but for the loose collective of smaller opera companies, Indie Opera TO. In many ways collaborating on audience building is a logical next step from the schedule co-ordination and experience sharing that was the main purpose of setting up Indie Opera TO in the first place. The money is going to be used to establish a joint digital marketing campaign and to co-ordinate (and hopefully develop synergies between) existing digital marketing efforts.
Underlying the approach are an interesting set of insights and assumptions. The first, and maybe the most important, is that indie opera attracts a significant “new to opera” element. Some of this is the “friends and family” factor that is certainly a big part of the audience for the smallest companies and some is the sort of cross-over audience that showed up to, for example, Tap:Ex Tables Turned; a collaboration between Tapestry and electronics/turntable wizard Nicole Lizée. 25% of the audience for that show were new to opera. Playing devil’s advocate one would doubt that similar figures are true for, say, Against the Grain, who are the darlings of the Toronto opera establishment. But still, I think the overall logic is sound and if the “friends and family” of company A can be exposed to what’s going on at the other indies there’s obvious potential.
Time will tell how all this will work out and a lot will turn on the stability and longevity of the collective. Not many indie companies have Tapestry’s thirty year track record! Still, even just the idea of “one stop shopping” for indie opera strikes me as a great idea. Let’s say you were in Toronto for a few days and you wanted to see some opera. How easy would it be for you to find out what’s on? Pretty hard I’d say (unless perhaps you read this blog!) In future maybe there will be an on-line calendar with all the shows and easy ways to get tickets. Why not?
And for those who want some indie opera in the near future there’s quite a lot happening. Tapestry have the premier of M’dea Undone at the Brickworks from May 26th to 29th. Against the Grain have Death and Desire from June 2nd to 5th at the Neubacher Shor Contemporary Gallery and the very new The Friends of Gravity are doing Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins at St. Bartholomew’s Church on May 22nd and 23rd.