Get Close to Opera


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Get Close to Opera

Opera Circus were one of the 5 partners invited to take part in an Erasmus + (KA2) research project called Get Close to Opera. The project lasted two years, finishing in September 2019 and was impressively well managed and led by Matera Hub. GCTO was recently awarded the title of Erasmus + Best Practice Project with a score of 98% out of 100%. Congratulation to everyone involved.

Get Close to Opera

Matera was Italy’s Capital City of Culture in 2019. Opera Circus were co-producers of the highly successful community opera, Silent City. Nigel Osborne composed and led the community music with libretto by Ubah Cristina Ali Farah and directed by James Bonas. We wrote a blog page at the start of the rehearsals early November 2019. We will be writing more about Silent City next month.

GCTO was designed and part led by Compagnia Teatrale L’Albero. Silent City was also produced by L’Albero.

“Silent City” community opera for Matera2019 – Photo: Robert Golden

In Get Close to Opera, the partners in most cases were delightful, experienced, concerned and delivered interesting and thoughtful work. We all had our roles and we all took our tasks seriously, whether web site design, research, translation, delivering training for the residential week, actively participating in the social media plans, etc., We all did far more work than we had been paid for, as is usual with any project, and, in particular, if you are not on a salary. The commitment was obvious.

There was a good mixture of organisations, RESEO, the International Association for Higher Education in Opera and Ballet, the University of Patras, Greece, ESART, in Spain , The European Network of Migrant Women, highly skilled and our moral compass and us, for the UK, the opera company. Each of us had a project manager and we were lucky enough to work with Foteini Galanopoulou, highly skilled in delivering EU projects and with a deep knowledge of inclusion and access in the arts.

The beautiful Jurassic Coast at West Bay near Bridport

In any EU funded project I think it must be very difficult to deliver a piece of work where everyone agrees about everything, we certainly didn’t, but there have been many benefits and learning from the various topics being researched.

In the vitally important context of dealing with Nationalism and Fascism across Europe and really making a difference to all our millions of new citizens, we probably didn’t move mountains. On the other hand we changed some minds, we had important discussions and presentations in large opera houses and small towns and their village halls. We had an opportunity to create small projects reflective of our learning and we did this one…Conversation on Portland which seems to have resonated with a lot of people.

We were able to invite three people to work with us in Matera during a training week in February 2019. Opera Circus were lucky enough to be able to invite Nadine Benjamin, Ruth Mariner and Katherine Harri. They were a vital part of the Conversation on Portland pilot project.

We all agreed that GOOD COMMUNICATION is vital always and every time and that it’s not easy. The other is respecting everyone equally and acknowledging everyone’s contribution, no matter how small. Creating good and thoughtful partnerships is always hard and there is never enough time to develop these properly. There should be time to talk about values and principles and do we share them, the use of language and the differences, social behaviour, work practice. There is usually the assumption that you put people into a room and somehow we all innately get on and know how to work with each other. It has made us consider a partnership development process prior to any project, however short, to ensure that there is an understanding before we start and that there are points during a project where we can question and discuss together. It can’t just be about outputs and outcomes, data and timelines.

I learnt a great deal from watching Paolo Montemurro from Matera Hub and his incredibly diplomatic and patient project management.

The City of Bari (the nearest airport to Matera)
We all were given the gift of being able to visit each other’s cities and countries, Patras in Greece, wonderful food and a culture of deep hospitality, Brussels, learning to love this city, its different quarters and its Turkish food, being able to hold our heads up in tiny Bridport with the support of a local landowners beautiful accommodation and the Jurassic Coast on a sunny early September evening. We had Matera. If you have never been you should go once in your life. Italy is so richly full of beauty and cultural sites but Matera’s strangeness and darkness sits with you and you can believe the Gods exist deep inside their caves. It is unique and a privilege to have been able to work in such an ancient environment.
The Sassi or Caves of Matera, Basilicata, Italia

The great and unique thing about Erasmus + KA2 Partnership funding (GCTO) is that you can actually pay people, unlike KA1 which only pays expenses for travel, accommodation etc, but no fees. KA2 you can get paid, not massively by UK standards, but very welcome in a world where less and less funders want to pay the people who actually organise the work, as if somehow it gets done by magic.

I didn’t realise quite how “freelance” the UK is and how much of an anathema this is to the EU. I don’t think they quite get it. As much as I love them and don’t want to leave, much of the Erasmus work we have delivered since 2012 as had sometimes been managed as volunteers. It’s not always possible to find match funding. You also learn the hard way the difference between our financial reporting, rigorous enough as it is, and the gruesome task that is the EU’s requirements.

We, apparently are going to carry on being able to access some EU funds till December 2020 and possibly beyond.

The number of organisations in the UK who have applied for these funds over the years has been very small in comparison to the hoards in Europe who apply. We estimate in 10 years we have raised around €500,000 (remember no fees and no core funding is included in this sum, only accommodation, travel, visas, and some funding for those who need special assistance to participate) from a mixture of Creative Europe, Youth in Action and Erasmus funding. Most of it has gone to give around 1600 young people from 14 partners (UK (lots from Dorset and London, Manchester, Blackburn, Brighton +), Italy, Georgia, Portugal, Serbia, Romania, Kosovo, Denmark, Bosnia and Herzegovina) the chance to travel and experience other cultures, learn about themselves and their creativity, access a huge number of opportunities from higher education, finding work, learning new skills and responsibilities, finding support and long term mentorship, participating in youth activism, to being part of an international network of friends – even a marriage!

Nothing worthwhile is easy but while we still can, we encourage you to apply for some funding.

Take a look . There are lots of places to seek advice.


Next deadlines April and October 2020

As we leave this flawed union, I feel my heart going darker and heavier. I am a European, I grew up deeply imbued with European Culture, my Culture, and it seems to me that taking it away is a criminal act. I can only hope I live long enough to see the new and far more socially active and caring next generations, demanding to return.

Below are a few of the many hundreds of photographs taken, mostly by Robert Golden (you will be able to tell the difference), of some moments from the many projects we have created with artists, organisers, carers, young people and their communities since 2004 both in the UK and in Europe. They are in no particular date order. At one point we will try and give each a title but don’t have the time at the moment. All the projects have been mostly funded by the EU grants for young people’s activities with often additional support from Arts Council England and others, including regular crowdfunding. So many people involved, so much skill and creativity, so much love and willingness to work towards the change we must have. Memories, memories!

There have been many names for the projects, Wake Up!, Simply Human, Like a Film in my Mind and The Complete Freedom of Truth.

The latest project along with Changing the Story is Izazov! and in 2020, the next Erasmus + funded project is called, Freedom is Participation in Power – Building Youth Activism. (TBC)

More information soon

Tina Ellen Lee Artistic
Director and Creative Producer
Opera Circus
19th January 2020