By Diana Hossack, Former Managing Director
This year, Professional Company Members of both OPERA America and Opera.ca may apply for Development Awards within the Repertoire Development category. Development Awards provide assistance to companies’ endeavors in assessing and refining a work in progress or revising a work after its recent premiere. This award offers financial support during the incubation period of a developing work.
Ultimately, The Opera Fund/Canadian Opera Creation Program will have four types of awards within the Repertoire Development category: Partnership, Development, Production, and Documentation. This year, as programs work to build their endowments, members and their partners may apply for Development Awards only.
Consortium Applications Have Financial and Artistic Rewards
Since the inception of The Opera Fund/Canadian Opera Creation Program, there has been a strong emphasis on consortia. The Artistic Services Committee of OPERA America’s Board of Directors and others who assisted in creating this program believed fervently that the life of a new work would more likely be extended if organizations collaborated. Such cooperation would:
• harness more resources among opera companies and other producing and presenting partners;
• allow more audience members to experience new works; and
• increase the potential for multiple performances of new works.
The Opera Fund/Canadian Opera Creation Program offers financial incentives for collaborations. The award range for consortia is considerably higher than sole applicant support. Yet even with access to increased dollars, the majority of applications OPERA America and Opera.ca receive are for sole applicant support. Certainly, collaborations bring special considerations to a process that already seems overwhelming to most companies. They may be concerned about the need for longer lead time, disagreements regarding artistic matters, or the question of which company will present the first performance.
Additional time may be needed at the front end for identifying projects, artists, and/or partners. In the case of the Margaret Garner consortium, Michigan Opera Theatre served as the lead producer and brought the idea of the project to Cincinnati Opera and Opera Company of Philadelphia. Cincinnati Opera, already slated for a new work for the summer of 2005, immediately committed, as the real Margaret Garner was from Cincinnati and the timing coincided with the opening of the city’s Freedom Center. Opera Company of Philadelphia joined a bit later in the process.
In reviewing timelines of both sole applicant and consortia projects, it appears that the schedules from commission to premiere are comparable. In addition, companies have used increased funds from Consortia Development Awards to design a more robust assessment process.
• Companies can increase the number of workshops from one to two during the development of the work.
• As more partners participate in workshops or laboratories, the creative team has access to a wider range of reactions.
• When staff members from organizational partners come together for workshops, they develop other ways to collaborate, including educational or marketing materials, press, recordings, etc.
• Increased funds have allowed partners to hire an orchestra for a workshop, which is considerably more helpful than listening to excerpts with piano only.
When more than one company is involved, making artistic decisions can seem tricky. In order for a project to be successful, co-applicants must develop and agree upon the roles and responsibilities of each partner. This planning is a critical ingredient for successful Opera Fund/Canadian Opera Creation Program applications. Panelists easily see through those partnerships that were rapidly created for the sole purpose of asking for money. Collaborations must be clearly defined; the application must illustrate how the partners and the project will benefit from the different resources each partner offers, and show a thorough and agreed-upon planning schedule. Although not a requirement, support letters or quotes from the leadership of partner organizations can strengthen an application.
Partnerships come in many configurations. A lead applicant may only be looking for financial investors, or a participating company may join because it wants to learn from a company experienced with commissions.
Whatever the reasons for getting involved in a partnership, the most important component of a successful collaboration is clear definition of roles and responsibilities. Many companies have found that having complementary, rather than conflicting, experiences and expertise among partners is helpful. In the case of the Margaret Garner consortium, the three artistic directors had complementary skill sets. David DiChiera is a composer, and though both Nicholas Muni and Robert Driver are stage directors, Muni also has experience as a dramaturg.
The collaboration between The Banff Centre and Calgary Opera that resulted in Filumena was successful because the creative artists were able to take advantage of the unique resources each company provided. Banff — the professional home of librettist John Murrell — has a long and distinguished history of producing new works and offers an environment conducive for creative artists to explore musical and dramatic possibilities with access to musicians, dancers, designers, and other artists. Calgary Opera was hosting John Estacio as a composer in residence, and provided a mainstage for the work to premiere. This collaboration proved so successful that the companies are collaborating on a second new opera, Frobisher.
Scale of Collaboration
Commissioning can seem overwhelming, particularly for companies that have never commissioned before. The idea of adding more players, which means more communication and more room for error, can be daunting. But partnership also allows for sharing of the burdens associated with helping a work reach its full potential. Working alone, a company will need to do everything it does for a standard piece — market, promote, educate, produce — plus commission and work with the artists and publishers. In a collaboration, one company might drive the graphic design of the marketing materials; another company could create a template for educational materials; still another could be the primary contact with the composer and librettist, and another be the primary contact with the designers. The divide-and-conquer method offers many possibilities.
Order of Presentation
Some companies decide to go solo because they believe the glitz and glamour associated with a world premiere are of paramount importance. However, the investment made in an independently commissioned opera is not fully recouped if the work doesn’t see other presentations or productions after the premiere. And subsequent productions allow the creative team to continue to develop the work after experiencing a full production, which might be thought of as the ultimate workshop experience. (Note: The Opera Fund/Canadian Opera Creation Program Development Award supports revisions after a world premiere.)
In terms of only one company owning the historical record of the world premiere, companies are becoming savvy about sharing billing. Credit for all participating companies usually appears in materials produced by each company. So, in fact, a co-commissioner will ultimately receive more credits than a company that commissions alone. And, the truth of the matter is, while the first company gets the world premiere, it may be the last company that presents the best performance.
Opera companies are encouraged to think creatively about partnerships — consortium members need not be other opera companies. The lead applicant must be a Professional Company Member of OPERA America or Opera.ca, but collaborators can be universities, theater companies, presenting organizations, museums, etc.
Creative partnerships can offer benefits beyond those gained through partnership with other opera companies. Universities, which commission operas regularly, offer artistic and facility resources to support workshops, and they may have the technology resources for recordings. Theater companies may provide artistic talent for a review of a libretto. Presenting organizations might support subsequent performances. Museums may provide historical expertise for a topic, or a resident artist might be a set designer. The possibilities are endless.
In the next month, review your current plans. Perhaps you already have a partnership in place, but hadn’t connected it to The Opera Fund/Canadian Opera Creation Program possibilities. Or, maybe you have a project but haven’t yet thought about how it could be enhanced by a partnership. Now is the time to start planning. The deadline for Intent to Apply is September 7, 2007, and the application deadline is October 3, 2007.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Megan Young, director of artistic programs, at 202-293-4466, ext. 203, or MYoung@operaamerica.org
. We look forward to receiving your applications.