After volunteering for several arts organisations in my home town of St Louis, Missouri, I was offered an opportunity to work for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. The job was to develop a PR and marketing campaign for the opera company’s Christmas production of HMS Pinafore. Today, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is famed for performing opera in English, offering a challenging and varied repertoire and providing a platform for young opera singers, composers, directors and designers.
Having previously created community programmes, this was an exciting opportunity. HMS Pinafore was a huge success. The artistic director Richard Gaddes asked if I would stay on to develop the embryonic company’s community, education and outreach programme. I set about bringing opera into schools, community centres, air force bases, shopping centres – wherever there was a piano – and working with young opera artists who are now international stars. We worked closely with the director Colin Graham, who was a keen supporter of education work.
I learned so much in that first job, particularly from Richard. He was the ultimate perfectionist, which included everything from identifying the right singer for the opera, to making sure there weren’t any typos in our summer programme, or weeds in the flower beds. He taught me that nothing is too small to be important and when you take care of the details, the big things fall into place.
That opportunity to bring opera to thousands of uninitiated people had a huge impact on me and was the foundation for my work at Mousetrap. I learned through Opera Theatre the power of art to move, challenge and inspire. Mousetrap continues that work, bringing 13,000 young people to hundreds of productions every year and using drama workshops from experienced theatre artists, to teach skills to young people, broaden horizons, raise aspirations and increase self-confidence.
CV Susan Whiddington
Current position: Founding director of Mousetrap Theatre Projects
Previous positions include: Development officer for Society of London Theatre, project director for Association of British Orchestras
Other roles: Chair of John Lyon’s Charity, advisory board member for Facing History and Ourselves, trustee of Action for Children’s Arts
The 2019 Mousetrap Awards take place on May 19 at the Charing Cross Theatre. For further information go to: mousetrap.org.uk