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How to… bring opera to a wider audience

Clementine Lovell. Photo: Richard Lakos
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1. Believe anything is possible with the right attitude

Pop-Up Opera started with 12 performances and now we do 90 a year over three seasons. Our venues range from barns, boats and tunnel shafts to theatres, arts centres and schools. We perform in a space for one night only and have to adapt the staging a few hours before the show. Pop-Up Opera travels around in a nine-seater van with props, costumes and kit in the back. We are unfunded and totally self-reliant. Opera is a hard sell – people are often suspicious or uninterested. Our audience’s ages range from five to 95, and everything in between. Opera can be fun, devastating or moving – it can burst through all the stereotypes surrounding it.

2. Engage your audience

Sometimes people come because they are curious about the venue. Once we have them in the room, we hook them in. It helps to have a relaxed environment where the audience feels free to laugh, cry and cheer. The performers bounce off this and it creates something very special. The often intimate scale of a non-traditional venue and interaction with the audience means they can be right up close to the drama.

3. Tell the story and don’t dumb down

You can make opera accessible even in the original language. The music, the intentions of the actors, the interaction between the characters and the power of the drama get the story across. Our captions complement rather than detract. They keep the audience abreast of the story but don’t demand their attention all the time. With a comedy, the captions can add extra humour, and we can play around with the modern context. The audience needs to know what’s going on, but doesn’t have to be spoonfed.

Clementine Lovell, artistic director of Pop-Up Opera, was talking to John Byrne

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