SWAP’ra launches to support women and parents working in opera

Ella Marchment has founded SWAP'ra with Sophie Gilpin, Madeleine Pierard, Kitty Whately and Anna Patalong Ella Marchment has founded SWAP'ra with Sophie Gilpin, Madeleine Pierard, Kitty Whately and Anna Patalong
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A new organisation aiming to support women and parents working in opera is being launched.

SWAP’ra has been set up by five female artists to help facilitate a “more pleasant means of working” for everyone working in the sector.

While still at an early stage, some of the organisation’s aims include providing grants towards childcare for mothers who are returning to work and setting up a creche for working parents.

Anyone working in opera, including directors, backstage and technical employees, producers, creatives and performers, will be able to join.

The new organisation follows Parents in Performing Arts, which was set up in 2016 with a similar aim of improving support for parents in the wider industry.

Opera and theatre director Katie Mitchell has been announced as the first patron of SWAP’ra, which stands for Supporting Women and Parents in Opera.

It is co-founded by directors Ella Marchment and Sophie Gilpin, and singers Madeleine Pierard, Kitty Whately and Anna Patalong.

Marchment said: “It’s about trying to achieve a better work-life balance for everyone, because at the moment you are at the beck and call of a producer if you sign a contract; that company owns you. We are hoping to facilitate a more pleasant means of working.

“It’s also astonishing how difficult it is to continue your career with children, so we are trying to say that there is a network out there.”

She added: “What’s important is that we are coming at it from a positive standpoint. We’re not complaining – instead we want to use that energy to better our industry.”

Marchment explained that some of the issues women in opera face include huge competition for singing roles, where supply outweighs demand, while conversely, there is a lack of female composers compared with male ones.

The organisation, which is in the process of becoming a registered charity, hopes to work with opera companies to achieve its goal of a more supportive environment.

Opera Holland Park in London has already lent its support to the initiative, and has pledged to trial a new system of scheduling rehearsals in a way that may be more helpful for parents.

Director of opera James Clutton said: “I am incredibly proud to be associated with SWAP’ra. A good working atmosphere in any performing arts company comes when people feel respected and valued. This is something OHP has always strived to do and we are always willing to listen to new ideas.

“There have been far too many examples of bad working practices exposed recently. Things need to change. Working with SWAP’ra points to a new way of looking at working practices in opera, while being realistic about the unusual nature of the business itself.”

SWAP’ra officially launches on March 8. The organisation, which currently runs a Facebook group, will also launch its website on that date.