First of all, can you tell us a little bit about you and your background, and how you got to where you are today?

Amanda Carrick

Amanda Carrick

I've been working within the Arts industry - more specifically, the not-for-profit, new music sector - for the past four years. Whilst the work I've carried out has varied in nature (be that geared toward marketing and PR, artist engagement/management, board and governance, editing, live music performance or company management), it has in truth always centered on the production of new music, most notably music-theatre and opera.

My interest in, and enjoyment of operatic and theatrical idioms can only be accredited to my years as an undergrad music student and postgrad musicologist. The theoretical training I received at both Cardiff University and Kings College London stood me in good stead. However, it was through opportunities to work for small organisations like Electric Voice Theatre and Size Zero Opera that I really began to understand the intricacies and complications of taking a new work from score to stage. Gaining such insight at the very beginning of my career has allowed me to learn where within the Arts my skill sets are best placed, and where I want to be in the future.

It might sound clichéd to say that it's not been easy, but unfortunately that's the truth. There have been times when I've found it excruciatingly difficult to find employment and, as you might expect, freelancing as a contemporary music-theatre and opera producer, whilst artistically rewarding, isn't always financially rewarding. Balancing numerous jobs at a time and being flexible with regards to the type of work I take on - without ever loosing sight of what it is that I enjoy - is how I've managed to get to where I am today.

This April you're staging a production of Steve Reich and Beryl Korot's 'Three Tales' - what can you tell us about this opera and its controversial past?

Created in 1998-2002, Three Tales recalls three events from twentieth-century history: the crash of the Hindenburg zeppelin in 1937, nuclear bomb testing on Bikini Atoll in 1946-1958 and the cloning of Dolly the Sheep in 1996. Through the recollection of said events, the composer, Steve Reich and video artist, Beryl Korot invite audiences to reflect on the vast and pervasive technological advancements that have been made since the turn of the twentieth century - examining both the growth and implications of technology on the future of mankind through contentious and conflicting scientific, religious and ethical debate, with contributions from prescient cultural thinkers. It is an integrated piece of multimedia that incorporates live orchestra and singers, sampled audio, re-processed historical film and specially constructed stills, thus not only providing a commentary on technology's growing dominance in society, but exploiting the advancements that have been made within the composition of the work itself.

What's really interesting about Three Tales is that the music and the video were created in tandem: compositional techniques employed by the composer fed into and influenced those employed by the video artist, and vice versa. This intricate way of working ensured the total integration of live music and video, which was quite unique at the time.

Ensemble BPM's production will mark the first staging of its kind and the first opera to be staged live in an IMAX cinema. With the second act examining nuclear testing on Bikini Atoll in 1945-1958, the timing of the production is important, as the opening night (22 April 2015) will mark the centenary of the first use of chemical weapons in warfare.

What was it that drew you to this project and made you want to be a part of it?

As a producer, I most enjoy realising contemporary works of electroacoustic music-theatre, opera and musical multimedia - works that have an audiovisual element or incorporate both live and pre-recorded electronics. It was for this reason that I was first drawn to the prospect of producing Ensemble BPM's Three Tales. The opportunity to stage a video opera within the high spec. environment of an IMAX cinema - enhancing both the audio-visual and educational impact of the work - was frankly too good to pass up.

How important is it for you to be a part of projects such as this one, which are really something far away from the norm?

I think it's important to challenge audience expectations and offer something that's unusual. Contemporary opera is under-represented and under-supported today. Steve Reich is a celebrated, award-winning composer whose work has contributed to dynamic shifts within contemporary music, influenced a myriad of popular and classical artists and is beginning to be recognised as part of the canon, in my opinion. Yet, surprisingly, in over a decade since its creation, Three Tales has been programmed on only a handful of occasions. And this, the treatment of a groundbreaking opera by an established living composer; think of that experienced by talented emerging composers writing opera today.

Taking works like Three Tales out of traditional concert and opera house settings and producing them in unexpected, site-specific environments is proving to be one of the best ways to engage new audiences and promote new work. It's not the case that a project of this nature is far away from the norm, but that the general public is often unaware of the fact that exciting and innovative projects like this are taking place.

Ensemble BPM's production will engage crossover science/Arts audiences in an interdisciplinary journey of learning and exploration: evaluating the use of opera and site- specific theatre as an exciting and effective medium through which to study other subjects, such as science and technological innovation. Performances not only seek to advance the education of the public in the historical events portrayed throughout Three Tales, but also the idiom through which facts and opinions are conveyed.

How does it feel to be a part of the first opera live-staged in an IMAX cinema?

It feels fantastic; it's such a great opportunity! Ensemble BPM's decision to produce Three Tales in the Science Museum's IMAX Theatre has been driven by a want to find the most appropriate context for performance and place the opera in its natural environment, based on the work's scientific subject matter and the technology required for it to be effectively realised, which is a fascinating and riveting prospect in itself.

However, on a personal level, it's invigorating to be a part of this project for one key reason. I'm not a fan of screening live performances of opera in cinema houses. Whilst this is in truth a great way to make opera more financially and physically accessible, it will always feel like an artificial experience. The freedom to focus on whatever it is about opera that interests you most (be that the costume, set design, staging, singing, orchestra…) is taking away from you; what you see and what you hear is controlled by a cameraman, unaware of personal preferences and desires. Why not enjoy the best of both worlds? Why not use the cinema screen to relay an integral part of a work, as opposed to the live performance of something happening elsewhere? There's something very comforting and welcoming about the cinema-going experience. It's exciting to be able to set-up this type of environment for the live performance of an opera - to create a new space within which live opera can be accessed and enjoyed by all.

Tell us about the amount of work and effort that goes into a show such as this one.

It's important to remember that Ensemble BPM comprises a group of freelancers, all simultaneously contributing to concurrent, external projects. So, when producing an event like this, you neither have the safety net nor infrastructure of a large, established Arts organisation behind you. You are in charge of, and expected to do everything from a logistical and financial point of view including, but not limited to: securing funding, creating and managing a budget, sourcing and contracting artists, creatives and venues, securing performing rights, marketing the event, hiring equipment, co-ordinating and managing rehearsals, facilitating event documentation etc. As you can probably imagine, in the current economic climate, the most stressful of these is attempting to secure funding to ensure that the production is a success.

In order to produce something under these circumstances, you need a talented and experienced group of creatives working with you, which we are fortunate have. Ensemble BPM's production will mark the first staging of its kind and the first opera to be staged live in an IMAX cinema. To begin with, we had Reich's score and Korot's video; everything else, including the direction and design, is the work of Ensemble BPM.

What have been some of your biggest highlights and challenges in your career to date?

Producing Women Box for Size Zero Opera at Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival last year. Independently raising over £75k (excluding in-kind donations) from trusts, foundations and corporations for various fringe theatre productions to date. Working with Sound and Music on the fantastic work that they do with and for emerging composers and curators.

Do you have any plans for any other work alongside Three Tales or following the show?

Ensemble BPM commissioned award-winning composer James Lark to create a new piece of music-theatre in 2012. The Death of Dr Kelly will tell the true story of events surrounding the death of British weapons expert David Kelly in 2003, within the framework of a fully staged narrative. It will comprise eight singers, a small orchestra, live and pre-recorded film and sampled audio, and combine the strongest aspects of operatic tradition with the benefits of modern technology, to create an integrated piece of theatre that tells Dr Kelly's story in the richest, most objective way possible. Ensemble BPM will premiere The Death of Dr Kelly in 2016.

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