The UK’s leading contemporary opera company, Music Theatre Wales has launched a new programme of work called New Directions. With New Directions, Music Theatre Wales sets out to achieve real change for the company, in terms of the diversity of those they work with and commission and for the future of opera. In addition, the company has announced Elayce Ismail as Artistic Associate, a new role to take the lead on the new programme.

The ambition of the New Directions programme is to explore what opera and music theatre in the 2020s can be, who it is for, how is it created and by whom, and where is it performed.

The programme aims to engage with groups who are currently under-represented in opera, including Black, Asian and ethnically diverse artists, disabled artists, LGBTQ+ artists, and those for whom opera has historically been a no-go area. During a time when opera companies are unable to present live performance, the initial focus will be on producing digital work.

New Directions will begin with a year-long programme of commissioning and development for Black, Asian and ethnically diverse composers, writers, theatre makers and digital artists, and will include an internal process of research, development and evaluation for MTW.

The programme will be led by Elayce Ismail, a theatre/opera director and dramaturg, who will hold the newly-created post of Artistic Associate. Elayce will work as a senior member of MTW’s team on a year-long contract, working with MTW’s Artistic Director Michael McCarthy to shape the New Directions programme and support and challenge MTW in its continued organisational learning and development. Elayce will also work closely with the commissioned artists to support and develop their ideas, and embed this new stream of work in the heart of the company.

Inspired by the creation of MTW’s first digital work, AMAZON (commissioned for the Homemakers programme at HOME Manchester in July 2020), New Directions will include three commissions to create a new digital work, to be presented before the end of August 2021. Each team will comprise a composer, working with a writer, theatre maker, digital artist or other creative.

Through New Directions, MTW aims to celebrate the voices of those commissioned as artists in their own right, and lead by example in an industry that has been slow to embrace diversity. The parameters of the digital works are deliberately broad to enable each piece to be led by the commissioned artists’ visions for what opera and music theatre can be, in terms of the stories they choose to tell and the forms and processes they employ.

Elayce Ismail said about her new role ‘I have loved working with MTW whilst creating AMAZON, and I’m so excited to continue my relationship with them as Artistic Associate. New Directions is a fantastic opportunity to work with artists who might never have engaged with opera before, but who can bring a fresh perspective to the art form and join me in reimagining what opera might be.’

Artistic Director of Music Theatre Wales Michael McCarthy said ‘As MTW enters into this new period of creativity, collaborating with artists who will inspire us to innovate, we are excited to also reach out to new and more diverse audiences and share our work more widely. Our over-riding ambition at Music Theatre Wales is to be a driving force for change: to challenge opera’s tendency to cling to the past by forging a new and different direction of travel for the future of the art form. We believe that if we expand the horizons of opera, we can demonstrate that it’s an art form capable of engaging with people from all areas of society. To achieve this, we know that we too must change, and take our lead from artists with whom we have never previously worked. By collaborating with a wider range of practitioners and harnessing their creativity to explore new ideas, forms and stories, we will be able to connect to and inspire audiences we don’t currently reach.’ (Includes video statement on New Directions by Elayce Ismail)