Learning from staging indoor performances to live audiences during a

Amazingly, in the middle of the pandemic, Tête à Tête: The Opera Festival staged
no fewer than 19 performances indoor to live audiences.
Here are the lessons that Tête à Tête learnt: 
Lesson 1: Keep your planning flexible
‘You need to be very small, flexible, fast, lithe, and quick moving. Between getting
the go ahead and doing it, we had three days to put on a Pilot Performance for
Indoor Performances for the government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media
and Sport in July. We did it, and boy was it worth it.’ Bill Bankes-Jones, Artistic
Director of Tête à Tête 
Lesson 2: Prototype
‘It was fantastically useful for us to try once to stage a Covid compliant performance,
go away, absorb the learning and then put all of the procedures in place to enable us
to do another 18 different shows over two weeks in the same theatre.’ Bill Bankes-
Jones, Artistic Director of Tête à Tête 
Lesson 3: Have a clear aim
‘We were very lost towards the beginning of the pandemic, so I just wrote a
Manifesto saying what we really cared about – which was making live shows for live
audiences. It gave us a marker in the sand to go for, and also, should we not be able
to do what we wanted to do, it gave us a kind of style in which this would happen. So
even if you look at the 13 other productions that we did last year which were purely
online, you’ll see each of them has that flavour of live audience.’ Bill Bankes-
Jones, Artistic Director of Tête à Tête 
Lesson 4: Develop a strong network
‘One of the big things about being part of the Tête à Tête opera festival collective
was the ability to be heard in a space with like-minded individuals. It acted as a
sounding board for issues as well as suggestions for resolutions by other artists.
Overall, it was a way of sharing the whole process of what we were trying to create,
from the initial stages to live performance or digital performance or a total different
iteration of the project. ‘ April Koyejo-Audiger, Creator of Bubbles the Zebrafish &
The No .8 Bus
Lesson 5: Keep Communicating all the way and Lesson 6: Hold your
production lightly
‘I think that the massive unexpected reward was the fact that we sort of became a
much bigger creative team. Normally, my creative team is relatively small – designer,
composer, director etc. But this was like being part of a much broader, much more

open looking, outward facing group. Each week we’d be coming with ideas, bits of
mischief, bits of generosity, unlooked for sometimes but really helpful. The other
thing that really struck me was how lightly everyone was having to hold their
productions. Normally the closer you get to a production date the more tightly you’re
holding on to your vision and the more sort of exact you are about what you are
trying to achieve. I came away from the whole experience which involved hooking up
with this massive creative team a couple of times a week, responding to the
emerging restrictions with glee rather than with desperation.’ Tania Holland Williams,
Artistic Director of Fat Lady Opera 
Lesson 7: Carefully consider and rehearse the flow of people and Lesson 8:
Work with your artists to keep Covid compliant
‘2020 was proof that artists have an appetite for creating live works regardless of
circumstance and a reminder of our sector’s ability to rise to and overcome
challenges using the creativity integral to the creative arts.  My role now, as always,
is to empower artists to deliver their work safely, working with not against them.
Much of my time was spent distilling guidance, rules and emerging best practices
into a comprehensive form that allowed our artists to clearly see what the
parameters were in which they could create their work. Tools such as our cut-and-
play plans and regular zoom meetings were designed as a platform where artists
could explore their ideas and feel confident that what they wanted to deliver could be
delivered safely.’ David Salter, Technical Director of Tête à Tête
Top Tips for digitising your live show

  1. Each online show = Big Event!
  2. Adapt your show for an online environment
  3. Be responsive with your online audience
  4. Make your ticket prices affordable
  5. Be honest with your audience
    ‘The real question for streamed shows is why should audiences come to this event
    here and now rather than just watching iPlayer, Netflix or indeed talking to their loved
    ones. We work with all of our artists to find the best way to make each online show
    an event in its own right. Some adapted their work to make it thrive in an online
    environment. Most participated in discussions and demonstrations and all of them
    really used their new dimension, which meant we could reach people and work with
    artists who could never make our live shows. Anything that makes it a live
    experience that makes audiences want to be there in that moment really helps
    people want to be at your event and indeed tell their friends to catch up later if it’s
    really good. We also worked with artists to set a ticket price that was accessible – just
    £1 plus an optional donation. That kept things affordable for everyone whilst
    reminding our audiences that making our shows is work and you should support
    artists’ livelihoods if you at all can. Prices set an expectation, so be honest with your
    audience – your work isn’t worth nothing. Lots of people don’t know that making a

digital show can be more expensive than making live work, because you’ve also got
to pay your filming and streaming team in addition to your usual costs. Remember,
you are not just making a digital copy of that live show, you are making a digital
experience that is live in its own right.’ Leo Doulton, Marketing Director of Tête à
Lesson 9 Slow down in the theatre
‘Whilst it is important to acknowledge the different scales of operations and financial
models, one thing Tête à Tête can do is share the learning from our own experience,
and we are doing that by making this film. We’re also putting lots of resources onto
our website, and we’re sharing that with opera makers, agencies, funders. We’ve
built many resources, so do head over and have a look at those on the webpage. But
really, on one level nothing has changed. Collaboration in opera has always been
key and continues to be so. Draw on the skills of those around you to make it the
best it can be. But really, one thing has changed. You just need to slow things down.
We know that creativity doesn’t work to a time check list – different people create in
different ways. But you need to build in a toolkit and a framework, for a calm safe
environment, safe in every sense of the world, for people to work in.’ Anna Gregg,
Administrative Director of Tête à Tête
‘Surround yourself with great artists and support staff, and work with great partners.
We couldn’t have done it without The Cockpit who were amazing and put everything
into opening up for us. We couldn’t have done it without Arts Council, the support of
the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, or the amazing individuals who donated to us and
supported us at the 11t hour. The other thing I would say, as a conclusion, is to have
in your heart what you really want to do. If you are very certain about that, then that
will get you through everything. Good luck and hope you go on to make magic.’ Bill
Bankes-Jones, Artistic Director of Tête à Tête