The Agile Opera Project is a partnership between Chamber Made Opera and RMIT University. It has developed collaborative research techniques, produced digital iterations of live performance works, and explored digital platforms to support the production of chamber opera—preserving and extending the quality of intimacy essential to this performance form—in an evolving digital marketplace.
The Agile Opera Project commenced in 2013, with the support of an ARC Linkage grant. It aims to advance a new type of integrated performing arts company by:
- researching and transforming the intellectual, artistic and social capital of a contemporary performing arts company via a series of interdisciplinary microlabs;
- researching and developing new physical and virtual platforms for the sustained delivery of chamber opera in the 21st Century, and;
- discovering new modes of interaction between an Australian contemporary performing arts company and national and international sectors that return value.
Preserving and amplifying chamber performance
The Agile Opera Project is concerned with preserving and amplifying the essential nature and aesthetic values of chamber performance within the context of an evolving digital marketplace and networked world. It responds to pressures exerted on small-to-medium arts companies by short-term economic imperatives which threaten the risk and experimentation that characterises contemporary chamber performance.
An holistic approach to research
The Agile Opera Project adopts a ‘whole of company’ approach to research collaboration with Chamber Made Opera, ensuring research outcomes align with the company’s varied needs—as an organisation producing art, as a business, and as a company in constant dialogue with its audience. CMO’s annual program of creative work is integrated within the project in an holistic manner, and augmented with focussed activities exploring digital applications to support it.
Four key components have emerged through this process: Digiworks (unique forms of digital iteration), Microlabs (research methodology), Agile Chambers (a week-long exhibition of performance and research) and a digital platform (tools to support the creation of digital iterations).
The project catalyst
2010 was a year of reckoning for Chamber Made Opera. Having lost half its government funding in 2009, it faced the real possibility of collapse. Newly appointed Artistic Director, David Young had to act quickly to reimagine and reposition the company. As he recounts in his essay, Desperate Measures:
I had 12 months to re-establish strong ties with funders, secure diversified and sustainable income streams, revamp the company structure, get back old audiences and find new ones, put my own stamp on the company’s brand and reputation. Oh, and make some art.
Young responded to this challenge by streamlining administration, forging new supportive alliances, and producing performances that were relatively inexpensive.
There followed a remarkable period of growth and change. A series of 10 ‘Living Room Operas’ were produced between 2010–2014. Each was privately commissioned and performed in a domestic living room, and many went on to re-produce, with future versions presented in both live and digital spaces. These nomadic artworks were a pragmatic response to hard times, but also an opportunity to take risks which are impossible when working at a larger scale. The result was a collection of critically acclaimed works that re-established Chamber Made Opera as a significant feature of Australia’s music theatre landscape.
During this time, David Young also made contact with Associate Professor Lawrence Harvey of RMIT’s Spatial Information Architecture Laboratory (SIAL) Sound Studios, as part of the Company’s forging of new supportive alliances.
The partnership between Chamber Made Opera (CMO) and RMIT University developed over several years. The first collaboration between SIAL and CMO was in 2010 (Manifest: Revealing auditory spatial performance), while a second followed in 2012 (The Box). These projects focussed on performance-making processes, but their success suggested ways that a Chamber Made Opera/RMIT partnership project might support CMO in a more integrated way; focusing not just on artistic production but also on organisational operations and audience development in a climate of rapid technological change.
A research group was established in 2011, and developed an ARC Linkage grant proposal, successfully obtained in 2013.
Cover photo: Anneli Bjorasen in Turbulence, 2013. Photo credit: Daisy Noyes