Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The first company survey/profile: DragonDiva Operatic Theatre

About eight months ago I published a post wherein I talked about getting some of the small and medium sized companies to answer some questions so that I could put together profile posts of their companies on the blog to get a state of the industry for singers who haven't yet made the jump to A and B level houses. The thought was that, in addition to a little bit of PR for the companies involved, singers could have their questions answered without having to email every company to ask. I'm also willing to ask questions that most individuals don't. It's also a good, if brief, look at some of what goes in to setting up auditions and a production, as well as the costs involved. The answers are pretty much verbatim with the questions in bold and the responses following. As always, let me know if I've missed a question that you want answered.

Well, I may not be fast, but I'm slow. My friend and colleague John Arsenault, Music Director of DragonDiva Operatic Theatre has bravely volunteered to be the first one up. DragonDiva has been around since 2007 and is run by a dedicated group of singers who saw a gap in performance opportunities in Vancouver and actually decided to do something about it, for which they should be loudly applauded.

DragonDiva Operatic Theatre
Location served: New Westminster/Greater Vancouver Area
Number of productions/year: 2
2009/2010 season's operas: Iolanthe - Gilbert and Sullivan
Hansel and Gretel (in concert)- Humperdink
2010/2011 season's operas: Cendrillon - Massenet
Hansel and Gretel (staged) - Humperdink
Approximate annual (or per-production - please specify) budget. I know that it varies, but try to guess: Approximately $8,000-$10,000 per production
Rehearsal period length and frequency:Generally. we rehearse 3 times a week for 3 hours each rehearsal.
We rehearse in the evenings so as not to interfere with "day jobs". For a typical show we will have 2 weeks of music rehearsal, 5 weeks of staging, and a tech week.
Are rehearsals generally evenings or days? Evenings.
Number of performances per production: 4-7
Performance venue(s) and size:Mainly the Bernie Legge Theatre, Queen's Park, New Westminster.
What are your ticket price ranges?$18
Typically, are your productions with orchestra, piano, or small instrument ensemble with piano?Sometimes piano, sometimes piano with small ensemble.
Are your roles paid? Lead roles? Secondary? Small roles? Chorus?Unfortuately not. We are only a 3 year old company and are still building our "nest egg". We just beacame eligible for grants last year, and so were able to offer the value of the grant to our cast as an honorarium (approximately $50 each). It certainly wasn't much, but maybe covered some gas money for trips to rehearsals. We are very much working toward paying our singers, as we strongly believe in performers being paid what they are worth. Our board has four regularly working singers on it, and our Artistic and Music Directors are both professional opera singers, so we certainly value our casts.
Do you have a relationship with Actor's Equity/Union des Artistes?No (and yes) see below.
Regardless of a relationship or not, how does Equity effect your management of your company?We are absolutely limited at the moment. The Artistic and Music Directors are Equity members. We often have colleagues who we work with in a professional capacity who are interested in taking principal roles with our company, however at this time, with an $8-10K budget per production, there's no money left for Equity contracts. Of course we hope to change that in future. So at this point, the artist has to approach Equity to ask for permission to do our show. Equity has been quite gracious so far, but at some point the grace period will end.
What is the typical level/amount of performing experience that your lead and secondary singers have?Generally our leads are graduates of a university level opera training program, or at least current students in an opera training program. Our secondary roles are often either students or avocational singers, but sometimes they are also graduates of university level training programs as well. It really depends on the show, for example a G&S show tends to bring out a different kind of singer than say, Cendrillon!
When do you hold auditions? Generally in the spring of each year (March or April)
Who do you want to hear from when you audition singers? Established artists? Fresh faced kids hungry to prove something? Anyone who wants to be in a show. We've had everything from high school students to seasoned performers to emerging young professionals in our shows. We think everyone brings something valuable to the table.
How far in advance do you cast? We cast about 3 months in advance of the first rehearsal.
How far in advance do you choose productions? We have a general 5 year plan. So, we know what we would like to do over the next five years, but we finalize approximately one year in advance. Sometimes it is necessary to change the show depending on our current financial situation.
When you audition, do you want to hear arias from the operas you're casting, or not at all? We're open to hearing arias from the opera. However, I want the singer to sing what they feel shows off their voice the best. You don't need to sing the aria from the show for us to hear whether your voice will fit it or not. So, I encourage people to sing what they sing best. However, if you feel that the aria is a great fit for you and you would us to hear it, I certainly am not opposed to that either.
How often do cast members get re-cast in other productions if they do well in their first one? It is impossible to hear a singer and discuss their potential casting in a show without remembering the excellent (or not so excellent) work they have done for you in pervious productions. I would say it is quite influencial. Often you will have someone in a supporting role in one show, and if they do a really great job and they are vocally appropriate for the lead next time, we certainly would tend to consider them for a bigger role.
In an audition: Sing it or act it?A little of both. Sing as you would sing in any other performance. You don't need to go over the top with the drama, but please look alive. Our director is very capable and can show you what to do on stage, but we do want to see that you can be engaged and present in your performance.
What else would you like singers to know about your company?We would like singers to know that DragonDiva is a company that LOVES singers. We are here because we are professional opera singers ourselves and we know how difficult it is when you are starting out to find opportunities to get on stage and hone your craft. We do regret that we can't offer compensation at this time, but we will not ask you to pay any fees to be in our shows. We do fully staged productions with sets, props, professional lighting, newly built costumes and though we do our shows with piano rather than orchestra we hire one of the top opera pianist in our city, who is also on staff at Vancouver Opera. We also make DragonDiva a safe and collegial working environment, where a singer can feel comfortable with themselves no matter what their current level of experience.

1 comment:

DragonDiva Operatic Theatre said...

Hey Gerrit:

Thanks so much for making us the first! This is a great service you're providing to the singers who read your blog and small opera companies alike. Keep up the great work, you've created a valuable resource for singers in Canada.

John Arsenault, Music Director
DragonDiva Operatic Theatre