News and Features

Preparing for Festival 2021

Glyndebourne is finding new ways to work during the pandemic.

Senior Press Manager Kate Harvey explores the ways Glyndebourne is finding new ways to work during the pandemic.
Preparations are well underway for the new season but many staff are having to work differently this year, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. I spoke to people across the company to find out how their work has been affected and what creative solutions they’ve come up with.

Adam Harvey, Head of Stage

We are looking at plans and drawings for the new shows for next year and trying to input into how they are built for ease of change-over between performances next summer. We are also looking at storage and logistics for our existing shows and working out where to store them, and how and when to move them. With all the scenery it’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle, spread over more than one location.

In some ways, there have been some advantages [to the disruption]. Usually, there isn’t much time to look at next year’s shows when we are in the middle of the Festival. Often the supervisor needed to input into a particular show for next year, might be totally preoccupied with a current show, but that hasn’t been the case this year.

We also had more time this autumn to move existing shows around because the Tour was cancelled, and there are many maintenance and improvement jobs we wouldn’t normally have time for.

The main difficulty has been that nearly all staff have been furloughed. When we have had a specific job that needs a lot of people, we can take people off furlough for that time. What has been more challenging are the times when we might just want someone for an hour to input on something, or to answer a few questions.

I think continuing to hold production meetings via Zoom in the future would be useful and a way of getting all the right people there, even if they are not physically in the right location.

Image: Sam Stephenson

Helen McCarthy, Director of Development

Usually the Festival is our opportunity to spend time with our major donors in person and let them share in the excitement of getting our much anticipated productions to the Glyndebourne stage. Following the cancellation of the 2020 season, our usual programme of events was lost, so we needed to find ways to create special occasions to come together online instead.

The first was in May when the days were blurring into one as we got accustomed to the home being the office and the office being the home. We wanted to create an occasion for our Old Green Room Society (our closest supporters) to get dressed up and come together so we arranged a virtual Old Green Room Drinks to mark the first of our weekly opera broadcasts through Glyndebourne Open House. One supporter wore a dinner jacket on top with cycling shorts below, another was dialling in while enjoying a cocktail in the Caribbean! During the summer we also gave supporters the chance to stay up to date with plans for 2021 via a webinar with Glyndeborne’s Artistic Director Stephen Langridge and our resident opera expert, Alexandra Coghlan, as well as marking what would have been the last night of the 2020 season with another Old Green Room drinks event.

While enjoyable, remote events can’t match meeting in person so when in July we had the opportunity to invite donors to Glyndebourne to experience a live open-air concert, we jumped at the chance and by August we were able to hold receptions again, although not in the Old Green Room – for safety reasons and because it had become part of the set for our outdoor opera. Instead the beautiful Nyetimber Bus hosted our return to some form of normality.

We continue to find ways to stay in touch with our closest supporters with live performances when permissible and digital events. We recently held a legacy discovery webinar and in mid-December will hold a virtual event with Stephen Langridge in conversation with Mariame Clement, director of Il turco in Italia and two days later, a webinar for our American friends. I expect we will continue to hold digital events as we go forward so that we can reach people who are unable to join us physically. Personally, I just can’t wait to see all our friends and audience in the flesh. I miss that so much!

Image: the Nyetimber bus on site in 2019.

Paul Brown, Head of Props & Scenic Workshops

At this time of year we are receiving and looking at designs for the new productions, costing them and starting work on sourcing props and construction. This is all happening as normal and I have a full team back on site.

We have the extra challenge that we are building part of the set for at least one of the new productions in-house, so we are having to do more work in that area first, whilst we have the time and space to build. The props will follow on from there. We are also working on mock-ups and things like paint and finish samples to show the designers before we can go into full production mode.

Not being able to work face-to-face with people has been a challenge. We have not all been able to get around the model or plans in the same way we normally would to thrash out the details of a production. We have had more meetings via Zoom but you really need to be able to see and feel things, look at them in different lights, see things next to each other and from a distance. It’s almost impossible to do with any confidence on a webcam.

We are one of the first workshops back up and running and some suppliers are not quite there yet. Some are still furloughed, others are not carrying the stock they normally would. The whole theatre ecosystem is so badly affected at the moment, some of it to the point of extinction. We will be feeling the effects of this for years to come. We call suppliers hoping that they are still there; some of them are so specialist that if they go we will struggle to find alternatives.

On a different level we have had to be mentally very tough. We are extremely fortunate to be working for Glyndebourne at the moment and at this time have been insulated from the worst of the carnage that has engulfed our industry. Theatre is a very small world, we all know each other and we have watched friends and colleagues in other houses be hit very hard, lose jobs. This has been harder than any of the practical challenges. Some of this has been offset by talking to my fellow props heads of department from across the major houses and their reaction to the fact that we have been able to lead the way back – they have found it uplifting, so that is a positive. The one thing that we will continue with is those regular catch ups. We never had time before; now we will make time.

Image: The production hub during lockdown, Sam Stephenson

Pauline Lecrass, Head of Costume

On site meetings with costume designers for the new productions, joined by the freelance costume supervisors would have taken place during spring and summer and establishing a close working relationship with all of them helps successfully deliver their vision.

At the same time in-house costume coordinators working on revivals would be planning the refits and remakes needed for our new cast and new chorus.

All of this builds into deadlines for delivery of supplies and materials into the workrooms and the workroom schedules.

As the permanent team were on furlough I had virtual meetings with costume designers, discussing details of each design and reference taking notes to share with everyone when returned. That information can be accessed remotely but of course the day-to-day work is ‘hands on’ and practical. Having access to equipment and workroom supplies is a necessity. We also need to touch fabric samples, feel the weight and see colour in real environments to assess suitability.

Without everyone on-hand to share information as it arises and develops was very challenging this summer. Fortunately I am part of a strong network of heads of costume both in the UK and internationally who could meet regularly for work related discussions. Preparations for the return to work of our many non-permanent staff has been mostly theoretical. We have risk assessments in place and have reconfigured workrooms, reducing occupancy, providing the team with their own equipment and allowing more space between workstations. However, deadlines still need to be met and if current guidelines remain we may require longer lead times to achieve them.

Our socially-distanced garden opera this summer was a learning curve. Provision of costume and backstage tasks during the run took longer and new guidelines for safe working were put in place. If we continue with restrictions next year the reduced close contact time during activities such as costume and wig fittings will be factored into our timelines.

Image: André Barbe’s costume designs for Die Zauberflöte, which returns next year.

Vic Pyne, Head of Lighting and AV

Usually we come out of the Festival and go straight into Glyndebourne Tour preparations. After an intense five months of working long hours on the Festival, my team also needs to try and take time off, to recharge and be ready for the Tour. Planning for next year’s Festival would be happening alongside preparations for the Tour but tends to take a back seat until the autumn season has opened.

This has been an interesting year to say the least; it’s a bit like having a carrot dangled in front of you that keeps moving further and further away! We continued with prep for the Tour right up until this was fully cancelled, and then changed tack as Glyndebourne’s plans for the autumn took a different direction. At the same time as launching into production of the indoor productions, we took the opportunity to also dedicate some time to next year’s Festival – usually unheard of at this time of the year. It’s been a bit of a luxury to be able to discuss next year’s productions and do in-depth advance planning for how we use the theatre to its fullest potential.

We have been in close discussion with the creative teams behind next year’s new productions since the beginning of lockdown, and, after the initial awkwardness of constant Zoom or Skype calls, have found that this communication is easily achieved with the power of the internet. It’s proved hugely beneficial in being able to get creative teams and supervisors together on a more regular basis – in the past this would only happen occasionally, when diaries aligned. We have also started to utilise 3D rendering in our advance planning, in conjunction with the stage and production departments, which has been invaluable. We will definitely continue to do this, and to investigate other ways of using the time available to us more efficiently.

Being able to work from home is also a useful tool and one which we will employ where possible. Myself and my team have talked extensively about our working patterns and how we can adapt them to try and avoid the ‘crunch’ periods, but the nature of our work means that we generally need all hands on deck all of the time, so only time will tell whether we are able to achieve this. It will also be interesting to see how we can achieve social distancing whilst running changeovers or interval changes; these are often very intense periods of time with a lot of people onstage.

The constant uncertainty is very hard to manage and the effect that cancelling the Festival and the Tour had on permanent, seasonal permanent and seasonal staff was profound and, to many, devastating. This devastation continues and I am humbled by the dignity that this entire industry has maintained in the face of the pandemic and the uncertainty which surrounds all of us. I am exceptionally lucky to have an extremely dedicated department who, despite the constant disappointments and setbacks that this year has thrown at them, are ready and waiting to jump back into action as soon as they can.

Image: Mike Hoban

Rachel Henderson, Head of Membership

We’ve really missed meeting Members face-to-face this year but have been so impressed with the sense of occasion you created when watching the Open House streamings at home over the summer. It showed us how determined our Members are to enjoy Glyndebourne even if you couldn’t be here in person.

We are continuing to find new ways of involving our Members with the latest happenings at Glyndebourne. At the end of September we held our first ever Members-only digital update in which directors Gus Christie, Stephen Langridge and Sarah Hopwood spoke about what was happening at Glyndebourne this autumn, describing how we continue to adapt to the changing circumstances and sharing plans for the future. It was also a lovely opportunity to give a warm welcome to our new Associate Members who have joined the Glyndebourne family in recent months. If you missed it, you can find the link in My Glyndebourne, the Member-only area of the Glyndebourne website. We received a fantastic response from Members and will certainly be looking to continue with digital updates as one of the ways we keep in touch.

Another new development in recent months was the launch of Gift Aid on our website, making it quicker and easier for you to sign up and bring vital additional income to Glyndebourne. By signing up we can claim 25% of the value of your Membership payments and donations at no cost to you. It’s also been great to see so many Members arrange to pay their annual Membership by Direct Debit which not only reduces administration costs but is particularly helpful this year when opportunities to get on site and open post have been limited.

You may recall that last year we held two live events in London with our Opera Content Specialist Alexandra Coghlan who gave a fantastic overview of the programmed operas, along with live musical accompaniment. The events were very well received and we’d hoped to expand to other UK cities this winter. Instead we will be taking the event online in early 2021 – look out for an email in the new year with more details. The benefit of an online event will be that every Member will be able to take part no matter where you are in the world. The build up to the Festival will continue in the coming weeks as we’ll be sharing insights into the upcoming productions through our Introducing… series, giving you a flavour of what is coming up on stage in the summer.

Image: Audience members at Festival 2019. James Bellorini.

Donations to our Covid-19 Emergency Appeal continue to provide a life-line to our struggling artists and seasonal staff who have lost their livelihoods. Thank you for your support this year.

If you would consider making a donation today, you can help to ensure the future of Glyndebourne and help sustain those hardest hit by this enduring crisis.

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