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Celebrating IWD2022: Women in Opera

In celebration of International Women’s Day and West Australian Opera's year of Heroines, we’re shining a spotlight on Women in Opera who champion inclusion, who are breaking stereotypes and continue to challenge diversity in our artform.

Carolyn Chard AM, West Australian Opera, Executive Director

What do you love most about your profession as an Executive Director? 

I am passionate about the arts and the idea of nurturing the soul. I love the role as an arts executive as I think I am most effective as an enabler in the arts, enabling artists and creatives to come together to make the work, bringing human, physical and financial resources together and being the producer. And while it’s a non-gendered role, in my experience, particularly in the arts, women make very good EDs. There’s a quote by Sheryl Sandberg (Facebook / Meta Platforms, LeanIn) that ‘next time you are about to call a little girl bossy, say instead: she has executive leadership skills’.

In 2022, IWD’s campaign is centred on #BreaktheBias, creating a gender equal world free of bias or stereotypes. What reflections does IWD bring for you? How do you continue to #BreaktheBias in your work?

I would like to see a world free of bias, free of stereotypes, free of expectations about women in general, women in the workforce, what women should do or be or aspire to. I think we need to value and appreciate that there are lots of ways of achieving our goals; the arts can be quite forgiving in terms of hours; if that means you can write a board report at midnight working from home to free up the early morning for the school run then you’re not dropping any balls. For me I like the general philosophy of ‘being the best you can be’ regardless of stereotypes. I am proud to work alongside strong women who work in non-traditional arts roles such my Production Manager who has been in the business as long as I have – almost 40 years. We need to break the bias around mothering / grandmothering and nurturing roles. We need to find space to support women and their families. I think that COVID-19 has normalised working from home or working differently and that should have a positive outcome in caregiving across genders and family units.

What advice would you share with women aspiring to such a role? 

Working in the arts sector is challenging. The hours are long with the executive responsibilities following corporate working hours with the added obligation of attending performances making the days long. Its not easily compatible with other obligations and can be a 24/7 passion. I think you need to work really hard, to think with innovation and initiative, to be willing to make and lead change, to be willing to work long hours, to be available. The arts deal in ‘human emotion’ so its quite different to a role that you can leave behind in the office at the end of each day. We should celebrate each day and live with passion at work and at play. Celebrate the small wins as well as the big wins. Love what you do each day. Prioritise tasks into outcomes so that you can clearly achieve what needs to be done. Ensure you prioritise what’s important to you and find ways of being flexible and agile.

Elena Perroni, Soprano

What do you love most about your profession as a singer?

I love that I can share an experience with the community in a very unique way! Theatre and the arts have always been a very important part of my life because I believe that it can provoke connection between all that are involved. There is so much meaning in music and to be part of an art form that allows me to be able to contribute to a collective experience, (particularly at a time when there is so much isolation and chaos in the world), I feel truly blessed. 

What reflections does IWD bring for you? 

IWD is a reminder to celebrate all the achievements of women whom helped forge paths of change all over the world! Personally, it is moment for me to reflect on the women who have helped shape and inspired me to be the person and artist I am today!

How do you continue to #BreaktheBias in your work?

By continually celebrating all the women who helped shaped and bring a unique quality to the art form! It's time to continue considering where our industry can work towards better female representations, whether that be female composers, conductors, back stage crew and equal pay for equal jobs. 

What advice would you share with women aspiring to such a role?

Let's strive to support one another and continue making interesting and important choices to hopefully inspire those around us! Don't forget- it is important to stay informed about what is happening in the industry and work place! 

Elena sings the title role in Tchaikovsky’s Iolanta from 6 – 9 April at His Majesty’s Theatre.

Sher Rill Ng, Illustrator and Author, Co-librettist of Our Little Inventor

What do you love most about your profession as an illustrator and librettist?

Being a librettist has been a brand-new experience for me, and I’ve been so grateful to Emma Jayakumar as we delved further into Our Little Inventor’s protagonist Nell’s story together. There is nothing quite like seeing new readers become excited and inspired by Our Little Inventor.

As an illustrator, the thing I love most is being able to create a visual story from (almost) nothing. Taking an idea from my imagination or even someone else’s, and making it tangible. It is fascinating to watch how people react to different stories, and if they like the art, that’s just wonderful. 

You can always work to be a better illustrator or artist, but sometimes it’s also nice to make someone’s day a little brighter.

In 2022, IWD’s campaign is centred on #BreaktheBias, creating a gender equal world free of bias or stereotypes. What reflections does IWD bring for you?

The women in my family work hard and sacrifice so much, whether in the workplace or from home. I see the same in so many of the women I have had the privilege of meeting, and yet despite these negatives, they continue on. The frustration I felt about this manifested itself into Our Little Inventor

I want to see a world where girls and women have the courage and confidence to live the life, they choose without the obstacles of gender bias or being belittled for their choices, because there are enough obstacles in life. We do not need more.

Gender bias and negative stereotypes is the easy way to get yourself to the top, but your foundation, the people you stepped on on the way up, will eventually crumble underneath you. Gender equality will make us all stronger, if we give each other the support we all need.

How do you continue to #BreaktheBias in your work?

There are a lot of my own biases that I needed to unlearn, and I am still learning. Not so long ago, my work depicted people only of Caucasian appearance, my scenes of crowds were mostly men, and people with disabilities were non-existent. These days, I keep all of these in mind as I work and it has continued to make small differences in the illustrations I create. It is a work in progress, but over time I hope they will make a bigger difference.

What advice would you share with women aspiring to such a role?

Have an art goal, and aim big, because that is your north star. You are allowed to deviate from that path by being open to other types of illustration work that might come your way. It may lead to another job that brings you closer to your goal, or it may just be a great experience with a client. Having said that, do not hesitate to step away from a bad job.

Always be learning. I usually do one online art course each year, to learn new techniques. Plus, it does wonders for keeping my ego in check.

Within the industry you will hear this bit of advice often. Draw and paint the things you love. When art is your job, you can and will lose some of your original passion. So set aside the time to create the things that make you happy.

Sher Rill is the author and illustrator of Our Little Inventor, she is also the co-librettist of its operatic adaptation which premieres 1-2 October at His Majesty’s Theatre.

Kate McNamara, Wesfarmers Arts Young Artist, Conductor

What do you love most about your profession as a conductor?

It is always an honour to conduct and lead my colleagues. My favourite part of the whole process is envisaging a sound which is particularly beautiful, powerful or moving and successfully bringing that to life. The moment when I feel goosebumps down my arms while I conduct is the moment I know we have nailed it!

In 2022, IWD’s campaign is centred on #BreaktheBias, creating a gender equal world free of bias or stereotypes. What reflections does IWD bring for you?  How do you continue to #BreaktheBias in your work? 

The biggest mistake we can make is to think that the hard work is done, and that bias and stereotypes don't continue to negatively and profoundly affect women every day. Unlike explicit words and actions, which can be challenged, unconscious bias is insidious, invisible and yet still incredibly damaging to women's careers. I work hard to recognise and challenge bias in my own thoughts and actions, while making the conscious decision to contribute to positive change whenever I can. I hope that I will be the last to face the sorts of challenges I have as a woman in music, and that by facing these challenges with integrity and strength I will leave the path behind me smoother for those who follow.

What advice would you share with women aspiring to such a role? 

My advice for women aspiring to conduct is that it is a hard road, but the more of us who are on it, the easier it will get. Every time a woman fights against the tide of inequality in her conducting career, she has helped bring us one step closer to heralding the end of the era of women being disadvantaged by bias before they even step foot on the podium.

Kate conducts West Australian Opera’s world premiere Our Little Inventor from 1-2 October at His Majesty’s Theatre.