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WAO Ghost Spotlight with Jenny Simpson

Only a few weeks remain until the beautiful sounds of opera will take flight from the stage of His Majesty’s Theatre, and now is the perfect moment to appreciate the value of collaboration within the arts. From early programming discussions to when the curtain falls on closing night, we want to shine a spotlight on our creatives working in the Ghost Light to bring the magic of opera to you. Connect with your state opera company on an intimate level and explore the philosophy, commitment and passion underpinning our projects.

This week, hear from AWESOME CEO/Artistic Director Jenny Simpson on connecting children and families with high quality arts experiences, the power of music to transform our worldview, and her championing of the underdog.

1. Tell us about collaborating to present The Nightingale as part of the 2020 AWESOME Festival – how did this project come about and what has your role been?

The AWESOME Festival has always been about ensuring that children and families have access to high quality arts and cultural experiences and our programming is always underpinned by the philosophy that children deserve the best. It has been a long-held dream of mine for WA families to be able to experience the work created by our best/flagship companies. So, when West Australian Opera approached me with the idea of presenting a work in the AWESOME Festival program, I was thrilled. Essentially, our role as an international children’s festival is to provide the platform for The Nightingale to be showcased and to connect this work with family audiences.

2. The Nightingale is a fictional tale grounded in a moral story. What do you hope audiences will learn or take away from this experience?

I think that the audience experience will be layered. Firstly, there is the ‘wow factor’ of experiencing a full-scale opera performed live. The voices, the orchestra, the staging and the magnificent venue all combine to create an experience that transports the audience to a different world. This opportunity in and of itself is pure magic for our audiences.

Then, like all good storytelling, the narrative sweeps you up and takes you on a wonderful journey into a magical tale. This experience is one of captivation, immersion and wonder.

Finally, when the magic on the stage ends, and the curtain drops, our hearts are filled with ideas and questions that prompt further reflection and exploration. This is the time when the messages that sit behind the narrative take flight within us and sometimes these reflections last a lifetime.

I think that after this season of The Nightingale, there will be several hundred children who will see the world a little differently and have an experience in their hearts that they’ll eventually want to tell their own children about.

3. What challenges and opportunities did the pandemic period present for you? How did AWESOME continue to connect young people with the arts?

The pandemic has been tough on us all, mostly from a logistical perspective, and all the systems as we knew them changed overnight. Strangely, our connection with our audience probably improved over the lockdown period. Families trust us to provide high quality resources and so our social media channels received more support than ever before, with a very high uptake of our online programs.

4. Why is it important to deliver high quality creative programming for young audiences?

Why shouldn’t we?

We expect that medical services for children should be of the highest standard.

We expect educational standards to be high.

We expect children to have access to nutritional food.

How is arts and culture any different?

5. Can you share with us a creative work – be it a piece of music, art, dance, film or theatre – that ignites your emotions?

This one is probably a bit esoteric, but we had a show at the festival called Echolalia back in 2014 and it expressed the experience for a young woman who was living with autism. That show changed me forever and I watched it transform our audiences. I sat in several performances and every time it felt as if the entire room was breathing as one.

6. Did you have a favourite fairy tale as a child?

Definitely! My favourite was Cinderella. I’ve always been a champion for the underdog, and she was very patient! Later at university, I studied Shakespeare and realised that King Lear probably resonated so strongly with me because of my love for the Cinderella story. Similar archetypes!

7. As the 2020 AWESOME Festival approaches, what are you most looking forward to?

I am so looking forward to welcoming families back to the festival this year. For my team, it has been a steep climb to get this 2020 festival up but we’ve done so knowing that so many families have had a tough year on many fronts. 

It feels like the sun is coming out, WA is doing well, and the AWESOME Festival is an opportunity for people to take a deep breath, come out and play, experience some amazing storytelling, music and dance and to feel good again.


The Nightingale is a collaborative project presented as part of the 2020 AWESOME Festival. Learn more about this exciting production here and be sure to check out the full Festival Program



Jenny joined AWESOME in 2007, bringing to the role extensive experience as a business manager, festival director, performer and teacher. Additional to her role at AWESOME, she is the Musical Director of Mosman Park based choir, the Mighty Camelot, and a Sessional Lecturer at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts.

The AWESOME International Arts Festival for Bright Young Things is presented annually in Perth and is in its 24th year of operation. The festival works across all art forms and attracts over 60 000 people.

In addition to the festival, AWESOME presents the Creative Challenge Artist in Residence program in 23 schools every year. Creative Challenge is presented throughout Western Australia and includes some of the most remote communities in the world.

AWESOME’s philosophy is that children deserve the best arts, cultural and creative experiences possible and this philosophy very much underpins Jenny’s work at AWESOME.