Back to Blog List

WAO Ghost Spotlight with Karen Farmer

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 dive into the preparation, research and ingenuity required to pull a production together.

This week, hear from Stage Manager Karen Farmer on her experience working on The Telephone, the transitions of her role in the digital space and the much anticipated return to be back behind the Stage Management desk with live performance. 

1. The Telephone is West Australian Opera’s first digital adaptation of an opera. Tell us about your experience as Stage Manager – how does it compare to working on live opera? What was the atmosphere like on set?

The position of Stage Manager doesn’t exist in digital media. I suppose the closest position would be first assistant director and that wasn’t me! For The Telephone I was buying and making the props, and also helping to transform Chris van Tuinen’s sun-lit living area into a very large blue cardboard box with no windows, so I suppose my role was more of a production assistant. It was a fascinating experience being involved on a project so removed from live theatre (filmed in Music Director Chris van Tuinen’s home) yet still having many of the elements associated with it.

2. How important do you think it is for opera to push the boundaries of the stage? What are the benefits of performing in new spaces?

I think it’s very important. It creates different ways of working and different ways of seeing and different ways of interpreting works. It can be challenging but it is also rewarding and comes with a huge sense of achievement! 

3. What challenges and opportunities did this period present? What did working in the “ghost light” mean for you?

The challenges were predominantly created by the COVID-19 restrictions we were under at the time of preparing the piece. Luckily the retail restrictions on buying flour and sugar lifted just in time for me to be able to buy both items in bulk!!  Working in the “ghost light” on The Telephone meant that I was working. With live theatre ceasing mid-March most of us (production staff) lost our jobs. The opportunity to be engaged in something outside our normal theatre world was wonderful for all of us who were involved, I think. 

4. Do you have any memorable moments from behind the scenes you can share?

Two things really stand out for me. Firstly, the time spent in the studio with Tyler Hill (Designer), Mandy Elmitt (Costume) and Mandy Farmer (Production Manager) making all the sculptures out of wire and clay. Not something we would ordinarily do but great fun. No matter how many we made they never got any better!! Mandy Elmitt’s were very smooth though, and one of her couples became the special gift and cake topper!!  Secondly, again, the hours spent with Mandy F painting sheets and sheets of cardboard. Sculptures, blue cardboard and packing tape are the first things that pop into my head when thinking about The Telephone!

5. What have you learned about yourself over the past few months?

I have learned that I am more patient than I thought. Having so much free time means that I am quite happy to spend hours making yeast-based doughs! Baking has become an unexpected passion.

6. How will you be spending your days now that restrictions are relaxed?

The main change with relaxing of restrictions has occurred this month with the weekly lunch time Standing Room Only mini recitals at Government House Ballroom and also Morning Melodies with West Australian Opera Young Artists at His Majesty’s Theatre. It’s great to see our young singers performing with a live audience. Fingers crossed we will all be back at work soon.

7. What excites you most about returning to live performance?

Being back working in a job that I love.


Dip. Design Theatrical Arts ( Costume Design & Construction) Perth Technical College.
BA (English, Classics & Ancient History) University of Western Australia.

Karen spent the first twenty years of her career working in stage management for most West Australian theatre companies and working as a casual wardrobe assistant/dresser for West Australian Ballet and His Majesty’s Theatre.

She first worked for West Australian Opera as a dresser (1985) and commenced working as an assistant stage manager for the company in 1988. She has been the Stage Manager for the company since 1999 and has stage managed over forty productions in that time. Highlights have included the world premiere of Richard Mills’ “The Love of the Nightingale”, “Batavia” also by Richard Mills, the premiere of Opera Conference productions “Aida” and “The Merry Widow” and the West Australian Opera and State Opera of South Australia co-production of “ Macbeth”.

Karen has also stage managed for Opera Australia, Opera Queensland and Victorian Opera.

It took Karen Farmer 8 hours to create these sculptures from wire and clay, with the assistance of Mandy Elmitt (Wardrobe), Mandy Farmer (Production Manager) and Tyler Hill (Designer).