Written by Rachel, a member of ENO Engage Youth Company.
Read about Rachel’s experience of the Youth Company’s fourth module. The group took part in an onstage workshop with ENO Staff Director Elaine Tyler Hall alongside La traviata cast members Lukhanyo Moyake and Claudio Boyle. They also visited members of the ENO technical departments, including the drawing office, wigs and make-up room and costume department.
Our day began at the London Coliseum. We were all so excited to learn more about the inner workings of the ENO. The current set onstage was the final act of La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi and after an introduction to the opera was given to us by director, Elaine Tyler-Hall in Daniel Kramer’s absence, we were invited onstage to take part in an activity.
Elaine taught us about how, as performers we must modify our physical skills to correlate with the size of our audience and performance space. There were numerous mattresses laid out across the stage in a way that resembled graves for the final act of La Traviata. We engaged in an exercise where we had to act as if we were searching for the grave of a loved one with a rising inner sense of panic. We tried this with three different levels of performative impact; the first being with a lower, more internal sense of intensity, as if we were acting for film, the second in a larger than life, cartoonish fashion and the third, finding a middle ground. The group was split in two and we were able to observe each other. We discovered that the third version was the perfect level of performance for The Coliseum as a space.
After this exercise we were introduced to opera singers, Claudia Boyle and Lukhanyo Moyake who play Violetta and Alfredo. They performed extracts from the final act and talked us through various innovative directorial choices made by Daniel Kramer. It was such a privilege to be able to experience their incredible acting and singing abilities up close. They then allowed us to ask some questions of which there were many. I was delighted to be able to hear more about their respective processes and how they ended up where they are. It provided such a wonderful insight into the world of opera and the life of a singer.
Next, we moved onto the wigs department. I have to say, this was my favourite part. I was mesmerised by the range of beautiful handmade and styled wigs. We learnt about the extensive process that goes into each one and we were astonished to consider the number of people within the company, each one often needed more than one wig for each opera. I was excited to learn about the specialism offered to afro hair textures, being a proud afro owner myself. For me, this really reinforced the notion of the growing accessibility of opera as an art form for audience members and performers alike. The wig department are highly skilled and very inspiring and we more than happy to answer the plethora of questions we had for them.
After this, we were introduced to the technical draftsman who has the task of realising the vision of the set designer in a technical, practical manner, making sure that everything works within the context of the Coliseum stage. She then gave us a tour of the area above the stage while the La Traviata set was being changed over. It was a really fascinating chance to explore the more technical aspects of opera and reminded me of the vast number of people who are imperative for the successful running of a performance.
This was followed by a visit to the wardrobe department where we got to learn about what’s involved in being a dresser and designing costumes. It seemed like an incredibly fun and exciting, albeit stressful job as the dressers have to be on call during every performance and be prepared to quickly fix a wardrobe malfunction on the occasion that one takes place. Many of us found it really useful to be able to ask questions and to learn what skills and experience are required in order to do the job.
Our day ended there and I had a wonderful time with the Youth Company. I can’t wait for our next session where we’ll begin to put together everything we have learned over the last year in order to create our own original piece of work.