An update from Blaire White

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The latest from the North in this update from our 2018/19 Pettman DARE Fellow Blaire White, who is currently halfway thorugh her time in Leeds.

Greetings to the lovely folks at NZ Opera!

I’ve been very lucky to spend the past few months surrounded by fabulous music and new friends - as I write this I am listening to the Opera North Youth Chorus rehearsing for their upcoming concert. What a lovely place to be!

With the festive season came lots of mulled wine, Christmas markets and merriment, and my first carolling experience (with the Opera North Chamber Choir in the local pub). I was lucky to start the new year holidaying with some of my siblings in Munich, Salzburg and then Zurich. Quite different from the normal January beach holiday in New Zealand. Highlights of my time abroad included worshipping at Mozart’s birth house, ice skating for the first time (hazardous to say the least), eating a lot of cheese, and experiencing my first proper snow. Very dreamy.

On arriving back in Leeds I was straight back into university studies, writing an essay critiquing the way strategic management theories are applied to the arts sector. This sounded daunting at the outset but proved interesting, Arts Management is a relatively new field that I’ve enjoyed dipping into through my recent Arts Management and Cultural Leadership paper. Recently I’ve started a paper called Audience Engagement and Impact which has been equally engaging. Alongside my study I had the opportunity to perform the role of Lucy Brown in the University of Leeds Opera Society production of ‘Mack the Knife’ (see photo), a reimagining of Beggars Opera and Threepenny Opera. A great way to meet other students at the university and sing some Kurt Weill.

Meanwhile at Opera North, I have been working on a collaborative community opera, commissioned by Northern Heartlands. Northern Heartlands has been funded by the ‘Great Places’ scheme to foster pride of place and space in the Shildon area. This project endeavours to access people for whom arts and culture may not be readily available. This has seen me coordinate community workshops with the creative team around the region. This project presents a challenge in managing the expectations of the community and the artists to create a piece that is relevant to those from the Northern Heartlands area. I’ve loved exploring these landscapes, and being welcomed into new communities. Comparisons can be made between these rural settings and those found at home in New Zealand. The workshops have been a highlight of my time as a Pettman Dare Fellow so far.

Here’s a video of our progress on the project: 

As the workshops are now completed my role is to work with Northern Heartlands and the creative team to ensure that Opera North have a continued presence in the Shildon area. We are organising opportunities for community members to see an Opera North mainstage production, and about to begin planning the first ‘Come and Sing’ event featuring the first draft of the work.

I have just under four months left to learn all that I can at Opera North and the University of Leeds, and then I will be winging my way back to New Zealand. I look forward to joining the fantastic team at New Zealand Opera come July (although not quite so excited about my third winter in a row…)

I am immensely grateful to Maureen Pettman, and the late Barrie Pettman for enabling this year-long fellowship to take place. I will always appreciate the generosity of this couple, Opera North, The University of Leeds, and New Zealand Opera. I hope one day I can pass a similar blessing on to another New Zealander!



Read about the Pettman DARE Fellowship.