ENO have launched a big sparkly audience engagement campaign today titled: ENO Undress
As well as a good value ticket (good thing), information about the opera available before the event (good thing) and the production in a pre-performance event (good thing), they’re going in pretty heavy with how laid back and relaxed Undress events will be. The bars will be “club-style” and you’ll be able to buy beer. I’m assuming this doesn’t mean they’ll be covered in spilled drinks and you’ll have have to stand up on that wee metal pole that runs along the bottom to scream your order into someone’s ear before being served a criminally short measure of something you didn’t order. You can wear what you like – hey! Bring your jeans!
I am massively in favour of all the ‘good things’ above. I think that opera companies should be looking at the price of their tickets and how they can make these more accessible, both by bringing the cost down and also making the process of purchase simpler and making more tickets available at the last minute. Opera’s pretty weird. It’s an incredibly unnatural thing to do and people behave in really odd ways getting all upset over nothing, so the more we can do to prepare people in advance for what’s going to happen, the better. And anything that brings audiences and opera performers together, slowly chipping away at the ‘diva’ and ‘maestro’ labels is definitely A Good Thing.
But I definitely think that ENO are missing a trick by telling people that this won’t be a special occasion. An opera house isn’t a club and we can have a totally different kind of experience there that we can have in a bar or at a club. There are very few occasions where we can dress up and really make a bit of a fuss. There are even fewer where we can do so for £25 in the heart of London (the cost of an ENO Undress performance). I would much rather see something that promoted the whole experience of opera – including the beautiful buildings and the sense of occasion – at an affordable price with easy-to-book tickets.
I used to work to promote Scottish Opera’s £10 ticket offer to under 26s and spent a lot of time talking to students and young people about opera. Over and over again, what got this group interested and excited wasn’t the brand new operas in the slightly unconventional spaces, but the pictures of the stereotypical huge corseted dresses and massive choruses of La traviata. All the cliches of old-fashioned opera, and they could experience this for a tenner while sitting in the ‘posh’ seats.
I’m not a big fan of saying what something isn’t. I much prefer to talk about what it is. We need to be able to communicate with people why we love something so much and why they might love it too. We can target our messages all we like, and we can get people in, but they’re not going to come back if, ultimately, the thing in itself doesn’t appeal because we don’t understand it or because it doesn’t speak to us.
Good luck ENO! I really love that there’s evidently a real appetite to engage with a new audience and that the company is willing to try new things to reach them. The campaign has also already generated a good amount of publicity for their new season with endorsements from Damon Albarn and Terry Gilliam.