'The audience is one half of the symbiosis that underpins all performing arts; the other of course being the stage and the work itself. We exist for our audience, but we also couldn’t exist without them - every single ticket or membership bought really makes a huge impact.'
Having been Opera Holland Park’s Head of Marketing, Chloe Bridgen has returned after Maternity Leave as Director of Audiences and Engagement. With visions for the future of the company and a new significant addition in her life, Chloe tells us about returning to work and her new role.
Can you tell us about your new role at OHP this year?
I returned from maternity to a new role as Director of Audiences and Engagement. Essentially I lead and support the marketing, development and box office teams to meet our income targets, to give our audiences the best possible experience at all touch points, and to seek new opportunities for engagement.
What are the challenges of coming back to work after maternity leave?
One of the common fears for mothers returning from maternity is that the work will have moved on and that your knowledge will somehow be out of date. This was something James and I discussed quite a bit before my son was born as it was something I was pretty nervous about to be honest! Work has always been important to me and the prospect of being out of the loop – and with a new little addition on my hands – felt very daunting.
We decided to pencil in some KIT (keeping in touch) days over the course of my maternity to use on an optional basis. This worked really well as I was able to get a sense of what was happening, but on my terms so I never felt overwhelmed. All in all though I’d say this is an overstated fear – your job is there for you when you come back and it is down to organisations to bring you back into the fold, which has certainly been the case for me at OHP.
Nursery germs are another challenge! My son has already been sent home from nursery a few times since my return with various fevers and illnesses… Thankfully again, OHP has been great at giving me flexibility to manage these challenges. I have been able to go and pick him up when my partner is unavailable, join Zoom calls with him on my lap, and the ability to be flexible with my work hours has made it so much easier.
OHP has worked with SWAP’ra (Supporting Women and Parents in Opera) to create better working arrangements for our freelancers; how can we apply what has been learnt there to our full time staff?
SWAP’ra is a really important initiative in the industry, advocating for new environments and practices which support women and parents in opera. OHP employs a lot of women and has worked in partnership with SWAP’ra since 2018; OHP was actually the first opera company to trial the Advance Scheduling format which enables performers to sort out childcare in advance.
I too have been benefiting from the advance scheduling with compressed hours – I work longer hours Mondays to Thursdays which enables me to take Fridays off and look after my son. This means that all my meetings are scheduled for my working days and the evenings that require my attendance in the summer have already been set in advance too.
Do you think that becoming a parent influences the work that you are doing?
I wouldn’t say so. Yes, it puts your work and job into a new context as you juggle a new set of responsibilities. But the work continues as before, particularly if you are passionate about the area, like many of us at OHP are. Much of my desire from returning from maternity, as with many women, is about returning in the same form as when you left – there is a strong consciousness of wanting to be up to speed and useful. That’s why it’s been great to be given the flexibility and understanding to enable me to (hopefully) do that, with as little stress as possible.
There is one thing that has changed though – I’m now fully able to enjoy the range of family shows OHP has on offer, including OperaUNITY and Discovery Matinees! I cannot wait to take my son along to these this summer.
As Director of Audiences and Engagement, what do you think the role of the audience plays at Opera Holland Park?
The audience is one half of the symbiosis that underpins all performing arts; the other of course being the stage / the work itself. We exist for our audience, but we also couldn’t exist without them – every single ticket or membership bought really makes a huge impact.
The audience also plays an active cultural role, being our advocates, critical friends and sounding board. My role is to ensure that our audience continues to support and grow our work on stage and work in the community in this way. Fortunately, this task is made easier by just how fantastic our audience is. People often comment on the ‘family feel’ of OHP, and a huge part of that is down to our incredible body of supporters, audiences and volunteers who come back each year and give the theatre its unique buzz. Together with our performers and staff – the audience is a huge part of what makes us who we are.
In this new position, what do you see for the future of OHP?
In its 25 year+ history, OHP has consolidated its position as one of the leading opera companies in the UK, survived a pandemic and navigated a number of other economic challenges. All of which of course wouldn’t have been possible without the loyal support of our audiences and supporters.
I would say the future is one where even broader audiences see even more exciting opera than before. In a time when companies might be playing it more safe, we are proud to be premiering a new opera this July by Jonathan Dove, based on Simon Mayo’s novel “Itch”. Our customer experience is set to get better and better as we enhance different offers and spaces on site, including new food and drink partnerships. We are also thinking a lot about how we can supplement our live performances with our filmed digital work. But most of all we are committed to giving our audiences and supporters the memorable nights they have banked on for decades.
Interview by Lucy Hicks Beach