Entertainment Views Interview: Swap’ra Co-Founder, Anna Patalong

SWAP’ra is a charitable organisation founded by a group of artists working in the opera industry. We have come together as a team of volunteers to build a supportive community to effect positive change for women and parents in opera by:

  • celebrating professional achievements in an industry where women are underrepresented in so many areas
  • collating data from existing artists in the industry and offering effective and workable  solutions for companies
  • establishing a friendly, supportive and non-judgemental community 
  • providing a platform for performance and publicity challenging preconceptions to improve attitudes towards women and parents in the arts
Swap'ra
SWAP’ra Founders

Entertainment Views were very excited to learn that these inspirational women are hosting a fantastic gala:

The SWAP’ra Gala will raise money for the various creative projects we have lined up, including our grant for opera parents, our mentorship schemes, and further performance opportunities for less established female artists.  SWAP’ra is run by five volunteers and everyone in the gala is generously donating their time and expertise, stage managers included.

Hosted by star of stage and screen Fiona Shaw*, the SWAP’ra Gala is a celebration of the incredible wealth of female talent in the opera industry. A series of semi-staged scenes conducted, directed, performed and accompanied by some of the UK’s best loved artists, the evening is not one to be missed. Featuring music from opera favourites such as Le Nozze di Figaro, Madama Butterfly, and Eugene Onegin as well as contemporary work by female composers Elena Langer, Roxanna Panufnik and Josephine Stephenson, the gala promises to be a spectacular event showcasing nearly 40 much-loved soloists, from rising-stars to the stars themselves. 

Conductors include: Jessica Cottis (Gala Music Director),  Alice Farnham,  Sonia Ben Santamaria,  Susannah Wapshott

Directors include: Lucy Bradley,  Poppy Burton-Morgan, Daisy Evans, Karen Gillingham,  Sophie Gilpin (SWAP’ra co-founder),  Francesca Gilpin,  Ella Marchment (SWAP’ra co-founder),  Ruth Mariner,  Robin Norton-Hale

Singers include**: Rosie Aldridge,  Giselle Allen,  Jeni Bern,  Mary Bevan,  Katie Bird,  Lee Bisset,  Rebecca Bottone,  Katie Bray,  Katherine Broderick,  Rhonda Browne, Rebecca Caine,  Catherine Carby,  Emma Carrington, Sarah Castle, Fleur de Bray,  Anna Devin,  Carolyn Dobbin,  Anne Sophie Duprels,  Jennifer France,  Nazan Fikret,  Catherine Hopper,  Yvonne Howard,  Jennifer Johnston, Gaynor Keeble, Gillian Keith, Fiona Kimm,  Janis Kelly,  Rhian Lois,  Caroline Macphie,  Diana Montague,  Anna Patalong (SWAP’ra co-founder),  Madeleine Pierard (SWAP’ra co-founder), Samantha Price, Gillian Ramm,  Meeta Raval,  Amanda Roocroft,  Lucy Schaufer,  Helen Sherman,  Angela Simkin,  Sarah Tynan (SWAP’ra patron),  Kitty Whately (SWAP’ra co-founder),  Catherine Wyn Rogers.

Orchestra: All-female SWAP’ra Orchestra

Concertmaster: Kirra Thomas

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Here at Entertainment Views, I was bowled over by such a brilliant idea, this charity is such an innovative initiative. Many of you may know that I am a working mum, I work within the arts but also for the NHS. I was lucky to be able to return to my old job with a local NHS Trust following maternity leave and on a part-time, job-share basis. Although in the long-run I felt that childcare ‘issues’ forced my hand and had me seeking employment elsewhere – there’s no denying that I could have stayed in a job share, in a job that I had loved doing for seven years prior to becoming a mum. Everybody should be entitled to such a flexible opportunity. 

Entertainment Views were delighted to chat with one of the Founders, Anna Patalong, about the Gala at Opera Holland Park on 21st July 2018. 

Thank you for your time, Anna, tell me about SWAPra and where the idea originated from. 

SWAP’ra is all about building a supportive community for women and parents in the opera world. We’re starting a conversation, raising awareness and creating positive change to allow opera careers flourish.
We’re a volunteer group of female opera professionals – three singers, two directors and a conductor; and three of us have children – hence the idea for SWAP’ra emerged quite naturally, although that wasn’t the only catalyst.
It was exactly one week before the Weinstein story properly broke and I had just read an article by director Sophie Gilpin (SWAP’ra co-founder) detailing some of the shocking disparities that still exist today between the number of top jobs held by male and female professionals in our industry. This, coupled with several practical ideas that were coming through a private Facebook forum (that sought to ease pressures on parents returning to work) gave me the idea to set up a platform that I hoped wold bring bright and talented women together, give us a stronger voice and see what suggestions we could come up with for an industry eager to be at the forefront of equality and opportunity.
I had only briefly met some of the members of our group before our first meeting, so was of course filled with some anxiety – will they think the same as me, are we capable of making this type of change, will people care? I suddenly felt a big weight of expectation and responsibility, but we did it, our first meeting! We’d started, we’d taken that first step and after discussing our different experiences and skills, I knew more than ever we were heading in the right direction.
What enticed you into a career in Opera? 
Its a cliché, but I think opera is really something that chooses you rather than the other way around. I began as a pianist, but spent much of my youth obsessed with the theatre. I came to opera quite late, receiving my first singing lesson whilst at university. I’ve been hooked ever since!
How easy do you find juggling parenthood and a career in opera at the moment? Are you encountering any flexibility in the industry? 
I am very fortunate to have the help and support of my family and partner (who is also an opera singer) to cover childcare and fill in when I can’t, but it’s still no walk in the park. The opera industry is equally demanding and rewarding (arguably part of its appeal) but it’s clear there are things that can be done, as in every industry, to support those who might struggle through parenthood.
At SWAP’ra, we recognise that support is not afforded to everyone, some professionals don’t have family flying out for babysitting duties, others face financial challenges or they’re simply not able to organise schedules around feeding times.
This is why SWAP’ra exists, to help ease these problems – and we believe our network (made up of supportive opera professionals) is crucially important in that effort. We hope it will generate workable ideas and create positive change from within our industry that will alleviate pressures on new parents and help maintain a talented pool of the highest quality opera professionals, no matter their parenting status.
Already we have encountered positive feedback from leading companies in the industry, who have not only been receptive to our aims, but have actioned them too. Opera Holland Park have this year put into place new systems of scheduling and pioneered our ‘Parent Pack’, inspiring other opera companies to follow suit. We cannot thank them all enough.
In our experience, opera companies often work as a ‘family’ and are always keen to help their artists wherever they can, greatly encouraging for all of us at SWAP’ra.
Yet, when speaking at a career development day at my old college (GSMD) recently, it is clear this is not a view widely understood in our industry. The main question posed to me by the majority of the female students (and some men) was ‘Will I be able to have a career and a family?’ Many women are reportedly still being told that they must choose.
We hope that by publicising the many inspiring women that are doing brilliantly (read their interviews on our website) and providing mentorship schemes in the future, we will be go some way to changing this outdated and restrictive narrative.
What’s your ideal ultimate outcome for all of your hard work with SWAP’ra? 
I guess put simply, it’s to help remove all barriers that prevent women and parents achieving their full potential in opera and to arrive at a point where female conductors, composers, directors are no longer the exception to the rule.
What can we expect from the SWAP’ra Gala? Why should everyone buy a ticket and come to see it? 
The SWAP’ra Gala will be the largest gathering of female operatic talent ever seen in one line-up, on one night, anywhere in the world.
We have huge stars lined up, including singers, conductors, directors, composers and musicians, to perform some of the most beautiful and breath-taking scenes from across the repertoire. Every single penny of the gala will go towards our future projects and we are eternally grateful to all the incredible artists and professionals that have supported our cause so far, giving their time and talent for free.

BOOK NOW for the SWAP’ra Gala on 31st July at Opera Holland Park: SWAP’ra Gala Box Office

The Entertainment Views family will be there supporting such a worthy cause and can’t wait to see such a terrific line-up. Once again, thanks to Anna for her time, thanks should go to all of the amazing women who founded SWAP’ra, you’ll all be making such a difference.

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