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How does a co-production work?

19 May 2020

Welsh National Opera puts on a variety of production types in a typical season, including co-productions. A co-production does what it says on the tin: it is a production (ie a concept for set, lighting, choreography, costume, props, wigs and make-up for an opera) devised by more than one opera company. With one company taking the lead – usually the one that put forward the idea – contracts are drawn up and budgets agreed; as Robert Pagett, WNO’s Head of Production explains:

‘For most co-productions there will be an even split financially, with the lead company generally taking responsibility for the storage of the production. Who actually builds the set depends on a number of factors: if one of the companies has an in-house workshop they might build the set, leaving only the cost of materials to be covered.

Before the build begins, the technical teams get together to discuss the logistics; taking note of the size of each venue, touring requirements, materials, what can be provided in-house, the size and weight of individual pieces of set, expected build time, specialist outside technical expertise needed, any special lighting (LX) requirements, etc. Any adaptations required by either company are also factored in at this early stage.’

As WNO is a touring company, the size of the stage and loading areas for each venue varies greatly. With our home stage and back stage spaces at Wales Millennium Centre being significantly larger than many of our venues, our productions always come in a range of sizes, with the set used in Cardiff generally larger than the version to be used on tour.

Sian Price, WNO’s Head of Costume describes how the costumes come together:

‘The costume bible arrives in advance (from the lead company), containing all the information for the production’s costumes: designs; breakdown of characters and running order; measurements; detailed fabric information – with swatches, suppliers, etc.

Costumes are sent in hanging wardrobe boxes. Everything is checked against the packing list, down to the cufflinks and hankies, then checked for wear and tear and pre-altered ready for fittings. Chorus fittings usually take place with the designer during the preceding season. With principals it's a tight turnaround to be ready for the stage as they don't arrive until the first day of rehearsals. After the tour, the costumes are re-packed, adding in any new ones made for the show – co-productions usually grow in size each time they go to one of the co-producers.’

Depending where the show is going afterwards, it’s loaded on to trailers or into a container for shipping to America or Australia, for example; ready for another set of rehearsals and performances with a co-producer.