Closing Schools for the Future is an operatic performance which is unique because it draws its subject material not from Greek tragedy, ancient European myths or Italian romances – but from research into the day to day lives of ordinary people who are facing a critical event in their local community; that of the closure of their local primary school. Our research project has taken two years to look at the effects of school closure in schools across England and has focused particularly on schools in Wirral and Knowsley.
Many people have asked why school closure is a suitable subject for an opera, and whether opera is a suitable means of communicating research: and our answer is a qualified yes to both questions. School closure is a huge issue these days. Whilst there have been many initiatives to provide new schools (the government scheme Building Schools for the Future is one recent example), what gets lost in these initiatives are the hidden consequences to peoples communities, peoples jobs and the very fabric of their society. This generates many poignant stories, larger than life characters and real life drama which often does not find an audience either in the media, in the arts or in education.
Even when research about those events are communicated within educational circles, the way those stories are communicated are often arid texts, written and communicated in academic terms and the results frequently ignored. This leads to a real disconnect between those whose stories were being communciated and the audiences who are listening to those stories. However, using music and drama to tell those stories – through the discipline of Arts Based Educational Research – communicates that research more effectively, with more emotional vibrancy and it has the chance for a greater impact – and for the lessons learnt in the research to be acted upon.
Closing Schools for the Future has already been presented in 3 educational conferences in Oxford, Ethiopia and Warwick. At its last presentation, the audience left asking, Is this the Death of Powerpoint? And whilst this might be an over ambitious outcome for the project, we certainly hope that by using opera as the means to communicate research findings, that these performance provide new opportunities for the results of our research into school closure to be acted upon.
Production team credits
Nick Owen, Director of the Aspire Trust, is a producer, director and artist educator who has worked across the UK and internationally. Recent publications include Placing Students at the Heart of Creative Learning (Routledge) and Outsider | Insiders: becoming a creative partner with schools (International Handbook of Creative Learning) and the film, My Life as an American (Latent Productions).
Gary Carpenter, Composer, has written operas, musicals and a radio music-drama (with Iris Murdoch) as well as film, dance and concert music. He was Musical Director on ‘The Wicker Man’ (1973) and won a British Composer Award in 2006. His portrait CD Die Flimmerkiste is released on NMC. Gary teaches at the Royal Academy of Music and the RNCM (Manchester).
Jen Heyes, Vocalist, is a director, producer, performer, educator and artistic director of the Liverpool based company Cut to the Chase Productions. As a theatre maker Jen has worked regionally and nationally (touring and individual works) and internationally (Berlin, Porto, Lisbon, Luxembourg, and Hong Kong) working on small, medium and large scale productions. She specialises in multi-media site specific theatre and always strives to use live music within her work.
Brian Hanlon, designer, is an Arts practitioner with specialist skills in design. He works in a range of settings from Youth Theatre to the West End. He recently worked on the Manchester Day Parade, for the second year with Walk the Plank. And with the Aspire Trust Scouse Wedding: The Opera.