Dr Katie Gardner, Lecturer in Arts-based Pedagogical Practices in the School of Music and the School of Performance and Culture Industries at the University of Leeds, has been announced as Opera North’s new Academic in Residence.

During her time with the company, Dr Gardner will focus on researching and contributing to Opera North’s approach to using digital and immersive technologies in live performance, while also developing a community experience connecting Opera North’s technological past with possible immersive futures.

The Academic in Residence post is part of DARE: the pioneering partnership between the University of Leeds and Opera North which has led cultural thought, learning and practice in the city over the past 16 years. The role of the Academic in Residence was introduced not only to give the post-holder the opportunity to engage in a far-reaching piece of research but also to enhance Opera North’s knowledge and ensure it remains at the forefront of academic thinking.

Dr Katie Gardner, Opera North’s new Academic in Residence

Dr Gardner was previously a vocalist in Los Angeles doing experimental opera and working with contemporary composers at REDCAT, before travelling to England to complete a DPhil in Music specialising in Opera at the University of Oxford:

“This involved looking at opera in performance and analysis of staging so that, combined with my interest in digital performance practices and theoretical concepts of what it means to work in virtual reality in theatre performance, having the opportunity to be Opera North’s Academic in Residence perfectly aligns with all my interests.”

During her time with the company, Dr Gardner aims to explore how XR (extended reality) can be used in opera to tell new stories and shape new meanings. She will also be looking at how it might be used to transform the process of staging opera. Her plans include a series of workshops with the Chorus looking at what can be done to support artists to work effectively with these new technologies. Coupled with this is a desire to look at operatic singing in the light of XR from a more theoretical perspective:

“I’m really interested in how extended reality technologies alter our understanding of theoretical concepts around the voice and opera. What does it mean to extend the inter-virtual reality? Does our notion of the operatic voice change? Does it become something different? Can we understand it differently?”

Members of the Chorus of Opera North in Masque of Might © James Glossop

Archival research will also play a key part in her residency. As Dr Gardner explains:

“There’s a new archival industrialisation project within the Brotherton Research Centre which I’ll be supporting. I’m hoping this will lead to a community event exploring how new digital processes can help uncover and reveal opera’s past and how that connects with today.”

Her belief is that, with opera being so firmly rooted in spectacle created using technology, XR is an obvious next step. Alongside this, she is mindful of the fact that we need to consider how we actually innovate and experiment in a meaningful way for our audiences. Over the course of her residency, she aims to answer such questions at what XR means for Opera North and Leeds: what can we achieve from a dramaturgic perspective, from a creative industry perspective and from a community perspective?

“What I do with my teaching that really aligns with Opera North’s mission is showing people a new appreciation for opera by challenging preconceived notions, meeting people where they are and inviting them to come along with us.”

Dr Katie Gardner takes over the Academic in Residence post from Professor Ed Venn who brought together diverse voices from all areas of the performing arts and academia for a series of discussions, events and an exhibition which focused on race, ethics and representation in operatic storytelling.


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