The Royal Opera House (ROH) is set to host a week of events in celebration of International Women’s Day 2021, starting on 8 March, the London-based opera house has announced.

The special series of events, broadcasts and discussions will go behind the scenes to explore the lives of women in the creative industries today. The programme aims to “shine a light on and celebrate female achievement, as well as take a stark look at the continuing and pervasive inequality that exists today in the creative industries and beyond. From industry leaders and artists, to our own Royal Opera House staff, we will celebrate the inspirational women tackling inequality and working to support female empowerment across the creative industries,” the opera house said in a statement.

A highlight of the week will be a live discussion: ‘Influence, challenge, and change: what is next for women in the creative industries?’ The Royal Opera House Insights series returns for the first time in 2021 with this free broadcast on ROH’s YouTube channel at 7pm on 8 March.

The distinguished panel of top figures in the arts world will explore what impact women have on the arts today, what needs to change and what active steps can be taken to improve gender equality in the creative industry and society at large.

Arifa Akbar, chief theatre critic at The Guardian, will chair a panel of arts industry leaders including curator, writer and Director of Tate Modern Frances Morris, and lighting designer and Associate Director of the National Theatre Paule Constable. Paule is one of the founder members of Freelancers Make Theatre Work, an organisation that campaigns on behalf of freelancers in the industry.

Indhu Rubasingham, artistic director of Kiln Theatre and trustee of the Royal Opera House, joins the panel, alongside South African soprano Pretty Yende, who made her Royal Opera debut in 2017 as Adina in Laurent Pelly’s production of L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love, Donizetti, 1832). Pretty has also performed at La Scala in Milan, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, Deutsche Oper in Berlin and the Paris Opéra.

As gender disparity has become even more pronounced over the course of the pandemic, the discussion will focus on what steps the arts can take to call out inequality, actively support and represent women in the sector and redress the balance and pervasive inequality in the industry. The panel will also talk about what’s next for women in the creative industries.

Two filmed songs will premiere on ROH’s Facebook page. The pieces were created following an Engender/Jette Parker Young Artists (JPYA) event which paired composers with librettists. First is ‘Kind Regards’, which will be screened on 8 March at 1pm. Composed by Lillie Harris with words by Laura Attridge, the song is performed by soprano April Koyejo-Audiger and is directed by TD Moyo, a graduate of JPYA’s 2020 opera director training programme.

A recital of ‘I am not yours – Mother Nature’ will premiere on 11 March at 1pm. The piece was composed by Anna Semple with words by Susannah Pearse, who also participated in the JPYA Women’s Empowerment workshop for opera-makers led by Katie Mitchell in December 2020. The work is performed by JPYA mezzo-soprano Stephanie Wake-Edwards accompanied by Caroline Dowdle.

In ‘Women in Technical Theatre, Let’s Change Our Future’, Royal Opera House Deputy Director of Technical and Production Emma Wilson goes behind the scenes of the industry’s technical workforce, highlighting areas of positive change in attitudes and approach, while signalling how much more there is to do. This in-depth article will be published on the ROH website on 9 March.

Emma commented: “Encouragement to address routes into the industry, diversity and the important challenges set by our staff, industry colleagues, unions and campaigning bodies must be embraced with the humility of knowing we can do better. We have much to achieve across the Royal Opera House and the industry. We directly acknowledge that the difference we make with our work onstage must be reflected in the quality of life and range of opportunities backstage.”

Throughout the week, the ROH will highlight the work of the Engender Network. Established by the Royal Opera two years ago, the project aims to highlight and increase the wealth of female talent both onstage and behind the scenes. It provides space and opportunity for personal development, peer support and creation of new work, as well as conversations about gender in opera and exploring the barriers to equality.

The network is open to all women and non-binary people in opera. Membership has grown from 80 to 180 during the pandemic and has become a vital resource for creative relationships and the cultivation of new ideas.

Kate Wyatt, creative producer for the Royal Opera and founder director at Opera UK said: “At a time when the pandemic is having a disproportionately negative impact on women, it is more important than ever to ensure we do not regress in our drive for equality. Engender is a place for women to connect with and support each other, to amplify the work of women in opera, to have a collective voice.

“We want to increase the amount of female-led work on our stages and ensure more women are involved backstage, in production, administration and planning. The rapid growth of the membership during the pandemic shows needs for change.”

Over the course of the week, ROH will also be using its Twitter, Instagram and TikTok channels to ask audiences who are the women that inspire them, as well as sharing a range of additional content reflecting the themes and objectives of International Women’s Day. Follow the Royal Opera House on social media to get involved.


The ROH Insight panel for the discussion ‘Influence, challenge and change’ includes (from left to right) Arifa Akbar, Frances Morris, Indhu Rubasingham and Paule Constable.