The General Director of #NTOB, Mrs. Zana Çela, as the Head of one of the most important institutions in the country, who have successfully applied technological platforms to present works and performances of all genres such as opera, ballet, children’s shows, concerts, orchestral and folk ensembles to the public, held today a presentation at the regional online conference “Culture in the Age of Pandemic – examples of good practices in the South East Europe Region”. The conference was attended by the Ministers of Culture, and representatives of cultural institutions and independent actors of the cultural scene of the South East European countries.
In her presentation she focused on:
– Creating the “Strategy of survival”
– Creating the online artistic season #FollowOperainPajamas
– Record numbers of viewership and audience
– Shows canceled due to COVID-19
– Budget losses as a consequence of Humbjet në buxhet si pasojë e largimit të sponsorave
– Future cooperation and coproductions with South East Europe theaters
Regarding the conference, Mrs. Çela highlighted that: “Our concept of culture is space without borders, and it is not us saying that, but this is the history of the Balkans, this is our life. Our people have always communicated culturally. Our artists, too. We have not only the pleasure but also the task to put one more stone in this bridge of communication. This communication that we have started a long time ago and that we are realizing even today is emancipation for our societies. It heals wounds and serves the future. And the future we have in common is in the United Europe”.
Below you can read the speech that the General Director of the National Theater of Opera, Ballet, and Folk Ensemble Mrs. Zana Çela held during the Regional Conference “Culture in the Age of Pandemic – examples of good practices in the South East Europe Region”.
Honorable organizers of this conference, honorable colleagues,
It is a great pleasure for me to be present among you today to share a totally unique experience, that of the survival of cultural institutions and more concretely, that of opera theatres, in the times of COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 8th 2020, by order of the Ministry of Health, all cultural activities in Albania were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This order came to us only 2 days before the staging of the opera “La Boheme”. The stage lights went out and all the tickets booked by the spectators were canceled, as well as contracts with foreign artists who had come to perform together with our artists in the performances of opera La Boheme. Our country being affected from this misfortune found our theater in a special situation, as we had just returned to the theater building which had undergone a reconstruction for 4 years. During the months of February-March the stage and the auditorium were not yet finished so our performances were performed in other theaters. June was designated as the month when we would inaugurate the reconstructed theater through several operatic and ballet performances and also various concerts. We had been dreaming and working hard to celebrate this moment for 4 years.
But the pandemic not only did not allow us to open the doors of our reconstructed stage, but sent us all home. “Stay at home and work from home” – this was the slogan of organizing work for all state and private institutions. But how can the Opera and Ballet Theater work from home when it has 4 large artistic troupes in its organic: Choir, Orchestra, Ballet and Folk Ensemble, which according to their specifics have to synchronize together to execute different works?
How can we go forward with our work, to continue communicating with the audience and even to increase the audience as we had planned with the entry into the renovated theater? Our dilemma lasted for only a few days because we had no time to lose, within a period of 2 weeks we drafted a new strategy entitled “Survival Strategy” which focused on creating a content, a digital artistic season that would adapt our performances to the security measures, restrictions and regulations, and which, above all, should guarantee opportunities to communicate with the audience, and to renew the loyalty relationship with them and various stakeholders, businesses or institutions.
We decided to produce an online artistic season entitled “Follow Opera in pajamas”. We chose this special, funny title, to give the message that now Opera will come to your homes, wherever the public is, you can now follow us comfortably even in pajamas without worrying about wearing a suit or an evening gown. We were not wrong: we hit the mark with this title, attracting the attention of all media and especially online portals who greatly amplified this title.
The online artistic season “Follow Opera in pajamas” started on April 11th and all of our artistic troupes were included in it: The Orchestra, Choir, Ballet, Vocal Soloists, and the Folk Ensemble. From April until now we have broadcast 41 online performances produced in our theater with a duration of 50-70 minutes each. The whole season has been broadcast on our Youtube channel, on our Facebook page, as well as on the official website of the theater, twice a week. These shows are accessible to everyone, for free. A total of 70 promotional artistic videos were also produced, which include: Artistic videos of artists from home sharing messages for people to respect anti-Covid measures, short music and ballet clips, etc. This online calendar was very successful and broke audience records for TKOB. The total audience that has watched the performances of TKOB from April 2020, until October 2020 on Facebook, Youtube and our website is 4 million 174 thousand 489 people. During regular TKOB performances in closed halls, the maximum capacity for a performance is 800 people and the maximum audience in a year for all performances of the artistic calendar is 324,098 people. Meanwhile, just for one online show, the average number of people that has watched them is 108 thousand 580 people. The whole online production made by our staff had a great echo in various media and it has had regular coverage in said media.
Some of the shows were broadcast on several TV stations, while the videos were broadcast 252 times during this period in all national and local media of the country. Also, 300 articles were written about our online performances and our artistic events. Until the end of July we were not allowed to organize open air shows. During the September-November period, we were allowed to organize only 5 open air shows with an audience of no more than 50 people. While the new rules of the last days forced us to conduct rehearsals with artistic teams comprised of no more than 10 people. This decision of the Ministry of Health has again suspended the realization of the inauguration ceremony of the theater.
Despite the great success this season had and the support shown by the public, the same did not happen with our sponsors. During the pandemic period we lost 3 big sponsors, which translated into figures means about 60% of the budget from sponsorships missing for the March-December 2020 period. So far we have had only the support of a general sponsor at the figure of 85,000 Euros, and recently another sponsor has joined us with a value of 20,000 euros.
This decrease in sponsorship budgets was expected, compared to other theaters in Europe due to the non-realization of the artistic calendar. In total, during the March-October 2020 period, about 35 performances and over 100 activities dedicated to the “Education through Art” project which is part of our artistic calendars were canceled. During this period our theater could not collect about 155,000 euros in ticket sale revenue and more than double this figure from the rental of our premises. Our theater is a state institution where 87% of the budget is covered by the state budget and in these difficult times for all opera theaters in the world, we have not been financially endangered, as the Ministry of Culture has not cut any funding for our theater and all employees and artistic troupes have received their salaries regularly. But due to the lack of sponsorships, the budget for artistic projects has been reduced by 50%.
But despite the financial indicators, we managed to expand the audience as never before and especially new audiences, thus realizing the main objective of the last 4 years – “Audience growth”. This fact makes us optimistic for the rapid recovery of the sponsorship budget. On the other hand, we have been in constant contact with other European theaters during this period, as we have exchanged all our experiences through online conferences organized by Opera Europa. This difficult period of the pandemic has connected us more with each other, not only in a global rank but also within our own teams.
The tolerance, trust in each other, trust in young creators and artists, giving them more scope, has increased not only the efficiency of our work but also our audiences. This period has been a period of reflection for all opera theater managers in terms of changing management strategies towards a tendency to get closer not only physically but also culturally to the public, to give more space in the budgets of opera theaters, digital broadcasts, thus increasing the online followers of operatic and ballet performances. During this period I have personally exchanged ideas for formatting and reformatting projects with some theater directors in the region and beyond. I am full of optimism that our cooperation protocols signed during 2018-2019 with the national opera theaters of Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, etc., will begin to be implemented in the first 6 months of next year. Exchanges between artists of our theaters have started but we are looking forward to the realization of operatic and ballet co-productions, projects which will deeply implement the cooperation between our theaters, giving a main example in other areas of cooperation between the countries of our region. Our concept of culture is space without borders, and we do not say that, but this is the history of the Balkans, this is our life. Our people have always communicated culturally. Our artists, too. We have not only the pleasure but also the task to put one more stone in this bridge of communication. This communication that we have started a long time ago and that we are realizing even today is emancipation for our societies. It heals wounds and serves the future. And the future we have in common is in the United Europe.