What's it really like working with your partner?
We grill couple Jess Greaves and Katie Jones on what it's like to work on opposite sides of the stage for Welsh National Opera...
Katie Heath-Jones and Jessica Greaves. Photos Jimmy Swindells.
Couple Jess Greaves (of the WNO Chorus) and Katie Jones (a WNO stage manager) work on different sides of the stage for the Welsh National Opera.
Here, we find out what it's like to work up close and personal with your other half, how often their paths cross, and how they unwind at the end of a long day at the... opera!
Katie Heath-Jones (centre) with David Pountney (director) and Archie Macleod (stage management).
DIVA: How long have you worked with Welsh National Opera and what do your roles involve?
KATIE JONES: I've worked for WNO for almost 15 years. I'm a stage manager which involves working with all the creative, technical, and musical departments to make sure the show runs smoothly and safely.
JESS GREAVES: I try not to think about it too much but I think it's about 16 years! I'm in the chorus which involves copious amounts of learning to perform in all the shows that appear in the seasons we do.
Does your work ever crossover?
KJ: Not really, I can't sing to save my life! There has been the odd occasion where I've been known to step in for chorus dance rehearsals if they've been down in numbers! Of course we work together for a lot of shows which can be an advantage or disadvantage!
JG: I'd say yes! Especially when I'm being told off and rollicked for talking or being late to the stage!
What do you enjoy most about your role at WNO?
KJ: I love that no day is ever the same, and the variety/complexity of the shows we do. There is a big family atmosphere at WNO, we rehearse together, tour together, sometimes we even share tour digs. The people make WNO and it's always great when everyone comes together to get the show up and running.
JG: Well, I'm a pack animal so being in a crowd of people suits my personality perfectly (hence the talking and being constantly late to stage — there's always something to talk about!). On a slightly more serious note, I am constantly aware of the privilege of earning money from something that started as a hobby. Every now and then you perform in a show or hear a piece of music and you think, "My life has truly been enriched by this."
WNO War and Peace. Jessica Greaves and WNO Chorus.
Do you get to work in other areas on top of what you specialise in?
KJ: I work on youth and community projects occasionally, the last being a talk for some schools. I've also mentored younger stage managers who are involved in our Youth Opera which I've found really rewarding — especially seeing them go on to gain places at drama college or even a job with us afterwards!
JG: I have been known to volunteer for the WNO Family Days and I also love attending the WNO Yoga classes!
What has been your favourite WNO production?
KJ: This is a really tough one! I was Deputy Stage Manager on our production of Lulu in 2013, it was a big challenge for me as it was quite a technical show and the music is incredibly tricky to follow. Jess had a small role in it where she was dressed as an orange sheep — I did propose to her that season so it obviously did the trick!
I also have to mention working on the musicals Sweeney Todd and Kiss Me Kate. I've always loved musicals — especially anything by Sondheim. To work on Sweeney Todd and hear it with a full chorus and orchestra was something incredibly special. I also loved getting to be the test pilot for the Sweeney's infamous trapdoor!
JG: The first time we did Jephtha was an absolutely magical experience because not only was the music heavenly but also it was one of the first shows that felt like a true collaboration between the director, principals and chorus.
To me, the mark of an excellent director is somebody who can spot individual skills in a chorus rather than seeing them as a "clump of people". James Brining (who directed Sweeney Todd) was another fantastic example of this. SWEENEY TODD ROCKED.
WNO War and Peace. Katie Heath-Jones and WNO Chorus.
Do you discuss your work at home or do you switch off at the end of a day?
KJ: Occasionally we vent to each other if we've had a hard day but in general we like to talk about anything other than work! We have a dog, Leia (yes named after the Star Wars heroine!) and our favourite thing to do is to relax on the sofa with her whilst watching a film.
JG: That is a load of rubbish — Katie talks about work all of the time (besides Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Lego).
KJ: Lies, all lies!
JG: In all seriousness, I love switching off by watching Bake Off...
What's the next BIG project coming up for you both?
KJ: I'm going to be stage manager on our new production of War and Peace — I've never read the book so I am looking forward to finding out what it's all about. I'm also going to be continuing as stage manager on Rhondda Rips It Up! which was a highlight of 2018 for me.
JG: I can't wait to revive Rhondda Rips It Up! for the autumn season with Caroline Clegg — another example of an absolutely brilliant director. It was pure joy working on that show and I would do it every night if I could. Well, maybe not when Bake Off's on...
Welsh National Opera will tour the UK with War and Peace, La Traviata, La Cenerentola, and Rhondda Rips It Up! this autumn. Find out more at wno.org.uk
Only reading DIVA online? You're missing out. For more news, reviews and commentary, check out the latest issue. It's pretty badass, if we do say so ourselves.