PSO’s Executive Director Bourby Webster visits Dallas Opera

PSO’s Executive Director Bourby Webster recently visited The Dallas Opera in Dallas, USA to explore their programs developing women in Opera. Here’s what she had to say about her inspiring trip:

What was the purpose of your trip to Dallas?
My recent trip to Dallas was at the invitation of the CEO, Keith Cerny. Keith has created two groundbreaking programs to develop women in Opera – an Institute of Women Conductors and an Institute of Women Administrators. The Conductors program is in its third year, however this is the first year they have been joined by up and coming female administrators from across the USA. As a passionate educator (I teach business skills every year at WAAPA to sometimes over 100 music students a year) and strong supporter of women, I was very curious to learn more about the programs – how they are structured, who is involved, what are the outcomes? Following a skype hook with Keith, he invited me to see for myself with a view to determining whether or not something similar was appropriate here in Australia and could add value to what we are doing already at PSO. I am eternally grateful for Darryl Mack and Helen Taylor for their support in helping me fund the flight to be able to go. I learned a huge amount, and also gained a lot of confidence that we are doing so much right here at PSO HQ as a company.
I did feel that the time isn’t yet right to commence a similar institute, despite my desire to do so, as the pressure on my current team to deliver is already so high. The Dallas Opera has around 35 staff, 10 of whom are focused on development (bringing in money from gifts, patrons, donors, sponsors and more) and they have over 150 members on their board, all of whom are constantly promoting The Dallas Opera and working together to bring in financial and other support. As PSO has only three full time staff (and around five FTE) and six board members, we have our job cut out just existing. But the whole trip has confirmed that arts companies full of inspiring professionals have a role to play in developing the next generation, and I cannot wait until we have enough funding and resources to be able to create a similar program of our own – hopefully in the next 3-5 years.
What would you say was the highlight of your trip?
Spending time with one of the world’s leading opera companies was in itself mind-blowing. To see a company that at its core functions like PSO, but on such a huge scale, was just so inspiring for me. I could see how the admin side interlinks with the orchestra, the conductor and the singers, and how, when each element is the best it can be, it results in a life-changing performance. The Dallas Opera invited several outstanding young singers to perform in concert at the end of the course, and being close to them, the orchestra and the conductors in rehearsal was just incredible. The power of the human voice cannot be underestimated. It is hard to pinpoint one highlight, as the week unfolded, inspiration came from all angles, but having one-on-one time with Keith, the CEO, was extremely beneficial to hear his thoughts and ideas and how they might apply to PSO.
Who was the most inspiring person you met on your trip?
Watching the phenomenal world-renowned conductor, Marin Alsop (pictured) work with the six young female conductors on the podium in front of The Dallas Opera Orchestra gave me a new-found respect for just how hard it is to conduct – it is truly an incredibly physical and emotional skill that clearly takes years of knowledge, study and talent to master. It made me even more proud of our Chief Conductor Jessica Gethin, as it was clear to me she is a world-class talent. Marin isn’t just a world-class conductor, she is a world-class educator. It made me want to learn to be the best educator I can be as young people depend on having incredibly inspiring educators to lead them to the next level. Also Keith Cerny the CEO is remarkable. His vision, passion, broad range of skills, and strong business acumen are what drives the company. The fact he is so involved in the artistic side of the company was in some ways a relief, as I love being part of the creative vision of PSO, but often the CEO or General Manager leaves all artistic decisions to the Artistic or Music Director, but his input, and the success that comes from it, gave me confidence to continue playing a strong role in leading the artistic side of PSO with Jessica and Paul Wright our Concertmaster. I hope I get to return one day to spend more time with Keith and his team. I shall be eternally grateful the amount of time he gave me, and the unique opportunity I had to see the inner workings of a major institution in my industry. I am looking forward to keeping in touch with Keith and The Dallas Opera into the future.
We look forward to drawing on the inspiration Bourby gained in Dallas and seeing that help PSO grow!