On the day of the Lowry Showcase, I sat down with Clare Symonds, The Lowry’s Theatre Programmer and Producer who heads up their Artist Development. After a full on day of showcasing what The Lowry’s Artists are currently working on, we take a moment to talk about The Lowry celebrating ten years of their nationally recognised Artist Development programme.
Before we get into it, a flock of school kids walk past, giddy and excited about seeing Noughts and Crosses. “Isn’t it just amazing to see so many young people in the theatre,” Claire says, beaming with pride.
Having been in her role for six years, Claire has developed and established a structured approach to artist development. Over the last few years, Claire has commissioned, mentored, coached, produced and supported companies and artists such as Theatre Ad Infinitum, Kill The Beast, LUNG, Animikii Theatre and so much more.
“I didn’t mean to work in theatre,” she says. “My family weren’t in theatre and I didn’t know anyone working in theatre. I thought I’d be a writer, I wanted to be a features writer so got a job working as an editorial assistant. I realised I spent a lot of time writing articles about aspirational stuff – so lots of high-end lifestyle stuff.
“So I’d wash my hair with products literally made of caviar and then be eating beans on toast for dinner, it just doesn’t fit. It took me a while to work out what I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to be around stories.” When a Communications Administrator role came up at the Arts Council, Claire went for it and her journey into theatre began there.
“I absolutely love my job,” she said. “Artist development was only a small part of my job but I’ve expanded it and expanded it. It’s a responsibility and a passion project at the same time as I get to work with these incredible artists before they head out into the industry.”
The four strands of The Lowry’s Artist Development programme include The four strands, Artist Network, Class Of, Developed With and Associate Artist. In the past ten years of the programme and Claire’s past six years in her role, she has had many personal highlights. “My favourite moments have been the small, really private moments. It is when the artists have that moment of realisation,” she says. “When we work together to achieve what they are trying to achieve.”
When I was watching The Lowry’s showcase, I noticed how different all the companies they work with are. With everything from contemporary dance, to musical theatre, one-woman comedy, informative theatre and more. They really have so much to offer, and it intrigued me to how Claire does her job and manages to resist only choosing the work that appeals to her personal taste.
“The temptation to programme the work I love is obviously there, but I actively try to experiment,” she explains. “I’ve been doing it for six years now, so it’s less about my taste and more about what I know works. This isn’t my programme, it’s The Lowry’s programme so when I am looking at artists I am thinking about The Lowry’s programme and their platforms and initiatives.
“It is about thinking if this is right for the artist, and if the support they’re asking for and the objectives they have means this programme is right for them. Sometimes people just need to be given some space to just get on with what they want to do and they don’t need that interference.”
The Lowry are currently trialling a new initiative that sits just outside the Artist Development Programme for writers that just need time, money and a closed door. “They can go into it and not have to feel they have to share their work at the end. I come in if they want me in or if they don’t want anyone in all week I trust them to get on with it,” Claire says.
“Quite often they don’t want that depth of discussion about their objectives and long-term goals, but when an artist is ready we are there to have that conversation. Quite often it’s quite hard to find the context to have that conversation because this industry is so focussed on going from project to project so when an artist wants to explore, we want to support that. This programme offers specific professional development and the support to make their work.”
Throughout her career Claire has not only guided artists through their work and taught them a lot, but she has learnt a lot from them too through her passionate commitment. “One thing I’ve really realised is that I will never have the answers and it’s not my job to have all the answers,” she says.
“It’s my job to create the space that these creative have to go and find the answers for themselves. It’s a constant process for me to keep myself out of it and finding more and more ways of just enabling artists to learn what they need to learn.”
Find out more about The Lowry’s Artist Development Programme on their website.