Backstage at The Lowry: Claire Symonds, Studio Programmer / Producer

Some people grow up knowing that they want to work in theatre but it wasn’t like that for me. I studied Creative Writing at Bretton and assumed I’d end up writing for some magazine somewhere, but after a short career in media I somehow managed to get a job in the Arts Council’s communication team. Before long I’d moved over to the theatre team, where I ran headlong at the most intensive learning curve I’ve ever encountered. The next few years were incredibly rewarding as I moved from an assistant officer in the North West through to becoming one of two theatre officers for the Arts Council’s national Grants for the arts programme. At the same time I was building up my practical experience by working on Re:Play Festival with the Library Theatre Company, talent scouting for BBC Writersroom North, and mentoring local emerging theatre makers. Five years on, I’ve fallen completely in love with theatre and can’t imagine doing anything else.

I like to say that I have the best job in the building. The Lowry has three theatres – as well as The Studio, we have the enormous Lyric Theatre and the medium sized Quays Theatre. The Studio may be the smallest of the three but it has a big sense of adventure. A big part of my job is seeking out exciting, risky, or innovative new work from cutting-edge new so I get to travel a lot and try to get to as many festivals, showcases and performances as I can so I can bring the best work back to our audiences. I get particularly excited when we can support theatre that has been made by Northern companies or with Northern venues – it is really important we’re celebrating how great the theatre scene is up here.

The other main part of my job is supporting the companies and theatre makers who are part of our different supported artist schemes. This includes everything from providing artistic support and feedback through to providing rehearsal space or financial support, to helping them write funding bids and make strategic plans, to creating bespoke opportunities for professional development and looking for ways The Lowry can help them to grow and develop. It can be very demanding work but it is also extremely rewarding – there is nothing like sitting in the audience before the premiere of a show that you’ve seen develop from the start, knowing the audience are going to be blown away.

I’m really looking forward to the premiere of He Had Hairy Hands, the brand new show from our Associate Artists Kill The Beast, which premieres in The Studio on 5th and 6th June, and Icarus, a show about space travel that Manchester-based company Square Peg Theatre have been developing with us since February. I’m proud of the journey both companies have been on since they started working with us and I can’t wait to see what audiences think to their shows.

Alongside programming and producing, my other main job is exploring ways for local artists to learn and benefit from the things we have to offer at The Lowry – whether that be the experience of our staff, the resources of our building or the relationships we have with the incredible talent touring through our three theatres. I already spend a lot of time meeting artists based in the North West to talk about their plans, their development and what shows of theirs might work for our audiences, and over the next few months we’ll be announcing lots of new and exciting opportunities for local artists. I look forward to telling you about them!

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