Backstage at The Lowry: Hannah Hiett, Communications Assistant (but not for long!)

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In February 2013 career-hunting was a pretty bleak prospect for a generation of recession graduates with a 2:1 in English Lit.

The Lowry was my light at the end of an 18-month tunnel of unpaid placements – here was an opportunity to work in the sector I loved, doing a job that used my brain, and my degree. It felt like one in a million type-luck.

In January that year, Unholy Mess Theatre Company (aka about 50% of the now defunct University of Manchester New Student Writing Society, though there’s probably a new one by now) was chosen to revive our fringe production of Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down at Re:Play Festival at The Lowry.

Without regard for (or awareness of) protocol I emailed Jon Gilchrist (the then Director of Marketing) to ask him for some marketing and PR advice. Fortunately he took pity on me and agreed to have a chat about how to run a small-scale campaign.

After the festival, I emailed Jon again and asked if I could come and do an eight-week placement with their Communications team, sanctified by the holy approval of the Job Centre.

Luckily for me, their current Communications Assistant had just announced his intention to move to Canada and become a rock-star (!) so I was able to learn the ropes of the job for a month or so before I applied for it.

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I officially started at The Lowry as Communications Assistant in April 2014, having never really used Twitter before and with a sketchy understanding of… well… everything.

What I did have was pots of enthusiasm, a pair of fresh eyes, an extra pair of hands, and a knack for a pun-tastic headlines honed by three months at Comic Relief (they love a pun over there).

Day-to-day I sort out review tickets, arrange interviews and chase up press cuttings. I have placated panicking PR agencies and producers, apologised profusely to disrupted technical staff, protected pop stars from very determined journalists and have helped pull off some pretty weird and wonderful press events. I have done A LOT of running.

(Two tips to the incoming assistant: 1. always wear flat shoes. 2: be okay with/totally into making yourself look foolish, see below:)

In the 18 months since I started at The Lowry I have learned an enormous amount from all the amazing, talented and dedicated people working in every department in this building, but most of all from the indefatigable Senior Media Relations Executive Aimee Wood, who has been my mentor (and excellent buddy) from day one. (Thank you Aimee!)

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Head of Communications Trevor Evers and Senior Media Relations Executive Aimee Wood

Early on, I decided to appoint myself to the role of Studio PR champion and began working on promoting the profile of the work being produced and showcased in our smallest theatre, alongside the marketing team’s Studio champ Megan Tripp (go Megan!)

I beautified The Lowry Blog (this one), then revamped the section of our website dedicated to The Studio, which was out of date and a bit neglected. I introduced a Studio press release to go out at the start of every season, a Lowry Studio hashtag (#LowryStudio) and project-managed a short film about the quality and diversity of the contemporary performance that The Studio showcases.

Most importantly (I think), I made time to talk to the companies, find out their stories and find fun ways to share them. I hope whoever becomes the new Communications Assistant will have a similar passion for new work and will want to keep building on what’s been started for The Studio. (HINT.)

I’ve had opportunities to do some great stuff with The Lowry’s biggest shows too. I’ve been up and down from London like a super-pro yoyo to meet cast and creatives behind productions like War Horse, One Man Two Guvnors, Alan Bennett’s People and The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night-Time.

I’ve made the pilgrimage to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see the RSC doing what they do best, to Edinburgh Fringe Festival with Northern Stage, and to Birmingham to gawp at world-class ballet dancers looking unbelievably graceful even when sitting around or using the canteen tray rail as a ballet bar.

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It’s been a noisy, hilarious, glitter-fuelled whirlwind, but it’s time for me to move on to pastures new.

In December, I will be joining contemporary theatre company Quarantine as their Communications Manager. Although I’m very sad to be leaving The Lowry, I’m also really excited to get to work long-term on some brilliant projects and get my teeth into the process of making new work from the very beginning.

You can catch Quarantine at Central Library as part of Chaos to Order on Friday or at SHIFT Festival at Contact on Sat 6 December.

Watch this space for news of upcoming projects and performances, and please come say hi if you see me – I’m new.